There are experiences that seem made for VR, and we can now add climbing to that list.
Crytek’s The Climb takes a really simple concept and turns it into one of the most thrilling VR experiences yet, and it’s all because it just feels so right.
That concept is simply climbing from a starting point to a finish. In the case of the demo level I played the starting point was a red, wooden platform already a fairly long way up a cliff face in an idealised version of Halong Bay in Vietnam.
Before attempting to climb anything you really have to soak up the scenery: there are tourist boats meandering around, other rocky promontories dotted about the bay, a lovely looking resort below and sea turtles doing that underwater flying thing they do. In other words; it’s paradise, glowing in the sort of glorious virtual sunset that feels as though it’s giving off actual warmth.
But this isn’t a sunbathing simulator; it’s a climbing simulator, so I turn away from the bay and face the wall.
Up, up and away
The mechanic is beautifully simple: you scan the rock face for handholds, which are often marked with chalk and prompt a gripping animation from the disembodied hands floating in front of you. Press the left or right trigger on the controller and the corresponding hand will grip the ledge you’re looking at. Then it’s just a case of looking for the next handhold and using your other hand in order to make progress. Simple, right?
It is, but that doesn’t mean it's not also challenging. Just finding the next hand hold can involve a vertigo inducing lean along the face of the cliff, and it’s often worth thinking a step or two ahead so that you don’t climb your way into a dead end or wind up on the wrong hand, unable to reach the next ledge. You can swap hands, but it's a terrifying experience.
This death won't be your last
And then there’s the jumping. Some grips just can’t be reached, no matter how much you stretch, which is why you have a jump button. At one point I had to leap across a ravine, and as I looked down to the rocks and waves, hundred of metres below, I couldn’t help but ponder what Morpheus said about death in the matrix. I pressed the button, gripped both triggers and... fell to my doom.
Thankfully, the screen faded to black before hitting the surf, and I reappeared at the last checkpoint, each of which is represented by a carabiner fixed to the rock face. Falling is essentially like plucking a nostril hair, then: terrifying, but over in an instant.
After many such falls I did get the hang of it, though, and before too long I’d reached the summit, relieved, exhausted and a little bit sweaty: of course the game can’t recreate the physical exertion of climbing, but the fear-induced adrenaline is present and correct.
You're the king of the castle
At the top you’re presented with not only a stunning view, but also a score that takes in a variety of factors, including the speed of your ascent. I can see the competitive aspect of The Climb becoming seriously addictive.
This is one of the finest VR experiences I’ve had so far, and it will only be enhanced by the Oculus Touch controllers, which I'm promised will be supported.