This game is an absolute masterpiece, and should be played by everyone. Anyone who enjoys Naughty Dog games like Uncharted or Last of Us should go out and immediately pick this game up. It’s heartbreaking story and imaginative setting will sit with you long after you pry the controller from your hands. The gameplay is fast, complex and accessible enough for anyone to pick up and play. Guerrilla Games’ new IP is without a doubt an absolute success. Outside of some technical issues, they have created a timeless masterpiece that truly has the worst name possible.
Things that are perfect;
+Battle system is well balanced with smart enemy AI.
+Breathtaking story with heart & brains.
+Stunning visuals and environments.
Things that need some work;
-Minor yet understandable glitches that break immersion.
-Inventory system is a little frustrating.
-Focus could’ve been more integrated.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a legendary experience that is sadly marred by one of the worst names in the history of gaming. It’s engaging storyline, imaginative world and impressive gameplay will forever been muddled behind a crowd of people who totally remember the name of this game- I wanna say Confines: Zero Dusk… Thankfully the name makes more sense after you play through the whole campaign- and if you’re a fan of action RPGs, I assure you that will happen. This is one of the best adventures you’ll go on this year, even if you’re character’s name is more on the nose than a blackhead.
STORY – In this world of killer robots and wildlife tribes, you play a young woman named Aloy. Horizon is instantly engaging because of the mysteries they set up from the very start; questions beyond ones like why the Flintstones got recast with Roboraptors. It starts with your father taking you as a small baby to a mountain-carved temple in order to name you before the sun-god. In this powerful moment, the matriarchal tribe states some awful truths you must absorb- your mother is dead, your father has been banished from society, and you’re seen as an abomination. As a small, adorable little kid, you try to make friends, but can’t understand why you’re a pariah to everyone around you. You’re not entirely alone though, you have your stern and loving father who raises you like a bad-ass Atticus Finch. Why he was banished from the village and who your mother was is a central question throughout your journey. This isolation and desire to communicate are what sets the tone for the whole experience, creating an understandable identity for you to latch onto. After the game throws a lot of hard knocks at you, they reward you with an ancient piece of technology called a ‘Focus’, that allows you to access digital memories of the past (show hologram scene). These small scenes might be some of the most bittersweet moments I’ve ever seen in a game, and they all build a relatable character who you can sympathize with and believe in throughout your time in the wilds.
When you eventually venture out beyond your tribe’s lands, you’ll find a war-torn world under the leadership of a man who violently usurped his insane father’s empire. Opening the door of his capital city to every clan, the empire goes on an apology tour that would make Obama cry liberal tears. There’s a little spark between you and both the emperor and his general, creating a cringy love triangle. You also have a mysterious voice that talks to you through your Focus device, providing even more mystery and intrigue to an unfolding storyline.
Characters have in-depth conversations that reveal backstory and motivations, helping you care about what’s going on in the world. NPCs feel far more organic and lifelike than your average sandbox game and react accordingly to the tribal destruction around them. Aloy is a doubter of not only Gods but tribal division, and the story brilliantly confronts themes of skepticism in a world where she might actually have a higher purpose. It simply hits all the right notes, at all the right times, and knows how to build a large narrative without forcing users to get bogged down in the details. Yeah- well we can’t all be blessed with eye tech ALOY! Some of us have to settle and look like an idiot with google glasses!
GAMEPLAY- Combat is a breeze to pick up, mostly due to you learning in your formative years, and gives you everything you could want out of fighting robotic bulls. Battles are easy to follow while also feeling out of control. Anytime you lose it’s because you didn’t respect your opponent, something your dear ol’ dad would tell you. There are several weapons to choose from, including an all-purpose bow, a slower and more powerful hunter’s bow, explosive slingshot, an automatic bowgun, trip wires and a weapon to chain down enemies. You can also drop three different varieties of landmine traps, which is fantastic if you want to lure a creature into a trap. For close combat you can use your bow with strong and quick melee attacks, dodging when things get too hairy. When I say, ‘get hairy’, I mean the enemies can easily get the better of you if you’re not paying attention. Each battle requires you to treat it like your last, because if you go in half-cocked, you’re probably going to have a bad time. Of course you can run into every engagement with guns blazing, or you can go through and use stealth to take everyone out. The world is surrounded with these patches of red reeds which blends in perfectly with your hair; maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s Maybelline. Regardless of how well you prepare, enemies simply refuse to be pushed over.
You’re motivated to battle against creatures you feel outranked by, because that’s the only way you’ll get stronger. You’d be wise to use your focus to find their breakable components and their weakness in order to ensure victory. The game’s difficulty curve is close to being perfect, with you never feeling like you can’t overcome the odds. When you do fail, it’s usually because you got too cocky- kid. Losses usually reveal your mistakes, so you’ll rarely get stuck considering you can always regroup and collect more potions and build more weapons, or you might want to slide into bushes and take each enemy out quietly. There are huge modernized weapons as well, which are amazingly cool. Gattling guns and missile launchers can be knocked from larger robots and provide quick bursts of awesomeness. Sliding feels great, but sometimes you’ll feel a little derpy when you’re caught doing it.
As I mentioned before, you can pick up materials around the map in order to restock your supplies through a convenient menu that slows down the action just enough to give you time while keeping you engaged. Despite this, if you use all of your wires for example, their space in your inventory will disappear, leaving me wishing there was a way to lock a designation in your inventory list, but it’s not too inconvenient. Finding herbs is very easy, as they’re all color coded; red herbs add to your health reserves, while other colors represent protection potions against the elements. If you want to make health potions, you’re going to need to kill wild animals around the map, a move I’m sure designed to piss of vegetarians. MMM- delicious meat sauce. Some additional apex predators of the organic variety would’ve been a welcome addition, so I don’t feel bad killing defenseless rabbits.
Outside of the main storyline and epic battles, side missions are standard fare, but work in this storyline. They provide more depth to the world around you, and even pays out in the long run. It feels like you can’t get through a mission without stumbling over some additional information, and you’re rewarded for poking around corners. Entering random buildings can reward you with additional lore and backstory for you to dive into, deep subtext that’s been drenched in satire.
The leveling system is easy, with experience being picked up after defeating enemies or completing quests. When you do explore the skill screen to upgrade your warrior, you’ll find a wide range of useful and enticing maneuvers. You can shoot multiple arrows with one bow pull, knock enemies off their feet, or go into bullet mode when aiming. These additional moves feel rewarding, and encourage you to grind in order to access abilities like silent sprinting.
If I had one complaint about the game is that conversations lack the grit to truly be interesting. Aloy is far too nice with every conversation, and the choices you make don’t really affect the story as a whole. There’s no alternate paths, just the way you react to a few select moments. She also always has a sad, concerned voice that just becomes whiny and one-dimensional over the course of the game. Also the game uses the focus ability to investigate locations and track people, but this engaging mode is sadly underutilized. Not to mention, the puzzles are nothing more than turning power symbols in order to unlock doors.
There’s some Ubisoft-esque game design here, mostly in the navigation system. The map, which is rendered in 3D and looks fantastic, is hard to navigate especially with invisible walls blocking shortcuts. Your hud-based directional icon takes you down the path you want to go, rather than pointing out where the exact location is, sending you around wide corners when you could’ve jumped over a river. It’s nice that there’s these creature called Tallnecks that provide an overview of the surrounding area, but this is another Assassin’s Creed vantage point that is held together by the idea that you can hack map information over using your very own eyeballs from a nearby mountain.
Now, you may not care about this- but I LOVE a feature I didn’t even know existed in the game. There’s a fantastic picture mode where you can position the camera, adjust the aperture and even alter the time of day in order to capture breathtaking moments in the game. You can keep Aloy in the picture for awesome action shots, or you can remove her for jaw dropping landscape photos- an idea sorely missing from games like Final Fantasy XV. On the note of beauty-
GRAPHICS – Fuck me sideways, this game looks better than this McDonald’s bratwurst hamburger. It’s the kind of game where you’ll actually enjoy taking a seat and taking in the visuals. There’s a fantastic day to night transition, with fog that rolls in and moonlight that blinds the ever living shit out of you. The map is heavily diverse with several different geographical terrains, from swamp to mountains and deserts. Sadly, they’re all connected at the hip, and they don’t blend very well usually changing from one hostile theme to another. The ancient tombs you enter are filled with beautiful lighting and the metal walls glisten with age, and holograms you find glow with mystical radiance.
Cutscenes are fantastic and plot points are storyboarded well enough to understand what’s happening in every scene. Character designs are a perfect fit of tribal and technological with citizens using the bones of technology as their armor and tools. But if I had one small knit to pick, it would be this guy’s freakin’ helmet. You’re a hunter dude- and you’re purposely wearing something that cuts off your peripheral vision? Are they powering your cheeks or something? Seriously, you too? Is that a tea strainer over your eye? You seem to have two functioning eyes, so I guess you just hate depth perception.
TECHNICAL – This is one of those reviews where I can’t state how beautiful and romantic these visual truly are- sadly that leads me into the technicals. I did stumble across areas that I can only describe as forgotten towns with frozen citizens, light graphical glitches, unable to jump over interior walls, glitches between transitions and what feels like the occasional random death.
I’ve had people tell me I should ignore these small technical issues, but that’s like telling me to ignore technical achievements, for which there are many in this game. One little touch I noticed was how they supplement your ability to sense someone near you with glowing eyes that you can see on your shoulder- allowing the camera to stay in real tight during battles. How the developers included videos that demonstrate how weapons work before you buy them. The way your enemies jump back to realign their shots- surprising you and making you very immediately vulnerable. Just look at this time lapse, and you’ll see how much detail is here. But when my character goes into a sudden coughing fit, I’m not thinking to myself, “Oh- that’s clever.” I can’t confirm it, but I feel like they borrowed Resident Evil 4’s secret difficulty adjustment in order to keep the action fun and never frustrating- except maybe the last boss battle which was just brutal.
Sadly, for all of the things the game does right, when it gets tripped up it does pull you out of the game. For example; I just learned how to hack a mount, hopped on and road out into the mountains in pursuit of a murderer. Tracking him, I came across a one-horse town made up of mostly tents. I walked around, looking to see if I could find any clues, only to find a giant fuck-all bird that was decimating two people. Naturally, a hero would intervene, but I decided to scan the beast and shake the shit out of my pants. After it made short work of the two unfortunate souls, the bird turned its gaze onto me. “The time is now,” I thought to myself, as I reached for my bow. “Can’t attack here” appears on screen, as the bird swoops in to kill me. Seriously!? I understand why I can’t be a bad person and shoot people in the face- I get that- but why can’t I fight this monster in a town if it can attack me! This isn’t a superman getting out of the town debate- these people built this paper town right next to a giant robotic eagle! Yeah- wouldn’t want to knock over someone’s sheet trying to defend myself! I get the technical limitations of having a giant bird destroy a city, but you need to keep them out of towns too- that’s like the Resident Evil safe rooms allowing zombies to come in, but you can’t shoot because you might hit the typewriter.
AUDIO – I always feel like this is the shortest section, but it does allow me to touch on an important aspect with all games- the audio. Horizon is another shining example. The creatures’ mechanical growls, both in movement and vocals, are terrifyingly believable. The light audio of moving through grass or the sound of wind whipping past all help build the seal-tight immersion. Voice acting is usually very good, but this cult leader’s voice and performance just cracks me up. There’s just a little too much ham here, and it doesn’t fit in well. This last one may be my favorite, because he repeats it every time you pass by him on this rooftop battle with MAJESTIC MURDEROUS GLINTHAWKS! The soundtrack is another high point, with a large range of heroic, majestic and disastrous tracks that sell the sweeping narrative. There are, however, overly echoey effects you’ll occasionally find in unmotivated environments.