Bright Dawn for Guerilla’s ‘Horizon’
In a gaming landscape of reboots, franchises bordering on complacency and flatly-executed new approaches, occasionally a new intellectual property (IP) will rise up and make a name for itself among the stalwarts of the medium.
Such is the case with “Horizon Zero Dawn,” the newest IP for Playstation 4 from developer Guerilla Games that hit shelves Feb. 28. Best known for “Killzone,” a first-person shooter (FPS) franchise, the Dutch company branched out in a completely different direction with this game.
“Horizon Zero Dawn” is a third-person open world action role-playing game (RPG) set about a thousand years in the future in a post-apocalyptic landscape with sophisticated machine animals and scattered people sectioned into three primitive tribes: the Nora, the Carja and the Oseram.
Players control a young woman named Aloy (Ashly Burch), an outcast of the Nora tribe under the protection of fellow outcast Rost (J. B. Blanc). The ostracizing of outcasts is a running theme throughout the game.
Upon the completion of opening cinematics, players see Aloy the child at the opposite end of shunning and bullying from non-outcast tribe members before she falls into a cave.
After further exploration, she stumbles upon a device called a Focus, which players use to interact with machines in the environment. This ability comes into play at many points in the game.
This exploration piques her curiosity about her past, so much so that she later enters the Proving, a competition and rite of passage for becoming a Nora warrior, which ultimately earns the victor a boon or favor from the Matriarchs and redacts outcast status. A montage shows Aloy training in different ways before cutting to an older version of her making use of Rost’s teachings.
While players regain control for a few missions leading up to the Proving, the meat of the story begins at the rite of passage. Tragic events at the conclusion of the event lead the Nora Matriarchs to enable Aloy with authority to explore and solve the mysteries surrounding the events at the Proving.
At this point, players have full control of Aloy and gain full access of the expansive map to complete various main quests and side quests that help with unfolding the narrative.
The biggest flaw of “Horizon Zero Dawn” is the repetition of the gameplay throughout the unravelling storyline. A majority of the side quests and errands include some derivation of the typical fetch quest, which can get old after continuous attempts at completion.
The only other downsides of the game involve random hiccups in vocal animations and various passing weather-related comments that get annoying relatively fast. This complaint is relatively minor, however, since it happens so infrequently.
Otherwise, “Horizon Zero Dawn” is one of the most polished new IPs released in this console’s generation.
Outside of the facial voice animations, the visuals of this game are amazing. Whether playing in high definition on the regular PS4 or in 4K on the PS4 Pro, players cannot help but sit in awe at the beauty of the varied landscapes. Whether tundra or prairie, the settings are on point.
The animations of the machines and people throughout the landscape are equally amazing. All machines have distinct looks and movements that jump out at players both literally and figuratively. It’s easy to take extra time on a hunt just to stare at the beasts.
But when it’s time for action, this game does not disappoint.
The battle system is simple, intuitive and very well-constructed.
Players construct ammunition on the fly with what resources they are able to gather and hold. Quick crafting can help turn the tide in a battle. This system adds to the drama of fighting a hostile machine and makes victories just as satisfying.
But players have the option to avoid firefights with enemies with a basic-but-effective stealth system that makes use of tall grass and lines of sight. Combined with Aloy’s bow skills and dodge rolls, taking out someone while remaining undetected is an accomplishment in itself.
Really, the shining part of this whole game is Aloy’s character. Burch gives the protagonist a balance between stoicism and emotion, who never loses her inherent drive throughout the way.
Her combat skills, platforming ability and character development make her into a character Lara Croft of “Tomb Raider” would be proud of.
Her interactions with the environment are also spot on. Players have the option to make a few dialogue decisions for Aloy throughout the game, but they are of no consequence.
While games like “Mass Effect” and “The Walking Dead” put a lot of weight into these decisions, the relative lightness of the decision engine is a refreshing change of gravity.
This lightness juxtaposes against a story of great gravity. From uncovering Aloy’s origins to discovering what caused the fate of past civilizations, players stay engaged in the storyline from beginning to poignant end – all with a soundtrack that, while understated, only adds to the gravity of the story and the various random encounters players have throughout.
Overall, “Horizon Zero Dawn” proves to be one of the best new IPs Playstation has seen in a long time.
An enthralling story, fantastic gameplay and near perfect ambience make for a gaming experience PS4 owners would be remiss to pass up. – 9 out of 10 Metal Shards