- You would probably have heard of Guerilla Games, best known for their shooter Killzone franchise. After five consecutive Killzone games, the studio decided to get out of their comfort zone to create a third-person open world RPG. The end result is a PlayStation 4 exclusive called Horizon: Zero Dawn.
It’s beautiful, and quite possibly one of the best games of this generation.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is set in a post-apocalyptic earth. With its sentient mechanical fauna roaming the lands, it’s also perhaps one of the most original stories in gaming to come along in some time. You play as Aloy, a girl with a mysterious past that forms one of the games major plot points, and she manages to feel like a fully formed character as you unravel the adventure alongside her. She’s part Lara Croft, part Katniss Everdeen, with a little more coolness that comes from growing up in a world patrolled by robotic wildlife. She’s strong, independent, witty, and above all else, truly likeable. This is important, as you will be spending a lot of time in her world. Yes, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a huge game.
Unlike many open world games, Horizon: Zero Dawn doesn’t bog you down with repetitive and mostly unnecessary side quests that risk overwhelming players – here’s looking at you Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry. Guerilla has somehow managed to construct a huge open world that is restrained and shows respect towards its players.
Horizon: Zero Dawn still comes packaged with the standard fanfares of the open world genre, but it’s a much more curated affair, with side missions varied enough that no two missions seem similar. Crucially, they also justified story reasons for existing beyond simply extending the playtime count. There are familiar collectibles too, but they are surprisingly far fewer than you would expect in a game of this size, and they provide additional backstory to the game. There are also huge mobile robot dinosaurs, called Tallnecks, that act as navigational towers that Aloy can hack to reveal the in-game map’s fog of war. They do provide a refreshing change from anything you’ve had to climb in the past and each Tallnecks give you a sense of the game’s environment wonders as you climbed to the top. There’s also very few of them – it’s almost as if Guerilla Games is schooling other open world game developers. An irony, when Horizon: Zero Dawn is only the studio’s first non-shooter title.
One of the real sparks of originality in Horizon is its setting. There have been many post-apocalytic games in the past, and none have look anything like this – except for Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, another beautiful game although it was more action than an open world title. As it’s been some time since the undoing of civilization, things have moved on. Lush greenery covers cities and towns, and wildlife, both organic and robotic, thrives. Humanity has reverted to a primitive tribal state, with factors in conflict with each other. As you progress further in the game, you will soon be taking on human enemies as well as metal ones.
Without a doubt, the stars of Horizon: Zero Dawn are none other than the mechanized beasts, which won’t look out of place in Zoids or Transformers. Each robot beast was also conceptualized with an industrial design in mind, so there are believable physics to their movements and anatomy. One of the game’s beauty is its ability to continuously awe you whenever a new metal beast or robot appears (and the boss fights…oh those epic boss fights). As well as taking them down, you can also hack into them – turning them into mounts or as allies that will fight on your side.
Combat is an integral aspect of Horizon, and when you’re first let loose in the plains against herds of robotic creatures, you will struggle, and you will die. The ‘animals’ hit hard and they hit fast, especially when several gang up on you at once. Luckily, stealth is just as much of a viable approach as tackling enemies head on, and the game encourages you to experiment with your style. As you progress the number of options available to you open up, with skill and weapon upgrades coming thick and fast and extending your repertoire. The fighting always feels fluid, and Aloy is responsive and mobile. That however, also proves to be the game’s few chinks, as Aloy can seems a tad overpowered at times. The game encourages you to make use of innovative weapons like the Tripcaster (that stuns enemies) and the Ropecaster (that ties enemies down), but they are often unnecessary – as Aloy is more than capable of rushing with her bow and arrows or engage in some old-school melee fights.
There are also other aspects to Horizon: Zero Dawn that are inherent to similar games of the open world genre, including crafting, exploration, clearing out bandit hideouts and some fetching quests. But as mentioned earlier, these seldom stray or distract you from the game’s giant plot.
As far as visual fidelity goes, Horizon: Zero Dawn is quite possibly the most beautiful game on any consoles today – even beating last year’s Uncharted 4 by Naughty Dog. The game is just begging to be experienced on the PlayStation 4 Pro with a TV that supports 4K and HDR. Playing it on a PS4 Pro also give a noticeable performance boost from the extra hardware, but the game still looks stunning and run at a purposeful 30fps on the original PS4 as well as the Pro version
Horizon: Zero Dawn is clearly a labour of love from Guerilla Games, and it is quite frankly heartening to see a studio that can break out of its comfort zone (of making shooter games) with a new brilliant and polished IP. Through a combination of gorgeous graphics, art style, compelling gameplay and original premise, it is easily a must have game for any PS4 owners. On its own merits, this should also qualify as a reason to own a PS4 console too.
We are barely two months into 2017, and we already have a Game of the Year contender in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Bravo Guerilla Games.