Horizon Call of the Mountain Review (PSVR 2) – Test your mettle, sans Aloy, in peak VR gaming

Today, I’m going to full, merciless aim at Horizon Call of the Mountain. I’ve given praise to the PSVR 2 headset itself in another article, but does that mean this optionally bundled game is also something to get aquiver over? Should you be drawn to it? Is it a bullseye or a missed opportunity?

Jointly developed by Guerilla Games and Firesprite, Horizon Call of the Mountain is a spin-off that occurs somewhere around Horizon: Forbidden West. Though series protagonist Aloy does show up for all of two minutes, this is a tale centred on Ryas, a former Shadow Carja rebel who is sentenced to atone for his crimes. His face is never detailed, but his voice is more or less that of a budget Nick Offerman. This I like.

Expect to be thrown up the creek — literally without a paddle — right from the get-go. In short order, you’ll be hauled in front of the local magistrate and will need to earn your freedom (and track down a wayward sibling) by joining an expedition to investigate a new threat to the Sundom. Cue: the titular call of the mountain.

Horizon Call of the Mountain

Your adventure is neatly divided into roughly 10 distinct levels with the opportunity to fast travel back to a small hub area should you find a campfire out there. You’ll do this to build new gear, have optional branching chats with three NPCs, or go breaking the high scores on a (physically gruelling obstacle course) or an archery range.

All told, you’re looking at a 7-hour main quest, though I think there’s good cause to replay this again. For starters, there’s a bunch of collectables you’ll miss the first whip around. More importantly, while your mountaineering paths are mostly linear in nature, there are four or five points in the proceedings where you’re presented with small alternate routes.

In terms of mechanics and flow of action, you really need to come to (literal) grips with the fact that this is primarily a climbing and puzzling adventure, less an action title. Monkeying upwards makes up a good 80% of Reyas’ day-to-day. There’s a smattering of stealth sections, a lot of random target Legolas-ing and the odd boss fight against either a pack of lesser Dinobots or one big daddy.

Traversal is quite pleasing and your techniques are constantly built upon. Hand-over-handing gives way to ropework — either overhead monkeying across chasms or using Ryas’ palms of steel to flying fox down them.

Using the Sense controllers to achieve all of the above proves to be intuitive and 1:1 accurate. My favourite part of this control scheme is the dedicated leap-of-faith points. They ask you to use your lower grip triggers and an almighty pelvic thrust motion like you’re some sort of suicidal Duffman.

Getting higher will also require using an increasing bag of tools. Smacking dual climbing axes into specific rock faces makes great use of the trigger haptics. It’s the same deal with wrist flicking to create a DIY flying fox with a rope dart, or slicing a padlocked barrier with your frisbee. Basically, there’s a crapload of physically exerting climbing to do in Call of the Mountain, but it’s always kept fresh.

In the rare moments when Ryas isn’t getting higher than a hippy in a hot air balloon, he’s keeping the local Dinobot population down with a bow. Very blinkered stealth sections can devolve into combat, but the Sawtooth’s share of brawling gets done in boss fight arenas.

Interestingly, your traditional twin stick movements become simplified during these moments. Ryas is riveted to an invisible track that allows you to easily circle strafe around your target. Incoming fangs and talons can be avoided with a timely flick of your right analog. Sometimes special ammo or health apples are dotted about for a quick snatch.

Honestly, these fights are brilliant and highly reminiscent of the best moments of the fully-fledged Horizon games. If you know your machines, you can pair the same special arrow and/or blast sling ammo types to their weak points for maximum damage and utter satisfaction. Why the devs opted to have so few of these fights — or a convenient post-game menu to relive them without the traversal slog — is beyond me.

When it comes to pros and cons, Call of the Mountain has way more positives than negatives, but I like to get the bad stuff out of the way early. Finger tracking of your thumbs and index isn’t as sure as I’d hoped. Though none of this has any real bearing on gameplay, I found it odd that I had to really put some effort in to form a thumbs up, an accusatory point or a peace sign that wouldn’t wig out a little.

It’s a small gripe. And I’m happy to report that it’s not a fundamental problem with the Sense controllers. I know of at least three PSVR2 games that handle finger tracking much better. Kind of a weird oversight for a flagship title, though.

Other letdowns revolve around the high standalone price of this product versus the low runtime. Some will say that 7 hours is better than the average VR experience, but that argument is holding less and less water in the face of double-digit hours of VR-enabled games like No Man’s Sky, Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil Village.

On the plus side, the visuals are — with the exception of the odd blurry horizon — some of the sharpest and most vividly detailed VR environments you can trek through in 2023. Better yet, it all barrels along at flawless framerate and the mini-narrative woven in benefits greatly from eye-tracking tech. The plot is good but not great, but I have never been more engaged with a cast of characters that meet my gaze and pivot their faces naturally to keep my face in focus.

Hell, they even recoil from your outstretched hands and make you feel like the rude SOB you are for getting in their personal bubble. Much like Valve’s similar work in Half-Life: Alyx, this is ground-breaking stuff for immersion and player connection.

It also has to be said that though the paths to the peak are linear, Guerrilla has filled the more mundane areas with objects and doodads that have no business being as enthralling as they are. It’s the ol’ magic of VR — the power to make everyday things mesmerizing. Expect to spend way too much stoking over the physics interactions of incidental pots, plates, musical instruments and the odd free-fingerpainting opportunity.

At the end of the day, I think Horizon Call of the Mountain is a truly impressive showcase for this second generation of PlayStation VR-ing. It steps up on all fronts — mind-blowing visuals, incredible 1:1 controls and intense, sweat-inducing traversal and combat.

I think the standalone asking price for this is a little rich. That said, getting it in the hardware bundle for a reduced amount of metal shards feels about right to me. Looking back at gaming, I can honestly think of few products that showcase a bit of new hardware better than this. When this mountainous and marvellous companion piece launches, you’d best answer the call.

PlayStation Australia provided a PSVR 2 Unit and a copy of Horizon Call of the Mountain for this review.

Horizon Call of the Mountain
Reader Rating0 Votes
A wide array of climbing tools/mechanics to employ
Exciting, tactical combat is reminiscent of ‘flat’ Horizon titles
Fantastic use of eye-tracking, adaptive triggers and PSVR 2’s many other bells and whistles
Sets a new standard in VR visuals
…but that horizon can get blurry
Cosmetic finger tracking a bit iffy
I’d still like more action / runtime
Adam Mathew
Adam Mathew
I grew up knowing and loving a ludicrous amount of games, from dedicated Pong console onwards. Nowadays you'll find me covering and playing the next big things. Often on Stupid-Hard difficulty. Because I'm an idiot.

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