8th December 2023 3:32 pm
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We wanted more from Horizon Call of the Mountain

The PlayStation VR2 has been available to purchase in South Africa for a couple of weeks now, and you can read our review of Sony’s latest gaming headset here, but the PS VR2 is only one part of the gaming equation.

Much like the PS5 launch in late 2020, the hardware is only as good as the games you can play on it. This is where Horizon Call of the Mountain comes into play, as it was very much the hero title of the PS VR2, with a bundle version alongside the headset also being launched.

As such, much is expected of Horizon Call of the Mountain.

So is this a glorified demo like Batman Arkham VR or something more substantial that veterans and newcomers to VR gaming alike can sink their teeth into?

If you’re reading the headline of this quasi-review you likely think it is more of the former than the latter, but to the credit of Guerrilla Games, there is a fair bit more to Call of the Mountain. That said, with a full playthrough taking a little less than a dozen hours to complete, with plenty of breaks in between (we’ll touch on those later), we were hoping for a little bit more out of this hero title.

After a few weeks of play under our belts, here’s why we say so.

Passive observer

Before we delve into our issues, let’s put some context to this game. While indeed a part of the Horizon gaming universe – you do not play as Aloy in this title. Instead, you can on the role of Ryas, who is described as a “disgraced former soldier.” Needless to say, your previous life did not win you any friends.

If you are hankering to see everyone’s favourite red-haired champion, Aloy does indeed make some appearances in the game, and just like most other characters, you are down bad.

Moving onto the opening stanza of the game, it does a great job of illustrating what Horizon Call of the Mountain does, and does not, do well. The first is showcasing the spectacle of this lush, overgrown, dangerous, and beautiful post-apocalyptic version of Earth.

As you are ferried as a prisoner along a gently flowing river, you can take in and absorb everything around you. Craning your head to watch Tallnecks as they walk by certainly has a sense of awe to it. This is before your boat is attacked, but there is really nothing you can do to change events or indeed get in on the action. Think of it like being on a roller coaster, where there is a lot going on, but you have little say over the outcome.

After this opening flurry, you start exploring your environment and get accustomed to the controls on offer. The game continues with these sorts of peak and valley experiences, with the former seeing players relegated to the backstage. It is a sharp departure from what we have experienced in the previous two Horizon games, where Aloy was an all-action character that did anything but passively observe.

Let’s talk about the controls and gameplay now. Like most VR titles, you only see your hands, and the items within them while playing. Traversal plays a big part in this game, and movement is slow and deliberate. Again, it is far different from what we’re used to in Horizon games. There is the odd exception, however, when wielding pick axes and launching towards cliff faces, or zip lining from high to low terrain for example.

Those moments are too few and far between for our liking though. As such, you’ll be spending most of your time trying to get the movement right for climbing upwards, as well as placing both hands on holders once you reach the top of an object.

One trick pony?

Compared to Aloy then, Ryas feels like a less capable protagonist.

The same can be said of the fighting in-game, with a high-tech bow and arrows being your main method of engaging with enemies, both human and metal. It is at this point that frustration began to set in, as the triggers to fire arrows were quite hit or miss. It also rarely felt like actually holding a bow and loosing arrows would in real life. As for the rest of the action, most encounters involve dodging or avoiding attacks, and slowly chipping away at critical points on enemies until they die or are destroyed.

To be fair, Horizon Forbidden West suffered from the same mechanic. The difference though, is that the game did offer a few different ways to engage with enemies, not to mention the ability to avoid encounters if you weren’t skilled enough or simply did not want to.

In Horizon Call of the Mountain, everything feels very much on rails, so if you were hoping for expansive VR worlds to explore, that is not the case here.

We will, however, concede that the world that has been built here is a striking one, which perhaps makes the lack of proper exploration all the more disappointing.

Now let’s address a key concern when playing any VR game – motion sickness. In our sessions with the game, 45 minutes was usually the best we could muster before needing to take a break. This is especially true after a few fights, which proved intense while wearing the PS VR2 headset.

Horizon Call of the Mountain is not alone when it comes to the need for shortish sessions on the VR2, with No Man’s Sky regularly taking 30 minutes of gameplay before we had to take a break. It means that VR gaming is not for everyone, and will take some time to get used to, particularly for those who have not had much experience.

This may also be why Call of the Mountain is paced and structured the way it is.

Final verdict

Like many current-gen AAA titles, Horizon Call of the Mountain is priced at a premium, costing R1 199 for access on the PS5. There is, however, a free trial available to those who want a taste of the action before taking the plunge and buying outright.

Based on what we have experienced of the game to date, we’re not entirely sold that many players will look to buy the fully-fledged game after giving the trial a go.

We say this as Horizon Call of the Mountain suffers from a distinct lack of variety and depth, not to mention being on rails for most of the game. As such, it is missing a few dimensions to fully round out the experience and make it a must-play one for the PS VR2.

Its best quality remains the beautiful cutscenes and generally impressive-looking environments.

FINAL SCORE: 6.5 OUT OF 10.

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