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Horizon Zero Dawn – PlayStation 4

Horizon Zero Dawn – PlayStation 4

Platform: PlayStation 4

Developer: Guerrilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Genre: Action / Adventure, RPG

Release Date (NA): February 28th, 2017

Nerd Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Horizon Zero Dawn came about right around that awkward time when everybody was waiting anxiously for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. An open-world adventure game where you fight giant monsters with a bow and arrow? Sounds interesting, but no thanks; Breath of the Wild already has me covered. When a Zelda game shows up, all other things must be pushed aside. I’m sure you understand.

This is what I initially thought when I first saw the teaser videos for Horizon Zero Dawn. Months later, after I finished up with BOTW, I finally gave in and purchased the damn thing. Let’s dig into this AAA title for the PlayStation 4!

Horizon Zero Dawn takes place in the far future. After a mysterious apocalypse long ago, human society has reverted to a more primitive, tribal structure, as the inhabitants of Earth carry on with their lives while exploiting the resources gathered from autonomous machines of yore that prowl the land. The game centers around a main character, Aloy, who is an outcast from her village due to the mysterious circumstances of her birth. Of course, the definition of ‘outcast’ is a pretty gray area, as the local townsfolk waste no time in exploiting Aloy’s social status for some free labor. In her life she must work hard as  a hunter to survive, performing tasks for villagers as she strives to uncover the secrets that surround her origins.

Horizon Zero Dawn is an open-world game. Similar to Breath of the Wild, there is a short period of limited open-world as the game teaches you its mechanics and begins to construct its world. After you pass through a story-heavy bottle neck, the game really opens up, allowing you to explore the world at your leisure. Bow in hand, the player sets out on a journey to save the world, and, most importantly, to kill some freakin’ robots!

And there are so many of these robots! There are horse types, bull types, bird types, crocodile types, crab types–you name it, Horizon’s got it. When I first started playing this game it wasn’t exactly clear to me how many different enemy types there actually are, but the more I played the more I seemed to stumble upon types that I had never seen before. On top of that, they’re scattered across the map in very realistic and dynamic ways, living in different “zones” or habitats that make sense according to their design. The bird types will prefer loftier regions with plenty of high-up places to perch, the four-legged types will most likely be found in large grassy areas, the crocodile types are typically found near water, etc. This seems like a pretty simple touch, but few games really put that much thought into this type of immersive enemy placement, so it definitely goes to Horizon’s credit.

Another impressive facet of the robots is their relatively dynamic way of coexisting. Some of them will fight when they see each other, and others will team up together in organized patrols. This creates an interesting relationship between the player and the machines, changing the way we interact with our enemies in very engaging ways.

In a sentence, the combat is very impressive and fairly complex. Throughout Horizon, Aloy amasses a tidy arsenal of different types of bows, slingshots, traps, and even shotguns that she can use to incapacitate, break down, and ultimately destroy her prey. The sheer variety of ammo and weapon types is really exciting, opening up a wealth of options within a given combat scenario. Use “tearblast” arrows to knock bits of armor off, use ice to freeze them, use fire to set them ablaze, tie them down with ropes, or just start hitting ’em with some good ol’ fashioned regular arrows. The opportunities are virtually boundless.

In a manner similar to the Monster Hunter series, the machines of Horizon are jam-packed with pin-point location damage areas that are all weak to different things. Thus, the goal is to learn the machine’s weaknesses, hitting the right parts with the right ammo to cause as much damage as possible, resulting in a pretty fast-paced scramble to get in those perfectly-timed shots before you get mauled by a two-ton hunk of metal.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the combat is the open-endedness of it, since just about every player will have a slightly unique approach to each different machine. The game will teach you only the basics you need to know about a few of the machines as well as the weaknesses of certain parts, and it is up to you to fill in all the rest with your own experience and intuition. Of course, this means that you may be using slightly inefficient techniques for a while, but oftentimes multiple attack methods for a single machine may be just as effective while offering their own advantages. I think this is really cool, standing as a testament to the versatility of Horizon’s combat system.

Of course, it’s not always perfect. Towards the end of the game it becomes easy to feel a bit overpowered, toppling giant behemoths with little to no effort simply due to the crazy weaponry and character stats that are available. For me, the most engaging thing about the combat is the fact that Aloy starts off really vulnerable, meaning that good sneaking and careful preparation are necessary for almost every interaction. Unfortunately, this breaks down the more you level up, causing me to wonder if the game should have had a level up system at all.

There are also human enemies scattered throughout the land, and they’re pretty terrible. Interactions with these NPCs are extremely basic and not very difficult, made even more frustrating by the less-than-perfect stealth system, which I think makes these encounters at least somewhat bearable. That said, the stealth system is also not very good, so there are not a whole lot of positive things to say here. I wish that more of the combat just focused on the machine enemies, because as it stands the humans seem more like a distraction than anything else.

Spaces in Horizon feel very real, and useful terrain seems natural and unobtrusive while serving a purpose at the same time. However, there is a sort of jankyness to the terrain, making it very clear that the developers did not intend for every surface to be walked on. This means that in order to get to some places, a lot of players will find themselves cheesing the geometry quite a bit, especially during the climbing sections, which require you to enter locations at very specific choke points that are not always obvious. Now, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it once more: Your game better not have terrain that the player could traverse in real life but the main character cannot. Watching Aloy attempt to walk up a slightly steep hill while shouting “C’mon, I could do that!” does not a relaxing evening make. I talked about this in my Firewatch review and I talked about it in my Rime review, and it’s so fucking stupid to me that we’re still doing this in games.

Around the large world of Horizon are scattered little quests and optional objectives. From bandit camps to concentrated machine zones to good ol’ fashioned RPG-style narrative quests, Horizon at least toes the line. However, the the quests, themselves, are kind of basic. Right off the bat I got the feeling that I wouldn’t be a big fan of the quests. Talk to a random person, go here, fight some stuff, come back, repeat, repeat, repeat. There’s not really much variation to this format, aside from the types and amount of enemies that you fight. On top of that, the main questline is super long. Just when I thought I was near the end, I realized I was only halfway through! I honestly lost patience with it towards the end, as it became increasingly uninteresting and rote.

The best quests are probably the hunting quests, which simply tell you to go out and kill a specific machine. These are pretty cool, ’cause they let you make up your mind about where you are going to find your prey, instead of being locked to a specific spot on the map that you have to go to.

Shut UP.

Also: You know how people love to rag on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time for how annoying Navi is? Yeah, me too. Apparently, the developers at Guerrilla games didn’t get the memo about that one, since just about every NPC in the game will shout at you, with frequency. “Help me!” “Save me!” “Can you hear me?” “Where are you?” “I’m over here!” “Kill the machines!” “Are they dead yet?” “Help me!”

Yeah, it’s really annoying, not to mention how immersion-breaking it is to have characters yell stuff out like that, as if the developers don’t put any trust in the player’s innate common sense, when the rest of the game tends to be so immersive. I really don’t know what the developers were thinking when they made this decision, but it’s just bad. On top of that, Aloy just won’t shut the fuck up. She talks all the goddamn time, whether or not something is happening around her. This leads to several moments where music or external sound effects will drown her out as she practically whispers some bullshit about a plant or uninteresting plot point. I’m really not sure why all the characters talk so much in this game, but god is it annoying.

On to the graphics and immersion. Simply put, this game looks great and it feels great. Colors are earthy, yet vibrant, and when you look off in the distance toward a valley or mountain, you know you can go there. The world moves with a vibrant energy, and gameplay features, such as grass that you can hide in, are woven in very seamlessly. Horizon’s world is simply breathtaking, and I didn’t really mind taking my time to complete tasks just so that I could experience it a little bit more. On top of that, the cutscenes look like they’re accomplished with in-game assets, which is pretty neat, though it doesn’t quite hit that Uncharted level of polish.

Essential to the immersion, the soundtrack is fairly solid. Unfortunately, it tends to be pretty obtrusive during very inopportune moments. I can think of several moments when Aloy had something to say to herself out loud or when Aloy was in a conversation, but the music didn’t seem to be on the same page, thundering away all throughout. Needless to say, the player immersion gets diced up during moments like this, so as a developer you want to do everything you can to avoid this.

At the end of the day, I would say that Horizon Zero Dawn is a very good looking game, but not always a very immersive game. With frequency, this game will step on its own toes; whether the soundtrack is drowning out dialogue, the map is preventing progression, or the quests are being rote and basic, there just isn’t much of anything that feels completely polished and passionate about this game, which is a huge shame.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a fairly impressive game that takes place in the far future. Featuring an expansive and beautiful map alongside immersive and naturally-occurring combat scenarios, Horizon captures the aesthetic of a lone hunter roughing it across the lands. During parts of this game, I really felt like a true badass, gathering information and equipment before carefully planning my approach to each new encounter. The battles that ensued were nothing short of thrilling, as I used my knowledge to strike my prey with deadly accuracy.

Though, this isn’t representative of all of my experiences with Horizon. At its worst, Horizon is just straight up clunky. The geometry is difficult to navigate, Aloy talks way too much, the quests aren’t very interesting, the NPC interactions can be downright annoying (not to mention the way they yell at you all the time), and, well, this game becomes less and less engaging the closer you get to the end. A lot of these faults are simply due to bad design choices, and each of them serve to shatter immersion while testing the player’s patience.

For me, the best part about Horizon Zero Dawn was navigating the world while hunting down the giant machines. The thrill of playing the wandering hunter was so exhilarating! Unfortunately, the rest of the game’s components just seem like extra fluff, none of them really contributing to these core elements that were so great from the get-go. Because of these rather major flaws, I’m not really inclined to call this game great, but if you’re at all interested in the concepts presented by the combat system, it’s still worth a try.

Written by Nips


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