I've been following the PlayStation VR2's pre-launch pretty closely. From the announcement of its price, to the reveal that MediaTek will be powering the kit with its processors, to the trailer of Horizon: Call of the Wild to really upsell the game (a standout title in a not-so-long list of PSVR2 launch titles).
So, to my surprise, when Sony had four play stations (geddit?) on its stand at CES 2023 – which is the world's largest technology show, based in Las Vegas every January – I jumped at the chance to test out the headset and, more importantly, immerse myself in the world of Horizon in Guerrilla Games' superb Sony PlayStation-exclusive IP, to see what all the fuss is about.
No, I didn't think I'd necessarily like it. But, yes, I loved it (despite no doubt looking like a total VR noob on CES 2023's show floor). Here are five things I learned when checking out Horizon: Call of the Mountain ahead of its 22 February release date...
1. It looks amazing
After adjusting eye-points and setting up eye-tracking, tweaking the available play area, and then getting the PSVR2 headset actually on – all of which Sony staff helped out with, making it pretty effortless – I had a total wow moment when two characters revealed themselves to me in the game, fading in from black, on a rowboat floating through Horizon's machine-infested land.
The interior of the PSVR2 headset itself has a loose silicone black light-resistive layer that's soft, felt comfortable, but more importantly and above all else is really great at keeping light out. And I cannot stress enough how I've had some crap VR experiences when even a little light can get in and ruin the experience. Not so here, PSVR2 feels snugly fitted, doesn't slip about, and the wide field-of-view covers an expansive visual area to really lay the immersion on thick.
The PSVR2's resolution is a massive 2000x2040 pixels per eye – not the lesser 1920x1080 of the original PSVR (as I'd erroneously claimed by silly mistake in my original Horizon: Call of the Mountain article) – which makes things look super detailed. Yes, I'm a glasses wearer, so this can affect fidelity somewhat, usually with additional light blur aberrations, but even so the jungle-laden world of Call of the Mountain looks spectacular.
2. You 'walk with your hands'
I'd pondered over how Horizon would function in a VR setting, as the previous two games on PS4 and PS5 have been at time frantic when you're escaping various machines, rolling out the way on repeat, sliding into long grass, and so on. The simple answer here is: it'll take you some getting used to!
Once you've disembarked the rowboat – which has been knocked over following an attack, so Forbidden West-style you begin underwater – you need to learn to walk and climb. And it's nothing at all like using a DualSense controller on the PS5, that's for sure. I no doubt looked like a total lemon trying to figure it all out as CES 2023 show-goers looked on. The game does hand-hold you to teach you the various control formats though.
To walk/run you need to press-and-hold buttons on each left/right-hand next-gen VR controller and jostle your hands up and down; so you kind of 'walk using your hands'. It's an odd experience, but at least you don't need to navigate around your play area in overdramatic way (you can select if you're seated or standing from the setup menus before you commence play).
You'll need to combine this with using the right-hand thumbstick to quickly 'snap' between your forward-facing position, flick it enough times and you can spin through a full 360-degrees quickly enough. You cannot use the thumbstick whilst pressing-and-holding the buttons, however, so it's a one or other experience – presumably to avoid excessive motion.
3. Climbing is a very different experience
Learning to walk is one thing, learning to climb is a whole other (that classic expression, eh?). It's logical enough though: you press-and-hold the respective left/right triggers to close your hands around climbable edges, which are always coated in white chalk to be visually identifiable. Release your hand/trigger too early, however, and down you'll fall. If there's nothing to hold onto you simply do a thumbs-up, often inappropriately as you fall down.
As you'll need to rotate between left and right hands to climb successfully, often turning your head to look at where your next hold is in your surroundings, it can be a little disorientating at times, and I sometimes climbed vines to nowhere rather than the intended path. In fairness, though, you can hit the 'brick wall' in the other Horizon games anyway if you try climbing up the impossible.
The main take-away from climbing in Call of the Mountain is that it's a lot slower and more methodical than in the non-VR Horizon games. You need to think and action every hand movement and aspect of holding and releasing. This isn't automated climbing-by-numbers stuff, it's a much more involved and slightly slower experience. Hopefully it'll be well integrated into the game, as too much could have the potential to get boring pretty quickly.
4. I don't know what combat will be like
So it looks amazing, it gets a bit of getting used to, and it's not as high-tempo as the non-VR games, but I think Call of the Mountain has the potential to be one of 2023's standout titles on any platform – not 'just another virtual reality game'.
However, given that this was a run-through on a show floor, and time was limited, I didn't get especially far into the demo. While 20 minutes sounds like a reasonable taste, a lot of that time was watching, listening and looking around the environment in almost real-time cutscenes where not all controls were available.
Then there's the whole element of combat: I really don't know how it'll work in this game, because I haven't yet tried it beyond a press-and-release 'push' mechanic where a machine is in your path and needs to be pushed out of the way quickly from a wooden deck so you can proceed onward.
A lot of the Horizon games are built around bow combat, and PSVR2's next-gen controllers clearly have the capacity to make that a really engaging and accurate experience – except, like I say, the demo didn't get to that bit. I've seen Watchers get shot by bow, but it's not something I was able to interact or engage with. And, dang, do I wanna!
5. I now need a PSVR2...
So the conclusion is pretty simple: I'm going to have to buy the PlayStation VR2 hardware and, obviously, need the kit to come with Call of the Mountain included in the box. Playing a little bit of the game made me want to dive in a lot deeper.
A bit like having to buy a Nintendo Switch just to play Zelda (although Tears of the Kingdom will bring me extra value, no doubt), I think it's my Horizon super-fandom that's going to force my hand in buying PSVR2.
I know it's a lot of money, at £570 in the UK or $600 in the US, but in context it's actually not too extortionate compared to the rest of the PC-targeted VR headsets out there, such as Vive and Oculus (sorry, Meta).
If it goes the way of the original PlayStation VR – which arrived almost seven years back, if you can believe that – then I might be looking to the second-hand market. But, hey, I'm happy to play that game if it gains me access to Guerrilla Games' top title...