There’s really only one thing you need to know about developer Guerrilla Games’ newest IP Horizon: Zero Dawn: They did it!
Stuck with developing several games within the Killzone series for over a decade, Guerrilla Games have finally spread their wings, and expanded their portfolio with an extraordinary, exhilarating and consistently exciting game like nothing I’ve played before. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a culmination of everything gaming is about and should be about: pure fun. And by the time you’ve sunken your teeth into this game for only a couple of hours, you’ll realize how special it really is.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is essentially a sci-fi thriller with tons of action and adventure along the way. Bringing with it simple RPG elements along with light stealth mechanics, this game is covering every angle it can while still retaining a fast-paced, third-person shooter perspective to boot.
The far future is no place for humans in Horizon Zero Dawn. The game takes place in a muddled world lost to the mistakes of the past, where hostile mechanical beasts roam free and the history of humans have been vaporized from the great stretch of time. What humans have managed to survive through the ages have banded together in small tribes throughout the vast lands; struggling every day not only from the towering predators of the prairies and mountains, but also from other tribes with their own agendas.
"Horizon: Zero Dawn has a large, interactive story that allows you to control the context of the elements further down the line."
In Horizon: Zero Dawn, you’ll play as Aloy, a dedicated young woman, who wants some important questions answered about her life. In training for a very long time, Aloy has become as fit and ready to take on the wild as any of her peers. But every time Aloy comes close to figuring out the answers to her questions, a wrench gets thrown into the gears, sending her off into several different directions all of which give her a new path and new formula to figure out her story.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has a large, interactive story that allows you to control the context of the elements further down the line. The game has flash-points which are moments of emotional choice. How Aloy expresses her personality is up to you. There are ultimately three ways to go about approaching pivotal story points. Choosing ‘fist’ allows Aloy to confront the challenge directly. Choosing the ‘brain’ option allows Aloy to use her insight to find clever, less obvious approaches. Or choosing ‘heart’ allows Aloy to express compassion in her resolve. During my play-through I often chose the ‘heart’ and ‘brain’ options to make my way through the story. But it should be interesting to see what sort of correspondence one can receive when one plays through the game with only the “fist” option.
Being as fit as any top-tier warrior, Aloy is set free in the world of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and it’s not only beautiful and exotic, but also frightening and deadly. Luckily for Aloy, she comes across a holographic earpiece known as the Focus. The Focus helps attune Aloy to her surroundings, giving her readouts of mechanical life, and story elements along the way. Think Batman: Arkham Knight‘s detective Mode, but a little less helpful.
Aloy fosters several key elements and abilities that will help her navigate through the wildlands as the player embarks on a long journey with a whole lot of main missions and side quests. The game will easily last for more than 40 hours should you focus only on the story missions and much more if you put your effort into the well crafted side missions which seem to be inspired from other games like The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
When finally being set free in the game’s world for the first time, you’ll have a lot of running and climbing to do. With some of the smoothest controls in a game that I’ve played in a long time, the platforming mechanics are definitely an Uncharted hybrid. However, Horizon: Zero Dawn takes further steps to improve even the brilliant controls of the Uncharted series by making Aloy’s reactions more fluid while climbing.
"And believe me, some of the boss machines are huge. You will surely be doomed if you go unprepared so the game places emphasis on planning out the right approach, selecting the best weapon to get the job done and finding weak points of each boss."
You’ll quickly see that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a looter’s dream. Loot boxes lie scattered throughout the land; and even defeated machines carry a significant amount of items to be had. Just make sure you collect everything you see; upgrading items is a huge part of progressing through the game. Upgrading items, pouches and equipment is relatively easy and quicker than other games in the open world genre as the required items are plentiful — for the most part. The world of Horizon: Zero Dawn is jam-packed with almost every item you’ll need for upgrading but if you’re short of an item, hitting up a seller is a quick fix in some cases.
Weapons are kind of a mix bag in Horizon: Zero Dawn. There are a good amount of weapons, but for one reason or the other some of them lack the punch. You’ll likely rely on your bow and arrows, and spear through most of your adventure but at times their implementation doesn’t feel as tight as it should have been. But as the game progresses, certain mechanical beasts will come equipped with massive, damage-dealing weapons that Aloy can tear off after a short time in combat. These extra-heavy weapons are extremely destructive.
However even with these heavy weapons some battles are very tough. It may take time to get into the swing of battle and to understand the mechanics of it all. Once you level-up, learn to dodge and unlock new skills you should be a master at taking down even the most difficult boss.
And believe me, some of the boss machines are huge. You will surely be doomed if you go unprepared as the game places emphasis on planning out the right approach, selecting the best weapon to get the job done and finding weak points of each boss. Interestingly enough, each encounter feels natural and completely its own. No battle with any wild machine or even human feels scripted. The identity of each land, be it lush landscapes or snowy areas plays a role in how each battle plays out. No two beasts fight alike and each battle’s outcome is determined by your own perseverance. Though, there is the occasion where you’ll likely be ganged up on from several machines at once, in which case we suggest running away!
Eventually, you’ll be given the option to override certain wild machines that you can take for a ride along the wonderful, yet nightmarish lands of the forgotten planet. These mechanical mounts are sturdy, control well and can even battle against some of the smaller foes. I almost feel unstoppable when I’m riding a metal animal through the wilds, trampling over almost everything in my path. But don’t let it get too over your head. The mounts may be powerful, but you can get knocked off or your mount can get destroyed if you enter a battle with too many enemies at once.
"Horizon Zero Dawn is right up there with the best and is easily one of the best games of this generation. Guerrilla Games not only managed to provide a world that is a wonder to explore but they have raised the bar for open world games development."
The music that accompanies Aloy throughout her long and epic adventure is coursed with a beat that sound as though they’ve come from nature while out in the wildlands. Wonderful, natural sounding elements help create an exquisite example of how music and the elements of the world can fuse together brilliantly. However, when you find yourself in a battle with a machine the music becomes a bit more techno, causing some of the more action-based tunes to fuse with a mechanical, digital undertone.
Along with the music, the voice cast is also well composed. Fitting their characters perfectly, you’ll hear the angst in Aloy’s voice as she fights to survive, or the snarl of a mechanical beast right before it attacks. The authenticity of each voice, whether it is human or machine is stunningly well done.
The game also puts a major emphasis on stealth. Aloy can hide in tall grasses and take down human and mechanical enemies stealthily. However the stealth often feels one dimensional at times and for the most part you won’t even be using it because there are other, more enjoyable ways to approach a particular situation or take down an enemy.
For everything it’s worth, the graphical effects in Horizon: Zero Dawn are magnificent. The lands are coated in tall, red grass as you race across lush landscape intricately detailed with flora and fauna. Each location within Horizon: Zero Dawn, be it forest, swamp, desert, etc. has its own agriculturally relevant plant life, aesthetically diverse landscape and animal life.
The game will make you witness the awe-inspiring valleys stretching out into the sunset, or make you look up onto the grand night sky, or the towering ruins which were mankind’s past accomplishments, or watch the dry, arid desert air blow canyon sands out into the cactus fields, or glimpse at the flickering of lightening bugs rustling in the bushes. Horizon Zero Dawn is perhaps one of the best, if not the best looking games of this generation and this is no surprise given that it’s coming from Guerrilla Games.
From a technical perspective, Horizon: Zero Dawn is nearly a perfect game from top to bottom. In our playthrough we did not encountered any bugs, and this is a big surprise since every other open world game irrespective of how good they have been have struggled with glitches.
I must also address one common misconception that certain players may have with Horizon Zero Dawn. During the first few hours, the game may feel like it’s too similar to other open world games out there. Obviously there are elements that are common…crafting, leveling up, scouting areas and unlocking various skills but once you get past the first few hours, Horizon Zero Dawn distinguishes itself with its amazing and extremely intelligent cast of machine beasts, intriguing boss battles and an excellent story.
Guerrilla Games have outdone themselves with Horizon Zero Dawn. A studio that was known for delivering linear first person shooters took a risk with developing an open world game, a genre which is over-saturated at this point. Horizon Zero Dawn is right up there with the best and is easily one of the best games of this generation. Guerrilla Games not only managed to provide a world that is a wonder to explore but they have raised the bar for open world games development.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Practically everything. From the beautiful landscapes, to the exquisite combat, to the continually unraveling story, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything wrong here.
Stealth mechanics could use a bit more diversity. Some weapons could have been better tuned.