Earlier this week, Sony took to the stage at CES for its annual company-wide showcase. What has traditionally been a rather dry affair when it comes to the company's gaming exploits turned out to be far from the case this time around. Among tantalizing glimpses of PlayStation Productions’ slate of adaptations, and the news that Sony is gearing up to become a player in the automotive industry, the tech giant spearheaded the show by finally peeling back the curtain on the upcoming PlayStation VR2. Built from the ground-up for the PS5, fans now have confirmation that the next generation device will feature big-name titles like Horizon Call of the Mountain.
Developed in collaboration with Sony’s recently acquired Liverpool-based studio Firesprite, and series creator Guerrilla Games, Horizon Call of the Mountain’s official announcement has already cemented the fact that 2022 is going to be a massive year for the franchise. Bringing a series that has blossomed into one of the publisher’s most prominent in recent times, to a medium that’s still in its infancy, is an exciting but daunting proposition. For the VR adaptation of the robo-dominated universe of Horizon to flourish, the protagonist that players will view the apocalypse through has to overcome two major obstacles specifically.
Being a Hero in a VR Game
Thanks to the predominantly first-person perspective that VR games are still being developed around, it can often be hard for the character behind the player’s eyes to stand out as memorable. While it’s true that this is a similar predicament that characters in traditional first-person games have overcome on plenty of historic occasions, the fledgling and physical nature of virtual reality makes the challenge all the more difficult. In general, the fact that the medium is so immersive and focused around the idea of making the player feel like they’re actually embodying a protagonist makes it harder to form an attachment to the actual person they’re controlling. It's no coincidence that in the medium's comparatively short life span, only a handful of games like Valve’s Half Life: Alyx have managed to successfully break this mould.
Making the protagonist of Horizon Call of the Mountains a fleshed out and relatable person that fans can root for, is therefore one of the biggest challenges that Firesprite and Guerrilla have to overcome. While the task will naturally be more difficult thanks to removal of the series’ traditional third person perspective, which enables expressions and personality quirks to be zoomed in on for example, there’s enough evidence already to suggest that the duo are more than up to the task. Within the brief teaser trailer for the game alone, a heavy emphasis was placed on the world and characters that are being introduced. This suggests that the protagonist's story and personality will be central and prominent aspects of the experience.
With Horizon Forbidden West‘s release on PS4 and PS5 rapidly approaching, fans should also keep an extra attentive eye on the new characters that Aloy interacts with on her upcoming quest. Based on the cryptic nature of the game’s accompanying PlayStation Blog announcement post, and the sheer convenience of the timing, it stands to reason that Guerrilla could choose to introduce the Call of the Mountain’s protagonist within the sequel first. Letting players get to know and form an attachment to the new protagonist, whilst she interacts directly with the series’ already established hero, would be an excellent way for this obstacle to be overcome before the VR experience even launches.
Living in Aloy’s Shadow
The fact that the Horizon franchise has so far been predominantly built around Aloy is the second challenge that Firesprite and Guerrilla are going to have to address within their VR experience. Besides the fact that the Zero Dawn plot line that’s so far shaped the universe is intrinsically linked to the Nora Hunter herself, Aloy has in many ways become one of the poster children of PlayStation. Having become such a beloved and admired character for so many reasons, whoever follows in her footsteps on-screen is going to have metaphorically big shoes to live up to.
While it’s true that plenty of franchises across entertainment history have faced a similar challenge and failed in the past, particularly in the sphere of gaming, there’s evidence to suggest that this won’t be an unconquerable mountain for the series to overcome on this occasion. Perhaps still admittedly in the background of Aloy’s shadow, Guerrilla Games did a great job of fleshing out its supporting characters within Horizon Zero Dawn.
Taking a look at the series’ tie-in comic book run makes this more abundantly clear, as the two volumes that have been released as a bridge between the first game and Horizon Forbidden West, prominently feature Talanah and Erend in exciting quests that are largely separate from Aloy’s journey. The fact that both have been able to step out from the latter’s shadow so convincingly suggests that Call of the Mountain’s new hero should be able to do the same.
Horizon Call of the Mountain is in development for PlayStation VR2.
Horizon Forbidden West needs to double down on implementing more RPG elements to provide a more enriching experience than the first game.