Game Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Guerilla Games have created a stunning world filled in Horizon: Zero Dawn. You can explore fertile valleys to rocky deserts, uncovering the mysteries of a civilization long past. Nature has retaken the world but some advanced technology still exists. Humans now share their world with machines, these curious creatures have developed their own ecosystem where they collect resources and self-replicate. New threats have arisen and you must explore this land of increasingly hostile machines.

Narrative

Horizon: Zero Dawn has two layers of story. They connect in certain places but offer players very different experiences. The first is your basic heroic narrative. Our protagonist, Aloy, in on a classic heroic journey. She begins life as a mysterious outsider and by the end of the opening act, everyone needs her help. Like most other open world games you will run about completing tasks for NPCs who make you question how they got this far in life to begin with. Her overall objective is to discover the truth about where she came from and why the machines, who until now, where perfectly chill. It is not a bad story, it hits all the right marks for emotional connections and has a typical strong headed protagonist who refuses to back down no matter how much a jerk everyone else is being. But it is also kind of generic.

The real fun of Horizon is the mystery of a civilization long past. From very early on it is clear that whatever happened to bring about this new world was not just catastrophic it was tragic. Perhaps it is the history major in me but the biggest thrills I found were exploring the dilapidated bases and city remains. Piecing together the lives of people from remains, old notes, and recordings. As Aloy looks for her answers you uncover more and more in what range from generic user guides to poignant last words.

Visiting the vista points and peering back in time at once great arenas and cityscapes underlines the great loss. Once which I am not sure our protagonist can truly appreciate so these moments are mostly for the player. Looking back through the centuries we only get part of the picture, which I actually really enjoy. You have to make a few of the connections yourself and some is just lost but that is archaeology for you and for me it makes a far more compelling story than that of a young hero out to slay the big bad.

The meta narrative is beautiful, and by the end of the game and last of the pieces fall into place it is emotionally devastating. It is one of the best uses of random audio files in a game because I actually wanted to find to learn every bit I could not just to complete a checklist. Now because this story unfolds this way it is possible for players to gloss over it, but that would be a shame.

Gameplay

Horizon balances complex mechanics with accessible gameplay. It challenges players to adapt to different playstyles with different creatures. Although there are some stealth mechanics movement is the most important ability and Guerilla gives players a fluid and fun experience. Aloy sprints, rolls, and slides with ease.

The ecosystem within the world also promotes different strategies. Horizon never lets you get too comfortable with a single loadout.

Performance & Graphics

There is no doubt this game looks stunning. If you are lucky enough to own a PS4 Pro you can enjoy unbelievable clarity even if you don’t have a 4K TV yet. Other PS4 players can still HDR optimized visuals, but even if you don’t have a newer TV it is beautiful. The colors are vibrant from the jungle terrain to the rocky desert. The machines all have unique designs and even though they are clearly not natural their metallic and neon color pallets work very well. It is all made better by the inclusion of Photomode, which allows you to take adjust a variety of settings including time of day or angle and lets you take amazing screenshots without your HUD getting in the way.

As good as it looks and as fun as it is to play there are still a few glitches from time to time. I have experienced floating assets as well as being stuck in a wall and scaffolding. These are infrequent but do not go unnoticed. More concerning to me were the many times I drew my bow to find the camera lost behind foliage or even walls. When you are hunting it is not a big deal but in the middle of a fight it can be quite frustrating to lose a shot or reposition yourself because of the camera work,

Final Thoughts

Horizon Zero Dawn is a fantastic game. It is a lot of fun both because the combat mechanics are so fluid and because the enemies are dynamic. Most importantly, the subtle story telling which is both tragic and hopeful is memorable and heartfelt.

Score: 9.5

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