You no longer need to risk breaking your neck to climb a mountain. With virtual reality, you can strap in and experience it in your pajamas.
The Climb is the latest exclusive release for the Oculus Rift. This is developer Crytek’s first VR game, and it shows off what the company’s CryEngine game-making toolkit can do in VR. It’s out now on the Oculus Store for $50, which is a steep asking price (pun intended) considering most VR games are nothing more than $5-to-$30 experiences.
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But after reaching The Climb’s summit multiple times, I’ve found that this is the best Rift game yet — even if its hold occasionally slips.
What you’ll like
The Climb works as a game
Many people worry that the $600-to-$800 virtual reality systems don’t have any “real” games — and it’s true that a lot of what you’ll find on Rift and HTC’s competing Vive are not the 20-hour big-budget games you’d maybe find on the Xbox One. But The Climb is no tech demo. Its core mechanics are so fun that I’d enjoy them on a TV.
The Climb is about scaling mountains using an interface that combines looking around with your headset and the Xbox One controller. It uses a number of simple systems to keep you moving, and it treats the act of climbing as a puzzle and as an action game. You’re constantly under the threat of losing your bonus score or running out of stamina. That’ll get your heart pumping. And your ticker might even jump outta your chest when you leap from one hold to one on the opposite wall while you’re 200 feet in the air. This never got old for me, and you can chalk that up to the presence of VR.
The Climb has three mountains, and each of these have multiple paths depending on the difficulty. While ascending those variations, you’ll also find hidden branches as well that are often even more challenge or provide you a more scenic route.
You climb by aiming your two disembodied hands with your headset. If you look at a hold, your hands will hover over that ledge. Then, by depressing the index-finger trigger buttons, you’ll latch onto the wall. You’ll stay attached as long as you are pressing the button or until your stamina gives out or — in certain circumstances — the rock you’re hanging from crumbles.
You can recharge your stamina by gripping with both hands simultaneously, and you can extend the length of your stamina meter by letting go of the wall with one hand and hitting the corresponding index-finger bumper button to chalk up your palms.
Finally, you also get a score as you climb, which depends on whether you reach out and grab a new hold within a certain amount of time and without going back to a grip you’ve already used.
All of these systems combine into an elegant climbing game where you’re rewarded for taking risks and keeping a steady pace.
The presentation enables the mechanics to shine
What I like most about this is that it’s fair in its punishment, and if you are paying attention or are quick at responding, you can usually get out of most tough situations. That’s because Crytek has included a number of incredible presentation and human-interface tricks to give you the right amount of feedback at all times without relying on a heads-up display that doesn’t usually work in VR.
For example, I had an excellent run going on one of the stages when I reached out to a grip without realizing that it was one that would crumble (they look fragile, and you won’t make that mistake twice). My Xbox One controller started to rumble to indicate my demise was imminent. That gave me all the information I needed to instantly whip my head to the left and tap the jump button. It was not enough time to know if I had leaped toward anywhere to safely rest. As I soared alongside the wall and toward the ground, I spotted a hold, locked into it with my vision, and timed it so I pulled my triggers as my body was about to fly right past it and toward its death.
Unfortunately, only one of my hands latched on, and a jump takes a massive chunk from your stamina meter. This immediately put my attached hand into the warning zone, and I could tell that because a bright red glow emanated from that hand and filled my vision. But while I knew that I was about to fall, I didn’t have enough time to process which one of my virtual hands had a grip, and so I didn’t want to try to grab again on the same ledge and risk falling. So, in less than a second, I whipped my vision to the left again and made another blind jump. This time, I did land with both hands on a ledge — only I was so jittery that I made another, completely unnecessary jump.
This last time, however, I spotted an obviously safe cliff wide enough for both of my hands to safely clamp down on, and it turns out it was where I needed to go anyway.
That entire sequence didn’t take more than five or six seconds, and it was absolutely thrilling. Having the face of the mountain right up against your vision is a big part of that, but I also found that having all of those informative tricks made me want to keep going since I always knew where I stood and what was about to happen to me.
Strong multiplayer features
The Climb is primarily an asynchronous multiplayer game. You won’t find a narrative campaign and getting to the top of the mountain is only exciting once or twice. What should keep you coming back is the smart leaderboard features and scoring system. It’s awesome to go back and forth with other people in an effort to beat their best climbs.
This goes beyond leaderboards with a ghost system. Before you start the level, you can check the worldwide high scores or the scores of your Oculus friends and choose the option to climb against their ghost. This will enable you to see what their character did and whether or not you can beat it to the top. When you do overcome a friend, they’ll get a notification in the game.
Combining strong mechanics and score chasing is an easy way to keep players coming back, and I plan to check in with The Climb regularly to keep my place on the leaderboard.
What you won’t like
The controls are occasionally frustrating
I love a lot about playing The Climb, but its controls have a serious flaw. The issue is that you’ll sometimes come across a hold that is just out of your reach or around a corner. The idea here is that you’re supposed to stand up on the tips of your toes or bend your body around to get a better look at the hold so your hand will actually grab when you look at it.
The problem here is that your hand doesn’t always do what you think it’s going to do.
In one instance, I saw a hold that looked like it was in my range, so I reached out for it and my hand did find purchase. I quickly adjusted my head position and tried to reach out my neck, but I still couldn’t get a hold. I could see my floating gripper struggling just underneath the nook, so I just started spamming the grip while gyrating and contorting my body in every position I could think of. All this time, my freshly chalked stamina meter on the other hand was wasting away.
I finally freaked out and decided to go back and get a two-hand grip where I already was to reset my stamina, but now I couldn’t get my hand to latch on to its original hold. And before I could figure it out, I fell from the wall and to my death while cursing The Climb.
This is going to happen to you, and it’s infuriating.
Your mileage will depend on having friends to play against
While The Climb has awesome multiplayer features … well, that requires human beings to have the Oculus Rift. Most people aren’t going to spend the money, and many of those who have still haven’t received their order from Oculus. Even if you do have a friend or two with the Rift, they’re going to need to spend $50 on The Climb.
This means I have two people on my friend leaderboard, and I’ve never met either of those people in real life. That’s not exactly an environment that breeds long-lasting competition.
The Climb has a really sturdy foundation built on entertaining mechanics, great feedback that keeps you moving, and deep hooks for multiplayer. At the same time, frustrations with the controls and a lack of an audience damages a lot of what Crytek has built. Despite that, however, The Climb is proof that we’re going to get VR software that gamers can love, and I’m hoping that people will give it a chance so that I have more folks to play against.
Oculus provided GamesBeat a copy of The Climb.