Climbing is one of those things that works really well in VR with motion controls, but rarely gets more than a moment to shine. The Climb 2, though, is all about it. This is developer Crytek’s second iteration on the idea of scaling large, vertical obstacles, and it’s a major improvement over the original Oculus Rift launch game in terms of controls and level design. And even though climbing sounds pretty basic on its own, the simulated sensation of dizzying heights makes the tension feel real – and The Climb 2 comes with a bump in graphics that shows off what the Oculus Quest 2 can really do when it’s running on all cylinders.
Things start off pretty simple. Once you get through its brief tutorial, you’re allowed to swing (pun intended) between any of its five main zones, and within each of those are three different levels that unlock as you beat the last one. Thankfully, it does away with the original’s arbitrary level-gating system that felt entirely out of place and limited your ability to explore early on.
If it sounds like the amount of content here is light, that’s because it is: that’s a total of just 15 levels. Don’t come in expecting a story, either. The Climb 2’s storytelling is all found in its intricate level design, though a bigger plot is something that could certainly have made this experience even more cohesive and interesting. The only thing you’ll be doing is jumping, gripping, and swinging your way up this meticulously detailed virtual climbing wall – and you’ll do it alone.
What makes it work is that there’s a refreshing amount of diversity. Each level, even within the same zone, has a completely different backdrop and art style, and map layouts are all notably different from what came before. For example, one of the early levels in the City area has you climbing along the outsides of skyscrapers in broad daylight, whereas the next level starkly contrasts that by having you jump between moving elevators with gorgeous city lights glimmering across the horizon at night. Later, you climb through mountainous crevasces while evading feral wolves, then you’re leaping between hanging baggage containers, and even climbing up the side of a giant wind turbine. It all looks fantastic, and the constant change in backdrop keeps things feeling fresh and interesting throughout.
Speaking of graphics, The Climb 2 – which I played on Oculus Quest 2 but is also available on the original Quest – offers a significant leap in graphical quality over its predecessor on the same system. Off the bat, it offers sharper textures and far more clarity; I noticed fewer jagged edges on objects as well, at times fooling me into thinking I’d been playing a PC VR game and not one on a standalone device. Most important here is the visual boost to nighttime environments. Some nighttime levels in The Climb were downright unplayable due to claustrophobic level design and unclear directions, but that’s solved now in The Climb 2’s similar areas. Even the most dimly-lit levels have clearly marked grip points now, and the navigation system can easily get you back on track if you start to lose direction.
As tense as it can be, the moment-to-moment gameplay of The Climb 2 is meditative in its simplicity. Just like in the original, its core game mode – called the Professional mode – is about balancing speed and stamina. Trying to hold a grip with one hand can cause you to lose too much stamina and slip, but you can press your Touch controller’s trigger button halfway to hold on longer and restore stamina mid-climb, or you can apply chalk to your hands to make them retain more stamina and restore stamina much faster. These are all strategies that carry over from the original game, but they feel so much smoother now. For instance, maintaining a half-grip is now more forgiving and intuitive. Chalking your hands is also much quicker and far less clunky.
As a result, it’s much easier to get into a groove in The Climb 2. Making things even more interesting, most of the maps now have several different pathways that you can take to reach your goal. They’re also left open to interpretation: if you see an opening to take a shortcut by, for example, jumping directly to a distant ledge instead of climbing towards it, you can probably do it. The other big upgrade is that a vastly improved physics system means that you’ll get to move across objects and obstacles that have some physical reactivity as opposed to the strictly static world of the original. You’ll jump between hanging tents, climb across ropes, and hang onto scaffolding for dear life as it bounces around in response to your weight. This introduces a ton of flavor to the gameplay.
The Best VR Games of 2020
Despite being way more intuitive, The Climb 2 still hasn’t fully escaped the troubles of the original. It’s a physically intense game which often makes you crane your neck to play, and that can cause some discomfort. And while the level design is far less frustrating than that of its predecessor’s, there will still often be moments where you get your head stuck inside of a wall, or your avatar’s full body will block you from making an obvious jump, causing you to fall to your death. As with the original, you can customize your avatar’s hands, but there really isn’t much of an incentive to do so. You can’t even show off the stuff you’ve earned to other players, and vice versa.
The continuing lack of a real multiplayer mode is especially disappointing, given it was such a missed opportunity in The Climb. Instead of racing someone to the top of a mountain in real time, you can compete against ghost avatars made from your friends’ leaderboard scores. This is plenty of fun when it challenges you to get better at climbing, but it’s just not the same.
Finally, if the intensity of managing your stamina or infrequently chalking up your hands is too much, there’s a Casual mode that does away with these things. It’s a great way to jump into a level and start climbing, and I found it a helpful way to scope out a level and get a sense of direction before climbing it for real in Professional mode. It’s great that both modes have their own leaderboards, meaning that you can go head-to-head with a ghost opponent in Casual mode if that’s closer to your speed.