Firesprite Ltd, Guerrilla Games
Call of the Mountain is meant to be PlayStation VR2’s showcase piece, and in some important ways, it functions as exactly that. Firing off an arrow with a bow in VR feels great, and getting a chance to see the world of Horizon from a novel perspective can be exhilarating. The primary gameplay of Call of the Mountain, however, struggles to find fun at a basic level which ultimately sours the larger experience.
Call of the Mountain features a perfunctory cameo from Aloy to remind you that you are in her world, but this game follows Ryas, a former Shadow Carja who has been offered the rare opportunity to receive a pardon for his crimes, as long as he tackles what could be a suicide mission. Call of the Mountain’s story focuses on a small cast of characters with familial and political histories, and watching those relationships bump against each other is the most interesting part of the narrative. There is a big bad, but they reveal themselves surprisingly late – too late to inspire any passion about confronting them.
To succeed in his mission, Ryas relies on two important skills: he’s great with a bow and arrow, and he’s a hell of a climber. That latter skill makes up the majority of the game and is, unfortunately, an element I did not enjoy. Moving Ryas’ arms to propel him up a cliff face or climb a rope rarely ended in failure, but it meant the vast majority of my time involved pantomiming the motion of a cat scratching a wall while my face was inches away from a cliff. It just isn’t fun to perform, even if it does work.
Tools unlocked through the course of the game, like the ability to create ziplines in specific situations or toss a rope above your head, add some variety, but it never manages to overcome how unenjoyable basic climbing is.
Combat, on the other hand, can be thrilling, and it doesn’t take long to feel like an expert marksman. Robot battles happen in specific arenas and change your abilities. Ryas strafes his opponents in a circle and can do a quick dodge to escape attacks, and it all feels fast and fluid. Like the core Horizon games, knocking off specific armor elements rewards higher damage, though it acts more like a bonus here than a core mechanic. I particularly enjoyed the one-on-one battles against the larger robots that required a few more strategies than simply aiming for the right sections, like setting off large explosives at the right time.
I suspect Call of the Mountain does a lot to assist with your aim, but I absolutely welcome it. Shooting Stormbirds out of the sky with a well-placed shot or hitting that optional target from what feels like a mile away is always rewarding.
Ryas is also a bit of a tinkerer and has to put together his different ammo types, as well as the new tools he unlocks over the course of the game. Attaching arrowheads and explosive canisters to arrows or wrapping a piece of rope around a new tool is a small but enjoyable action to perform in VR.
Call of the Mountain’s other big success comes from the simple act of looking around. The world of Horizon, with its abandoned technology overtaken by nature aesthetics, is wonderful to look at. There are plenty of opportunities to just stare at something cool in the distance, and I often took the opportunity to do it – unless I was climbing. Then I couldn’t get through the section fast enough and would speed to my destination.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is a good showcase piece for PlayStation VR2. It is the game to use if you want to show off your new technology to friends and family. There is even an unlockable mode perfect for this, which is a passive journey on a canoe through a robot-infested jungle. What holds the game back tremendously, though, is Call of the Mountain’s overreliance on climbing. The smaller parts of the game, fighting robots, making items, and looking around, are highlights. Pulling yourself up a mountain isn’t, and that’s where you spend most of the approximately six hour experience.