Aproduct of Crytek’s virtual reality experimentation, The Climb has graduated from prototype to fully fledged Oculus Rift launch title. The game repurposes the glorious landscapes with which the studio made its name, dispensing with stealth and guns in favour of free climbing. The threat of bullets might have gone away but perched hundreds of metres above the ground and clinging to a rock face by your finger tips is no less dangerous a task.
“The cool part about The Climb is that it really allows you to feel that same kind of tension that I see in the Climbing World Cup bouldering finals,” executive producer Elijah
Freeman tells us. “You think, ‘I’m going to reach for this, I’m going to try for that hold,’ and the experience is very visceral. It really makes you believe that you’re there.”
So convincing, in fact, that the team watched on in amusement as players’ thumbs whitened while tightly gripping their controller during demos. You might need to break out the chalk ball while playing, then, but the controls are simple and intuitive. Each of your disembodied hands is mapped to a trigger – when you squeeze it, you’ll grasp the rock face. You aim your free hand by looking around, and if you need to make a risky transfer to another hold, simply tap the jump button, let go and then quickly grasp the trigger again.
Leaping and performing difficult manoeuvres will increase your heart rate and cause protagonist Aln to sweat more, resulting in slippery hands and a greater chance of falling. You can chalk your free hand by tapping the shoulder button, and then switch grip in order to attend to the other hand. The need to ensure you have enough grip for your next move makes the process of ascending each course more involved than simply bounding from hold to hold, adding a light layer of strategy and decision-making to your timed runs. While chalking is currently the only form of inhibiting stamina active in the game, the studio is investigating other potential mechanics for the finished build. And, of course, the game will also support Rift’s Touch controllers when they’re released later this year.
While the only peak to be revealed so far is set in Vietnam’s Halong Bay, the finished game will include several different mountains to attempt from across the globe, and you’ll be able to choose your route up each one as you navigate the game’s open environments in your own way. While The
Climb is a solid demonstration of how developers can imbue VR worlds with convincing physicality, it also has the potential to be something of a dual gateway, both demonstrating the potential of virtual reality and sparking an interest in solo rock climbing and bouldering for those who have yet to try it for real.
“I agree – it feels like it’s going to be that crossover game. I think there’s some crossover that’s going to happen,” Freeman says. “We have subject-matter experts in-house who are rock climbers and they
love it. The open world and the fact that you can choose more than one route or course up the mountain – they love that idea, and they’re trying things that they wouldn’t try in the real world, taking a lot more risks. So it’s open to all kinds of players. If you want to just try to navigate up, and you want to experience the beautiful vistas and the wonder of virtual reality, that option is available to you. However, if you’re adventurous, and you really want to try some difficult moves, then you can do that too.”
But while climbers might not be daunted by towering elevations and the need to contort themselves to work with available holds, the towering pricetag of an Oculus Rift allied with a capable PC might yet prove a stretch too far. However, Freeman is confident that it won’t be a limiting factor.
“My purview is development, so I really don’t know how that’s going to impact the game,” he says. “But to me, if you build good content, the players will come. And that’s exactly what we’re doing – building something that’s awesome.”
You can chalk your free hand by tapping the shoulder button, and then switch grip
There will be multiple mountains to climb in each location, and each one will feature a variety of potential routes
Executive producer Elijah Freeman