Review: Horizon Zero Dawn
We haven’t given you a proper game review on this blog in a while. But, how could we have missed on this one? Alongside Nintendo’s new Zelda, the PlayStation 4 has received its fair share of awesomeness and if you don’t own one now, after this review you might.. I’ve have spent 40-hours and more in this post-apocalyptic wild jungle of a unique experience. Now, let me convince you why Horizon: Zero Dawn is, in my opinion, a game that justifies owning the Sony console.
Horizon rapidly introduces you to one of the most varied landscapes you have ever seen in a video game. You are introduced into a world that is simultaneously in the future and the past. There are machines that resemble creatures of the past. As you move throughout the world, the tribes, the people you meet seem to be ruling the present and the future with either an admiration of the past or with a hunger for power. The world is a conflict of times, filled with centuries old trees and foliage where hostile and intelligent robotic animal-machines and bandit camps or friendly towns share lands. The beautiful lighting, the variety of sceneries and weather forecasts you transition thru while never jumping in a loading screen (except when you fast travel from one camp to another) is an invitation to exploration. And that’s the very essence of an open-world, after all.
The playable area is big, really big. Quests will make you go back to areas you have visited in your first minutes and discover caves and mountains you didn’t know existed until you visited them. Wherever you stop and look around, you will see something to kill, to collect, to interact with. A boar, a Stalker (a jaguar made of metal and back-mounted guns), or a medicine herb, if you lose focus, you can end up pulling out your map to see how much you have diverged from the main road you were on 10 minutes ago. The indoors also provide their share of secrets and puzzles in dark and hostile places that will make you think and act differently from when you travel through the great outdoors. Snow, desert, lakes, dirt, mountains, caves, cities and camps, you could orientate yourself only by looking at the diverse nature surrounding you.
I probably haven’t experienced such variety of gameplay since Grand Theft Auto V. Playing Aloy, a red-hair fearless and agile girl feels so easy to control right from the beginning that every combat phase is an opportunity to slay your enemies in a new way. The weapons set you can obtain throughout your progression will open up new opportunities to take down machines that will not always give you an easy time and require you to stay on your toes. Whether it would be a horde or a soloist hunter charging you, the AI is surprisingly good. Anticipating your movement, varying its attacks whether you attack at close range or fire arrows from the cliff above it. It will always get you. And brace yourself, filling up your stock of ammo, when engaging a Stormbird with wings triple the size of your hero. Fortunately, Aloy’s ability are various and all relevant to different situations. I am usually bad at stealth phases in other games but I never felt so satisfied clearing out a camp full of bandits without making a sound. And if a machine seems too much to take down on your own, the possibility of engaging new troops by your side, “overriding” machines in your surrounding, sometimes will unlock a tricky situation. And if you don’t find it satisfying to watch machine versions of a lion and a Tyrannosaurus Rex go at it, I don’t know what to tell you.
That being said -- and this is probably the biggest problem of this game -- sometimes, I found myself losing momentum when getting rid off the surplus of ridge-wood while in other times craving for wires to craft ammo for my rope caster. The capacity of your inventory is relatively small considering the different types of machine components, plants or ancient debris you can gather. Why not giving us some kind of a storage space you can find at certain major cities?
Finally the game is certainly accessible and sometimes feels quite too easy. Even playing on hard difficulty, I really had to put myself in tricky situations to die. Machine beasts will take time to be taken down but never have unforgiving 1-hit strikes to damage you with. With that in mind, you never really feel the urge to stop your progressions and get on the quest for the best bow. A new weapon usually is just a reason to use different types of arrows, bombs or stronger ropes. On the contrary of an armor you can obtain after a long quest collecting power cells to open a chamber when it will await, you will mostly buy new equipment from merchants and upgrade them with modifications you loot in the world. The weapons never feel unique and don’t feel like they have an effect on your ability to take down enemies. After all, all of this is just a detail compared to what the story has to offer.
There is something special about playing a character as a child and as a grown up. The tutorial where you learn the basics is happening while Aloy gets her training from Rost, a bad-ass bearded man, who’s what seems to be her adoptive father. You learn quickly that you are an outcast, not allowed to talk to the tribe, the Nora. When Aloy breaks this rule in the first 20 minutes of the game, you immediately realize you are here to create your own story and break conventions to know where you really come from. The story is compelling. What starts as a simple purpose of avenging its troop ultimately becomes a quest to discover a mystery unraveling itself only until the very end.
The voice acting of the many characters you meet shines as one of the best I’ve heard in awhile. The dialogs would have added another dimension to the plot if it was not for face animations below average. Sometimes an NPC would stare at you with flickering eyes or the lips sync would feel off from time to time. I also wish there was more actual cut scenes. The story unravels itself too much via one on one conversations. More cut scenes, even during side quests, would have made you feel way more involved into a story that in itself builds originally and picks up at the end (no spoilers, so I will stop there!)..
Guerilla Games took some risks with this one. A new franchise, different from Killzone, and with such an expectation from the fans since E3 2016. Well, it does not disappoint. I fell in love with everything the game had to offer me. What I expect from an open-world game is to lose track of my own reality, lose track of time, escape. Playing Aloy perfectly makes me feel like this. The more you go, the more you see something new. Whether it’s this “Jurassic Park” moment you have when discovering a new machine dinosaur or the strategy you implement dismantling a bandits-owned camp, I was on the edge of my seat every seconds of the way. Her story from when you start your training to when you kill your first Thunderjaw is full of surprises and will move you. You will find yourself feeling so attached to her that you’ll never lose focus on the purpose of the main story while sometimes being distracted by all the side quests and exploration you come across. Horizon: Zero Dawn will be an adventure you will never forget. This game will be your point of reference in the genre. It’s that good.