Following on from my Resident Evil review in January comes a look at the game I bought in February (although only just), Horizon Zero Dawn.
This release was a big deal in many respects. It’s a first party exclusive for Playstation, and it is a new IP, which are pretty rare these days in the AAA development space. It’s a game about hunting robotic dinosaurs with a bow, but it’s also about family, the concept of belonging, and learning from our past.
Horizon also introduces us to Aloy, (I know, the spelling annoys me too) a strong female protagonist, a fiery red-haired bad ass that you are going to see a lot more of in the future I can assure you.
Let’s get under the armor plating and check it out.
Let’s start with the basics. Horizon is an open world, third person, action-adventure game. It has RPG elements, but it isn’t a full-blown RPG (more on that later). It’s a PS4 exclusive developed by the incredibly talented folks at Guerrilla Games, who are best known for the Killzone series.
Horizon is very different from Guerrilla’s previous titles. You play as Aloy, a young woman who grew up in isolation, but who suddenly becomes involved in a terrifying plot by a band of ruthless cultists, with the fate of her tribe hanging in the balance. It’s an interesting premise and the game does a good job of setting events in motion in a pleasing fashion. The main story moves along at a decent pace, but what I found is that I was constantly being pulled away from that journey by the compelling side quests and incredibly interesting world.
Now we come to the heart of what makes Horizon such an incredible title, the world. Horizon is set in a kind of post-apocalyptic version of Earth. The whys and hows are what the main story focuses most of it’s attention on, but the world itself is a vast and interesting playground. The map is huge and once it opens up to you early on in the game, it’s kind of overwhelming. It’s also got to be mentioned just how beautiful this game is. Guerrilla have always been visual pioneers, creating games that truly showed off the power of Sony’s consoles, but Horizon takes that to a whole new level. This is one of the prettiest open world games I’ve ever played, and the fact it has a great photo mode means Guerrilla is well aware of this fact and incredibly proud of it. I’ve seen plenty of people on social media talking about how they have spent as much time in photo mode as they have playing the game.
There’s a lot to do in Horizon, with side quests, errands, hunting trials, corruption zones, and bandit camps to complete. The map is revealed using a clever take on the whole “Ubi Tower” concept, where the towers are in fact enormous giraffe-like creatures with a satellite dish for a head. They wander the map on preset patrol routes and you have to scale the beasts to “hack” the data they contain. This in turn reveals the map and the locations of various breeds of machines. This is important for gathering the resources you need.
I don’t want to focus too much on the mechanics of the game and stuff, there’s plenty of reviews and discussions out there about those things, but I want to say briefly that the mechanics are all fun and very well executed. This is a polished game with a lot of room for player agency in how they want to play the game. The minute to minute experience is great fun and it’s a strength of any open world game that Horizon has wisely looked closely at.
Where I want to focus is the narrative and the character development. I don’t want to spoil anything because I think if you can you should play this game, but I’ll cover some broad strokes here to get across how I feel.
The main story of Horizon is pretty good overall. The story beats, whilst engaging, felt quite predictable. It’s a story of one woman’s struggle to find her place in the world, and also the story of a world on the verge of a new era for those who inhabit it. I was hoping that during the ride that was the main story there would be a few twists and turns that surprised me, but the game does a really good job of laying bread crumbs along the critical path that help you fill in the blanks yourself as you go. This is a good thing though as it means you get chance to piece together what’s happening as Aloy does. You really do feel like you’re on this journey of discovery with her.
What I really loved about this game, however, was the back story. This is a fascinating world to learn about. The past is laid bare for you to see in the ruins of the old civilization, but what Guerrilla chose to do with that past really interested me. This isn’t your typical apocalypse story; it has similarities for sure, but it takes those tropes and plays with them in fun ways. This is a rich world with plenty of scope for more stories in the future. I’m excited for Aloy’s future adventures.
Speaking of Aloy, lets look at her for a second. She is a character with a lot of depth, and she kicks ass as a lead protagonist. She has a dryness to her that makes her incredibly funny to spectate. She sees things much clearer than other people in this world, thanks in part to the discoveries she makes as to her past and the past of the world. I loved Aloy to bits. She is compassionate, but fair; Strong, but with a good sense of morals. She helps those in need, but remembers those who wronged her in the past. Aloy gets the bulk of the character development in the game and it’s very clear that both Guerrilla and Sony have big plans for this character as a core pillar of their respective brand identity. In other words she is the new Nathan Drake.
Horizon is a bold step in a different direction for the studio and they’ve handled it incredibly well, delivering an experience that oozes with passion and quality. This game feels like the game Guerrilla as a developer always wanted to make and now they’ve finally been able to deliver that vision I for one am glad they got the chance. This is a special game with plenty of potential oozing beneath the surface. The thing that excited me the most about this game was being given a glimpse at the potential this series has. I expect to see a lot more of Aloy and her unique world in the future and I know I’m 100% on board for whatever comes next.
Well played, Guerrilla.