How appropriate that on International Women’s day that I find myself putting digital pen to paper on a review for the Horizon franchise, a series that managed to create a space for itself in a slew of titles with burly male leads, which I can only assume were made to keep Troy Baker and Nolan North busy with work.
Finally, cried the gaming ladyfolk, a female protagonist that isn’t scantily dressed or portrayed as a damsel in distress. Aloy was, while in my opinion, a deeply plain and unlikable action hero, a formidable and competent one, and a fitting poster girl to lead this franchise to success.
Now, while Forbidden West was slightly forgotten in the wake of Elden Ring’s release last year, it was still a triumph in game design and showcased that this series, and indeed the in-game universe, still had a lot of legs.
Now, I have to pop the ‘girl power’ bubble pretty promptly here, because, sadly, the game, aside from a brief cameo, doesn’t feature Aloy at all. Instead, opting to cast, you guessed it, a burly cookie-cutter male action hero.
However, aside from this rather jarring leap back to outdated industry norms from the developer, the game uses the Horizon franchise as a blueprint to create a fantastic VR title from the ground up.
Everything we know and love about the mainline titles has been boiled down into an immersive climbing and combat epic, and while a few metaphorical arrows so sailing past their target, the Virtual Reality game hits the mark on most occasions.
However, you may be wondering if Sony’s flagship VR launch title does enough to warrant picking up a PSVR2 bundle, or simply if the game does the Horizon franchise justice.
Well, I battled all the mechanical brutes this game has to offer, climbed the highest mountains, and have a sore shoulder to prove it. So I’m your guy if you want answers. Okay, people, load your arrows in your quiver, and let’s get going! This is Ready VR One’s Horizon Call of the Mountain Review.
Basking in the Sundom
When it comes to VR, it’s all about immersion and being able to truly place yourself in your chosen game’s world. Horizon as a series has always been masterful in its world-building, and I would argue that the core premise and setting do a lot to cover for the somewhat forgettable characters.
Well, through the lens of VR, the Sundom and beyond looks absolutely stunning. Whether you are in the luscious rainforest areas, spelunking in dark and dingy caves, or freezing your butt off up in Devil’s Anger, the game always has a beautiful vista or some peculiar and eye-catching set dressing to show off.
The game makes use of Forbidden West’s engine and assets to fill areas with hyper-realistic foliage and earthy textures, and unlike some VR games out there, the scenes you inhabit aren’t like walking through a museum.
You can interact with almost everything, which led to me shamelessly repurposing everything for a frisbee.
If I were to be super-critical, I would say that some of the game’s levels feel very similar, to the point that some levels simply begin where others ended, leading to an overall aesthetic that makes the player think, ‘been there, done that.’
However, overall graphic quality makes this a pretty fair trade-off. I also noticed that a few assets, like the little rats, would get stuck on assets and glitch out. However, aside from these small gripes, the game is a visual triumph.
Roll Out The C-Listers
Moving onto the story, and before I tear into it like a Scrapper ripping apart a Watcher carcass, let me say that there are a lot of VR games that go for the safe options like arcade shooters or hyper-immersive experiences that actively avoid narrative altogether. So I commend this title for trying to offer a cohesive, high-concept storyline.
However, trying and succeeding can be poles apart, and in this case, Call of the Mountain fails to offer anything other than a story that serves as a means to an end.
I mentioned that Aloy has never been a larger-than-life character that has carried the series on her back, and as this is the case, it would have been slightly unfair to expect this from the player character, Ryas.
However, the series has always been able to captivate through jaw-dropping locations, the tension between warring factions, and a cast of genuinely likable and memorable side characters.
However, this game doesn’t have anything like that going for it. The side characters within this game play the role of your captor initially, and as such, they aren’t exactly the most friendly.
However, as the story transpires and you prove your worth, they never really come around to you in a meaningful way. There is always a certain unease with your presence, and while this is due to the in-world politics, the game never really explains a lot of the core conflicts of the world either, expecting the player just inherently to know what’s what.
The relationship between Ryas and Urid is somewhat interesting, and the game does offer some exciting moments. However, it feels a little bit like those Star Wars spin-offs that later get dismissed as non-canon.
It’s a game that tells a generic story that just so happens to be in the Horizon universe. A footnote in the grand scheme of things. The only saving grace is that at least Sylens didn’t turn up, do his all-knowing schtick, and escape without punishment. However, praise by omission is hardly praise at all.
A Mountain to Climb
I’m going to split the gameplay up into two key sections, climbing, and combat. Let’s begin with this game’s USP, the climbing mechanics. Call of the Mountain repurposes the climbing format made famous in the VR world by ‘The Climb’ tweaking ever-slightly to fit the in-game setting.
While I could be cynical about this game reskinning these titles, I think they genuinely refine the experience to the point that this game could be referred to as the best-dedicated climbing title around.
Climbing cliff faces, shimmying along ancient scaffolding, climbing the ropes I never could in Gym class, and making use of the climbing apparatus you acquire along the way feels intuitive and cathartic.
The game is at its best when you are given multiple paths to success and have to make use of multiple climbing techniques to keep progressing.
This tends to only happen as you get about halfway through the game and unlock tools like the Pickaxes and the Pullcaster, but even in early stealth sections where you need to climb while ducking behind cover keeps things entertaining.
While it is good, it’s not a perfect format by any means. There are small issues that really broke immersion for me. For example, you can’t just slide down ropes and instead have to carefully clamber down, or in my case, free fall and then grab the rope at the last second.
Plus, some of the climbing tools towards the end of the game feel super underdeveloped. Take the Sundisk, for example; I think you only use that tool three times in the entire game.
Then you have the grappling hook, which is a poor excuse for an interactive tool. Just put a rope there rather than have me create one for myself.
These end-game mechanics only served to artificially pad out the experience, but because these weren’t as fun to use as the Pickaxe or Pullcaster, they just felt forced on the player, as the game continued to deliver its flat and lifeless story when it might have wrapped things up a few hours earlier.
If they did, I probably would have nothing negative to say about the climbing.
Then secondly, making up the other half of the core gameplay is the combat, and I’ll be honest. I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this game’s combat.
What I can praise wholeheartedly is how satisfying it is to pull out your bow and take down warning alert targets from a distance, and the crafting of arrows was also pretty neatly handled too. However, when locked into an arena to fight hoards of mechanical brutes, the experience is one of pure panic and often frustration.
The main issue is that, as a player, I need to know that I am in control, and if I make a mistake, then I need to know why it happened, and then I can correct moving forward. In Call of the Mountain, the path to battle success was rarely clear.
Some battles had gimmicks where you would have to use Ballistas, whereas others would have you use lures. Neither were highlighted, and only as the battle was in full swing would I notice something like this in my peripheral.
This would be fine if the battle were possible to struggle through without them, but it isn’t really feasible, and that’s for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, every enemy in the game is an arrow sponge, leading players to fire arrows faster than any human could sling them to deal reasonable damage.
The staples of Horizon combat are at play, like using elemental status effects and breaking off enemy armor for greater damage, but it’s unbalanced in the enemy’s favor. Now, I can hear the ‘get good’ shouts coming and duly noted, but sadly, that doesn’t apply here.
For you see, the dodge and strafe mechanics in this game are ridiculous. Players can either strafe to move a minuscule amount, which is never helpful, or they can dodge, which seems to cover a quarter of the arena at a time.
This means that adjusting your position is frantic and inaccurate, which can make hitting specific armor sections annoying, and picking up health and arrows lying around very fidgety.
Then add in the fact that a lot of the enemies have very wide attack patterns that you simply can’t get out of the way of, and you have a combat system that feels more like a game of chance and persistence than a game of skill.
Mercifully the game gives players Precision Arrows, which right a lot of the problems mentioned above (aside from the dodging), but this happens in the last two missions, and by that point, it’s way too late.
All in all, this is a combat system that had all the potential to be exceptional, but due to the developer’s need to offer dynamic movement, and the general imbalances at play, you’ll find yourself playing the role of Robo-chow more than you deserve.
Fill The Space
Call of the Mountain is a largely linear experience, but there are moments when the game will break off into multiple paths and allow the player to explore new locations. Some of this is implemented to encourage multiple playthroughs of certain missions.
Whereas other pathways will allow players to find collectibles, beacons, cairns, and legendary climbs. So how is this additional content, then? Well, much like the open worlds that these optional tasks are pulled from, it’s a bit of a mixed bag.
On the positive side, a few additions feel right within the context of the adventure, and make each new area more than just a section that connects one climb to the next.
The Warning Beacons players will encounter and have to shoot down from range are great, and actually show off the archery mechanics capabilities far better than the combat. When you shoot one down from miles away, you genuinely get that ‘I’m a badass’ feeling.
Then you also have the legendary climbs, which allow players to partake in extended climbing sections, and while they aren’t too far removed from the general climbing sections, they fit with the core gameplay, and they are a bloody good workout.
Combine this with the Machine Safari and Challenge Run sections, and you have enough content to keep you engaged for a good few hours after the credits roll.
However, not all additional tasks are created equal. I wasn’t a huge fan of the collectibles, mostly because the game never really encourages players to explore every nook and cranny. In fact, the game places so many empty barrels around the place that you are actively discouraged from ransacking encampments.
However, this mild disappointment was nothing compared to the genuine rage caused by the Cairn building challenges. As a man coming from Ireland, you would think that seeing some Celtic heritage represented would be welcomed, and in theory, I did think it was quite novel.
That was until I actually tried to build some, and the whole experience had me asking myself, ‘did the developers actually try this during development?’ As I said, in theory, it seems like a good idea, but a novel concept doesn’t always mean a fun gameplay mechanic.
Mercifully there were only seven Cairn spots, but even that measly figure was enough to get me shouting expletives and tossing virtual rocks around like a stone age savage.
If you were a huge fan of the gestures and mechanics that Call of the Mountain made use of, or just loved the in-game world you explored, then you may get a kick out of these close alternatives listed below:
- The Climb 2
- Horizon Zero Dawn
- Horizon Forbidden West
- Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- Mirror’s Edge
- Sprint Vector
Overall, I have to say that while Call of the Mountain may not be a game that will enthrall the VR veterans out there expecting a next-gen equivalent step up on PSVR2, it’s one hell of a starting point for all those who have been tempted to jump into VR at this point in time.
Call of the Mountian seems like it is custom-built as a gateway title for players new to VR. A very well-made tech demo that excites and engages the player, while showing off what the hardware can do, much like Astro’s Playroom managed for the PS5.
The game’s climbing mechanics are easy to master and satisfying to use for the most part; stealth sections, while few and far between, are well implemented, and while the combat can feel like mindless flailing at times, the archery mechanics do feel refined and satisfying.
However, the game does have two glaring issues. One being the story that simply does nothing to make the player care for the protagonist, the support characters, or the situation they find themselves in.
Then secondly, the game feels like it overstays its welcome and falls privy to the same issues you find in big open-world titles like the mainline Horizon titles. Bloat.
The game’s second half offers very few new and engaging mechanics or ideas, and the busywork players can do along the way is a mixed bag. The hidden targets are a fun addition, but things like the Cairns simply serve the frustrate rather than entertain.
All in all, it’s a VR game that Horizon fans will likely take to like a Snapmaw to water. However, just a fair warning, this isn’t the near-flawless Horizon experience that fans have become accustomed to.
- The game is visually striking, matching the graphical output of Forbidden West in a VR format
- The climbing and archery mechanics that make up 90% of the core gameplay are easy to grasp and satisfying to use
- The game offers fun end-game content in the form of challenge runs and Machine Safari
- Stealth is surprisingly well handled
- A very beginner-friendly VR title
- The game’s combat can feel overly frantic, with no clear tactic for success outside of spamming arrows and dodging
- Some mechanics feel more fleshed out than others. Things like the Sundisk and Grappling Hook feel like filler content
- The game feels like it overstays its welcome by a few hours
- Some gimmicks (like Cairn Building) are super frustrating
- The game’s story is, unfortunately, very forgettable
Question: Is Aloy in Call of The Mountain?
Answer: Yes, but not as a playable character, and not as a character you will interact with regularly. She shows up early in the game for a few minutes, making a quick cameo before disappearing into the brush to go about her usual hero business.
It’s a real shame because this game really is lacking in the interesting character department.
Question: How Many Arrow Types are There?
Answer: There are five arrow types available in Call of the Mountain. They are as follows:
• Common arrows
• Fire Arrows
• Shock Arrows
• Tear Arrows
• Precision Arrows
Question: What’s The Toughest Battle in Call of the Mountain?
Answer: There are quite a few tough battles, more down to the combat mechanics than the mechanical brutes put before you, but of all these machines, I would say either of the Thunderjaw battles will prove the most testing.
Callum played the entirety of the main campaign, getting about half the Warning Beacons, building all those damned Cairns, and about half the collectibles in the game.
He also tried out the Machine Safari and Challenge Run modes, and will likely jump back into this title to clean up the leftover collectibles when the experience is less fresh in the memory.