Teh Future Is Bright
Written by Jesse Seilhan
Risks are something most big companies avoid. In the video game industry, if it is not a sequel or part of a beloved franchise, a new IP is almost always a risk. But Sony believed in what Guerrilla Games pitched to them, shifting away from their beleaguered Killzone series and into something wholly new for both them and the PS4. Horizon Zero Dawn is the product of that relationship and turned into the defining game of Sony’s newest console. While it definitely owes games like Tomb Raider, Uncharted, and Far Cry a lot, they put together well-known mechanics and storytelling in a way that hasn’t existed ever before. While not absolutely perfect, it’s the closest thing to a “must-buy” this generation has.
The story kicks off as young Aloy, an outcast youth and adventurous soul, is on a journey with her guardian Rost. After falling into a cave and discovering some ancient technology, Aloy’s mind expands to what her civilization might actually be. As the story progresses, we learn that the world that we know is long gone, destroyed for reasons unknown and Aloy’s people are what came after. In what must be the first game set in the post-post-Apocalypse, we aren’t dealing with radiated lakes and desolate deserts. Vegetation has come back in a big way and taken over as the rightful ruler of the world. But technology has merged with some of the wild animals, leading to crazy enemies like ice-flinging horses and gigantic metal dinosaurs. It sounds a little ridiculous, but the pacing, acting, and writing completely pay off, keeping you wondering how the world of yesterday ended and what led to the wild technology transformation. The answers aren’t mind blowing, but riveting enough to keep you engaged.
While Killzone was a divisive franchise with a few glaring issues, graphics were never one of them. With this new engine, the devs at Guerrilla Games have created the benchmark for next-gen graphics once again. During your 25-30 hour journey, you will be hard pressed to find a single visual blemish, as everything from the foliage to the character models are nearly immaculate. Animations for each enemy are as unique and personalized as the creature in question. You don’t need a PS4 Pro to get appreciate its beauty, but bumping it up to 4K should push your TV to its limits. The audio is also up to the task, with a sweeping score that quiets down during the many stealth sections but swells and roars during combat and story highlights. Controls feel snappy and fine tuned, giving you plenty of control while taking down giant beasts and raging madmen. But it’s the actual moment-to-moment gameplay that makes this game special.
Taking on each enemy is a puzzle, something most games claim but never actually design. Horizon makes good on this promise, creating specific weak points in unique spots across the dozens of enemies. Furthermore, your trusty bow can be paired with ten or so special arrows, ranging from more powerful arrows to trip wires that help down an enemy. Elements matter, as fire type enemies freeze easier, but most enemies that are attuned one way or the other carry some sort of fire or ice supply on them can be destroyed for tons of damage. Throw in water, air, and land enemies as well as foes ranging from annoying to terrifying, no two battles are the same. As more of the world opens up, so do creatures that might take 30 minutes to take down, especially if you aren’t focusing on their weaknesses. Sadly, the human enemies you fight aren’t too smart, especially when stealthily taking them out. But the myriad of techo-monsters make up for the lack of human intelligence.
It’s hard to say how good this game would be if it came before its predecessors. It definitely lifts qualities from some of the best action games of the past few decades. But Horizon Zero Dawn did something special with all of them and set the bar to which all future games of the genre will be compared. Unless they are as sharp, thrilling, polished, and gorgeous as Horizon, they will seem rote and old. Guerilla Games should be proud of this game, the world they created, and the characters that take you on a journey, because it sits amongst the very best in years.
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