I’m in a pretty awkward spot when it comes to reviewing VR video games. I absolutely love the technology, VR gaming allows me to shut out the world and fully immerse myself in experiences, but certain VR games can be physically prohibitive for me to play.
I struggle a lot with motion sickness when gaming, both generally in first person titles, and particularly in certain kinds of VR experiences. VR titles where I can move around a world by teleporting from point to point are generally pretty enjoyable for me, but any games where movement through a world is controlled using an analogue stick to walk around tends to make me feel pretty ill, pretty quickly.
Motion Sickness is a routine issue in VR titles with analogue stick walking for many players, due in part to the disconnect that can occur between a person’s eyes and their vestibular system, responsible for detecting movement and balance. It looks to your eyes like you’re moving, but your movement sensors in your body know that you’re stationary, and that division causes feelings of nausea.
I bring this up because, right now, Horizon: Call of the Mountain is really impressing me. The game has accessibility options designed to help mitigate motion sickness in motion sickness prone players, but I’ve not needed to use a lot of them. I’ve been using an analogue stick to move my character, and not feeling ill in the process.
I don’t know at this point how much of this is down to the PS VR2 headset, and how much is down to this particular piece of software, but I’m pretty blown away by how smoothly my experience is going.
For a little bit of an overview, Horizon: Call of the Mountain is set in a mountain region of the same world explored in the Horizon open world adventure games. Rather than itself being an open world affair, the game’s lengthy but linear adventure sees the player climbing up mountains using their hands to grip onto hand holds, fighting enemies with weapons such as a bow and arrow, and collecting supplies to create new gear.
On first setup, Horizon: Call of the Mountain asks players if they would like to play seated, or standing. While both playstyles are supported without too much issue, it is important to note that Call of the Mountain does require players to be able to hold and use both PS VR2 sense controllers, as well as move both of their arms in a wide range of angles, including raising their arm to put their hand above their shoulder. The game does ask which is a player’s “dominant hand”, but how much this impacts is a little unclear.
While the in-game climbing mechanics can be made to work by players unable to use both hands, as I will explain a little later, the game unfortunately requires two hands for a lot of other in-game actions, such as holding your bow and pulling back an arrow to fire, or combining two held items to craft new gear. While some aspects of the game could be worked around to play one handed, I’m not confident this game can be readily completed without using both controllers unfortunately.
Players are also given the option early on in setup to turn on gaze tracking, allowing for menu selections to be made by looking toward the appropriate option rather than by using traditional controls. It’s neat, it works surprisingly well. In these menus it’s more of a gimmick than anything, it’s a tech demo to show you what this tech can do.
Subtitles can be switched on for both dialogue and non-dialogue closed captions, but there is unfortunately no ability to customise the positioning of these subtitles. Subtitles will always be fairly front and centre in front of the player’s face, but cannot be for example positioned to be lower than this default, to be glanced down at using your eyes without getting in the way of other events happening directly in front of the player.
Subtitles can be made larger than their default, and are able to be set with custom colours per speaker, and speaker name tags.
In terms of ways to move around the world, Horizon: Call of the Mountain does feature an option for world traversal using gestures, but this system was a little confusing to use. I initially attempted to try this control method, due to my usual issues with analogue stick movement motion sickness, but I could not reliably get my character to navigate the world this way, I don’t know what I was doing wrong with the motions but it just wasn’t working, so I switched to the traditional stick based movement mode, and was really impressed with the level of customisation available to mitigate discomfort.
Firstly, Call of the Mountain offers players three stick movement presets, ranging from comfort (featuring snap rotation, slow movement speed, and screen vignetting), through to options with faster movement, smoother rotation, and reduction or removal of the vignette effect.
For any players unaware, Vignette effects basically reduce a player’s field of view, making it in this case appear like the player is looking at the world through a pair of binoculars. This is used to help reduce motion sickness for some players, but it’s pretty aggressively applied in the “comfort” preset. In this section of the game’s opening that is on screen, you can see it applied any time the boat is turning around a corner.
From there, Horizon: Call of the Mountain offers players a dedicated accessibility settings menu, which offers a few important tools to players.
“Disable Falling While Climbing” is a really useful setting for players with motion sickness or vertigo, as it ensures that a misplaced handhold doesn’t result in a stationary player seeing themselves falling a great distance, causing issues. Additionally, if you are someone who cannot comfortably use both hands to engage in climbing motions, bit do still want to try and play through this game, you can use a single hand to control the game’s climbing sections, floating in place between each time you use a hand to reach and pull yourself toward progress. The fact that neither of your hands is holding onto anything as you take one hand and put it somewhere new to pull yourself isn’t going to make you fall.
Auto Load Arrows and Slow Time in Tool Selector both allow the player to lessen the likelihood of death during preparation moments. By allowing arrows to be loaded simply by pulling the bow string, or giving the player additional time to select tools in combat without being attacked, basically you’ve got a bit more breathing room to play with.
Aim Assistance works much as you would expect, but interestingly also offers gaze tracking support, which seems to specifically help guide your arrows mid flight slightly towards wherever you’re looking, allowing for a greater degree of aim assist for players who struggle with hand-eye coordination. It’s subtle, it’s natural, it worked really well, and wasn’t obvious what it was doing in the moment.
Damage Dealt and Damage Received multipliers are fairly self explanatory.
The final initially offered setting, Climbing Reach Multiplier, increases the distance that your virtual arms will move compared to your arms in the real world. This can be useful for players with more limited mobility, or those who are simply shorter than average, or with shorter length arms.
Once you’re in the game itself, there are a few additional options available that are not initially presented to the player.
In the audio menu, players can tweak the balance of game audio, turn on closed captions which appear below the default subtitles, and increase the size of subtitles above their default. As previously mentioned, you cannot customise their position. I usually play all video games with subtitles turned on, but in this case I found their position a little too distracting to play with for regular gameplay.
In the Custom Comfort and Movement Settings menu, players can apply more advanced tweaks to the way movement in Call of the Mountain works, and this is where I found the most settings of interest.
By setting the right analogue stick to snap rotation rather than smooth so that the game turns in angular increments, turning down the strength of the in game vignette effect, allowing the game to render at a higher resolution where I was looking and a lower resolution in my peripheral vision (known as foveated rendering), while leaving my movement speed set to slow, I was able to walk around Call of the Mountain’s beautiful world using analogue stick movement, for lengthy play sessions, without feeling motion sick, a rarity for me in this style of game.
I think that, at least in part, this is thanks to Call of the Mountain never requiring you to use analogue stick movement quickly, under time pressure, in the heat of the moment. Combat encounters take place on a static line, with the analogue stick used to dash teleport left and right dodging attacks, hopping between discrete locations, rather than requiring motion sickness prone movement types with lots of sudden and dramatic turning. However, I think that part of it is also to do with the headset itself, in that I played around 6 hours of PS VR2 titles on my first day with the headset, and none of the titles I played that would commonly be motion sickness triggers for me caused me issues.
It is entirely possible that I had a lucky first experience with this headset, and this game in particular, but as a motion sickness prone VR gamer, this is one of the first VR headsets that I’ve had such a positive first impression with in terms of analogue stick movement based titles.
Horizon: Call of the mountain is a big, grand, dramatic adventure, and one I’m really enjoying. The degree with which I was able to simply play the game without thinking about the fact I was in VR at all is rare, and something I really valued.
I’ve not yet finished Call of the Mountain, but I’m really excited about the realisation that I’m going to be able to play it through in decently lengthy play sessions.