The beauty of an open world game doesn’t only lie in its gorgeous graphics or the integration of modern rendering technologies but it also depends on its capability to suck the player right into the experience it’s aiming to provide. And we are glad to report that Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn successfully manages to do just that.
Although this generation has seen its fair share of amazing looking open world games like Konami’s Metal Gear Solid 5 or Massive Entertainment’s The Division, none of them comes even close to achieving the perfect combination of high end graphics technologies, minimum bugs and a largely great performance as we have witnessed in Horizon Zero Dawn.
As a first party PlayStation title, Horizon Zero Dawn comes with PlayStation 4 Pro support. We highly recommend playing the game with the latest patch installed as it adds a number of graphical enhancements and improvements. Please note that if you don’t play the game with this patch, the engine will suffer from serious pop-in issues and adds no graphical options and improvements whatsoever for PS4 Pro owners. So, if you want to save yourself from those annoying pop-ins and experience a better game overall, download it! It’s just around 250MB in size after all. Once you have installed the patch, the game will provide you with two modes on the Pro. One mode provides better resolution and other with better graphical effects and performance. The game also supports supersampling on 1080p TV sets if you are playing on the PS4 Pro and the image quality definitely benefits if you are on a full HD display.
Graphics comparison begins at 2:33.
In terms of image quality the PlayStation 4 Pro versions run at checkerboard 2160p resolution and when played on a 4K TV the image quality looks absolutely amazing. The base PS4 version runs at a native 1080p resolution but the 4K image buffer on the Pro really makes the game stand out from its competition. Aliasing is kept to a minimum thanks to a super post processing solution and the use of a decent texture filtering solution, parallax occlusion and photogrammetric techniques in some places really impacts the final rendered image in a positive manner.
Then there is HDR support which really makes Horizon Zero Dawn a must buy game if you have an HDR capable TV. The game benefits from brighter and deeper colors, more contrast and a sense of vibrancy that you won’t find in other games that don’t have HDR support. We once believed Final Fantasy 15 had the best HDR support out there but Horizon Zero Dawn takes that crown. Perhaps what makes the game so much better on HDR other than its great implementation is that the game heavily relies on colors that are pleasing to the eyes. It’s by far one of the most colorful games you will play this year and the brilliant alpha and volumetric effects such as fire, water, wind and other elements add to the game’s several graphical offerings.
The art design is also fantastic. Although the game’s world is largely barren, there are still remnants of the old age here and there. The remaining survivors have formed their own cities which are densely populated and this is where we see the other side of the coin of Guerrilla Games’ wizardry. Yes, we are talking about the game’s phenomenal art style which is a fantastic mix of the now extinct modern era and the present tribal era and all of this gel so well in this lush, post-post-apocalyptic open world in which humanity is no longer the dominant species.
Another thing that we wanted to mention is the attention to detail in this game. From Aloy’s bouncing hair to the individual leaves and branches swaying in the wind, or from Aloy’s realistic armor clothing simulation to the superbly design behavior that is unique to each and every machine, really shows the amount of effort the developer has put into this game.
The PS4 Pro version further improves on screen graphical effects by rendering high quality shadow maps, better anisotropic filtering, detailed textures especially on Aloy’s armor and environments. The draw distance in this game is pretty detailed as you get lost into the game’s scope, scale and splendor.
On the performance front, we are looking at a 30 frames per second cap. Performance is mostly rock solid with only minimal drops during the most intense of situations. But really, the frame rate drops are quite rare and far and few in between.
Horizon Zero Dawn runs on the Decima Engine which has powered games like Killzone Shadowfall and Until Dawn. Honestly speaking, this is by far one of the best looking open world games we have ever played this generation. Yes, games like The Witcher 3 looks great on the PS4, but Horizon especially on the PS4 Pro looks rather stunning. Perhaps the star of the show is Decima’s engine support for a fully physical based rendering pipeline and fantastic volumetric lighting support. Furthermore, we haven’t played a game that is so dense with flora and fauna…really, the game just nails the look and feel of the environments.
The machines and the way they behave have been intricately designed as well. One of the highlights of the game is the machine’s AI, especially when they are looking out for you. Furthermore, their animation is superb and some of the chase sequences with the Sabertooth feel like they have been taken out from an action packed Hollywood movie. But do you know what is the best thing about these moments? They are totally non-scripted and happen dynamically based on the player’s actions.
The game also features dynamic weather and the good news here is that it’s a completely fully fledged feature. Rain, dust storms, overcast conditions…you name it and this game has it. Horizon Zero Dawn has perhaps one of the best weather systems in video games. However, we are slightly disappointed with the NPC animations…not all of them though, but we often came across instances where NPCs look out of place and their lip syncing was laughable.
So, overall, we are pretty pleased with Horizon Zero Dawn. It looks pretty damn good, performs well and most importantly has amazing gameplay mechanics. It’s one of the few games that made us stop for a few minutes and then made us glare into the distance and wonder where graphics technology will be heading in the next ten years.
Horizon Zero Dawn is truly a landmark title for video game graphics and technology, a true benchmark for open world games.