HORIZON ZERO DAWN [Review]: It’s A New Day…
…oh, yes it is–the dawn of a new day for longtime Killzone developer, Guerrilla Games. With PS4 exclusive Horizon: Zero Dawn, GG brings us a vast new open-world experience in the shoes of Aloy — a mysterious outcast with a particular set of skills. Our protagonist starts off as an infant orphan from her tribe, raised and ultimately trained by fellow outcast Rose. After a short and relatively painless tutorial, Aloy goes through a total ‘180’ montage (everybody loves a montage) and–poof!–she’s an adult, ready to conquer the wild. From here, the prime story arc is solving the mystery of who Aloy’s parents were; the rest.. is up to you.
GAMEPLAY & INFLUENCE
HZD is huge, and borrows a lot of successful gameplay mechanics from other successful franchises. The core combat gives Aloy a selection of several different weapons: her trusty bow, grenadelaunching wrist-rocket or the enemy-tethering ropecaster, just to name a few. Each weapon has unique damage types–fire, shock, ice–that can be matched up to the weaknesses of your foes. The 3rd person combat is quick and responsive and lends itself to several strategy choices: stealth, pre-stage traps, full frontal assault or a combination of these. My only issue with the combat is the lack of a “lock-on” feature, since it’s a crutch that I’m used to in games of this type (come on; even Dark Souls has a lock on!), but it does add an unintended layer of difficulty when facing multiple enemies and trying to prioritize you targets.
All ammo and health regeneration components must be foraged from plants and trees or scavenged off downed enemies. This system is identical to that of Far Cry Primal, right down to the crafting of fire arrows. Assassin’s Creed fans will be familiar with how players slowly reveal the map; but instead of scaling tall buildings, you’ll climb equally-as-high Tallnecks. And once you reach the top, Aloy will sync with the Tallneck dinosaur striping away some fog of war (while there may be no haystack to do you leap of faith, Aloy still performs a daring jump off and repels down the moving skyscraper). The “investigate area” and “follow the trail” mechanic will seem like deja-vu to Witcher fans, as well.
INNOVATION & STYLE
Aloy also acquires some technology that allows her to see the world in a type of augmented reality, revealing enemies’ weak points and tracks. Several quests will have you investigate an area and follow the monsters scent. While these missions work on a functional level, they just aren’t all that much fun. HZD is not all borrowed elements, either… Can you say ROBOT DINOSAURS! These mechanical Jurassic Park science projects range from the small raptoresque watchers to the massive Tallnecks and fire spewing Bellowbacks. Aloy can scan each dinosaur to reveal unique weak points that can be exploited for easier kills and even parts broken off to use in crafting.
Bringing down the metal beasts feels freshly great, forcing the player to use different strategies depending on which and how many dinosaurs you face. as far as weapons in 25+ hour playthrough, I love the ropecaster. This weapon tethers dinosaurs to the ground and gives you time to sit back and chip away with your bow targeting weak points. How you hunt is, ultimately, up to you. Your playstyle can be tailored in the typical level-up though combat and questing, then fill out with the skill tree in three different branches: Prowler, for the stealthier approach; Brace, for the frontal assault style; or Forager, helping gather more resources from the environment and kills.
GRAPHICS & SOUND
Sony and Guerrilla Games have made the best looking game I’ve seen in all my 28-years of.. well.. gaming. Though I began my initial playthrough on a standard 1080p HDTV, I wanted to see what the PS4 Pro and 4K fuss is all about. I noticed a difference immediately. The best way to describe the transfer? It’s looks like the a VHS upgrade to DVD or DVD upgrade to Blu-ray. Running at a full 2160p, everything in HZD looks real, with visuals popping off the screen down to the details in the motion capture. Heck, even supplemental characters look amazing–from their lips moving perfectly in sync to the voice acting. At dawn, ironically, the sky lights up with awe-inspiring detail of the sun beaming through the trees. It’s all so smooth; no pop-ups, screen tears or jaggies to seen here.
Aloy’s animation is fluid and realistic, not to mention I didn’t have any framerate drops–no matter how much chaos was around me. The music and sound effects are great, as well. From the crackling of lightning on your weapons to the dinosaurs roaring as they leap to strike, all the sound is crisp and exciting. The voice acting is well done; our protagonist’s performance seems sincere, caring and.. ahem.. Brave. Yeah. Each dinosaur has their own unique roar, and the colossal dino’s stride by causing thunder as each step strikes the earth. And, hey, HZD still looks great in 1080p; but if you get the opportunity to give Aloy’s epic adventure a shot in 4K, you won’t regret it.
Sony and Guerilla Games’ Horizon: Zero Dawn in stores now.