Hands-On With PlayStation VR2 and Horizon Call of the Mountain

Sony is diving back into the virtual reality well with PS VR2 and I for one have been eagerly awaiting this new generation. The original PSVR showed a lot of promise but was held back slightly due to over-encumbering setup solutions and archaic accessories. PS VR2 feels like a fresh start not only for Sony to come forward with impressive innovations but pair it with a compelling library to make the new headset a supplemental piece of hardware alongside the PlayStation 5.

PS VR2 is on track to launch next month, on February 22nd. Preorders for the new headset are already available, starting at $749.99 CAD. Based on the retail pricing model, Sony appears confident in its ability to present and market PS VR2 as a premium headset for the PlayStation 5 ecosystem. When looking at the hardware upgrades, it starts to paint a better picture as far as its pricing model. For instance, the new headset boasts 2000 x 2040 HDR display resolutions for each lens with eye-tracking, built-in haptics, 120Hz support and 3D audio. The new Sense controllers, replacing the outdated Move controllers, integrate gesture tracking, adaptive triggers and haptics, many features which mirror the DualSense. Most importantly, PS VR2 is a single-cable device, introducing a plug-and-play setup.

Much like anything regarding VR, seeing and experiencing it firsthand is key. Thankfully, PlayStation Canada invited iPhone in Canada to test PS VR2 and its premier first-party game Horizon Call of the Mountain. In an extensive 45-minute demo, I took the headset for a joyride, testing out its comfort and usability. I was also given a chance to test its calibration tools and spend a good chunk of time playing the spinoff to one of PlayStation’s premier franchises.

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I’ve been a big believer in VR for years and was quite impressed with the original PSVR, despite its shortcomings. At the time, having a headset work on a console was a dream come true. Though in hindsight, Sony had some growing pains to work through. PS VR2 appears to address many of the little nitpicky critiques I’ve had. For instance, setup is much more straightforward. Rather than deal with a processor unit and an assortment of USB cables to plug into a console, PS VR2 runs via a single cord. While I’ve yet to integrate the unit into my everyday life, it’s obvious that this makes for a faster setup. Since the VR unit utilizes four built-in tracking cameras, establishing your playspace should be a bit more intuitive. Like Quest 2, you’re able to draw an outline of your available space to set a boundary. This was already done prior to my demo, however. One little addition I quite appreciate is the video passthrough feature. Rather than have to remove the headset to look out and return to the “real world”, this feature uses the headset’s cameras to show what’s in your eyesight, albeit in black and white.

Credit: PlayStation

For those who have used PSVR, you may be delighted to hear that the new headset retains the same tightening crank and lens slider. The crank remains on the back of the headset, tightening the grip around the user’s head. The lens slider can adjust to be closer or farther away from the player’s eyes. Based on my limited window of use, the PS VR2 feels lighter and more comfortable. This is always a concern for me, a person wearing glasses.

The new Sense controllers are most comparable to the Oculus Touch, based on form factor. What I’ve primarily taken away is that the Sense controllers offer a more intuitive control layout. They are undoubtedly a step up from the Move controllers. Both in terms of layout on each controller, but also build quality and responsiveness. The design feels ergonomic and naturally sat in my hand. Of course, a 45-minute demo is such a limited slice of use that it’s hard to say whether that’ll these comforts remain after longer play sessions. However, after standing, wearing the headset and playing with the Sense controllers, I’d say we’re off to a good start.

PS VR2 now includes some mandatory calibration for eye-tracking and IPD. After ensuring the headset was aligned properly on my head, I was instructed via simple on-screen instructions to start calibration. Calibration starts when users see a cartoon head on their screen, representing themselves. The figure has two holes representing the user’s eyes and the wearer must adjust the headset in order to turn the circles blue within each socket. After that, users are instructed to manually adjust IPD in order to align the centre of each lens to their eyes. This small feature will undoubtedly help many gain clearer images when wearing the headset themselves.

Of course, hardware is one thing. What’s it like to actually play PS VR2? As soon as the demo for Horizon Call of the Mountain started, I instantly felt transported to the post-apocalyptic world developed by Guerilla Games and Firesprite. As the demo began, I was in the shoes of a new protagonist, Ryas, a former Shadow Carja rebel captured by two characters. Paddling down a small river, the scale of the world felt enormous. I thought I had grasped a sense of how big some of the deadly machines were in the mainline games. However, once a Tallneck made its way out of the treeline, I was stunned.

Credit: PlayStation

By playing the opening segment of Horizon Call of the Mountain, it feels equal parts a premium game and a showcase of PS VR2 features. The image quality and stunning colours all scream AAA to me. On top of that, I feel as though the development team did a good job of easing me into the wide array of capabilities between the headset and controls. I had the chance to select to play sitting down and using the thumbsticks to move in a traditional way. Alternatively, you can stand, and move your arms while holding the Cross and Square buttons. I chose the latter for a bit of added immersion. I couldn’t help but feel a little goofy marching my arms as Ryas escaped from his captors and other threats.

Climbing was a big part of the demo. Much like in Zero Dawn and Forbidden West, I found myself scaling the side of mountains and cliffsides. Using the triggers of each Sense controller, I could grab the highlighted handholds and progress through the linear paths. The Sense controllers do a fairly good job mimicking the feeling of grabbing a ledge, rope, or other objects through haptics. This also extends to combat and other interactions. For those who have played the core titles, you’ll be well equipped with what to expect when crossing paths with the world’s machines. Rather than Aloy’s extensive array of arrows, bows, and artillery, Ryas has a simple bow and arrow in the demo. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like Marvel’s Hawkeye as I reached behind my back to take out my bow and arrows from my quiver. The combat felt satisfying as I laid down arrow fire, applying critical damage to an aggressive Burrower. To dodge attacks, I had to swing my arm at the right time while also timing my shots. I feel like encounters like this will be the highlight of the game upon its full release.

Credit: PlayStation

Much like other VR experiences, there are little moments throughout the demo to interact with the world for further immersion. For instance, healing is done by finding fruit, grabbing it, and bringing it up to your mouth. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t instinctually open my mouth to take a bite. Small moments that make you feel like you’re part of a living world are what make VR such an interesting medium. This even extends to being able to open and topple barrels, bang on some drums or paint on a cave wall. Horizon Call of the Mountain doesn’t shy away from not only being an epic-scaled adventure but a fun interactive experience.

As the demo concluded and my time with PS VR2 came to an end, I felt myself wanting to go back in again. If PlayStation and its third-party support studios can create an engaging catalogue of games much like what I experienced with Horizon Call of the Mountain, PS VR2 will be in good shape in 2023. I was left believing in the hardware and Sony’s technological innovations. I’m now even more eager to spend hours upon hours with PS VR2 and its library next month.

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