We’re not ones for real-life rock climbing. Sure, the idea intrigues us. But all we can think about is the loud, bone-crunching thud that we’ll hear when we inevitably fall to the ground. And so, we feel much safer sitting on our sofas, thankyouverymuch. But thanks to New Heights, an upcoming rock climbing game from developer Wikkl Works, we can have the best of both worlds. And, you know what? It’s actually great fun.
We were initially a little put off by New Heights’ rather basic presentation: its menus and user interface aren’t particularly inspiring. But once we got stuck into the action of the game, we were hooked. Casting you as a budding rock climber, you’ll initially start in a training ground filled with different levels of climbing walls. It reminds us of Lara Croft’s manor from the early Tomb Raider games, if we’re honest. Nail New Heights’ mechanics, in fact, and you’ll feel like Lara Croft. Of course, manually controlling each of your climber’s limbs as she scales a rock face takes far more work than it ever did in Tomb Raider. It’s incredibly rewarding once you reach your goal, though.
The climbing walls are easy enough: you can clearly see your holds, and so you know instantly where to move your arms and legs. It’s all about keeping balanced, so you’ll be moving each limb independently while ensuring your core remains balanced. Don’t get your legs twisted, or try to move your foot higher than your hand, or you’re going to be in for a bad time. We admit, our climber ended up contorted like a game of Twister gone wrong, but when we got the actions just right, New Heights left us with a big grin on our face.
It’s when you leave the safety of the climbing walls and start climbing up naked rock faces that New Heights really shows you its teeth. The game will lay out a path for you, starting you with easy routes before progressing you to tougher routes. But even on the easiest, you’re more or less on your own: you’ll need to look carefully to find suitable foot holds and ledges to grab on to. And in the heat of the moment, it’s all too easy to lose your balance and tumble to the ground. Worryingly, our budding climber doesn’t have any ropes on her: she’s out there on her own. But this is a video game after all, so you don’t have to worry about seeing her body splattered on the ground should you fudge a leg manoeuvre. She’ll just pick herself up and try again.
Every hand and foot that you place will have a grip rating, coloured from red to green. If you’re in the red, you need to be careful: you haven’t got a good enough hold on the rock, and if you don’t reposition quickly you’re going to run out of stamina and fall. Your goal, then, is to ensure most of your positions are in the green, ensuring a safe and steady route up the rock face.
Moving your arms and legs is surprisingly easy, too. The left and right triggers move your left and right leg respectively, and the left and right bumpers move your arms. Hold down the button of the limb you want to move, and toggle the right stick to change its position. Let go when you’re over the rock you want to grab hold of, and that’s all there is to it. Rinse and repeat, slowly but steadily working your way upwards.
New Heights’ demo allowed us to play through the training ground and be let loose on a couple of rock faces out in the wild. It’s more than enough to get a taste of the game, and what’s particularly exciting is Wikkl Works has made use of photogrammetry to recreate real-world locations. Currently, you can tackle the Belgian Ardennes but over the course of Early Access, the developer plans to add more locations. We’re intrigued to see how the game evolves over the next year: there’s certainly potential for something unique and engaging here. And if you’re into rock climbing in real life, it’s definitely worth checking out.
New Heights is launching in Early Access on Steam in July 2023. Click here to try out the free demo for yourself.