PS4 · Review

Horizon Zero Dawn – Review

Developer: Guerrilla Games

Publisher: SIE

Format: PS4

There are many inspirations from other games that can be found in Horizon; Assassin’s Creed, Witcher 3, Mass Effect, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Enslaved: Odyssey to the West to name but a few. Horizon features a lot that hasn’t been done before, and with it being an open world survival game it falls prey to the usual tropes, yet traversing this post-apocalyptic world feels refreshingly new.

Horizon’s strongest feature comes from the world in it is set, taking place into the future, humanity has been separated into tribes after an unknown calamity has fallen upon the earth. These primitive tribes are the remaining survivors in a world dominated by machines – constructs in the form or animals and prehistoric dinosaurs.

Graphically Horizon is paramount, with what is possibly the most beautiful console game to date. Dawn illuminates the landscape in a lavish red, at night, the moon shines upon the land like a spot light and the machines’ eyes shine out of the darkness, seeming even more menacing than in the day. It’s clear that this is the same engine used for Killzone – Guerrilla Games’ other IP. The day/night cycle can flow rather inconsistently at times, as the transition can be a little abrupt in-between the time of day.

Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170308222317

The many variants of machines are excellently designed and varied and disabling these monstrosities requires a tactical and thought out approach. With each machine the game’s protagonist Aloy encounters, requires a combination of different elements and stealth, using freeze, for example, renders the machine’s components brittle and subject to break after a well-placed arrow or two. Fire has a damage over time effect and in some circumstances, makes the machine a walking time bomb and shock renders some machines immobile for a short period while corruption makes some machines turn into your ally briefly. The vast array of weapons and elements on offer results in a lot of experimentation until you find your desired set of tactics. You’ll start off with a bow, but after a short while you’ll have access to other weapons by exchanging metal scraps – the in-game currency. For example, the tripcaster lays elemental mines and the ropecaster ties machines to the ground immobilising it for quite a length of time which is highly effective when taking on large groups.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170303145350.jpgVital to your survival and overcoming such challenges comes from your ‘focus’ – a device found by Aloy as a young girl. The focus allows Aloy to highlight machines and obtain information on them, such as their weaknesses and movement pattern. It is also used in some Witcher 3 inspired tracking missions.

The early stages of Horizon with its rather forgiving stealth mechanic combined with the focus ability result in an unchallenging opening act, however, as the game progresses further away from its ‘tutorial’ stages and the machines start to get bigger, angrier, and smarter, they get harder to hide from and fight, resulting in Aloy having to use all the tools at her disposal to gain the advantage.

There are, on very rare instances, AI issues. On occasion, a machine would struggle to get to Aloy through a gap that was multiple times the width of the machine, resulting in it looking like it was hitting an invisible wall and running on the spot. Combat with the machines can be quite hectic but never uncomfortably overwhelming. Once Aloy’s been spotted, they turn extremely aggressive and can be quite frightening, particularly against larger foes like the Sawtooth which make quick work of Alloy if they can get close enough. A lot of the success from combat comes from the plan of attack; laying down traps, tracking patrols and crowd control are your allies, because once you’re spotted, chaos erupts.

There is a lot to do in the vast expanse that Horizon finds itself in. A lot of the time Aloy will be gathering resources in-between side missions and main quests. The side missions can be quite typical of the open world genre, but they do on occasions add lore to the land and contain some surprising twists. There are also some collectable secrets that lay across the land, which usually gives some insight into what the world was like before the apocalypse.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170308225820Horizon’s open world is almost on par with the Witcher 3 in terms of density. It certainly doesn’t have a shortage of things to do and every area is unique and gloriously detailed. Getting around the world gets a little easier when you gain the ability to hack machines and use them as transport. Unfortunately, not all machines are mountable but that maybe just for balancing issues, after all, riding around on a Thunderjaw – a mechanical T-rex – wouldn’t exactly be fair. Aloy traverses up vertical walls and cliff faces not unlike Assassin’s Creed, however the climbing mechanic in Horizon is extremely smooth with Aloy seamlessly clambers from point to point.

Save points are in the form of bonfires but the game does checkpoint after significant activities, from these bonfires, you can travel using fast travelling packs, a resource that is quite limited in the early stages of the game which encourages exploration. Try and use these as little as possible when they do come in abundance, as the road travelled in-between objectives can surely be an adventurous one. Crafting items and weapons is done by collecting resources from the land and scavenging components off fallen machines. Medicinal herbs can be collected which fills up a pouch, saving Aloy from using potions. It’s a slower healing process than potions, but doesn’t use as many valuable resurces.

Horizon has a simple skill tree for Aloy which includes the typical fighting, gathering and stealth attributes. It would be wise to take time to study the skill tree before investing skill points into the attributes, for certain abilities can only be unlocked if you follow certain ‘paths’. Every skill is obtainable, but to get the skills you desire earlier on it requires perception.

You can craft larger storage spaces such as Aloy’s arrow quiver and weapon storage from the skins and bones from animals hunted around the world, not unlike Far Cry. The organic animals you come across never become hostile though and scatter once they’ve caught sight of you.

The HUD is extremely customisable, with the option to turn everything on, off or set to dynamic. Dynamic is certainly the optimal choice as it declutters the screen which is undoubtedly appreciated when Horizon offers so much more to look at.Horizon Zero Dawn™_20170307003846There were concerns internally at Sony Interactive Entertainment about having a female protagonist and thankfully Guerilla Games took no notice. Aloy is poised, outspoken, determined and dressed appropriately. She has personality and character flaws that further develop her character. Aloy is rejected from her tribe (the Nora) for not having a mother, and this reflects into who she grows up to be; a kind-hearted and selfless warrior and survivalist. These traits obviously don’t have anything to do with Aloy’s sex, but it feels very refreshing to see and furthers her character development. Horizon has women in power that extends past the games protagonist. The sacred land in which Aloy grows up is called the All Mother, and the three shamens that hold the authority over the land are all women, which is role a typically employed by men.

Horizon is an extremely ambitious project from the developers of Killzone, from the confines of corridor shooters to the vast open world, Guerilla Games sure had a challenging concept before them. The result though is a truly captivating protagonist who’s journey through a primitive world ravaged by mechanical atrocities makes for a truly memorable experience amongst the overabundance of shallow open world games of recent history. Horizon feels fresh all the way to the end, with inventive ideas throughout and never feels like a grind. There are some minor mechanical issues – dialogue on occasions is delivered rather flat and facial expressions can make characters seem phlegmatic. There’s certainly room for improvement but the outcome is an enchanting, intoxicating adventure that is remarkable all the way to the games finale.

Final Verdict – 9.2

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