Frank He goes hands on with Crytek’s Oculus Rift exclusive rock-climbing VR title ‘The Climb‘ at this year’s VRLA Winter Expo.
Guest Article by Frank He
Now a second year UCLA undergraduate in a neuroscience program, Frank was born in Los Angeles and then raised in Canada, spending his high school years across the border in New York. His main interest is in technologies that enable immersive experiences, and Frank’s academic path is towards better understanding the brain, how it works, and then enabling us to do something for the betterment of life through that knowledge. Besides studying, Frank makes efforts towards supporting the VR community locally and online, where he regularly participates in discussions about VR.
Going into VRLA’s Winter Expo, I had an idea of what to expect from Crytek. They recently announced and showed off their new game, The Climb, and even more recently just announced their VR First initiative. During their VRLA keynote, they they focused on the VR First program and were in fact showing The Climb on the show floor.
It was my second demo of the day, after trying the Oculus Rift CV1 and Touch for the first time, with Epic’s Bullet Train (which was amazing, by the way). Crytek taught me the controls using the Xbox controller, and strapped me in the Rift. I had played Crytek’s Back to Dinosaur Island 2 demo quite extensively before, where you also scale a cliffside, so much of this was familiar to me. But this time it was a real, fleshed-out level, with actual gameplay mechanics, and not just a tech demo. It actually surprised me how long my demo was too. I didn’t record the time, but it felt like 15-20 minutes. And this was actually me, as a gamer, trying the complete the level as fast as possible, by getting to the top.
First, I was put in a title screen. It was a white room with triangular menu buttons. They rushed me through this part so I could get into the gameplay, but I do remember seeing other buttons that in the full game would probably lead to other levels outside of the Asia one they’ve been showing. I also remember seeing statistics like scores that had to do with the level.
When I got into the level, I was standing on a platform, and was told to first look all around and absorb the beauty of the environment. Indeed, it was gorgeous. The views and scale were what you would expect from Crytek. At this point, I’m fine if a VR game doesn’t have great graphics or photo-realistic scenes, but if does, and it does it well, then I find myself often more impressed by the experience.
So then I began my mountain climbing adventure. Like I said, the level was surprisingly long. It also had different routes. One route I took, I sort of failed at and fell to my death. That was the path that lead straight up. Maybe not such a good idea. After it reloaded me back to the platform, I decided to take the path going to the right, and ended up eventually coming to a save point. I was probably sweating just a bit by then because I didn’t want to have to start over again, and my newness to the game meant I could slip at any time. Thankfully I eventually got a better feel for things and started climbing with more ease. One thing I kept forgetting to do, however, was check my chalk, a gameplay mechanic where you have to chalk up your hands every so often for grip. A status ring on the back of each hand tells you how long until you need more. Sometimes you get so engrossed in trying to climb that you forget to consider that, and that can be risky.
Now, I’m usually afraid of heights, but I didn’t get scared in this experience. I mentioned that I’ve tried Back to Dinosaur Island 2 extensively—several times actually. Only one of those times, and for a split second, did I feel that quickly recognized the telltale feeling in my chest from being dangerously high up. At no other time in my life has that happened to me in VR, with all of my experience with the Rift dev kits, Vive prototypes, etc. So it was no surprise to me that The Climb didn’t induce those feelings in me, especially when my focus, going through the demo, was to complete it like I would as a gamer.
And to me, that’s fine. I really wanted to try a fun game, and that’s what I got. The climbing mechanic worked naturally, even with a gamepad. Just like platforming games might be fun, timing and planning your grips for climbing is also something that can be fun, and works especially well only with VR, where you have that extra input of 1:1 tracked head movements, and eventually more body parts.
I really think the Oculus Touch version of this game could be even more exciting however. For instance, there are parts in the game where you have to jump. You do that with a button press right now, but you can imagine that it’s not as natural as it could be. But think if you had Touch—instead of pressing a button, you use your own hands to push away from the side you’re on, providing momentum for when you let go and launch in whatever direction you decided to go. It’s unknown if that’s exactly how it will work, but nonetheless, the initial thought is enticing.
Also, to address concerns, I did not get motion sick in this experience. I’m someone who gets motion sick with most kinds of artificial locomotion in VR, but not this one. My memory of the experience actually is that it was pretty comfortable, not considering the intense grip in real life that I had on the controllers.
So, finally getting to the end of the level, it really feels like I went through a level from a traditional game, your score and stats appear at the end. But I didn’t pay attention to any of that. When I got to the top and peered over the ledge to the grand sunset over the tropical horizon, I instead focused on the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. The godly visual landscape and sense of place in the world, after having roughed through the challenge and journey of The Climb, was completely worth it.