One of the big questions on my mind ever since the announcement of Horizon Call of the Mountain for PSVR 2 is whether it would be a short ‘experience’ designed as a simple demo for the headset, or a full blown game. After going hands-on with the title I’m happy to report that it not only aims to deliver a full campaign, but it’s also brimming with insightful VR design.

We’ve seen it before and I’m sure we’ll see it again—a big name studio tries their hand at creating a VR game and the end result makes it seem like they never really ‘got’ VR in the first place.

After nearly an hour of hands-on with the game on PSVR 2, I’m satisfied this will not be the case with Horizon Call of the Mountain.

Check out our detailed hands-on with PSVR 2 hardware

Developed in conjunction with Sony’s first-party Guerrilla Games and Firesprite Studios—it’s clear that not only do the people building the game ‘get’ VR, but they get it well enough to think outside the box and introduce novel VR mechanics that are quite promising.

My time with Horizon Call of the Mountain started with the ‘river ride’ that was revealed in the announcement trailer. While it was suggested previously this might be a separate little demo experience that’s attached to the game, it turns out this is essentially the very start of the campaign—and visually it looks every bit as good as the trailer suggests, right down to the lens flares coming off of the robotic beasts.

Image courtesy Guerrilla Games

But beauty in a Horizon game never guarantees safety… it wasn’t long before I was tipped out of the boat by one of the machines and had to swim and climb my way to safety.

It became soon apparent the developers have really sat down and thought carefully about how they wanted Call of the Mountain to play as a VR game. By default (at least at this stage) players are immediately introduced to an ‘arm swinger’ locomotion method (where you hold a button and swing your arms to move forward) which quickly came to feel quite natural and immersive. The studios say the game supports typical thumbstick movement too, but I didn’t feel compelled to enable it during my time with the game.

Photo by Road to VR

Beyond swinging your arms to walk about, it’s clear that climbing will be a big part of the game (and, hey… if a mountain is indeed calling you, you’d better expect to do some climbing). That’s made quite easy thanks to PSVR 2’s new motion controllers which handled the task deftly, as well as the subtle and engaging visual affordances the studio is using to make your climbing path clear without being too obvious.

Image courtesy Guerrilla Games

The game’s locomotion method is far from the only thoughtful thing it’s doing as far as VR is concerned. As I progressed through the start of the game I was happily surprised to find a world convincingly full of interactive objects and a solid physics-based interaction system. I was happy to find on multiple occasions that my instinct to reach out and touch hanging vines and large plants was rewarded with them actually responding to my touch.

And beyond just vegetation, the studio seems intent on filling the world with interactive objects for the player to discover. There’s barrels and boxes strew about which you can look inside of to find loot. Small artifacts—like pots, tools, and dolls—to pick up and inspect (or, let’s be honest… throw and smash into pieces). And I spotted a handful of interactive objects that had secondary functions to add to the game’s immersion: there was a paintbrush which could be used to paint on a cave wall, drums which could be played with mallets, and even a makeshift maraca instrument which made a satisfying rattling sound when shaken.

Photo by Road to VR

Frankly… I’ll be impressed if the studio can keep up this level of interesting VR interactivity throughout the entire campaign without simply re-using the same few items. Fingers crossed.

But smashing pots and painting cave walls is far from the main thrust of the gameplay. It wasn’t long before I got my hands on a bow, and it became apparent quickly that this will be the game’s main combat tool.

Image courtesy Guerrilla Games

As far as gameplay implementation goes, the bow is pretty standard for what you’d find in a VR game… you can pull an arrow from the quiver on your back, draw the bow, and fire. But Horizon Call of the Mountain is adding its own unique flavor to VR bow combat by innovating on the locomotion side.

Once you start a fight with one of the machines, you’re attached to a circular ‘track’ that spans the fighting area. By ‘grabbing’ in the air with the controller and then pulling your hand left or right, you slide along the track, allowing you to quickly strafe and dodge around the enemy while stopping to let some arrows fly.

Image courtesy Guerrilla Games

On paper the system sounds a bit… weird… but it not only makes nimbly navigating fights much easier than free-form locomotion, it also helps make it really feel like a Horizon VR game.

It’s common in the non-VR entries of the franchise to fight large, well armored machines that need to be picked apart strategically rather than destroyed in just a few hits. In practice many of the fights really do involve strafing in large circles around dangerous foes to dodge their attacks and return fire. The circle-strafe system in Horizon Call of the Mountain aims to bring that sort of combat into VR in a way that’s both comfortable and indicative of the source material.

Photo by Road to VR

So far I find the system intriguing and I’d say it seems to work well. A big question on my mind is whether it will become stale if overused; the developers didn’t want to say much more but teased that they have ideas for keeping combat fresh as the player progresses.

Graphically, Horizon Call of the Mountain is steps beyond anything we’ve seen to date on the original PSVR. It’s not just the far higher resolution on PSVR 2, but the power of PS5 is clearly being tapped to create lush and detailed environments, which I’d say are approaching Half-Life: Alyx in terms of quality.

Image courtesy Guerrilla Games

In my time with the game it’s clear that exploration, climbing, and bow combat are major pillars of gameplay, but the developers are also promising a rather in-depth crafting system that has yet to be revealed, along with puzzle-solving and an “epic” story. Much of the crafting, it seems, will involve creating new arrow types… though the developers have also teased that you’ll have more interesting tools than just the bow.

Together that will form what the developers say will be a story campaign in the order of seven hours or so, plus some “additional content” included in the game (I’m thinking something like an ‘arena mode’ is a likely addition for replayability).

– – — – –

The developers aren’t saying if Horizon Call of the Mountain will be a launch title for PSVR 2, but considering the mature state of the game as I’ve experienced thus far, it certainly seems likely. Ultimately I’m impressed with what I’ve seen and hopeful that Guerrilla and Firesprite manage to keep hitting the impressive bar they’ve set with the game’s gameplay and interactivity.


Disclosure: Sony assisted with travel & lodging expenses to an event where information for this article was gathered.

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  • Nevets

    Graphics approaching Half-Life alyx? I would have thought they would be at least as good.

    • namekuseijin

      don’t pay much heed to valve fanboys: Hitman has better graphics than Alyx.

      this is unheard of graphics in VR so far, especially given all the physics,,

      of course, that seems to comes at the cost of some gameplay… instead of coming up with new ways to quickly traverse, focus, slow time and do proper combat in VR with physics, combos and all, Valve and Sony are just reducing the number of opponents you need to deal with…

      hopefully modders show them how to do it…

      • Tommy

        Hitman better than Alyx? Gotta disagree with that one. However, it’s subjective so I can’t say you’re wrong.

      • Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne

        Hitman graphics better than Alyx? You need to be slapped for that comment alone

      • NL_VR

        i dont agree at all. better visuals maybe depending of personal taste.
        But in Alyx lots of stuff isnt static objects that cant be moved like in Hitman.
        Its verry easy to make a good looking game were nothing is a physical object than making a game with loth of physical objects that fly around and can be moved.
        Have you even played HL Alyx?

        • ViRGiN

          so, you’re a developer now?

          • NL_VR

            do you have nice weather over there?

          • ViRGiN

            it’s always sunny in california.

        • namekuseijin

          dude, Hitman is about stealth and assassinations, not picking scenery props to look it up. you can however pick up useful items for assassinations, including swinging golf clubs at the right heads and throwing coins or other small objects for distraction… Alyx otoh is a typical game to sell VR to VRgins, full of idiot restrictions and the Job Sim approach of selling VR to people who never played VR: here are dozens of objects lying around, take your time to play at will with them, actual missions can wait… meh

          • NL_VR

            Well i have always been a little annoyed by games that have props staying as static objects.
            Like for example you shot a window, a bottle or something with a gun. Instead of the object moving or breaking it just get a bullet hole texture on top. or you throw in a handgranade and everything thats left is a black stain after the explotion but everything else standing in place.
            Its down to personal taste and what limitations you accept.
            You seem more of a flatscreen gamer and thats ok, Hitman does feel more like a flatscreen to vr mod than a real vr game.

          • namekuseijin

            weird take, given flat games usually have far more physics and explosions going on than in most VR games. Shooting things and seeing them explode, that’s fun – reloading guns and handling tea cups, that’s boring AF but somehow that’s the main VR fanboy kink…

          • NL_VR

            Well i dont play many flatgames maybe but those i have doesnt make the description you make.
            Yeah maybe half life 2 and similar :D

  • Ender772

    I dont know why this is not coming out for PCVR. i guess they only wanted 1/3rd of the profit

    • Christian Schildwaechter

      You are assuming that they will make any significant profit on the HMD itself. That will of course depend on the yet unannounced price, but so far it looks like they managed all the impressive performance without relying on any particularly expensive hardware components. Meaning the device was designed so it could be produced (and sold) at a rather moderate price, and this most likely not to increase their margin.

      Most of the demo was about the software, and to get non-Sony AAA developers to also support the PSVR 2, they will have to provide them with a much larger user count than the 6mn the PSVR 1 had. The small VR market is as much a problem for Sony as for anybody else, making it unappealing for developers to invest, when they can only expect low sales numbers compared to pancake games.

      Sony tries to reduce development costs by pushing hybrid games, but even those will cost extra money to make. And Sony isn’t going to get the required large user base if the PSVR 2 costs as much as a PS5 itself, so they have to make a much more attractive offer than with the PSVR 1, making it more likely it will be sold rather cheap, and all the profits will have to come from software sales.

      This gives Sony even less incentive to sell an HMD that also works with SteamVR than Meta had when they released the Quest. Meta kind of had to open it up, because there were already 3rd party streaming solutions and the Quest simply couldn’t provide the same visual quality as PCVR. None of these reasons apply to Sony.

      The only money they could make from PC users would be if the also ported their own PSVR 2 titles to PC, which might not even be feasible if performance depends on eye tracking, the fast SSD and shared GDDR6 RAM, none of which can be assumed to be available in PCVR systems. And 30% of that money would still go to Steam. So your “1/3rd of the profit” estimate is somewhat off.

      • Mr.Philgood

        without relying on any particularly expensive hardware components… The most expensive part about the Quest 2 are the controllers. The PSVR controllers are even more advanced with the haptic feedback. And the headset has eye tracking. Eye tracking for the Vive Focus 3 alone costs 249$. I’m assuming the PSVR will be more expensive than a Quest 2.

        • Christian Schildwaechter

          The most expensive part about the Quest 2 are the controllers. The PSVR controllers are even more advanced with the haptic feedback.

          Do you have any source for the controller costs? When the CV1 was revealed some analysts did a complete breakdown of the components, including the Xbox One controller it initially came with. The controller came down to USD 16 in production costs.

          A Quest controller is basically half an Xbox One controller plus an IMU to track rotation and acceleration, two capacitative buttons and some IR LEDs. Using AliExpress, I can buy a 6DoF IMU for USD 2, 100 IR LEDs for USD 3, a capacitative touch sensor for USD 2. IMU and sensor come mounted on PCBs to connect to an Arduino, and the prices include the costs for individually shipping them around half the globe. If I bought ten of the sensors without the PCB, the per piece price drops to USD 0.34. So I’d guess a single Quest controller should be much cheaper than USD 25 to produce.

          For the added haptics in PSVR 2 I offer a pack of ten 98E vibration motors for USD 4 from AliExpress, also including shipping. I’m pretty sure the Sense controllers will use better motors, but this stuff isn’t expensive.

          And the headset has eye tracking. Eye tracking for the Vive Focus 3 alone costs 249$.

          The Tobii modules for the Focus 3 aren’t expensive because of the components, but because they are a tiny niche product sold in low numbers, where each unit has to pay for a significant part of the development costs. Just like the Varjo XR-3 doesn’t contain USD 10,000 worth of components.

          We know that Cambria will use five “Esker” camera sensors for eye and face tracking, each with 400*400 pixels. PSVR 2 uses two sensors for eye tracking, as does the Focus 3 module, for which we know that it runs them at 60Hz. Going back to Aliexpress, I can buy an VGA OV7670 camera sensor (only nIR, filter has to be removed, PCB mounted) for USD 3 incl. shipping, the IR LEDs would be the same as above. Obviously Sony/Meta use different components, but electronics are cheap in general, the most expensive components are the SoC and the display, and even these come to only about USD 60-100 each in current high end phones.

          Patents and licenses are usually a big part of costs, and for eye tracking Tobii holds so many that it is very hard to work around them. With Tobii providing the PSVR 2 eye tracking, each PSVR 2 will come with some costs for it, which is of course hard to estimate. But when they announced the partnership, I did some estimates based on the company stock price. Assuming that Sony is aiming to sell 20mn PSVR 2 and there would be a license fee per device, that license fee should be less than USD 18, because for that they simply could have bough Tobii, who where worth USD 360mn back then and hadn’t reported a profit for years. Since Tobii still owns itself, the license fee should be less than USD 10 per PSVR 2.

    • ViRGiN

      1/3? nobody buys anything on pcvr. it’s a beat saber machine

      • Trodelphin

        you could not be more wrong, you could try… but you could not be

        • ViRGiN

          with this little trick you prove me all wrong, noice!

    • shadow9d9

      Because pcvr is devalued by constant sales and thye numbers sold are pitiful due to low pcvr retention of users. Quest games sell literally 10x the amount of pc sales. So, not 1/3..more like 1/30.

  • Tommy

    7 hours? That’s not very good. It’s not bad but definitely short for a “AAA” title, imo.

    • Jarrod Braun

      I don’t mind if it’s priced appropriately. If they’re charging a full $60 for it then no way, but $30-$40 is reasonable.

      • Tommy

        Yeah man, it looks really good so I will get it regardless. I was just hoping for a long campaign

    • NL_VR

      see it as an introducion for newcomers to VR.
      Much like Alyx was.

      • Jeremiah Tothenations

        HL:A is a lot bigger than 7 hours though.

        • shadow9d9

          4 of the first 5 hours are just through samey, dark hallways. Padding.

          • Jeremiah Tothenations

            Agree to disagree.

        • ViRGiN

          it’s roughly 5 hours you troll.
          just because you’re slow and play it like the first video game in your history does not make it a longer game.

          • Jeremiah Tothenations

            It’s more like 20 hours. Grow up kiddo.

      • Tommy

        I would rather see it as a full length campaign that I can sink many hours into. I don’t give a shit about newcomers, lol

    • peter vasseur

      7 hours depending on how you play. I think most people will have over 10, with all
      The messing around and wonder of the new higher budget experience.

    • shadow9d9

      “AAA” nowadays means repetitive and soulless to the max.

  • Ad

    I feel like arm swinging would work so much better if the direction of the waist was being tracked.

    • Ben Lang

      The implementation in Horizon seems to attempt to do this. It looks like it calculates a ‘forward’ based on the rotation of your hands, so as long as they are forward you can rotate your head to look left/right without changing directions.

      • Ad

        That’s the problem. It needs to be not depend on either your hands or your face, so you can actually play shooters , for example.

  • I got excited when you said that graphics approach Half-Life Alyx levels

    • shadow9d9

      So it would be good at creating endless dark, samey hallways well?