Review : Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)

Playstation have long held exclusives with high regard and with both critical and commercial success with hits like Uncharted, The Last Of Us, Ratchet & Clank and Journey (just to name a few!) Playstation 4 has seen some new IP’s like Until Dawn, No Man’s Sky and The Witness to a mostly positive reception. It seems that Sony and Guerrilla Games have struck gold with Horizon : Zero Dawn.

A lot of promises were given with this game and due to some rocky issues with past releases (cough No Man’s Sky cough) fans were skeptical about this release and if it would deliver on the intended promise of graphics and game-play. Fortunately skeptics can sleep easy as Horizon : Zero Dawn not only delivers on its jaw dropping graphics, but also a solid story and varied game-play with combat mechanics that make this after Uncharted 4 : A Thief’s End, the best game I have played on Playstation 4 to date.

Horizon : Zero Dawn follows the inauguration of a young girl named Aloy, who is cast out of her Nora tribe at birth and raised by a warrior. Rather than being an outsider and running away from the quite cruel children of the tribe who taunt her, she trains her whole life hunting and gathering to participate in a tribe event called The Proving, the winner can ask the tribe anything they want and will automatically be accepted as a Brave. Aloy’s goal is to find out why she was outcast and try and find her parents.

Following this the game is sprawled into a rather large map populated with MANY quests and missions as well as discovering and winning over other tribes in the area. The map is littered with mechanical dinosaurs, relics of the now extinct mechanical age, they travel alone and in herds and are protected by Watchers, nasty viscous creatures who can see your every move. 

Every machine has it’s own preferred territory across the map, as well as their strengths and weaknesses which are revealed by using the Focus function. You start out with a spear and bow and arrow and you learn which maneuver’s work for which species. For some an all out running assault works, while fire arrows from a distance tend to work on larger enemies. My preferred technique was to hide in the long grass and override the machines to fight each other to the death and then you can ride one on to your next marker for a faster travel mode. It is a trial and error kind of game and reminiscent of Monster Hunter in that respect.

Collecting items along you journey is another vital part to Horizon, with crafting weapons, tools and items a necessity to surviving the harsh world. You can merge items and weapons together creating fire and ice shots, while learning to trap and kill flying enemies with the rope-caster, there is always a new and interesting way to take the machines on to get through to the next area.

Similar to other open world character games, every kill and story point achievement gives you XP which upgrades your character level which you can also use to upgrade combat abilities, hunting techniques as well as upgraded storage for your items and more health. It is all pretty stock standard upgrades here and you have played Tomb Raider or a similar game it is all roughly the same thing.

I was impressed at the diversity of characters in this game with many people of colour littered all throughout the lands in varying roles as tribal leaders, braves, heroes and villains. Having a female as the main protagonist seemed to be a topic worth talking about among the gaming community and Aloy feels organic and tangible, and while I may have called her Merida once or twice, she successfully cements herself as a lead character whose journey you join and can relate to and want to see succeed.

Many of the games mechanics like speech and choice may draw comparisons to Mass Effect, and while this may be true, it helps with the replay value of the game. Similarly taking flying foxes across long distances is a trick straight out of Tomb Raider and exploring for relics from Uncharted, it all works together and never takes you out of the environment or feels unnatural. The only trope the game shatters that instead of climbing a tower to survey your surroundings from a high vantage point, you have to ride and scale a large dinosaur and this added challenge made doing this seem less tedious.

Exploring the world feels organic as the tribes and especially Aloy herself do not know it. There are so many questions that are answered as you play and as you gather clues to Aloy’s past as well as discovering what happened with the machines and how this world came to be, I felt involved and informed the whole way through and I look forward to uncovering more as I no doubt will spend many more hours of my life on this game.

Graphically this game is everything a next-gen game should be. Every detail down to the individual bricks and tiles are meticulously detailed, resulting in an astonishingly beautiful game. I found myself wandering around in sheer awe of the level of detail in this world. From the varying scenes of mountains, canyons, fortresses, populated cities it all looks incredibly beautiful. In addition to this the random UI in this game is something to be noted about as well. I found moments I was hiding in the tall grass waiting to pounce on some human enemies, a Titan would drop from the sky and clean them up for me. Other warriors would fight the machines as I rode on past making an easier and quicker transition through the area (cheers guys!) and this level of detail is something that is rare to find in a game.

From the start of the tear inducing tutorial, Horizon : Zero Dawn invites us into the journey of Aloy and her determination to be accepted in a world in which she has been unfairly discriminated against. It is a spectacular parallel to the story if many women in our world and the societal norms against them. Aloy’s journey of establishing her place in the world, while facing impossible odds is told through mechanical dinosaurs who not only look amazing but are a carrier for her acceptance in an otherwise unwelcoming time.

Horizon : Zero Dawn was not expected from Guerrilla Games who have been the Killzone machine for Playstation over the last few years and allows the company to stretch their legs and deliver as astonishingly great game for the Playstation 4.

Horizon : Zero Dawn is available exclusively on Playstation 4 now

*All pictures were captured using PS4 Screenshot system and a copy of Horizon : Zero Dawn was provided by Playstation Australia for review purposes.

Review by Alaisdair Leith


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