Review: The Climb
Crytek's The Climb hints at great things, but offers an inherently limited experience.
Crytek’s first official videogame title for virtual reality (VR), The Climb, launches as an Oculus Rift exclusive. With the premise being that the player is pulled through the level by their somewhat ethereal hands one might suspect that the videogame was designed with motion-controllers – namely Oculus Touch – in mind, yet here we are at launch with the Xbox One controller as the default input. Can a VR experience with its central mechanic being hand movement achieve its goals without direction hand input?
The Climb begins directly with a tutorial that teaches players all the necessary controls and the mechanics of the videogame. Using the left and right triggers on the Xbox One controller to grip with the left and right hand respectively, the player must look at the ledge they wish to grab and release one of the triggers to move their hand into that position, before pulling it again to grab the ledge. They propel themselves upwards with this simple system.
Stamina and chalking add a little more flavour, but The Climb remains an inherently simple videogame throughout. Stamina depletes when just one hand is holding a ledge and will recharge when both are connected. Chalking, the LB or RB buttons for left and right hand respectively, will add an additional layer of stamina to prevent falling for a longer period of time.
Should you fall however, Crytek have been very careful to ensure that you would still want to return to The Climb. A short distance is travelled as the screen fades to white and an instant respawn at the last checkpoint is the worst you’ll suffer. As simple and inviting a design this is for VR – overcoming the many issues people may find with a long descent and sudden impact – it does make The Climb a very short experience. It’s not difficult to complete every course the videogame features in a couple of evenings.
Will you return to The Climb? Well, it features multiple routes through each stage, a ludicrous number of in-game Achievements to unlock (tied directly to in-game progression), customisable gear (gloves, wristwatch etc.) and online leaderboards – including asymmetrical races against the ghost hands of higher ranked players – but this doesn’t really feel like enough to command the attention of most players beyond the same newness trap that many VR videogames are falling into at present: yes it’s fun at first, but once the novelty of being an entirely new kind of experience wears off it simply can’t stand up to more enduring videogames.
The quality of the visuals in The Climb is second-to-none. Easily the best looking videogame currently available for the Oculus Rift, one of the biggest draws is the incidental detail – the dragonflies that approach, the beetles crawling on the rocks and the sweat that drips when stamina is low – while the draw distance is never less than stunning. The first instances of playing The Climb will be vastly more protracted than any later speed runs simply for the enjoyment of looking around the awe-inspiring vistas Crytek throw at the player with wild abandon.
For all intents and purposes, The Climb comes very close to the far reaching videogame experience the modern player expects. Unlockables, Achievements, varied gameplay options and a smooth yet challenging difficulty curve, however the basic premise of the videogame simply won’t keep many player’s interest beyond the first few runs. The videogame would surely be better with Oculus Touch input – Crytek would be crazy not to update The Climb at a later date for exactly this reason – but on a control pad it resides as a videogame with an instantaneous ‘wow’ factor and little reason to come back after this dilutes.