- Released: 2017
- Played on: Playstation 4
- Also available on: –
- Time to get into: 6 Hours
- Time to complete: 50 Hours
- Multiplayer: No
When Horizon: Zero Dawn finally let me in on it’s secrets, after huge amounts of exposition and a slow drip feed of small details that kept me on tenterhooks, I actually had to pause the game and take a moment to try and take in what I had just discovered. To even attempt a story on this scale is truly audacious and then to pull it off through the use of an open, varied world and a set of well-drawn characters is something really remarkable. The gameplay that sits behind this isn’t quite perfect but it is more than good enough to let the storyline show itself for what it is: genius.
The plot thickens
A video game is also the best medium through which to tell this story. The interactivity of it allows for a slowly blossoming plot to work itself out and for each and every strand of it to weave together into one. There are long periods where you are ‘just’ playing and not advancing the story at all but eventually everything you have seen and been through is pulled together into a single point before the climactic final battle.
I won’t talk too much more about the story line of Horizon: Zero Dawn in an effort to steer completely clear of spoilers. Suffice to say, the less you know the better – and you will not be disappointed! Aloy is a fantastic lead character and 50 hours in her company will not seem too long.
The arrow is true…
The gameplay, it the widest sense, serves to allow your character to experience this evolving plot in the same slowly-broadening type of way. In terms of what you actually do, it’s fairly standard open-world stuff – there’s a reasonably fair balance between hunter-gatherer exploration aspects and fighting with bows, arrows and your ever-present spear. What makes these things better than just ‘standard’ is what you are fighting – the machines! The world is randomly (and often not-so-randomly) populated with animal-like machines of varying sizes from ones that are clearly based on horses all the way up to huge mechs that look like dinosaurs. The learning curve is perfectly balanced – where at the start I feared to get near a pack of the smallest animals by half way through I was striding confidently into the middle of such groups. By the end I would even go into battle with a Thunderjaw – massive dinosaur-like machines complete with all manner of weapons – confident of my survival. By this point you’ve built up your arsenal to include all manner of damage-dealing ammo to allow you to fight as you wish. Should you tie the animal down and pick it off bit by bit or rain bombs on it to set it on fire? The choice is yours and the game does a fantastic job of indicating which things are likely to be successful against particular machines without dictating each battle to you. This choice also extends naturally to the world itself – you can creep about moving from one hiding spot to another or brazenly stride about the place inviting attack.
The spear, less so
It’s in battle though that the two major flaws in Horizon: Zero Dawn are revealed: human enemies and melee combat. Compared to the variety of machines and the different tactics you, and they, employ, the human AI is average. It’s not awful by any means but by itself wouldn’t make for an interesting game. They feel more like an annoyance than an enemy. Fighting humans is also when the problems with melee combat are most obvious. If you are hiding and an unsuspecting machine or human walks by you can press a button for a scripted stealth attack. This does work nicely. However, outside of that melee combat is absolutely useless. You have a quick attack and a longer attack but the quick attack does almost no damage, even after upgrades, and the long attack takes so long for Aloy to actually pull off that your human opponent has usually dealt you damage by the time it happens. So, it’s ideal to keep to ranged combat, all of which is absolutely excellent, and use your spear as a last resort.
I’ve already written about how wonderful the game looks here, so I won’t talk about that anymore. If you don’t want to bother reading that separate post, the short version is: Horizon: Zero Dawn the most beautiful looking game I’ve ever seen! Outside of the melee combat, I have only minor gripes with things like how it’s sometimes not clear what parts of the landscape you will be able to jump up onto and not, which leads to some ungainly jumping on the spot occasionally. Basically what you have here is a stunning and interesting open world, and some great combat options to fight your way through it. It’s hard to complain!
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a great game wrapped up in an amazing story. Whilst it’s not perfect, it’s flaws fade away in the face of what it does well – giving you a great basis to experience the genius plot as it unfolds. Aloy and her fellow characters are great company throughout and even after umpteen hours you are still going to want more at the end. (Which is a good thing, given the post-credits cut scene…!)
Click here to purchase the game on disc from Amazon.co.uk: