Title: Horizon: Zero Dawn
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Rating: PEGI 16
POST-apocalyptic worlds aren't anything new for video games. We've seen games set in the aftermath of humanity's downfall numerous times and, to an extent, we know what we are getting ourselves in for. Whether that be traveling across mainland America with Joel and Ellie in the Last of Us, or scavenging for loot in Fallout 4. The worlds are largely similar. A world in ruins, people struggling to survive, and usually some nasties in the shape of a zombie or mutant lurking around the corner to ruin your day.
Horizon: Zero Dawn tells a story of a post-post-apocalyptic earth swarming with giant mechanical dinosaurs across an ever-changing landscape that is just begging to be explored.
We start the game with a primitive-looking man bringing up a young girl on his own. This man's name is Rost and the young girl is our heroine, Aloy. The two are outcasts from the local tribe; the Nora. Forced to live a life of solitude in the wilderness and shunned by the natives, we do not know why these two are outcasts and neither does Aloy. This immediately drops the player into a story of mystery and pushes you along the main quest for answers.
Tutorials in games can often be predictable and uninspiring; either throwing you into test facilities or a more by the numbers affair of pausing in game action to inform you of controls. Horizon, however, feels far more jelled to its setting; having Rost teach a juvenile Aloy how to hunt and traverse the wilderness. Designing the tutorial this way lets us see through Aloy's eyes as she discovers the world along with the player.
There are 26 machines in Horizon: Zero Dawn, each with their own characteristics. From the crocodile-like Snapmaw, with its deadly jaws and ice fuelled attacks, to the T-Rex mimicking Thunderjaw and the arsenal of cannons on its back. Each machine is distinct visually and mechanically, and you will have to really study these differences if you're to gain the upper hand; especially given the type of equipment you will be using in combat.
While your enemies will be equipped with all manner of high-tech weaponry, you will have to make do with a more crude set of tools. Weapons such as Aloy's trusty bow and arrow. A bow and arrow that borrows from, arguably, the best bow mechanic in video games; that of Lara Croft.
Guerilla Games, however, doesn't just borrow from Tomb Raider, it actually improves upon an already sound mechanic. Having L2 to draw your bow and R2 to fire it doesn't sound particularly ground breaking, but being able to cancel a shot by releasing L2 makes so much more sense than pressing a button to cancel, and also makes it far easier to pull out of a shot quickly. Something you'll want to do, as giving away your position and facing your enemies head on with just the bow will mean almost certain doom.
Tactics and traps will be needed to hunt the machines effectively. Scouting out your surroundings and enemy's weak points are absolutely essential. Using your "Focus" (a device that allows for area analysation, much in the way Batman's detective mode does in the Arkham games) to sound out the weak points on enemies, or track the predictive routes they might take. Doing this will allow you time to set yourself up with the correct equipment you will need to dismantle your foe.
In one section of the game, I came across a giant Ravager - a sabre-tooth robot with a laser turret attached to its back. An enemy that if I had faced without preparations, would surely have beaten me. However, after careful consideration, I set up my traps the best I could to bring it down. A Fire tripwire to launch my attack, as well as some well-placed proximity mines took it by surprise and dealt some decent damage. After launching my assault, I sprung from my hiding spot and fired a number of ropes from my ropecaster to tie it down.
With the now incapacitated machine at my submission, I began to take it apart. Head shots will not be the most effective form of combat here, so aiming for fuel tanks and motors is the way to go. Finally, I managed to detach the cannon from its back with a well-placed shot from my bow and use the Ravager's own weapon to finish it off. Fights like this are common place and are extremely rewarding. Especially when every part of your plan is successful.
Of course not every plan goes so well, and you will have to rely on Aloy's other abilities to evade certain death. This is very much an action RPG that allows you to level up and unlock new gear and abilities that give you the edge in battle. Thankfully, Guerilla Games gives you access to one of the more essential abilities early on. The ability to slow down time while using the bow is usually an end game perk in most other titles, but being able to unlock it so early on is imperative to dismantling machines and would make for a very frustrating experience without it.
You will gain experience to unlock these abilities, not just through combat, but through the many side missions and objectives found throughout the game. The map in this game is huge and you can spend hours upon hours exploring the wastelands of a desert or trekking through the jungle in search of loot or one of the many collectibles dotted throughout the world.
Side missions are generally well crafted and, thankfully, don't fall into the rut of being simple fetch quests. Side charters' stories are often quite interesting, and helping these characters not only adds to the games 40-50 hour play time, but also offers benefits in the end game.
Time that will be extremely well spent in what is quite possibly one of the most beautiful games on the system. There were many times throughout the game where I just stopped and marvelled at the scenery. Rarely do I use the photo mode in games, but there are times when you're atop of a snowy peak in the moonlight, or in amidst a huge canyon, where you will want to savour the moment. The landscape itself really does tell a story, and this is something I wasn't quite expecting when I loaded it up. I was desperately searching for tape recordings and visual clues that gave some incite as to what happened in this world, and the main story does a terrific job of answering these questions as well as asking new ones.
There is a lot to see and do here and, with the exception of maybe battling the less interesting human enemies, Horizon:Zero Dawn hits the nail on the head with everything it attempts to do. And it tries to do a lot.
There is little doubt that we will see more from Horizon:Zero Dawn with Sony announcing it as their fastest-selling exclusive of this generation; and it's easy to see why. For all it borrows there is quite simply nothing quite like this on consoles. If you have a PS4 this is a must have.
For fans of: The Witcher 3, Zelda: Breath of the Wild