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With interest in the Killzone franchise reaching a plateau, Guerrilla Games is putting themselves back out into the limelight with their brand new IP Horizon: Zero Dawn. In a market filled to the brim with sequels and reboots, how will this new game fare?
Horizon follows the tale of a bushy-headed native girl named Aloy, who after finding a fancy bluetooth headset in a cave as a child, is set down a path of discovery and wonder to unravel her own mysterious past. She and her adoptive father Rost are outcasts, and live in solitude on the outskirts of the local village. She often inquires why it is that they are outcasts, but Rost makes it a point to keep this information hidden.
The land beyond is peppered with strange steel beasts who graze and hunt like any other creature. But they buzz, click, and hum in ways the natives don’t fully understand. There are also several remnants of the “old ones” strewn about the world: mossy street signs, cracked concrete, and towering rusted skeletons of a time long past. But these places are cursed. Forbidden. Only the greatest of warriors and most important of oligarchy are allowed to tread these grounds.
In terms of story and setting, the game pulled me in almost immediately with its approach. It toes an interesting line of cognitive-dissonance between what your character thinks they know, and what you already do. Anyone who has seen a sci-fi film since the 70’s should recognize most of the tropes and concepts Horizon presents to the player, but the magic is how it plays off of those expectations. You will always understand what’s going on better than Aloy does, but only just barely.
All sense of direction dissipated, and suddenly I was standing there just listening to the birds sing. I was lost in the jungle.
Along the way you’ll meet a variety of NPCs that range from lovable, to douchey, to downright suspicious. I have to tip my hat to Guerrilla Games: they have crafted some seriously great and memorable side-characters for this new venture. My favorite hands down has to be Erend: the brutish, smooth-talking, mutton-chop-having captain of the guard. Not only is he very well voice-acted, but his story is heartfelt, and you just end up wanting to give the guy a big bear hug by the end.
Aloy herself is kind of a mixed bag. Her design and voice acting are top notch, but I didn’t find myself really connecting with her character until much later on, which is likely due to the nature of how the story plays out. I can’t properly explain what I mean by this without divulging key aspects of the plot, so let’s just say I started off not terribly invested, and ended ecstatically clamoring for more. Her story is absolutely worth hearing and getting excited about.
Dinosaur Laser Fight
Not to be overlooked however are the real stars of the show, the mechanical beasts. Each one has a unique look and behavior, and every encounter with a new type presents a vastly different challenge in battle. They range from chrome horses, to cyber alligators, to towering dinosaurs with more firepower than an M1 Abrams.
Weaves of steel and piping filled with colorful liquid twist and contort around their frames. Segmented plates of armor cascade in interesting patterns across their bodies, and range in color from Macbook white to charcoal black. It’s quite apparent that they draw heavy inspiration from the likes of Deus Ex and The Matrix, but even then the designs feel very fresh and are a treat to look at.
While discovering these creatures roaming around the landscape isn’t always good news, exploring the various zones is an absolute joy. I’m not exaggerating when I say Horizon has one of the most beautiful game worlds I’ve seen to date.
I vividly recall the moment I came to this realization. I was walking through one of the more dense forests around sunset, and suddenly the light broke through the trees in such a way that I stopped touching any buttons and just stared. All sense of direction dissipated, and suddenly I was standing there just listening to the birds sing. I was lost in the jungle.
“And My Bow!”
It’s moments like this that set the perfect backdrop for Horizon’s sharp and intricate combat. While nearly all of the weapons in the game are essentially creative variations on bows, crossbows, and slingshots, each serves a specific tactical purpose. Certain bows have special elemental arrows, tripwire arrows, and devastating explosive arrows for breaking armor. Heck, you can even channel your inner cowboy and tie them critters down with a ropecaster! My only gripe is you can only equip 4 weapons at a time. That’s a bummer.
From top to bottom, the fights are just spectacular. You may find yourself overwhelmed at first, but unlocking new abilities will even the playing field quite a bit. I’ll be honest though, the slow-mo ability when jumping is so useful it’s almost broken. I used it so often during fights, that if you played it back in real-time, I’d look like a coked-out Quake player fishing for headshots. That being said, it’s a good kind of broken, as it saved my bacon more than a few times.
Despite all this, the game does fall prey to many of the less desirable “open-world-game” tropes such as fetch quests, map towers, and resource crafting. However, they make this a bit more interesting by taking the Far Cry 3 approach: where you hunt and kill various creatures to get resources for upgrades. I also very much like that you can generate a mini-quest for any item you need to find parts for, and it shows you exactly where to look for that part. Seriously, why doesn’t every game have this feature?
Horizon is a spectacular new IP. From its layered plot-line to its thoughtful second-to-second combat, it’s an absolute triumph for Guerrilla Games, and proof positive that they have gotten their footing back since the last Killzone game. It is also a graphical wonder, perfectly contrasting the quiet solidarity of the wild with the sheer brutality and heartlessness of your mechanical foes. Even though it tries to play it safe in a select few areas, it is still a stellar game that is absolutely worth your time.