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.
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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.
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.
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.