I am in no way, shape, or form the outdoorsy type. I enjoy doing my makeup and hair too much to bother with rock climbing and I’ve only gone “camping” (read: slept in a tent at a music festival campground) twice in all of my 27 years of living. Still, my high-maintenance self couldn’t wait to strap into the Oculus Quest 2 and attempt to scale some buildings in The Climb 2.
If you haven’t already guessed it, The Climb 2 is a first-person virtual reality game where you get to free solo climb without the real-world need for ropes, protective gear, or harnesses. Depending on the location you choose, you might find yourself climbing mountains in the Alps or scaling buildings in a city. Regardless of the obstacle, your only objective is to make it to the top without plummeting to the ground.
Sure, it’s certainly a game that gets you moving, but my excitement to play wasn’t rooted in the potential fitness benefits (although, I did try it as a workout). It was more because I know that I’ll never do something like this in real life. Aside from hating the outdoors, I’m also kind of afraid of heights, and free solo climbing just sounds like a death wish. Plus, I’ll never have the upper-body strength for it no matter how much I workout. But with The Climb 2, all of those problems are easily solved.
Officially available on the Quest and Quest 2 for $39.99, the game is follow-up to 2016’s The Climb — which released when commercial VR was still very much in its infancy. So, it’s safe to say that Crytek, the developer behind The Climb 2, has had a lot of time to think over all the new changes it wanted to bring to this sequel.
For those who have played The Climb, there are a couple of upgrades worth mentioning. For starters, there are new objects to grab onto like containers, ladders, climbing equipment, and ropes. And in case that wasn’t enough, you now also have to worry about sliding grips that sit at a 45-degree angle (and yep, the name says it all — you can’t hold on or else… you’ll slide off). While sliding down them can be truly exhilarating, you do run the risk of falling if you don’t latch onto something by the end of it. Lastly, there’s also a new “City” setting that you can climb, which I’ll get to later.
The graphics have also improved a bit from the previous version. Not only are the transitions a lot smoother while climbing, but all the locations look, feel, and sound very realistic — like the birds chirping in the distance, the worn-down rocks, and the crystal clear bodies of water.
All of that sounds like a somewhat serene experience, but I am someone who is easily plagued by VR sickness (even though I’ve been using the Quest 2 for months now), and The Climb 2 actually made me feel super nauseous. Apparently, that’s what Crytek is going for. In a press release, Crytek’s senior producer, Fatih Özbayram, said its graphical improvements are “what gives people a sense of presence and even vertigo as they climb.”
That vertigo is what slightly derailed my plans of relying on The Climb 2 as a way to workout. In the beginning, I played it while standing up in my room. I managed to get through the tutorial and one round of mountain climbing in this posture before I threw down the controllers, ripped off the headset, and stuck my head out of my window to breathe in the fresh air.
I originally thought the only way I could get true exercise while playing was by standing. But then I noticed that I was only feeling the burn in my arms and shoulders, so I sat down for the rest of my sessions. Unlike Beat Saber, which requires you to move your entire body — whether it’s ducking, squatting, or waving your arms — the most you’ll be doing in The Climb 2 is extending your arms and constantly moving them.
All of your important motions are built into the controllers: To grip onto rocks or handles, and chalk your hands, simply press the triggers. To lift yourself up onto ledges, hold down both side triggers and push down. To jump from one spot to another, reach as closely as you can to the grip you’re jumping towards and press the A button.
It was just as easy to manage these controls sitting down as it was standing up. My biceps and shoulders didn’t notice the difference — they still felt really sore during and after climbing. I did, however, accidentally knock into my laptop and desk while sitting down and playing. But I also live in a cramped apartment and don’t have a lot of space to go as full-force with VR as I’d like to.
If you do have the square footage, then it’s possible that you could actually get a full-blown workout from The Climb 2. There were times when I’d reach for different grips as I stood and could feel myself tightening my core.
Below are examples of my own gameplay. In the first video, you’ll see me going through the Casual setting for each level. It’s one of the two modes available under all of the locations, in addition to choosing between Easy, Medium, and Hard.
Playing in Casual, you don’t have to worry about things like chalking your hands or maintaining your stamina levels (which show you how much strength you have left in your grip before it automatically lets go). All you have to do is climb.
The second video is an example of Professional mode (your second option), which I’d recommend going for once you’ve mastered the Casual mode. Under this mode, is where you have to worry about all the details I mentioned before, so you’re doing a lot more at once than just climbing.
After some practice (and many breaks spurred by VR sickness in between) with The Climb 2, I felt like a badass. I was grasping onto rocks that crumbled at my touch, climbing ropes over open water, riding zip-lines above moving traffic, and scaling glass buildings in the city like some knockoff Spider-Man — all without hesitation.
The best part is, whenever I took off the Quest 2, I’d be right back in my room. I didn’t have to trek back home from some far-off location with a heavy backpack filled with gear; my real hands weren’t chalky or bloody like they appeared in the game (they were sweaty though); and I wasn’t traumatized from the experience of hanging on for dear life when my stamina was running low. That’s the benefit of rock climbing in VR — it’s very low risk.
But I’ll tell you what I will forever be traumatized by: the bloodcurdling scream your character makes every time you fall. Look, I am the biggest drama queen I know, and even I thought my character was being a bit extra. That sound is now burned into my brain forever.
Crytek, if you’re reading this, please silence that scream. Thanks.