There’s a new PlayStation VR system available now (PSVR2), and Horizon: Call of the Mountain is the showcase piece that was developed for it.
The game takes place in the world originally created for the very popular Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West games. But instead of simply watching those digital landscapes pass by on your gaming screen, this system’s headset and two hand controllers virtually immerse you in a 360-degree first-person world filled with soaring, leaping and attacking robotic dinosaurs.
Those who have played the earlier Horizon games will recognize their female protagonist, Aloy, when she shows up for a quick cameo early on. But Call of the Mountain’s hero is a guy named Ryas. He’s a former Shadow Carja who’s offered a pardon for his crimes if he’ll use his tracking and climbing skills on what could well be a suicide mission.
It seems that there has been a flood of aggressively attacking robo dinos in the kingdom of the Sun King as of late, along with other threats to humanity. Playing as Ryas, you must scale the treacherous mountainsides, somehow find your brother who set out on the same quest and resolve whatever mystery is taking place.
To fulfill this mission, Ryas uses his climbing and bow skills on a regular basis.
The former set of skills involves reaching with both controller-adorned hands for white highlighted ridges and crevasses on the steep cliffs and rocky walls and hoisting your virtual body up. (You can work through the game while either standing or seated.) You also climb ropes; leap to distant handholds; use pick axes; create ziplines and the like. Along the way you search for virtual keys, ropes, dino gears and other objects to solve environmental puzzles that bar your path.
Virtual combat is the other side of your adventuring coin. The game allows you to pull your bow from behind one shoulder, an endless supply of arrows from behind the other, and take it to roaring and laser-blasting robotic foes.
You gain a few new abilities as you progress, including the skill to create new tools and weapons, as well as the capacity to make electric- and fire-arrows.
Ryas’ basic skills let him to hide in tall grasses, dodge attacks and strafe in a circle around enemies. Battles sometimes involve knocking off armor plating or creating key explosions, much like the original games.
It should also be noted that the new PSVR2 headset has an updated eye-tracking technology that gives players enhanced ways to look at and interact with objects in their virtual environment. That eye-tracking also keeps much of (but unfortunately, not all of) the typical motion-sickness aspects of VR in check.
The Horizon game world, set in an overgrown land some thousand years in the future, has always been visually beautiful. But this experience of that digital realm is all the more spectacular thanks to the immersive PSVR. The first time a Stormbird robo flies close over head or a Tallneck thumps a gigantic hoof right next to you is a bit jaw dropping.
There are times when you’ll find yourself pausing on a high ridge to simply gaze at the mountain vista and impressive waterfalls. That alone makes this game more exhilarating that you might expect.
In that light, Call of the Mountain focuses more on spectacle than the kind of expansive storyline featured in past games. That approach helps younger players easily break playtime up into much more manageable chunks rather than long marathons if they choose.
The combat side of play is also very easy to slip into. The game offers an assist that makes aiming down an arrow easier in the heat of battle.
That battling, however, can get pretty frantic and intense at times. It takes a while to master character movements with your VR hand controllers while also choosing and pulling various types of arrows from behind your shoulder. Being in a fully surrounding virtual world quickly adds a heightened sense of peril, too. (No blood or mess in the robotic battles, though.) Players use bow and arrows, a slingshot and a bladed disc in their fights.
If you have a sense of vertigo while looking down from great heights, that can be easily triggered here. There is a lot of realistic and perilous climbing, hiding at heights and dangling in this game as you look up, down and all around you in active moments. (If you fall, you’re sent back to where you began a section or climb.)
There are uses of the words “d–n,” “b–tard” and “a–” in the dialogue mix.
Horizon: Call of the Mountain may not be a long or intricate game, but it sure is impressive to see.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.