When Crytek launched the original The Climb back in 2016 as an Oculus Rift exclusive it seemed way ahead of its time. Gorgeous to look at, it was hampered by the Xbox controller until Oculus Touch arrived at the end of that year, highlighting how good the new motion controllers were. That now seems an age ago, and plenty has happened since then. For one, its long-awaited sequel The Climb 2 is now exclusive to the Oculus Quest – the poor Rift isn’t getting a look in – and second, can scrambling up new rocks still be as exhilarating in 2021?
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that a VR title built by Crytek on its CryEngine still looks absolutely stunning, on either Oculus Quest headset – Quest 2 does look better obviously. Whilst it’s easy to get engrossed in scaling a new peak as fast as possible ensuring you don’t plunge to your death, just like the original, The Climb 2 doesn’t need to be a fast, arm wearing experience. Even before reaching the top, it’s always nice to look down and around to appreciate the majesty of it all.
But you’re not just here for a pretty sunset or a unique view of the city below, you want to climb, leap for narrow ledges and hang by a couple of fingertips whilst looking for the next suitable outcrop. And that you can do many, many times over. If you’ve played The Climb then all the same basic principles still apply, each hand has a stamina gauge to be cautious of, suddenly losing your grip if it depletes. You can chalk up to extend that grip, carefully chalking one at a time when holding onto a ledge. Plus there are numerous checkpoints on each route up indicated by climbing rings to attach to.
Crytek has gone bigger and better with The Climb 2, introducing new elements which further ground you in the experience, keeping you on your toes (fingertips) at all times. You get a taster of these in the training mode but it’s not until you’re out on a cliff edge that these features really begin to sink in. Dynamic objects are now a major part, affected by any weight placed upon them. So ropes across a cavern bob up and down, metal girders start to give way and ladders creak and move as they’re being crossed. In the first of the city levels, there’s a section – depending on the route you take – where a seemingly sturdy ladder is running up an incline on the side of a building. When it suddenly gives way and swings down the side of the skyscraper that was an “oh sh*t, oh sh*t” moment holding on for dear life. Absolutely brilliant, and only achievable in VR. Kind of like the bridge scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Alongside dynamic objects you have to deal with rocks that crumble after a couple of seconds, others you have to clean off before grabbing so a careful eye on that stamina is required. Or then there are the ledges and outcrops which actually hurt you. They only reduce your stamina but it drops very rapidly so time is of the essence navigating these tricky sections. All of this helps build that sense of tension, a feeling rightly felt when embarking on extreme sports like these. Moments of levity do exist as well, being able to grab hold of ziplines to whizz through the air – almost needs a fan setting up!
With new gameplay features come new environments to explore. There are five main locations which each have three areas to climb for a total of 15 levels. That may not sound like loads but the excellent layouts of the maps and their multiple routes mean you can keep coming back to find a better line and improve those times. Most of the levels consist of impressive cliff faces and beautiful vistas with the City levels really changing things up a notch. Using suction cups to scale vertical glass walls and jumping between scaffolding and window ledges hundreds of feet in the air, this is the closest most are going to get to being French rock climber Alain Robert, also known as “the human spider” because of his incredible feats. It’s the sense of scale in The Climb 2 that makes it what it is, very unique in the VR world. Ok, so titles like Population: ONE have ‘go anywhere’ climbing mechanics yet they don’t feel daunting or breathe taking.
So it’s a shame The Climb 2 is single-player as being able to ascend a mountain with a mate would be superb. Instead, the competitive element comes from leader boards and speed runs. That’s in the Pro Mode, you can always go casual where times and points don’t matter, just the joy of climbing, which is fun all by itself.
Don’t for one moment think The Climb 2 is easy on the arms, the whole experience is a proper upper body workout. When you truly get engrossed in a climb not realising your arms have been above your head for 10 minutes and they begin to get tired, that’s when you know the gameplay has got you. Reaching the top feels like success, thankfully there’s no need to find a way down. Successfully completing stages will award you new items to accessorise those floating hands, with 32 gloves, 25 watches, and 36 wristbands to unlock. Arms are nice to have in some VR experiences yet you won’t miss them here, they’d almost get in the way if that makes sense.
After its announcement during Facebook Connect in September 2020, The Climb 2 instantly became one of those hotly anticipated titles. There may have been a little longer to wait as the 2020 launch window went by but in all fairness, it was still worth it. The Climb 2 continues that simple, addictive gameplay that just draws you in, easy for newcomers to get to grips with whilst veterans should find enough new content to keep them happy. Crytek’s return to VR has been long overdue.