Hands On With The Climb, A Visceral VR Experience

by Augmentl, May 4th 2016.

There is something fundamentally visceral about The Climb, and that feeling only gets stronger the harder a particular climb is.

Last night, having just unlocked the Hard difficulty levels, I decided to take on a night time climb over The Bay, an attractive asian setting remindful of Thailand or Indonesia, complete with floating paper lamps and a beautiful view of the moonlit resort below.

My climb of The Bay was tense, and beautiful, and a little scary in places. I was also challenging myself to master the nuanced mechanic of the technical hold, and to perform the entire climb without chalking my hands (I know, I'm a sucker for achievements).

By the time I reached the summit, not only were my legs actually shaking but I had a real, primal "don't look down, but for the love of god don't look UP" feeling from the back of my lizard brain. So, naturally, I put on my best Indiana Jones face and took a step into the void, Leap of Faith style. It was exhilarating.

The Climb, Crytek's first full foray into the Virtual Reality space and a timed exclusive for the Oculus Rift, is the kind of game that could only work in VR. It is also a game that does not treat the player like an idiot, offering instead a rich and nuanced control mechanic which, like the very best of real-world sports, can be easy to pick up yet difficult to master.

The humble Xbox One controller in in fact put to use as a proxy for your hands, with its analog triggers determining the strength with which each hand clutches the rock face. Master the art of the technical hold, a gentle squeeze within a tight range of motion, and your stamina extends to endless levels. Clutch at the rock face too tightly, and as soon as you move one hand you'll be facing a rapidly decreasing countdown to losing your grip and dropping to your death. Chalk up your hands regularly, and you might hold on a little longer.

The control mechanic works well, and the level design is such that seeking the right path through the rock face is both challenging and entertaining. On occasion you will be asked to literally leap across a void, leading to a truly terrifying instant during which you will be praying to grab something at the other hand. While initially frightening, subsequently mastering this ability will not only enable you to cut your climb time, but it will make you feel like a real badass.

There are a few occasions however where you might feel cheated by the game mechanic: a hand refusing to grab a hold just in front of it, or the dreaded metal cables across a void that seem to be specifically designed to repel your virtual hands in places where they should be obviously capable of grabbing. Losing your grip and falling to your death when this happens is more than a bit frustrating, but thankfully it's not too common an event. Thank god for checkpoints.

Crytek have already announced support for the Oculus Touch motion controls when they release later this year, and it will be interesting to see how they will handle the disconnect between a virtual hand clutching a fixed rock face and the player's real hand hovering in mid-air. Counter-intuitively for a game where the player is represented by nothing more than two floating hands, it's hard to imagine precisely how a motion control mechanic would work, the current Xbox One controller method having set such a high bar in terms of intuitive, nuanced control.

The Climb should be played standing up. As your head and gaze determine where your free hand will be moved to, being able to physically jump, stretch, and crouch in order to reach the farther, trickier holds is an absolute must. Played properly, The Climb can in fact be a bit of a workout for both mind and body, the combination of the two working to further immerse the player into the challenge of reaching the summit unscathed.

Unsurprisingly, given its pedigree, The Climb is also gorgeous - an over-saturated, lusciously vivid version of reality where the warm tones of The Canyon contrast against the cool hues of The Alps and the lush greens of The Bay. It is apparent however that, in order to remain within Oculus's minimum hardware requirements, Crytek may have turned down the resolution of the game to a 100% render target, making the gorgeous vistas and distant objects a little less sharp than they might have been. Players with more powerful systems might have appreciated a supersampling option, common in many VR games.

Each of the three available environments - itself divided into three courses of varying difficulties - is filled with hidden trinkets and discoverable objects, as well as multiple paths to the summit that can be uncovered through multiple play throughs. The Climb is fundamentally a game of skill, intended to encourage multiple replays in an effort to find the optimum path up the mountain and achieve the shortest climb time. Leaderboards, achievements and progressive unlocks of new gear and flair feature prominently throughout the game, as does the ability to "ghost race" yourself or other players for an added challenge.

Fundamentally, The Climb has managed to achieve something few games in the current VR space have managed: to create a gaming experience that could only ever work in VR, and one that succeeds in immersing the player at a visceral level. It's a game where you're not merely an observer or an avatar, but a deeply engaged version of yourself - clutching at the rock face for dear life.

Make sure to hold on tight.