We've experienced plenty of games and demos on Oculus and other virtual reality headsets over the last couple of years, but few have left us in a puddle of sweat quite so capably as Crytek's new game. And we mean that in a good way.
The Climb is an Oculus Rift exclusive and one of those rare games that would only be possible in virtual reality. The developer, which is responsible for the Crysis series and Ryse: Son of Rome, is no stranger to virtual reality, having already announced PlayStation VR title Robinson: The Journey. But the latter seems more like an on rails experience than a full-blooded game. The Climb is much more free-flowing. And intense.
It came about as several employees of Crytek are climbers in real life, so they wanted to develop something that would emulate the thrill of hanging off the side of a rock face with just your fingertips. And boy have they succeeded.
To be completely honest, we've never actually climbed anything - save for a kitchen stool to change a lightbulb and a tree when we were younger (which we promptly fell back out of) - so can't really tell you how accurate an experience the game provides. But we can vouch for its effect on our heart rate and the amount of perspiration we left on the Xbox One controller once we'd finished just one level.
The game itself - once the headset is firmly in place - is kind-of like a first-person version of the climbing parts of the Uncharted or Tomb Raider series. There are obvious hand holds in the rock which you can grab using the right or left triggers on the controller (for whichever hand is free) and the game engine moves you along automatically to that position.
The biggest thrills come, much like in the adventure games mentioned, when you can't reach the next hand hold - or even see it. Then you have no option but to look in the direction of it and leap, hoping to grab it with one of your hands as you pass. This often results in you plummeting from a great height to your inevitable demise, but if you time it right and look and grab (hit the specific trigger) at the right time, you'll be able to continue.
It's hugely stressful, but very satisfying when you make it.
There are other things to think about too. Each hand requires chalking occasionally to maintain grips and there is an indicator on them to remind you (they also become red and sore if you forget). And there are checkpoints along a specific climb so you don't have to go back to the beginning if you fall.
At the end of every climbing session there is a platform which presents a couple of things; firstly, it offers a magnificent view, made all the more special thanks to the excellent implementation of the latest CryTek Engine. And secondly, it offers respite - a tranquil moment after periods of extreme stress and panic.
We played a preview build, which is just the one outcrop to climb. but we understand there will be multiple locations and summits to conquer. And you will also be able to play the game, when it launches around the same time as the consumer Oculus Rift sometime next year, using the Oculus Touch hand controllers too. We found the Xbox One controller to be an excellent tool to ape hand movements, just imagine what it would be like with a different motion controller in each hand.
The Climb works so well because it is a game that we couldn't see working on a regular console platform. It requires the feeling of being there to add the suspense and danger.
It is also one of the intense experiences we've had using a virtual reality headset that still feels like a game. You genuinely feel like your actions are important for progression. VR games can often make you feel like you are a passenger - one that can interact with the surroundings - but that you have little say in the outcome. The Climb very much puts the action in your hands. Literally.
It also looks stunning, with a look down inducing vertigo as it would in real life. Only good graphics would be able to replicate that effect.
We'll have to wait for its release as Oculus Rift is needed first, but it'll be high on our wishlist when it comes.