Horizon: Zero Dawn - A Refreshingly Gorgeous, Hauntingly Insightful Premonition into the Future of Technological Dependency.
Developer: Guerilla Games
Format: PlayStation 4
Horizon: Zero Dawn delivers a refreshing, yet haunting warning of our future, of what could be to come. The message is delivered with finesse, and as a player, I found myself really considering my actions and the consequences that follow.
Set in a (not-so-distant) future, in a post apocalyptic and primitive universe where money is no longer the fuel that drives us, tribes share tense relationships with one another, reminiscent of the warring families of Romeo and Juliet. People are cast out if they do not abide by the laws of their tribes, the laws set out by their own particular deities.
This story zooms in on the story of an outcast girl, and follows her journey to discover her origin and who she is.
A traditional coming-of-age story that is often overshadowed by the sense of impending doom, following Aloy, a relatable protagonist that captivates you from the start. Without giving too much away, Aloy has had to grow up quickly in order to survive in an unforgiving world patrolled by hostile machines and feuding clans. She stumbles upon an ancient device whilst exploring a forbidden ruin, a device which gives her a type of sixth-sense, not unlike the ‘spidey-sense’ or Batman’s ‘Master Detective’ ability. This enables Aloy to scan her surroundings and enemies and strategize how they want to proceed before storming, or sneaking into a fray.
Starting out, you play a young and curious Aloy exploring a vast and dangerous world with your guardian, Rost. With Rost by your side, you learn the means of survival, how to hunt, how to forage and how to craft. This tutorial is cleverly woven in and doesn’t feel like the game is holding your hand, but rather that Rost, like any parent teaching their child, is teaching Aloy how to survive.
Aloy’s determination to find out who she is, is a recurring theme throughout. As a young adult, Aloy is brave, strong-willed and determined; yet, when she uncovers a glimmer of hope in terms of discovering her origin, she becomes vulnerable and almost childlike.
This links flawlessly to the opening chapters of the game where you play as young Aloy and really helps to build a connection between the player and the protagonist.
This carries over to adult Aloy, often sarcastic in her responses to some NPC’s, empathetic in her responses to others, especially those who have been cast out. It is heartwarming watching her show such emotion and understanding to those that have experienced the same treatment.
The story features some challenging themes throughout; racial segregation is a key player in the game, after all, you start out as an outcast and NPCs treat you as just that. I found the narrative to be reminiscent in many ways, political matters are as profound here as they are in our lives and highlight problematic leadership and discriminatory behaviour toward multiple social groups. It's powerful in the regard that you feel that as Aloy, you have the ability to challenge that.
These traits help you to decide on how you should respond, allowing players to influence her relationships with other characters. I feel this mechanic worked well and I personally would have liked the opportunity to use these personalised responses more. Some of the narrative dialogue feels forced, Aloy’s sarcastic quips aside and the ability to choose a response was a welcome change.
Horizon’s story is concise, effective and relatively lengthy. It’s complemented with interesting side quests, errands and activities that don’t detract from the main story. Often side quests are an afterthought, but here they feel relevant and though not an obligation, I wanted to complete each and every one of them. Though I completed most of the content during my initial playthrough, I felt drawn to Horizon even after I’d finished the main campaign and tie up any loose ends. My time at 100% completion was 66 hours.
Quite possibly the finest looking game on the PlayStation 4, I found it hard to tear myself away from the luscious, overgrown woodlands and steep mountain ranges. Hour upon hour was spent traversing this gorgeous universe, facing off against the ferocious dinosaur-like mechs and clambering up formidable ridges at the farthest reaches of the earth; the environment provides a welcome distraction from the monotony of everyday life.
Patrolling this universe is a variety of 26 machines, each original and unique in their design that present a real threat, not just to Aloy but to wandering civilians and bandits and ultimately, the human race as it’s known by the tribes. As you progress through the game, you will encounter these robots who, thanks to an excellent AI are each unpredictable and challenging in their own way.
Sadly, I didn't have the opportunity to experience Horizon in 4K, however even using standard 1080p with a PlayStation Pro, I was not disappointed! Every aspect of the game was polished to the highest standard, some of the hardest things to get right in gaming stood out. The eyes had an incredible amount of depth and the developers succeeded her in showing emotions using the eyes of the characters. This is an unmistakably human quality and to capture it in a video game demonstrates an unparalleled level of skill in the developers.
Couple all of this with an engaging and imaginative soundtrack, the game just oozes prowess.
Horizon: Zero Dawn features a fast paced, unique and varied combat style which allows the player to approach each battle in their own way. Are you more of a guns blazing player? Go with that! You’d rather sneak in and pick off your enemies unnoticed? That’s a valid option too. Stealth doesn’t feel like an added extra here, but instead feels like a natural approach to many of the situations Aloy finds herself in.
The combat system is complimented by the flawless controls that HZD has to offer. I felt I had complete control over Aloy and her proficient use of primitive weaponry that features a futuristic twist; there was no delay between a button press and the response in game and this made me feel incredibly powerful. As a gamer, I know how important it is for the controls to enhance your experience, all too often poor controls make otherwise excellent games frustrating to play but this is not the case at all here. I found the controls to be so good, it left me feeling amiss when playing other games.
To my surprise, the map is huge! Before I really delved into worldly exploration, I stayed reasonably local to Aloys home. Upon further exploration of the top down, 3D map and UI, I discovered the size of the playable area and was surprised by the scale. The map was bigger than I expected but in comparison to other western RPG’s, it wasn’t so dauntingly vast that it was intimidating. I felt compelled to explore everywhere and uncover all of the secrets this mysterious world was hiding.
Though primarily an action game with an engrossing narrative, Horizon is littered with a variety of RPG elements such as character progression using a skill tree, crafting using resources found in the environment and the ability to venture on sidequests for many of the NPCs in the game, not to mention an open combat style that the player can approach however they feel they would like.
It’s easy to pour hours into Horizon, and with the luscious forests and boundless desert and enthralling battles, why wouldn't you want to?
As with most Playstation games, Horizon features trophy support which encourages the player to engage in multiple aspects of the adventure. A handful of these trophies are unlockable as a result of playing through the main story, while others present a challenge and require the player to complete certain aspect and hunt down collectible items.
I am a keen listener to the PlayStation Blogcast, and I have noticed a term used by the hosts in regards to the platinum trophy; the platinum promise.
I love the idea of striving to achieve the platinum trophy and this has since become a part of my gaming experience for games that I thoroughly enjoy.
During my playthrough of Horizon: Zero Dawn, I decided to take on the ‘Platinum Promise’ and complete it in it’s entirety and I have to say, I don’t regret it. This accomplishment encouraged me to approach a range of situations in a way that I wouldn’t have otherwise and enhanced my experience significantly.
With an entrancing story and captivating combat system, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game that I would recommend over and over. Many games have the capacity to deliver a bold message to it’s audience, but Horizon does this in such a way that it leaves you with a taste, almost a fear, of what could be to come for humanity. It’s almost foreboding in the way that it portrays our reliance on technology and the ignorance that we as a race hold for our planet.