No matter how obvious its VR concept was when it released in 2016, the original The Climb made a splash as VR headsets were quickly getting much better in terms of both visual quality and comfort. Fast forward five years and the light, wireless Oculus Quest 2 is probably the most user-friendly helmet you can put your head into, so it's been interesting to try out Crytek's sequel for a few sweaty afternoons.
The Climb 2 releases on the Oculus Quest store today, March 4, and that means that, for now, there's no Oculus Rift version. I mention this first and foremost because, even though the CryEngine puts some beautiful graphics before your eyes, as we had an Oculus Link cable at hand, I was itching to 'boomify' the resolution by going the Rift way, with a powerful gaming PC taking care of the main bulk of processing. This would of course impact the sense of freedom you get with the Quest 2, but at the same time you can't help but feeling that the computing sacrifice results in a bit too blurry rock textures, and a bit too cardboard-ish city buildings.
The environments are great, really, and I don't think you can ask for much more variety (unless you go crazier, less realistic) when you're getting five settings with three climbs each, ranging from mountains of all types (of course) to canyons and even an active volcano. Point being, you will be astonished when you start a new level or when you take your time to take a look around and enjoy the scenery, but the climbing surface itself, which is what you'll focus on 90% of the time, feels like an ugly clay-made mess in comparison.
The aforementioned urban environment is one of the main additions to The Climb 2. It does feel fresh and clearly different to the natural surfaces, and it poses a unique challenge as you try to hold onto switching billboards or automated window cleaners, for example. It is, however, a bit more frustrating, mostly when you can't use some pretty obvious ledges, bars, and objects as your next grip (this also happens in natural environments, but not as much). Oh and the cardboard-like flickering buildings won't make up for that, contrary to the beautiful vistas in the wild.
It seems, therefore, that some of the gripes we had with the first game remain here. This is a VR experience that can seem amazing at first and work for a while, but it kind of... loses grip when some of the flaws appear. For instance, I recommend you stand up and move to make the most of it, as your body movement will add some sauce to the whole gameplay. Not only is it more boring when you sit down, it also means that you'll get the feeling that you're pulling down the rock wall, instead of climbing it, much more often. On the contrary, I guess you'll end up pressing the A button for jumps, as the alternative body movement isn't as accurate.
All this being said, The Climb 2 can click for a while and there's a sense of satisfaction when you reach the summit. Interestingly enough, it's an experience that can be relaxing (when all goes fine) and at the same time a good exercise for your arms and shoulders. Once you master the basic movements, you can even try to use a couple of wrist weights to turn this into a pretty demanding workout routine. And if you really enjoy yourself and feel like a climbing expert, you can go from Casual to Professional to add chalk and stamina as strategic elements to keep in mind (drop those weights though). We found those to be challenging, as well as those grips you have to clean before hanging onto them, or the more technical moves when you half-grip to save stamina.
The more spectacular moments come when the ladder or rope you're climbing reacts to your character's weight and fall down or ask you to react quickly but, again, they only convince when it's been a smooth, 'fair' climbing experience up to those points.
All in all, The Climb 2 builds on what the original offered, for better or worse. It's bolder, some of its levels are breath-taking (the Nordic ones and the highly-contrasted canyon are my favourites), but at the same time the vertigo illusion is broken when you feel like dragging the wall down and it might feel quite frustrating at times. "Dare to climb?" Well, I'd say you should as long as you enjoyed the original's offering or if you keep my caveats in mind.
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