I was an instant fan of The Climb when I played it last December. Crytek’s VR game puts you at the base of a sheer rock face speckled with handholds and leaves you free to scale it as you wish. I’ve never played a game quite like it, and playing with the Oculus Touch has made me fall (in love) all over again. The motion controls unlock a much richer experience that a gamepad contrives to obscure.
There are games that feature climbing but none have such a narrow focus on the physical grips and mechanics of rock climbing as The Climb. Handholds vary from ledges you can hold with two hands and shimmy along, all the way down to tiny divots in the rock you can only hold with a finger of one hand. The moment you release one hand to reach for a new handhold the stamina of your gripping hand begins to deplete. If you’ve not managed to find something to grip with your free-hand before your grip-hand is exhausted, then you fall to your death. This forces you to look around and plan traversal before making a move; you don’t want to be caught on the side of a mountain blindly groping around for the next handhold.
These simple core systems are a natural fit for VR. Within moments of getting to grips with the controls, you’ll be leaning back looking up, down, and around the rock face, searching for where to reach for next. I’d forget I was wearing a headset - not to say I thought I was actually there, but that the hardware is so well tied to your needs as a player that it’s not a gimmick, it’s the beating heart of the game.
You can play The Climb with a gamepad - I have done and it works extremely well. But as soon as you have an Oculus Touch in each hand the game opens up. You’re now physically reaching for each hand hold. I’d find myself raising my virtual body by pushing down with my grip-hand, giving me more reach with my free-hand to close the distance on a far handhold.
It allows for movement the gamepad can’t emulate as easily - swinging on monkey bars, for instance, or flinging yourself from one wall to a handhold on the opposite side of a crevasse. The Touch controllers break down a wall of physical emulation that few games have been able to cross before. We’ve had steering wheels for cars, flight sticks for flight simulators, and light guns for weapons, but they’re all representations of tools and not the hand that holds them. The Touch is a less abstract layer of representation. I feel closer to the game world.
The Touch’s strengths became obvious when my two flatmates had a go. Both of them are avid climbers, often going down to the climbing wall twice a week. At first they each complained that you didn’t get to choose the type of grip you used on the handhold, that you couldn’t use your legs, and that you couldn’t rope yourself up. But, soon those complaints slipped away. They began climbing in earnest.
It was fascinating to watch them slip into their individual styles. One is shorter than the other, at about 5’6”. When he’s on the bouldering wall he tends to power up a climb, throwing himself to handholds, skipping out handholds by going for the one at the furthest point he can reach. The Climb let him do this. In the game, he flung himself across the cliff face. When he had to climb down an overhang he’d just let go of the wall and grab the lowest handhold on the wall as he fell. When he could climb round a cul-de-sac in the wall he would instead leap from one face to the other.
The other is taller, with much longer arms. He takes his time, planning his route across the wall before making any moves. He never jumps, never drops, he scales with calculation. Again, the game allows this. He used the full spread of space the setup in my room allowed.
I’m sure Crytek has worked to allow different styles, but the way my housemates so quickly and naturally behaved how they would at the climbing wall was both a surprise and a joy to watch. These controllers don’t represent some fundamental shift in gaming but a clear evolution of control, giving players finer motor function in virtual worlds.
If you plan on getting the Oculus Touch controllers I can’t recommend The Climbenough, it’s a sensational new way to play, and makes this sheer cliff-face the best virtual reality yet.