Review: ‘The Climb’ is the Best-Looking VR Game I’ve Ever Played, But My Neck is Killing Me

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The Climb is a first-person rock climbing game from Crytek that offers charmingly realistic scenery alongside an interesting set of game mechanics that you may or may not fully appreciate. And as one person’s experience may vastly differ from another’s—a necessary preface to what I’ll say next—sufferers of vertigo and/or chronic neck pain will undoubtedly want to pass on Oculus’ newest exclusive.

The Climb is by far the best-looking game I’ve ever seen in virtual reality. Full stop. Its atmosphere is dense with wildlife like curious beetles that skitter away from your outstretched hand, horse flies that buzz around your head, and dangling vegetation that rustles as you move past it on your way up the rock—and it really lives up to Crytek’s affection for detail and overall visual fidelity. But don’t gawk for too long, because your end score depends both on your technical ability and the duration of your climb, so you better get moving.

Ascending the face of a rocky outcropping nearby a pristine beach, I stare intently at my floating, disembodied left hand. I look left, and the hand follows my gaze. I arch my neck up, and the hand stretches out. Pulling down on the left trigger on the Xbox controller, I make contact with a higher divot in the rock face, and pull myself up, of course earning myself experience points in the process. I’m about two-thirds done with ‘the Bay’, the first level of the game, and I can already feel my neck muscles straining from the exaggerated movements I’m making to reach the next hand hold. I push past the growing discomfort in my neck and make a jump to the last ledge, pulling myself up to the top of the rock so I can gaze out over the dusky panorama—a place that’s so convincingly real and teeming with life that it easily trumps any real 360 video I’ve ever seen.

See AlsoReview: ‘Chronos’ is a Massively Beautiful Game That Wants You to Die, and Die You Shall

Each level has the standard difficulty settings; easy, medium, and hard. Although you could complain about the fact that the $49.99 game only has three actual levels—the Bay, the Canyon, and the Alps—each difficulty setting actually leads you a different way around the rock, which was a welcome increase in playability. Interactive leaderboards let you race the ghost of the best climber, and like following a ghost in a racing sim, it provides you with some visual tips on how to best maximize your climbing experience. If you’re still honing your skills, you can hit climb the game’s sisyphean infinite climbing wall.

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The controls left me scratching my head at moments. Shouldn’t grabbing a divot in the side of a mountain be as simple as… reaching out and grabbing it? Not so with The Climb, at least not until Oculus Touch support comes later this year. While most hand holds are obvious and easy to click into, I found myself pawing at things that looked like hand holds, that in real life would easily serve as hand holds, but in The Climb are only decorative pieces of scenery that underline my minor frustration with the game. You can thankfully hang indefinitely on a hold one-handed if you depress the trigger half-way, so the only thing a false hand hold (or one that doesn’t register right away) can rob you of is time. Overall, the Xbox controller doesn’t really do this game the justice it deserves.

And there’s plenty of collectibles and objectives to get along the way, like chalking your hands 100 times, or making 100 successful jumps, which nabs you more accessories like watches, a bright blue wristband that says ‘YOLO’ (which I’m hoping is ironic), or leopard-print climbing gloves. All of these accessories are regrettably useless.

Comfort

Personally The Climb is a pain in the neck. The amount of craning and straining you have to do really takes its toll, and immediately makes you play more conservatively for fear of pulling something. After my first playthrough I understood that part of this was caused by me, simply because I was sitting down in my swivel chair (like all Oculus games thus far) and using my neck for every interaction. There wasn’t any instruction warning me about neck strain, so I tried the game standing up which greatly reduced the pain since I was in part using my back to incline my head. The damage however had already been done, and my neck is still killing me.

The Climb is rated as ‘Intense’ comfort-wise for a reason. The game has a tendency to keep you facing the tracking sensor, which means every time you reach around a corner, or jump to an opposite wall, the world has to shift around you. I have my ‘VR legs’, so I wasn’t bothered that much, but newcomers should be wary.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Comfort
Immersion
Gameplay

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  • Raphael

    I don’t care how pretty it is. I ain’t paying $49.99. There’s no refund option on Oculus VR which makes it worse.

    • scalhoun

      Just email support, they refunded my purchase same day no questions asked.

  • Nads

    A review of a game after only playing through half of the first level! wow.

    Is there any Hive support in this game, this game is meant to be played with motion controllers, I’m sure that xbox controller would not do it justice.

    • Steve Biegun

      Oculus exclusive, so don’t expect it to come to Vive.
      I had the impression that the reviewer had tried more than the initial level. Still, that is disconcerting if he had neck pain after half of a level.

    • Hi Nads. I played through both easy and medium mode for all levels. I might have made it more clear — but to that I effect I did say “each difficulty setting actually leads you a different way around the rock, which was a welcome increase in playability.” How would I know that if I hadn’t played through?

      ‘The Climb’ is an Oculus exclusive, so no Vive support unfortunately.

      • Nads

        “I’m about two-thirds done with ‘the Bay’, the first level of the game”

        Ah i see, my bad, i read it wrong then. I thought that you had only played some of the Bay level only and then reviewed it.

    • DamienKnight

      Lol at this releasing exclusively for the VR system with no touch control. I’m sure something like revive will come out with a hack for it.

      Ignorance is bliss so don’t try something like Job Simulator on Vive or you will be really pissed about the price and no touch controls for the climb.

      I junk oculus touch controls may possibly be better than vives, but you will have to automatically add 2 months to whatever release date they give. Oculus touch, coming in 2017 to most lol

    • vxelmega
    • Raphael

      Yes but in all fairness he did suffer a broken neck half way up the mountain.

  • Peter S

    Sounds like a game waiting for a decent controller. I’ll pass.

  • TaxPayer

    Most games will be better with the touch controllers.

  • CMcD

    This game absolutely needs the touch controllers but even then it seems like it should cost $20 for its brevity of content. Past $30 it gets ridiculous and $50 is just a joke. I bought adrift because it was pretty and it was $20, and I would put this in the same category. Chronos and elite dangerous are the only 2 higher priced games I’ve purchased so far and both have content to support their price.

    • Raphael

      Agree. I bought Adrift for the immersive visuals and low price. Elite is the only game ever I pre-ordered (horizons) and didn’t mind paying for because of the depth and scale. The price is way too steep (pun) with The Climb.

      • CMcD

        Raphael, checkout the other new game “Fates” that’s just popped up in the oculus store. $20 and so far it is one of my favorite rift games, but I like story telling above all.

        • Raphael

          Looks interesting. I will check it out. Thanks.

  • ar03d

    VR tennis and VR boxing is on my VR wishlist.

  • Mattsomatic

    This works really well with the controller. No way it “needs” Touch bolted on – they’ve really balanced it incredibly well for the controls, and I’ve had a blast. In fact I’d wager it might be less enjoyable with Touch, but in a few months we can see. People dismissing this for being joypad only are missing out.

    • Rick

      Agreed!

  • Eric Pipedream Leisy

    So I feel inclined to mention that I just suffered my first bout of “Simulator Sickness” that was so severe I actually ran to my bathroom and ended up vomiting. Wow! It’s really unfortunate, because I really love playing the game- but damn, I really can’t play it for very long stretches….

    • Muhammad Jihad ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

      Haha.