We live in a society where the majority of products are sold on the hype surrounding the release. While a sizeable percentage fail to live up to that hype, every now and then something comes along and does something pretty rare in the gaming industry; it delivers!
Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of those games. Pre-release materials showed our protagonist, Aloy, taking down what appeared to be a huge robotic T-Rex in the midst of a post-apocalyptic city-scape. It had the effect of grabbing it’s intended audience by the proverbial lapel and making them sit up and take notice. And you know what? Unlike promos for other games, you can actually do that in game.
A game like this, for all its technical achievements, relies heavily on its story and this one is a breath of fresh air. It takes the old cliché of having a ‘chosen one’ who lives as an outcast from a society they’re destined to save and gives it a brand-new spin. Nine times out of ten, the hero is only ‘chosen’ because some boring old prophecy says so, but Aloy has a genuine connection with past events and is integral to everything going on around her. It really helped me engage with the story and I found myself gripped by cutscenes that I would normally skip. It helps that the character of Aloy is well written. At times coming across like a hybrid of Lara Croft and Nathan Drake, she is a strong young woman who has a bit of a smart mouth when needed.
The supporting characters are also fairly strong. A highlight is Silens; a mysterious figure who seems to know more than he is letting on and as a player, I never quite fully trusted him. Also of note is Rost; Aloy’s father-figure who raises her and trains her to become the skilled hunter you saw taking down that T-Rex.
The gameplay in its simplest form can be described Tomb Raider-esque with robot animals. I recommended it to a friend with that very description but it is so much more than that. I love the new Tomb Raider games but this felt a little deeper. For one it employs open-world gameplay on such a vast scale. The world Aloy inhabits is huge and features the usual tropes of an open-world game but with little differences here and there to help it stand apart from the rest. An example of one of these would be its fast travel network. Most games allow you to fast-travel between discovered map-points willy-nilly. Horizon, on the other hand, requires you to craft a fast-travel pack. This irritates at first but it makes you explore the world to find the resources or travel the slow way. Both options mean you see the gorgeous world Guerilla have created for you rather than skipping half of it. But then what do you expect from the company that brought us Killzone?
The combat in the game can be challenging and every bot has various weaknesses that encourage you to use your entire arsenal. There were a few times where I came up short against a larger foe and was forced to alter my tactics and weapon choices. Upgrades exist to make these encounters a little easier but thankfully don’t remove too much of the challenge so you still feel like it’s an accomplishment to take down a Thunderjaw. The game rewards pre-battle preparation. Placing traps and crafting certain types of ammunition for example, can give you an edge in battle.
Graphically, this game is absolutely gorgeous and the effort that Guerilla’s designers have put in is evident in every frame. As I said before, the open world is mind-blowing. The various tribes of people that you interact with as Aloy each have a different aesthetic that sets them apart from the others. But the real treat is in the designs of the robotic beast and how they move. When you get up close to one, the detail is incredible. Imagine the detail in one of Michael Bay’s universally derided yet intricately designed Transformers character models. That’s what we get here and each different ‘species’ movies and behaves differently according to the animal it’s based on so you have to alter your tactics accordingly.
If there has to be a negative, then I’d say about halfway through the game, it started getting a bit samey. I decided to leave the story for a bit and concentrate on some side quests to boost my level and upgrade my abilities and some of the quests can be a little repetitive. That’s not to say they aren’t rewarding with one in particular giving me some rather nice regenerative armour.
To close this review, I would have to say that this is one of the best games I’ve played in some time. Once I finished it, I felt a little sad that there wasn’t more to do. This raises one more issue. Despite the size of the game, I was able to get the Platinum trophy in one play-through and there was no reason to go back in to replay it at a more challenging difficulty. Hopefully this is something that can be rectified by some welcome DLC or, better yet, a sequel (yes, please!). So I guess you could say, this complaint boils down to me wanting more. I highly recommend this game to anyone who appreciates a good storyline or, heck, a damn good game.