Horizon: Zero Dawn has finally gifted us something sadly rare in the gaming industry: originality and excellence. We review it here.
The video game market is flooded with franchises and sequels, and it isn’t very often that we get a big budget game that features an entirely original concept. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it sometimes takes a few entries into a series (and a few fuckups) to really hit its peak and start producing excellent games (as discussed in my article here).
In fact, if we look at the best selling games of 2016, we’ll notice there are hardly any original games featured and that fans are more comfortable sinking their teeth into well established franchises like Call of Duty and Final Fantasy.
Thankfully, there are companies that are willing to take risks and break new ground to give us absolute gems like Horizon: Zero Dawn.
If you haven’t heard of this game, I’d suggest dropping everything, getting onto Youtube immediately and having a look at some of the previews, or just watching some of the general gameplay. Go on you lazy bastard, we’ll wait, we’re not going anywhere. (Or because we’re nice you can just click here).
Horizon: Zero Dawn, a PS4 exclusive (no good Xbox!), is one of the most gorgeous and engaging games you will ever play. It’s hard for me to count just how many times I had to pause to take in just how fucking amazing the experience of playing this game is. Whether admiring how beautiful the settings are or revelling in how much of a badass I felt once I mastered the combat and took down some of the nastier bad guys, this game will leave you with countless moments that you won’t forget any time soon.
Horizon: Zero Dawn plot…
So what is this pearl of a game all about? There’s a great amount of mystery that surrounds this game from the very start. As an excluded member of her tribe from birth, our hero Aloy is desperate to learn of her parentage and to gain acceptance back into her tribe.
But as events unfold, she begins to dig into an even deeper mystery. How did this world end up the way that it did? Why are there giant fucking robotic dinosaurs roaming the Earth whilst all the humans live so primitively?
Slowly uncovering these mysteries is one of the great joys of the game. I kept wanting to learn more, and there are numerous data points along the way that offer optional audio files and journals, depending on how in-depth you want to go.
The more we learn, the more questions there are. And whilst we get most of the answers by the end of the game, there are still plenty of mysteries left unsolved that makes me hope I can return to this world again in the future (Sequels!!!!).
Horizon: Zero Dawn combat…
The combat in this game is one of its most unique elements, as Aloy must learn to respect each different machine’s deadly abilities and skilfully combine her various weapons to take them down. We’re able to scan our enemies and locate their weak points and what elements they are most vulnerable to. So it’s really worth the effort to plan out each attack and make use of cover rather than just charging in all guns blazing.
Even the weakest robots can do serious damage if you don’t take them seriously, and it’s a really satisfying feeling to have executed a well planned-out attack (and start screaming out ‘who’s your daddy now?!’).
Let’s explore the Horizon: Zero Dawn world…
Horizon: Zero Dawn has a great open world to explore, and you can choose whether you want to focus on the main storyline or just randomly explore the world. In this world you’ll find bandit camps to take down, corrupted machines to eliminate and various side quests to keep you busy. You’ll also stumble upon giant cauldrons to explore that allow you to gain the ability to override some of the machines to either ride like horses or temporarily assist you in combat (those Stalkers weren’t so tough when my Thunderjaw buddy ripped them to shreds!).
Sometimes you’ll just stumble across random machines and find yourself in a fight you weren’t planning on. You can even come across hunters trying to take down machines themselves and gain their valuable resources. That’s right, nothing comes for free in this game, and you’ll need to make the effort to harvest plants to keep your health up and pick up the pieces of the machines you (or others, you dirty scavenger) destroy to keep your ammo up or to trade in to merchants to buy new weapons or outfits.
Horizon: Zero Dawn graphics and gameplay…
It should be mentioned again just how visually stunning this game is. Each blade of grass, each wave of water and each strand of Aloy’s hair are painstakingly crafted to give the game an incredibly beautiful and almost realistic look.
Characters’ faces, especially their eyes, look so damn good. I even had people casually walking by and thinking I was watching a real TV show, not an animated game. Along with a ripper soundtrack that really knows how to amp things up when the heat is on, this is a game that has really put the effort in all those little details to create an incredibly rich experience for players.
Bringing it all together is the incredible storyline that’s assisted by top notch writing and acting. There aren’t a huge amount of characters that we can interact with in the various towns and villages we come across, but the ones we can talk to and assist each have detailed backgrounds that help us learn more about the world we are in and its intricacies.
Aloy is given a choice in how to react to others (it’s never exactly what you really want to say is it?) and this can have an impact on how the stories are finished or how certain missions will play out.
Horizon: Dero Dawn, and in particular its protagonist Aloy, even offers a social commentary …
Horizon: Zero Dawn also has some interesting social commentary tucked in beneath its layers. And while you may be surprised to find people of various ethnic backgrounds living together in different villages, you’ll be less surprised to see the discrimination and hateful attitudes towards those belonging to different tribes or religions. We hear stories and are witness to all sorts of horrible acts carried out in the name of religion, and witness how blindly people will follow along if there’s a king or supposed deity sanctioning their actions.
Aloy is often presented as the voice of scepticism to all the absolute beliefs she comes across. And this makes sense given the fact she was brought up as an outcast and continually discriminated against. It’s also fascinating to see that as words of her deeds spread, she rejects attempts to turn her into someone worthy of worship (which is kind of a shame because I’ve always dreamed of being worshiped).
It should also be noted that this game is full of numerous strong female characters, with our main hero the most notable example. Combined with the lack of any romantic or sexual storylines, it is, honestly, a breath of fresh air to have a strong female lead that is able to so strongly stand on her own feet (paying attention Hollywood??).
Horizon: Zero Dawn is an experience like no other, and a great example of the rewards of fully backing and realising an exciting new concept. Whether you get caught up in the rich stories and characters or can’t get enough of the satisfaction of figuring out how to take down a monstrous machine and then pulling it off, this is a game you won’t be able to put down once you start and will leave you begging for more. I know I am!
My Rating: 9/10