Every new console needs that landmark first party game to lead the way, and for PlayStation VR 2 and Sony’s second generation of virtual reality, that game is absolutely Horizon Call of the Mountain.
This game doesn’t put you in the fur-lined boots of Aloy – though she does briefly show her face – but rather into the body of Ryas, a character with a troubled past as a former Shadow Carja rebel who’s given the opportunity to redeem himself and stave off another machine-based threat to the Sundom.
With a Skyrim-esque opening, Call of the Mountain immediately wows on PSVR 2. It starts in a boat ride down a jungle stream with a bunch of different machines going about doing machine animal things. The scale is impressive, especially when a Tallneck meanders through and over you, and it gives off some real Pokémon Snap vibes. It also really showcases the dramatic step up in power from PS4 to PS5, the environments looking crisp and well detailed, some sumptuous lighting effects, and the game in general staying in lockstep with the graphical finery of the two main entries.
It makes absolute sense for there to be a modified version of this as a tourist mode on the main menu, a purely seated showcase that you can happily use for friends and family that want to see what PSVR2 is like and what the PS5 can do in VR.
It doesn’t take long for that boat ride to take a bad turn in the main game, though, and for Ryas’ adventure to start proper. His shot at redemption comes from being a master of climbing and archery, and the game leans into this heavily. You will spend the majority of the time exploring the levels, clambering up rough rocky walls and cliff faces, up metal towers and machine carcasses.
Climbing is as intuitive as you could want, with clearly marked handholds and yellow ropes wherever you can climb. Just reach out, pull the trigger to grab on and then pull yourself toward the next point you want to grab onto. Actual rock climbing and bouldering need a lot of poise, balance and grip, but there’s none of that here, and you can rapidly scale the environment going hand over hand with ease. Add in leaping from ledges, pick axes for climbing soft rock faces, and rope tethers, and there’s a fully featured climbing game here.
Between each climb, there’s wandering around flat environments, either using jogging-like hand motions or the Sense controller analog stick. There’s plenty of interactivity in the world, reaching out to grab containers to loot for crafting parts, healing apples and pears to eat, and mission items. It’s fairly straightforward stuff,
Of course, this wouldn’t be Horizon if you weren’t also battling against a menagerie of this sci-fi world’s animalistic robots. From basic Watchers to Scrappers and all the way up to some of the biggest robo-beasts the series offers, there’s a great selection to battle against with bow and sling.
Encounters shift from free motion to arena fights and a different style of movement. You’re always around the edge of the environment, strafing with a quick one-handed swipe or dodging further with a two-handed swipe. All the while you’ll be trying to send arrows to pling off the robot armour, using elemental arrows and slingshot bombs for status effects, and more.
It all gets very hectic, especially when there’s more than one enemy, and in the most frantic moments it’s easy to lose some of the clarity in your motions. Angle your bow too far and you can end up in the arrow quick crafting mode, fail to reach over your shoulder enough or too quickly and you might come back without a fresh arrow to fire. When you’re manically dodging attacks, it’s difficult to get to the resource plinths around the arena to grab bonus arrows and healing apples.
Horizon Call of the Mountain makes a fantastic first impression, but a handful of things do very ever-so-slightly tarnish the experience. It pushes hard graphically with stunning vistas as you climb higher and higher, but you can see shadows and details resolving themselves in the periphery a lot of the time. There’s also a handful of situations that brought a brief frame rate stutter, which is less than welcome in such an active VR game. Sony has highlighted performance as something that will be improved with a day one patch.
It’s also sometimes difficult to get the right perspective while climbing. You’re always very close to the wall, the path often wrapping round the world and forcing you to turn around. That’s fine for standing play, but not great for seated when the default motion input for turning doesn’t work while climbing. Setting this to analog stick turning does let you turn your view, and you can reset your view by holding Option. There’s also an auto-turn option which tries to frame the climb, though it does make some odd direction changes in places and only really felt right when seated.
Of course, there’s a ton of accessibility options to change and tweak to try and get a right experience for you. A few presets feel like they will cover most bases, and there’s some great inclusions here. In particular, eye-tracking in the headset allows for some auto-aim for where you’re looking, subtly bending your arrow flight in a way that makes you feel like you’re a bow expert.
It does also feel a little odd narratively as you return to the hub at Dawn’s Grasp to chat with characters between missions, even when there’s a seeming sudden time pressure. It helps to flesh out Ryas’ character beyond his mutterings while climbing, and also (importantly) means that there’s regular breaks in the roughly 7 hour adventure for players to stop. You can also use regular bonfire save points to head back to the outpost if you want to exit a mission before its end.