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Scared of Heights? You Can Still ‘Climb’ in ‘Realistic’ Video Games

With two new climbing releases, the video game industry will see how much gamers want to scale mountains in a virtual world.

new heights featuredAn image from the gameplay of 'New Heights,' one of two new climbing video games; (image/New Heights)
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You’d be surprised how often The Legend of Zelda pops up in my daily search for climbing news.

For many weeks now, my news-gathering has repeatedly stumbled across articles explaining how to find the “climbing suit” in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. This huge open-world video game, for those not familiar, includes the ability to climb every mountain in sight, as well as gear upgrades to improve your climbing ability.

Rock climbing only represents one small part of the game — already one of the most popular in Nintendo’s history. Yet the sport is quickly becoming the latest fad in gaming’s gradual takeover of every real-world activity.

Look no further than two upcoming games focused entirely on climbing: the big-budget Jusant and the indie game New Heights. Both offer different takes on the sport. Where Jusant aims for a fantasy-type narrative about a fictional mountain, New Heights wants to provide a gaming experience as close to real climbing as possible.

The question is: Will gamers find them fun to play?


The fantasy world of Jusant won’t look like the mountains known to professional climbers. However, the game’s creators hope they’ve instilled the qualities of the outdoors that extreme athletes love.

That includes a “sense of fragility” and the satisfaction from solving small problems with simple physics, they told The Guardian this week. Though not climbers themselves, co-creative directors Mathieu Beaudelin and Kevin Poupard said they hope climbers find something of their sport within Jusant.

“They respect nature, they’re really committed to what they do, there is a visceral relationship between the man and the mountain,” Poupard told The Guardian.

The rock-climbing video game comes from the French gaming studio Don’t Nod, which made the dialogue-driven adventure game Life Is Strange. This time, however, there’s no dialogue at all, with a silent protagonist not unlike Link from The Legend of Zelda. In the relatively simple control scheme, buttons correspond to the character’s hands, with each action geared toward upward movement. Surprisingly, there’s no way to fall to your death, like so many other games with a climbing element.

Instead, the gameplay aims for a “meditative” state, which the game’s creators said was inspired by Alex Honnold’s documentary “Free Solo,” as well as games like Death Stranding and Shadow of the Colossus.

Jusant is currently available as a demo on Steam but will release on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X this fall.

‘New Heights’

With New Heights, trying out the beta takes on a whole new meaning.

This indie rock climbing video game, also available on Steam, aims for a realistic climbing simulator, complete with real-world locations rendered through a technique called photogrammetry (essentially a conversion of photos and videos into 3D models).

While the game’s visuals can’t compete with Jusant, the designers plan to add additional locations. Just like many cyclists enjoy the virtual experience of cycling the Tour de France with Zwift, climbers can try actual climbing destinations with New Heights.

Currently, those options include a few locations in Belgium, like Castle Crèvecoeur and the sport climbing crag Rocher de Casino. Sadly, there’s no El Capitan yet, though that certainly seems like a future possibility.

In New Heights, both the hands and feet correspond to individual controls and actions, resulting in slower, methodical gameplay.

“We want to create an experience that is as close as possible to real-life climbing and bouldering, with optimal controls,” the game’s creators wrote on Steam. “We also need a lot of (real-world) content. Early access allows us to launch the core of the game while we gradually add cliffs and buildings from all over the world.”

The initial version of New Heights is available for purchase on Steam for $20.

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