Sept. 22, 2017
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Horizon Zero Dawn Review

Nothing's new, but it sure is pretty

March 9, 2017, 2:00 pm

I am young and scared, a new addition to this planet and one born of mystery. I never knew my parents, but my adoptive father raised me as his own—difficult given he's an outcast from his village. And I am brash, difficult, petulant; I want to grow too fast. Years go by and seasons change. My natural propensity toward curiosity grows. I learn to crawl, walk, run, hunt. When I receive my first bow from my adoptive father, it’s a big moment for me. As we crouch, hidden in the tall grass and he whispers hunting advice in my ear, a singular thought creeps in through the periphery of my consciousness—haven’t I played this fucking shit before?

So is Horizon Zero Dawn, the new open world action-y/RPG-ish title from Guerilla Games, the devs behind the sometimes-celebrated, sometimes-just-OK Killzone series. Players become Aloy, a young girl with a mysterious past but a penchant for tracking and hunting bizarre biomechanical machines that roam the land. It’s an odd juxtaposition given the caveman-like aesthetic, but the machines are cool enough and you bet your ass there’s a whole mess of different kinds. Horse-like Striders roam the fields alongside vicious big cat-like Sawtooths; graceful Tallnecks lumber along like futuristic brontos; ice-spitting robo-birds flap their wings above. It’s weird, but it’s neat. And the machines’ part-mammal, part-dinosaur style opens up a world of possibilities for the designers to get nutty—and indeed they do, from the ability to tame and/or ride some of the creatures to the frantic and unpredictable behaviors they display while under attack.

Like her adoptive father, Rost, Aloy is an outcast, which (according to the lore of the game) is a pretty bum deal and nobody nearby will talk to her or her dear old dad. But every year in the nearby village, a test of strength is available to the youth—outcast or not—and the winner can ask for anything, even to be allowed into the tribe. Of course, this sets a series of events into play, and Aloy gets swept up in a crazy adventure that will probably put her limits to the test and, y’know, like, answer her questions about her life and stuff.

This is all well and good, and everything is huge and fantastic, from the intricately detailed and massive open world environments to character design, voice work, combat, mechanics and so on. In fact, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Horizon Zero Dawn under the hood at all. It’s just that there’s not a lot new, either. Stalking and hunting is so similar to a title like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag that it’s almost impossible to divorce the two in one’s mind, and the whole post-apocalyptic-machines-terrorize-humans-in-a-world-overgrown-with-plants is a whole hell of a lot like Ninja Theory’s super-excellent 2010 game, Enslaved (which itself was an adaptation of the Chinese Monkey mythology) just not as endearing or organically told. Even quests that find Aloy capturing bandit outposts feel so much like recent Farcry installments that it's hard not to think Guerilla has been paying pretty close attention to Ubisoft's titles.

There’s ample opportunity to add or level Aloy’s skills, weapons and outfits, and some elements (like the ability to slow down of time while aiming) are cool as hell while others, like having the chance to ride some of the machines are just fine. Again, though, it’s nothing we haven’t done a thousand times already. Even crafting items like ammo or resources, a mechanic that once seemed so fresh and exciting in games, feels more like a filler here than anything. It could be argued that this is just how it would go for primitive societies, it's just that it isn't particularly fun. 

Luckily, there's lots to do, and even if the gameplay loop of missions, side missions (such as hunting lodge challenges or tracking quests), resource gathering and exploration recall something like The Witcher 3 to a noticeable degree, these are still fun things to tackle. Still, the overall world itself rarely feels as populated or living as similar titles, and Guerilla doesn't get into any one genre enough to be meaningful. This could cause novice gamers confusion. But for those who are seasoned and love a good challenge, there are secrets to be found and one of the largest and most detailed worlds to gallivant around in. Yes, you've played games like this, and Horizon Zero Dawn seems to have adhered to a cherry-picked list of mechanics and elements that worked well in other games, but with a high level of polish and enough done right, the game can be an absolute blast. The story unfolds slowly and the bits and pieces might be disappointing from time to time, but at the end of the day you can tame, shoot, trap and blow up a whole bunch of different kinds of robots—and that's mostly pretty solid.

+Beautiful, incredibly well made
- So so familiar, sometimes getting from point A to B is a slog
Horizon Zero Dawn
Developed by Guerilla Games
Published by Sony
Rated M (you can sneak up behind dudes and spear the hell outta them)


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