So there I was, standing over the final ravine in Climber: Sky is the Limit, blissfully unaware that, if my ladder was to give out, I’d be a goner—a speck of dust, even, in a pool of fallen players who happened to succumb to the pressures of the storm and its bitterly cruel, world-shattering conditions.
Cold, alone, and with only a few resources left in my backpack, I took the plunge, knowing full well that failure was not an option. Having spent three days grazing the glaciers with steel boots and a trusty pouch of pitons, I wasn’t one for falling at the final hurdle, nor was I about to divert my course to locate a safer route to the apex. It was all or nothing, and the stakes were astronomically high. But death, really, wasn’t on the agenda. I had to make it. I had to touch the sky.
Climber: Sky is the Limit gave me a lot of anxiety, I won’t lie. And rightfully so, what with the lion’s share of its gameplay revolving around making life-threatening decisions and sifting through countless inescapable puzzles of a blatantly unfriendly nature. But I was always one for trying, even though, in the real world, I knew next to nothing at all about mountaineering, much less the tools that would supposedly provide me with safe passage to the pinnacle of my craft.
Having spent a worrying amount of time scrubbing the glaciers with shivering toes and touching noses with the icy headstones of those who came before me, I can just about say that I am, all things considered, worthy of sporting the axe and gloves. But then, being in the aftermath of my post-victory elevation phase, it seems I’m getting ahead of myself. So, let’s take it back.
The Only Way is Up
To put you in the frame, Climber: Sky is the Limit is a first and third-person walking simulation game, and one that—surprise surprise—revolves around players’ ascensions to the feats of some of the most dangerous mountains on the map. However, this isn’t your bog-standard Jusant lookalike; the consequences of your failures are real, and can greatly impact your efforts to reach the summit. In other words, it doesn’t dare mess about, and it does all in its power to prove to you that mountaineering, as visually appealing as it is, isn’t what you’d call a fool’s game. You can make honest mistakes, and you can succumb to the bitterly cruel fragrance of death. But that’s what makes it so darn alluring: the not knowing, and the fact that, seasoned climber or not, you can still die.
As a way to emulate the experience of climbing, Sky is the Limit provides you with a series of preliminary tasks—safety precautions, if you like, that invite you to not only learn the ropes, but also shovel through the bare necessities. In a typical Death Stranding-like fashion, you must suit up for each ascent, which means having to purchase the appropriate attire, as well as all of the right tools and accessories to help you out during your expedition. There are ladders to pack, tents to craft, and a whole bunch of cosmetics to acquire and tuck into the base of your backpack. And those are only a few of the things that you might need, too.
It goes without saying that, when it comes to creating a realistic emulation of a climbing experience, Sky is the Limit really does hit the nail (or iceberg, in this case) on the head. There are ten points, right there.
Taking Extra Precautions
What’s great about Sky is the Limit is that it doesn’t skimp out on all the finer things. More to the point, it doesn’t present you with a half-baked formula that’s textureless and without purpose. Clearly, the devs did their homework before undertaking the monumental challenge of capturing the emotion and beauty of a genuine mountaineering expedition — and that’s something I’ll always be thankful for.
Speaking of preliminary phases and pre-route agendas, before embarking on an expedition, you’re instructed to check your inventory and package your items in a way that won’t encumber you. Think Tetris, complete with all the grid-based blocks and color-coded components, and you’ll have a vague idea of what I’m getting at. To put it short, you have to distribute your weight accordingly, which means allocating certain spots for each of the items you take with you. A tent, for example, might add strain to your lower body, whereas a rope and bottle might equal the same amount elsewhere. It’s your job, really, to strategize for the journey ahead. Again, like a real climbing expedition, you c
As you progress deeper into the series of climbable mountains, you begin to unlock additional gear and accessories—items that you must apply to your general loadout in order to tackle greater feats and environmental challenges. There are other things to consider, too, such as weather conditions, route maps, and the overall safety of the journey ahead. So, if you love a bit of planning, then you’ll probably fall head over heels in love with Climber.
The Loneliest Road
Gameplay-wise, Sky is the Limit does opt for a good old-fashioned walking blueprint. For the most part, it’s merely the case of choosing a pathway, and then crossing a series of obstacles en route to the next base camp. Of course, depending on the feat you’ve chosen to embark on, each expedition will likely take part over several days, each coming with a unique series of trials and tribulations, ravines, and climbable glaciers. It’s a lonely road, for sure, but a rewarding one, nonetheless. What’s more, it’s also a peaceful one, even if, at times, you are often forced to brave daring feats and overcome deadly situations.
Cold temperatures and an icy scythe looming over my head cast aside, I did happen to find myself enjoying each portion of the journey — particularly during the early hours—moments that seemed to radiate more bliss and tranquility over anything else. At dawn, I’d depart from the warmth of my tent, and I’d follow on to the next checkpoint, all the while checking on the ever-shifting weather patterns and the forecast for the day ahead. It didn’t always pan out like that, but that never exactly stopped me from wanting to go a little farther and strive towards the next step, either.
Granted, Sky is the Limit isn’t the most demanding game in the world, but it does provide you with enough curveballs to keep your attention for drawn-out periods of time. And sure, whilst a lot of the journey does involve walking from one location to the next, each location does manage to cough up the odd environmental hazard. Needless to say that this keeps the experience interesting and fresh — even if, for the most part, you are simply meandering about from one anchor point to the next in search of comfort.
Climber: Sky is the Limit serves as a brutal reminder that mountaineering, as extravagant as it may sound on paper, isn’t built for the faint of heart; its ruthless gameplay and inescapable learning curves make sure of that. However, when enveloped within a virtual world that’s evidently breathtaking in all the right places, it’s also easy to see why certain thrill-seekers are often hell-bent on finding that next adrenaline boost. And I felt it, weirdly enough — even if the consequences weren’t entirely bad, given the fact that I was, in all fairness, snug as a bug and completely out of harm’s way.
I have to say, I am impressed with the amount of detail A2 Softworks went into here, both outside of the physical expedition and in the journey itself. Suffice it to say, the creators spent a good amount of time brushing over the lore and technical aspects of the sport before making headway on the development side of things. For this reason alone, I’m more than happy to give Climber: Sky is the Limit full marks, even if it did make me question my vitality on more occasions than I initially anticipated. Thanks, A2.
Anyway, if you are in the market for a hearty walking simulator that also happens to double up as a ballsy survival game, then you’ve come to the right place. If, however, you’re uninterested in seeing what the apex of Everest looks like on a clear day, then you’ll be far better off seeking an alternate route — one that’ll steer you away from the foot of the mountain.
Climber: Sky is the Limit Review (Xbox One & Xbox Series X|S)
A Real Ice Breaker
Climber: Sky is the Limit does a tremendous job of emulating all of the real-life hazards and curveballs of mountaineering, and does so by incorporating a vast array of death-defying feats and consequences. It won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s sure to make a few avid climbers feel the urge to hit the slopes for a second shot at the summit.