Developer/publisher Crytek Format Rift Release Out now
The greatest trick of The Climb, whether by accident or design, is that you’ll feel like you’ve been on a real rock face after an extended session. In order to ascend the game’s vertigo-inducing routes you simply look at the hold you want to grab, then squeeze either the left or right trigger depending on which hand you’re using. Your free hand moves wherever you aim your gaze, but leaving only one hand on the rock will erode your stamina. You can recover by grasping with both hands, and you can slow the loss of stamina by using the appropriate shoulder button to chalk up. Brilliantly, you can also slightly release a trigger to loosen your grip, preserving your stamina but risking a fall. Despite the fact that neither arms nor legs are represented onscreen, this is a much more convincing interpretation of climbing than we’re accustomed to seeing in games.
It’s also terrifying. While most holds are within arm’s reach, some will need to be leapt to by tapping A to jump. Other times you’ll need to drop down to a ledge that can’t be reached by stretching. And then there are the crumbling, thorny and technical holds that require quick movement and careful management of your stamina. The game includes three locations, each with three routes rated by difficulty, and there’s an infinite climbing wall, which builds around you as you progress. You can tackle any of the main stages in Tourism mode if you just want to explore, or you can pick a time from the leaderboard and attempt to beat the ghostly hands of the player who posted the run.
But despite this smart, moreish setup, The Climb’s otherwise enjoyable mechanics are let down by finicky proximity detection, which makes lining up your hands with holds and ledges far harder than it should be. It’s not a huge problem on the more relaxed easy climbs, but once you start attempting medium and hard courses, portions of which require split-second reactions, it can frustrate to the point of derailment. In most cases there are multiple routes that can mitigate this, but one bottlenecked difficulty spike on the Alps medium course briefly made us consider tossing our expensive Rift hardware out of the window. There’s enough to think about already without worrying about whether your hand is hovering over the right pixel.
It feels like a degree of tweaking could have made this a standout VR title. The sense of achievement you feel on reaching the top of a climb, as your unseen avatar whoops in celebration, can be exceptional, while Crytek’s visual accomplishments deliver some astonishing views on the way up. It all makes it an even greater shame that you’ll sometimes feel compelled to jump off and end it all.
One of The Climb’s chief pleasures is stopping to look around and take in the view. Environments are exquisite, and Crytek has made particularly good use of positional audio for passing helicopters and other daredevils