There are some games that leave you questioning their quality even when you’re halfway through the experience. Horizon: Zero Dawn is not one of those games. From the outset, the first few minutes of the PS4’s big new exclusive oozes triple-A pedigree – from the visuals, presentation, and snappy controls – it all looks and feels immaculate, and coming from the team behind the acclaimed Killzone series, we’d expect that. But Guerrilla Games have taken things a step further and delivered something that can be put alongside the likes of God of War 3, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series. This is a game you buy a PS4 to play.
Since its announcement, Horizon: Zero Dawn has been shrouded in a lot of mystery, and understandably so – its narrative string of shocking revelations is one of its best features; but what exactly is it all about?
Horizon feels like an amalgamation of many other games, with hints of The Witcher 3, Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed, and a peppering of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, but one which crafts its own identity in a cleverly designed game world and milieu.
Following some sort of apocalyptic event, the survivors on Earth live in primitive tribe-like encampments, avoiding the dangers that roam the outskirts – and by “dangers”, we mean giant robot dinosaurs.
You play as Aloy, a young outcast who has never been part of a tribe, but hopes to assimilate herself in order to find out the secrets of her past. This triple-layered narrative is an incredible drawcard for the game, and the questions of: what happened to the “old world” that led to these mechanical monstrosities roaming the Earth, what is corrupting them now, and finally, the question of who Aloy really is, keeps things interesting and provides the perfect carrot on the end of the stick to hook you from the get-go. It’s all presented in beautiful dialogue sequences that excellently capture the facial cues and emotions of the characters.
It’s not only a strong storyline and impressive visuals that make Horizon: Zero Dawn the impressive game that it is. The core mechanics of the game are precisely polished make gameplay as smooth and enjoyable as possible, especially battle mechanics.
The combat in Horizon is essentially all about hunting, so it’s got to feel right, and thankfully, it does. Aloy’s weapon of choice, the bow and arrow, is your primary form of attack and is satisfyingly executed, with varying degrees of speed and power modifications available to the player, depending on what you’re looking for. Aloy herself is also extremely mobile and elusive, making you feel like you have a chance against these hulking robots.
What it boils down to is the freedom of movement available to Aloy: with no stamina system at play, gamers are free to dodge, roll and sprint and hide for as long as required to avoid the metallic jaws that lunge at you. Combine this with a growing arsenal and a quick menu system that allows not only for the selection of weapons but also the crafting of ammo, and you’re left with a game where every battle is tactical.
Speaking of, tactics are key to taking on the machines. There’s a frighteningly diverse range of machines roaming the world (from crocodile-like Terminators to T-rex-inspired tools of destruction), all with varying strengths and weaknesses, and a range of approaches to take them down. It forces the player to observe and plan, rather than running in blind, and rewards them with spectacular battle scenes.
If the above hasn’t convinced you that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a good game, we’ll make it simple: it is. Guerrilla Games have crafted an experience that’s unique and different, but one that relies on the best bits of other games in the genre to create something spectacular. It’s a gorgeous visual romp through a post-apocalyptic Earth with gameplay that’s addictive yet challenging enough to keep you coming back for more. A must-play.