While I’ve always been able to see the quality of the titles Guerrilla Games has developed, I’m going to honest upfront that their games have just never been my cup of tea. The Killzone series have always been incredibly strong first person shooters, and the level of polish put into them is undeniable, but there was something about the narrative presentation and theming that just didn’t grab me. I struggled to care about the characters, and the gameplay alone was never enough to keep me enthralled.
In contrast, Horizon: Zero Dawn may be my new favourite game on the PlayStation 4. Finally, with the drastic switch from first person shooter to third person action game about a cool redheaded badass shooting robot dinosaurs with a techno-bow, Guerilla have made a game that speaks to me on a personal level, as well as just the quality of presentation and polish.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is set in a far-flung post-apocalypse, set countless generations after the downfall of society as we know it. Following an abrupt and violent end, human society reformed slowly over time with features of ritualistic earth worship structure found in many early societies, but with recognisable elements of past technology intact, reshaped to better suit the new world.
Also remaining in the world are “The Machines”, a seemingly sentient race of creatures that while made of mechanical components, that resemble and behave like traditional animals. From giant dinosaurs to sturdy ox, fast, large cats and huge spider drones, the Machines are not only more technologically capable than the surviving humans, but are implied to have played a role in the large-scale demise of previous human society.
In Horizon you play as Aloy (hehe alloy, like the metal), a young woman banished from her tribe searching for answers about her own existence, as well as larger answers regarding the history of the society within which she lives. While a few of the plot points she goes through were a little predictable, much of the story is darker, riskier and more engaging than I expected going in. More than once I was caught off guard by the direction the overall plot took, even if specific character beats could be seen coming from very early in the game.
Horizon: Zero Dawn may be my new favourite game on the PlayStation 4.
From a simplified perspective, Aloy’s arc as is about the ways that embracing the technology that ravages the land, rather than solely fearing it, provides a path to survival in an often unforgiving world. While initially many of the side quests revolve around collecting non-mechanical resources, progression through the story sees Aloy’s influence changing the world and opens up more NPC characters to interact with technology in order to survive. It’s a simple line of progression, but one that’s rewarding to see play out and offers a consistent sense of development within the world at large.
In many ways, the combat and crafting loop in Horizon feels very akin to a more accessible and polished variant of Monster Hunter. You select your gear, find an imposing creature, or pack of creatures, track its movements and watch its behaviours, attack it with a mix of melee and ranged combat, try to slow or restrict its movements, use consumable bombs and similar items to deal large damage, lure them into traps, harvest elements from their bodies by targeting attacks at specific limbs, and, after all that, harvest their remains once they’ve fallen. Layer onto this the ability to hack creatures and use them to your advantage for a limited time (for example riding ox-like machines) and there’s a lot of options at your disposal for taking down enemies.
In many ways the combat and crafting loop in Horizon feels very akin to a more accessible and polished variant of Monster Hunter.
While initially it was easy enough to just use the cool cyber bow for most encounters, over time it became necessary to use a greater and greater range of the tools at my disposal as enemies became more aggressive, more powerful, or grander in scale.
There are also human enemies to fight, and, honestly, fighting them was by far the least interesting part of the game. We all know how to take down a human, they’re small and unintimidating, predictable and easy to kill. They’re just a bit bland compared to the fantastical scale, scope and wonder of fighting the mechanical creatures that otherwise stand between you and progression.
Having finally completed Horizon: Zero Dawn, I am truly struggling to come up with a larger complaint about it than the fact that occasional fights with human enemies are a little dull or predictable. It’s an open world game that kept me engaged and enthralled from start to finish, featured a simplified and polished variant on a combat loop I love, and felt made with a passion and sincerity rare in AAA video games.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is right now my favourite game on the PlayStation 4 by quite a long way. It truly is worth of praise.
[Editor’s Note – We played most of Horizon: Zero Dawn on a PS4 Pro in 4K (or at least that checkerbox version of 4K found on the PS4 Pro that we’re calling 4K). The game still ran at the same near perfect 30FPS as it did on the standard PS4 hardware, but it looked a significant amount crisper, as well as featuring several additional visual effects. It’s one of the most impressive looking games on the Pro, but doesn’t run significantly better. At the time of the review, we were unable to test a promised patch to allow the Pro to drop resolution in exchange for a boosted FPS]
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: Playstation 4
Developer/Publisher: Guerilla Games / Sony Interactive Entertainment
Release date: February 28th 2017
- Technical masterpiece
- Strong combat loop
- Fantastic story
- Combat with humans was a bit mediocre
My favourite game to date on the PlayStation 4.