Sony Interactive Entertainment / Guerrilla Games (studio)
01 March 2017 (released)
07 March 2017
The premise for Horizon Zero Dawn is genuinely fascinating as it takes players into a new and refreshing take on the end of the world. Civilization as we know it has ended after an event that has wiped most of mankind from the earth. With 10,000 years passing we see a new civilization that represents a strange cross of futuristic Sci-fi elements and a prehistoric era. Nature has reclaimed the lands and the cities that one stood on the landscapes while a new species of robot dinosaurs has arisen posing a new threat. Humans have gone back into a prehistoric state that harbours intelligence and practices ideologies, believe systems and laws.
We play as Aloy a young outcast who embarks on an epic journey to become one of the tribe and find her truth birth mother. After witnessing a massacre at a proving event for new tribe member, Aloy is thrown into a search for those responsible while facing a new threat with corrupted robots. Aloy will venture into the world she has never seen before and experience new threats, relationships and philosophies she never knew about before.
All of these aspects of the writing along with the lore remain highly compelling throughout the game. Aloy is a likable character who even on your travels through the lands will mutter witty or interesting dialogues to herself. Other supporting casts vary as some are pretty cardboard in their personalities and at times the logic to the world can be perplexing. The plot itself is straight forward with little surprises and a lacking sense of depth by the end of the journey. There are some missions which prove to be very entertaining and some elements towards the end of the game which could have been expanded upon to make the story a lot more interesting. Overall the story is fine and will keep players invested for the duration with plenty of smaller subplots that do have substance or dynamic themes.
Visually Horizon is an immense looking game with a beautiful sense of detail and design with wonderful looking environments, creatures and character models. Everything looks phenomenal and the world itself feels highly organic with creatures roaming the alternating landscapes, tribes being very active in daily tasks and making new discoveries feel genuinely rewarding.
With brilliant photo-realistic skins from human NPCs and highly organic movements from enemy dinosaurs just shows the amount of effort that’s gone into creating this world. Other elements such as the dynamic weather will make your eyes water and even playing this without 4K the game still looks absolutely stunning. It's mesmerising to simply traverse the landscapes and see a whole new world crafted with such care and affection.
The only drawback with the visual side of Horizon is the often unflattering facial animations. While the character models look great, exchanges between characters will make it noticeable there’s a lack of human emotion in the facial expressions. Often characters harbour blank stares even when their trying to convey angry, joy or sadness and one big problem is the soulless looking eyes. Now eyes are a problem but this reminded me of the Riddick games back in 2009 where the visuals were excellent but with stilted, glazed over eyes it ruined the moment. The voice acting for the most part is good and the visuals again are beautiful. Generally the facial expressions are absent with very few moments feeling as though there’s actual emotion from these characters.
However it’s clear that Guerrilla don’t reply on pretty visuals as the gameplay on offer is truly impressive. The nature of the Horizon is very similar to other open world games such as Farcry. But there are unique twists to classic elements such as discovering more of the map by climbing up giant creatures known as Tallnecks. What the world has on offer is an abundance of Side quests, optional tasks and plenty of story driven missions to reveal more of the back story. Even if many of the side quests simply fall under the fetch, follow or kill categories there’s a great amount of diverse missions to take part in. Thankfully there are more campaign missions constructed with interesting set pieces, compelling objectives and a great use of the mechanics to deliver highly engrossing events.
What is important is that progression is varied allowing players to navigate through different play-styles of their choice. Players can accustom their attributes with perks that allows either stealth based tactics or the more brutal aspects of hunting. Overall progression doesn’t feel like a chore nor does it enforce endless grinding. We get a naturally flowing sense of building Aloy through enjoyable exploration, intense combat and hunting which offer interesting rewards and vital gear. Having the enjoyable enriching sense of independence is what makes Horizon Zero Dawn so much more flexible and charming as a game.
The most important aspect of Horizon is the combat and again the key word here for its success is variation. As mentioned before you can obtain all manner of perks that allow for different approaches and with a variation of enemy types and combat situations you’ll never feel each encounter is the same. What is presented to you is a simple range of mechanics from using bows, trip wires and stalking your prey in the long grass but how you combine tactics and weapons makes the combat vastly complex and engaging.
Players will often deliver a mixture of sheer brutality and thought provoking tactics in order to overcome a simple fight or an agonising standoff with a large more furious machine. The scope of tactics is broadened with varied arsenal of different arrows types, trap wires, freeze bombs, mines and much more. You’ll develop and change your attacks depending on how you feel the situation can be handled. Bear in mind that upper hand can change as machines will call in reinforcements or out of nowhere a might Saw-tooth will emerge. Yet the game never felt unfair and with your arrangement of weapons and tactics, even skilled players can take down an enemy with a higher level than Aloy is equipped for.
Each dinosaur has its own manoeuvres, behaviours, strengths and weaknesses and studying them before a fight helps your chances. All these elements combined make for an enthralling experience when fighting the machines yet sadly human opponents aren’t as interesting to engage with. This is mostly due to the rather crude execution of stealth mechanics when you enter environments such as bandit camps or enemy villages. But fighting humans head will feel overwhelming and tedious in early stages as their health and attacks are overpowered in most respects. While in later stages they just become pushovers and dull to fight.
Hunting creatures works well and the mechanics favour open spaces with tall grass rather than small, confined enclosures. Being unable to hide bodies or have human AI opponents that react more fluently to distractions becomes a problem overall.
But despite these issues there’s nothing that really holds back Horizon Zero Dawn. It’s an impressive game and one that Sony and Playstation 4 owners should be proud of. Horizon harbours an enriching game world, engaging and diverse gameplay elements and has the most stunning visuals on consoles I’ve seen. This is an excellent game and one that many others should learn upon for inspiration and design.
++ Amazing Visuals
++ Engaging and enthralling gameplay
+ Great sense of exploration and progression
+ Robot Dinosaurs
- Some crude facial animations
- Story lacks impact
- Human NPCs aren;t as engaging as dinosaurs