Frank He goes hands on with a new version of Crytek’s The Climb, now sporting support for the forthcoming Oculus Touch motion controllers, and finds an elevating experience.
The Climb, a VR climbing game by Crytek, was originally released compatible with gamepads only. However, they also previously announced that it would be compatible with the Oculus Touch controllers as an update once they came out. When the game was first revealed, there was initially much skepticism from people about how good the controls would feel without Touch, because controlling hands without the really the actual motion of your hands didn’t seem good.
Since the game has come out, some of that skepticism has gone away, as many have tried the game now and seen that, while perhaps the controls might not be necessarily accurate to real climbing, they still worked pretty well and made for a fun game. Though some still maintain that it isn’t very good, and most still think that Touch will be a welcome addition to the game. In my own impressions, I thought it was plenty entertaining with the gamepad, but at the same time, that I was sure it would be more fun with Touch one day.
And finally, that day has come. At E3, I was able to try The Climb with Oculus Touch through a whole level, though they had the whole game playable. Now I can look back and say with confidence that I was right – the updated game is monstrously fun to play more so than the original. Though there may be some caveats. I will say that a few oddities were present, or took some time to understand and get used to.
First was the movement. I’m not a person that easily gets motion sick in VR, but I could feel that sometimes, like when you drop or when you launch yourself – and yes you can launch yourself with your hands, quite far even – you get that distinct feeling of motion. For some people, that means motion sickness, but the Touch version is still in development so things could change. On the other hand, the way locomotion works is that you move the world around you when you’re gripping, and that didn’t give me the stomach twist. It felt surprisingly natural and not like it would get me motion sick if I were susceptible, however it may be different for other people.
Some other things I think could have been better were how your hands were controlled. First of all, even though they were using the Touch controllers, where you have the potential to track a set of fingers to a certain degree, the only thing that made your fingers move in this demo was pressing the trigger button, which was for grabbing. Since this was just an early demo, full animations may be in the final build. Or perhaps it just wasn’t necessary since you don’t do much else other than grabbing and climbing in this game.
The biggest ‘problem’, or thing I had to learn to get past from my perspective, was the concept of grabbing something using my index finger only. Usually when I think of the grabbing motions I should be doing in The Climb, it’s using my whole hand with all fingers to tightly grip onto a hold. Since the demo only really used the trigger button to make your hands close, I was at first only just bending my index finger while the rest of my fingers didn’t move at all, which didn’t feel completely natural. Later on, I realized something. I didn’t need to do that. I didn’t need to force myself to think that I could only use the trigger button and thus could only move my index finger.
In reality, I could nearly let go, or have an extremely loose grip of the controllers entirely, without too much worry of having them slip out of my hands, because on the controllers there are the rings that sort of catch and wrap around your hand. The wrist straps too of course would be another safety. So I was essentially teaching myself to forget the concept of buttons, thinking “OK, well I should let this grip loose, and then move my hand over there, and then close my hand again.” Doing that, for me, made the controls not an experience of buttons anymore, but an experience of simply using your hands, and it worked. However, perhaps this may not work for everyone as well, as hands come in different shapes and sizes. It’ll be up to you to determine for yourself how to play best, but always keep in mind that you should trust your body and not feel limited by arbitrary control schemes while using Touch. In other words, unlearn what you’ve always been doing with other controllers.
After that, I can only give the experience praise. With the fantastic visuals you’ve come to expect from the original game, but now with the implementation of Touch and natural hand motion, all emotions and feelings of risk and reward are heightened. The addition of Touch transforms the game. Some things are harder and now physically taxing. Let’s also be honest and say that yes, your arms do get tired after a while of moving around, but at the same time, the ability afforded by ultimate freedom in climbing how you want with your own bare hands, in combination with the mechanical execution Crytek pulled off with how your holds work now, give you higher rewards for getting out of higher risks.
The biggest difference here is that in the original game, it was easier to make sure you didn’t fall. All you needed to do was press the trigger and hold it, then look in the direction of where you wanted your hand to be, and the grip snaps in for the most part, but that’s not the case here. Your hand actually has to be in close proximity to something you can grab onto, at the same time that you close your hand using the Touch controller. So hand-eye coordination is important to see where your hands are and in relation to the environment, as well as timing to make sure you don’t close your a hand too soon, before catching the hold, and not too late, missing the hold.
This is important for getting better and faster at climbs, as well as making certain reaches and jumps, because in this game, sometimes you do have to physically launch yourself into the air using your hands, pushing off the ledge you were on, and then grabbing the new ledge just at the right second, at the right place, which to me posed a fair challenge. You also do have to reach or lean a tad for some of the holds. All of these things got my adrenaline pumping more than I could remember in the original game, but it felt even more satisfying after you mastered these physical movements and got through the level.
When you first get in, you take it slowly as you should, then you learn and get more confident moving your hands between holds. Then you can take bigger risks, and you can get better and faster, to the point where it’s almost like you’re dancing through the level, literally.
Now, all of that isn’t to say that the game is now accurate to real rock climbing, because it isn’t, and it wasn’t intended to be. You still feel kind of like superhuman without legs. And in my opinion, the gamepad controlled version is still quite fun and has its own place as a more relaxed, longer lasting sort of experience, but the Touch version is perhaps one of the funnest VR experiences I’ve had up until now, where the physicality only augmented the satisfaction of reaching the top of the route with ferocious, learned efficiency. With that said, at the end of my demo, I wasn’t really that skilled, but I was getting there. And after what I tried, I have no doubt that this isn’t the end of my climbing journey in the world of Touch.