Horizon Zero Dawn Review

The post-apocalyptic world has never looked so beautiful. Guerrilla Games has traded the war-torn wastelands of Killzone for the lush landscapes and sun-kissed vistas of Horizon: Zero Dawn, a third-person action game that stars Aloy, a fierce yet compassionate warrior searching for the truth of her past.

Guerilla Games’ painstaking attention to detail is evident in small touches. The moonlight, reflecting on the water, follows Aloy as she runs along the river. Aloy crushes leaves as she runs across the land, rousing crunching sounds with every heavy step. Every moment of Horizon Zero Dawn feeds admirably into a massive adventure teeming with intrigue and excitement.

From the Sacred Lands of the Nora to the sun-drenched towers of Sunfall, the world of Horizon Zero Dawn is expansive and gorgeous, and we have to credit Guerrilla Games for creating a world where awe-inspiring, memorable vistas happen organically and perpetually. You don’t have to seek out photo-worthy moments, because they are always 50 feet ahead.

Horizon Zero Dawn features Photo Mode, which is almost a game within a game. It’s easy to spend hours tweaking and editing a collection of pictures, cycling through filters and perfecting the depth of field. Photo Mode is perhaps the unsung hero of Horizon Zero Dawn, as it commemorates, quite stunningly, Aloy’s incredible journey through the Carja lands – and beyond. What’s more, the PlayStation 4 facilitates sharing with friends, which makes Photo Mode all the more appealing.

A great game takes inspiration from other (successful) games but never loses a sense of identity or originality.  In the case of Horizon Zero Dawn, Guerrilla Games has ensured that, while some elements feel familiar, they have created a game unlike anything you have played.  You can see where Guerrilla Games has taken inspiration from, among other games and franchises, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed and Shadow of the Colossus; however, Horizon Zero Dawn never feels like a copycat.

Horizon Zero Dawn features an engrossing and prodigious narrative that often tugs at the heart. While the game progresses through action-packed missions, Guerrilla Games sometimes slows the pace with quiet, thought-provoking moments that enhance the story and complement the frantic battles.

The story in Horizon Zero Dawn starts as a seed and grows into a sprawling epic that leaves the player somewhere that is unexpected yet welcome. Guerrilla Games deserves admiration on their excellent storytelling that introduces endearing characters who show that the human heart and spirit prevail. Guerrilla Games leaves the story with a nugget of unfinished business. A particularly notable loose end that, hopefully, has an answer.

Aloy, the fiery-haired protagonist, is a compassionate bad-ass who lends a helping hand as easily as she takes down a Sawtooth. Aloy remains perhaps the most endearing character that Sony Computer Entertainment, thanks to Guerrilla Games, has created in a long, long time. Aloy, while fierce in battle, often seems to be a master of diplomacy. The Aloy’s aura adds much to the story and the game, and she casts a large shadow; however, through superior storytelling, Guerrilla Games has created a world full of people whom you will care about. The long list of names reads like a Games of Thrones guide, but each character helps shape the outcome in immeasurable ways.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a nearly perfect combination of combat, exploration, storytelling and platforming. Guerrilla Games have created a massive world for players to explore, but, thanks to transport machines and fast-travel packs, the world never feels too big.  Load times are kept to a minimum, as gameplay transitions seamlessly from one area to another.

Among Aloy’s many side missions and errands, players can enter four Cauldrons, which are enclosed excavation and experimentation sites that test players’ skills at combat, platforming and stealth.  Aloy’s climbing technique is reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed parkour, which makes traversal fluid and crisp.  Three of the Cauldrons end with boss fights against gigantic, powerful machines, and if you finish the four special areas, then you earn overrides that allow you to tame and befriend machines.  In combat, you are always outnumbered, but if you tame and enlist a Sawtooth or a Thunderjaw, then you sway the odds more in your favor.

Combat, oftentimes devolving into a frenetic fight against a squad of malicious machines, requires quick reflexes and precise shooting. It’s fun and satisfying to take down machines, which seem all too excited to play operation with Aloy’s organs. As the game progresses, you fight increasingly complex and larger enemies, which keeps the action exciting and challenging. With 25 varieties of machine in the beast log, you need plenty of ammunition to survive Horizon Zero Dawn.

Raw materials and resources are abundant. As you travel, you come across plants and roots that can be collected and combined to make potions, traps and, with parts scavenged from fallen machines, munitions. The crafting menu, which allows you to make items, is easy to use but doesn’t feel overly simplistic or “dumbed down.” If you devote the time, you can collect enough raw materials to maintain a steady supply of items – without having to spend money at merchants.

Merchants seem omnipresent, and they are always happy to sell you wares or purchase excess goods (from you). Thrifty players, who enjoy scavenging for resources, can save their metal shards, the currency in Horizon Zero Dawn, for large purchase like weapons and armor.

Horizon Zero Dawn features an impressive and varied arsenal of weapons. Aside from the bow and arrow variants, most of the weapons tend to be afterthoughts; however, it’s nice that players are “burdened” with choice.  The bow wins most battles, but sometimes it’s best to tie down enemies with a Ropecaster or set up a kill with a Tripcaster: A device that shoots elemental trap wires.  The weapon mix allows for some strategy, as the “run and gun” style isn’t always best.

I felt the same way about Horizon Zero Dawn in the first hour as I did during the closing moments. My enthusiasm never waned.  When describing Horizon Zero Dawn, I use two words: phenomenal and unforgettable.

Horizon Zero Dawn hooks you from beginning to end. Guerrilla Games have created a technical masterpiece, as well as a gorgeous world with an enthralling narrative that provides far more depth than Horizon Zero Dawn lets on from the outset.  Even though you spend a lot of time in battle, discovery is the key element that drives Horizon Zero Dawn.  Sony has published a landmark game.  Horizon Zero Dawn, and its revelations, sticks with you.  The story and characters stick with you.  Horizon Zero Dawn has flash and edge, but at its core, it’s all substance and heart. Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t only a generation-defining game; it’s a company-defining game.

Alex Saunders (8 Posts)


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