+ Archery-based gameplay is completely intuitive
+ Absolutely gorgeous visuals at every turn
- The music stands out as nothing special
- Fighting humans after fighting machines
Horizon Zero Dawn Information
Release Date: February 8th, 2017
Developer/Publisher: Guerrilla Games/Sony Interactive
Horizon Zero Dawn combined great storytelling with an intricate plot complete with twists and simple yet varied gameplay to create an absolutely breathtaking game. Guerilla Games has made an incredible change of direction coming from the Killaone series to this. The world created is in stark contrast to the drag and dreariness seen mostly in Killzone. With only some minor flaws, many of which are indescribable, Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the best games on the PS4.
The story follows Aloy, a young woman who was cast out of her tribe as a girl. When she was a child she found a piece of technology that gives her advanced information about her enemies, and this ability, combined with her superior skills makes her a formidable hunter. The plot centers around her discovery of a forgotten world, one in which technology was at the forefront of life, one that is foreign to the primitive way of life she lives in. The machine-based “animals” that inhabit the world seem like a gimmick, but are wonderfully explained as the plot unfolds. Most of the storytelling is fantastic, especially through Aloy's discoveries as told through projections. However, many of the other tribesman are either poorly acted or are much too cardboard cutout serving only to move the plot along. The politics of Aloy and her being welcomed back to the tribe are also weak and honestly is so inconsequential to the main plot of learning about the world that at best it feels like filler and worse feels like it was tacked on. Luckily not as much time is spent in the way of plot on these aspects although it does set up many of the best set pieces.
The most important aspect of Aloy's journey is that there is such a satisfying payoff. This negates some of the poor storytelling. The twists involved aren't so much “whoa” but more “that's cool.” It's not that it is even clever, it's just smart and provides great kernels of information, just enough to generate new questions that inevitably get answered. The biggest mysteries are addressed and feel right, avoiding unoriginal plot devices, avoiding the "AI took over" rehash heard so many times before. Horizon Zero Dawn forcibly but delicately provides what is needed for a compelling journey.
If there is one easy area to point to where improvement is needed, the music is it. For a game that this grand in vistas, terrain and storytelling the music doesn't do much to inspire. The music is probably the best example as a holdover from the Killzone series. It's standard fare. Luckily it doesn’t detract from the experience but as always, music, at the very least is an opportunity to enhance either gameplay or narrative sections.
While the idea of shooting down robotic dinosaurs with a bow and arrow sounds awesome, the bow and arrow dynamic didn't inspire confidence. Nary a game has a bow and arrow system that felt like it would be both fast and intuitive enough that would provide control and precision in regards to taking these beasts down. Horizon Zero Dawn pulls it off and it feels incredibly natural. It becomes instinctual to take a shot ahead of Sawtooth’s path. Taking down machines is more than just hurling arrows however. There are many different types of traps along with the different types of arrows to help take these down. Utilizing these different methods varies based on the enemy type. Using the Focus (an old piece of technology) Aloy can see weak points and use a specific arrow head or trap that either takes more damage or is often even required to do any damage at all. These weak spots are placed at the naturally most vulnerable areas, and there are items received for the more difficult shots, a great incentive. As natural and intuitive the action is when taking down the machines, it isn’t quite the same when fighting other humans. They pose a completely different threat, namely return fire. The experience isn’t poor, but every time your facing waves of human enemies you’ll reminisce and be eager to hunt your next machine. This could be seen as the perfect way to break up any monotony from fighting the proverbial robot dinosaurs.
There is also a fair share of traversal, but due to the absolutely breathtaking views and multiple encounters along the way it never seems like a chore. Even better, machines can be commandeered for a nice and much faster ride (not to mention some ‘horseback’ archery). One major critique are that a couple of set pieces that goes against the flow of the combat up to that point. Other than those few moments Horizon Zero Dawn’s gameplay is instinctive perfection.
Horizon Zero Dawn Review Roundup
A beautifully realized and absolutely surprising action game. Even if the game wasn’t visually stunning, which it is, and even if the plot wasn’t clever and smart, which it is, Horizon Zero Dawn’s gameplay is top of class and those other two factors are just the added bonus that makes this game one of the best on the system. Only minor flaws hold it back somewhat, but it one PS4 exclusive that should not be missed.