Sony-owned studio Guerrilla Games have, historically, made games that I have very little interest in. Killzone was a franchise that really never clicked with me no matter how much I wanted to like it. It always just felt like another set-piece first person shooter in a sea of similar titles. Then they made RIGS, a PSVR exclusive game so that was a big nope for me as well, but Horizon Zero Dawn feels like Guerrilla Games, not only hitting their stride, but finally getting to let loose.
They dropped the drab and samey Killzone for the fresh open air of an sandbox action game with some light RPG elements (very light, if you ask me). Horizon Zero Dawn‘s influences that are very clearly worn on its sleeve, in a good way. resembling a remix of Tomb Raider and Far Cry. Even after borrowing heavily from both those franchises, Horizon Zero Dawn still manages to do just enough in its own way that it doesn’t feel like too much of a rehash.
In short, Horizon Zero Dawn is awesome. Really awesome. Its intriguing world being at the forefront of what makes the game interesting, from there it’s backed up by combat that manages to be both challenging and explosively exciting, and to top it off, the game’s story and structure aren’t half bad. Which is really quite impressive coming from a studio with no history of open world games.
The first thing that drew me to Horizon Zero Dawn was its central mystery. From all the promotional content it was apparent to me that Horizon was Robo – Raider: Far Cry, and I figured from the start that the game would be fun so that was never a concern for me. That style of game has been tried and tested for generations now and it seems most devs have a clear grip on it. The question that bugged me was, Is Guerrilla capable, and equipped, to make a fully realized open world? One that feels full of life and questions that I can answer, and largely, they succeeded.
Weirdly enough, you get all of those answers about 2/3rds through the main questline, there aren’t any lingering questions after you wrap up the 20-25 hour main quest. It’s all snug, wrapped up with a bow. Which is actually kind of nice. The game of course has a post-credits scene setting the stage for the inevitable sequel, which I really wish didn’t exist. But outside of that everything is over. You saved the day, spooky robots have been ‘sploded. All is well. Leading up to that conclusion, Horizon’s world still remains its most interesting asset.
Leading up to that conclusion, Horizon’s world still remains its most interesting asset.
Taking place in the far flung future, Horizon Zero Dawn is about Aloy and her place in the grand scheme of the collapse of the old world. You’ll learn quickly that Aloy is not just another Nora Brave. She’s special. In a future where animalistic robots are going mad, and it’s getting worse and worse, of course we have to look back. And really after all was said and done, I still want to know more about the world. We get all the answers for why and when and who and what. No stone is left unturned.
The one thing I really found odd was how different each area was from the last. We’re led to believe that the game takes place in Colorado, but i’ve been there and it doesn’t have a lush jungle. Each biome is so different than the last, and having a wintery mountain range so close to a warm humid jungle would probably be incredibly detrimental to the wildlife, and probably a pretty good breeding ground for natural disasters. Now that strange aspect is actually spoken on in some way, but coupling that with the seemingly eastern religious influence in one of the big tribes gives the world a bit of a disjointed feeling. It’s a small gripe, but it still bothered me quite often. For Aloy to come over a ridge that bridges a desert and a small rainforest just looks and feels strange.
It’s no secret that Horizon Zero Dawn is perhaps the best looking game on PS4, the decima engine really shines at every junction here. From excellent lighting, lush jungles, barren deserts, and snowy mountains Horizon looks absolutely incredible, and the in-game photo mode is a fun addition to toy around with on a particularly breathtaking mountain peak. The soundtrack however, outside of its main theme, is not something I can even really talk about because I hardly noticed it was there.
From excellent lighting, lush jungles, barren deserts, and snowy mountains Horizon looks absolutely incredible, and the in-game photo mode is a fun addition to toy around with on a particularly breathtaking mountain peak.
During your time moving from place to place you’ll be no doubt engaging in combat. Combat with impeccably designed robots. Shockingly well designed. Some of the larger machines are just a blast, literally, to take down. Combat, being largely projectile based is really all about knowing the weaknesses of each breed. Aloy’s focus will help highlight these weak areas at first, but if you’re doing it right you’ll have each type memorized. Which isn’t tough to do, there are just short of 20 types, and you’ll really only regularly fight about 10 of those, the rest are usually docile and a non issue.
Thunderjaws are my favorite machines, just attempting to take one of these monsters down feels like a puzzle in itself. Thunderjaws are equipped with several deadly weapons and the suckers can move. Being chased through the tall grass by one extremely pissed off Thunderjaw is exactly the type of thrill ride I was looking for with Horizon Zero Dawn. Laying traps and running the beast through them, spinning around with my shadow sling and lobbing blast bombs at its weapons, then just as you break through its plating you slide underneath picking up its massive gun, only to swing around and lay waste to the behemoth with its own weaponry is my most exciting gaming moment of the year so far, and I have no doubt that feeling will be tough to eclipse.
Being chased through the tall grass by one extremely pissed off Thunderjaw is exactly the type of thrill ride I was looking for with Horizon Zero Dawn.
My one real problem with the course the story takes is it’s dual approach. The choice to have two main quests going in the first 2/3rds of the game is an interesting one that really just doesn’t work. With all open world games, the story has a difficult time pushing the urgency of the situation on the player, without removing their freedom to explore at their leisure. Horizon has an even harder go at it since they want you to be involved in both searching the collapsed old world for answers to your problems, and have you be involved in the local politics. So much so at one point I was forced to forgo any more world quests to take part in a small time investigation. This really took the wind out of my sails.
When Horizon is at its best, it’s a beautiful, exciting third person action game, its successful blending of ideas from other franchises and just a dash of its own special seasoning makes Horizon Zero Dawn an absolute joy to play. Its intriguing, and mysterious game world, lend themselves to a pretty serviceable to story. But it’s really Horizon’s combat that kept me going. Tearing through the future Colorado countryside ripping machines apart is a feeling nearly unmatched on the PS4. Horizon Zero Dawn joins Bloodborne in the pantheon of special games you can only play on Sony hardware.