Tech News on G4
A world of wonder in Horizon: Zero Dawn
February 28, 2017
By Daniel Barron - G4 Canada
Guerrilla Games has done something we rarely see in gaming these days - it went from developing a relatively by-the-books first person shooter series, to creating a massively ambitious new IP in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn. What's most impressive, though, is that Horizon has lived up to the proverbial hype. It's simply awesome.
After nearly a decade working on five Killzone games, Guerrilla has unveiled Horizon, and while it's still very early in 2017, we're betting this game will appear on many best-of lists when the clock strikes 2018.
In Horizon, the environment the player traverses is populated by vicious - and often very aggressive - robotic creatures, many of which resemble dinosaurs. Humans are no longer the alpha predators on Earth, and now live scattered in villages throughout the game world. How things came to be this way is very much a mystery as the story begins. The only thing as mysterious as the world itself is the protagonist, who is named Aloy.
Aloy grew up being shunned from what's now considered "society." She's not quite sure why other people aren't allowed to so much as speak to her, but she has a noble man known as Rost to act as a father figure and guide her as she grows up. Although he tells her very little about her life when she was born, he protects her, guides her, and teaches her how to survive in what is a very harsh place.
After a fairly brief opening sequence and customary montage that shows Aloy learning how to protect herself, the player is set upon a small chunk of a very large map. It's here that we learn the basics of combat - namely, how to use Aloy's bow, which is the most important aspect of an arsenal that grows significantly as the game progresses.
Considering Guerrilla cut its teeth by having players point and shoot over the course of several games, it's astonishing that the developers nailed such different combat. Hunting with the bow is instantly gratifying, and stays that way even after dozens of hours of sniping enemies from afar. The weapons she gains later - including a ropecaster that can tie down enemies, and a trap that can stun them - add multiple dimensions to combat, and effectively make every enemy encounter different from the last.
Aloy can certainly enter full-on assault mode with some enemies, but many others - especially those that come in groups - will tear the protagonist apart in short order. A stealth system has been created that works wonderfully. Aloy can lure enemies one by one and quietly take them in order to even the odds, and can set up all sorts of traps to aid in the many fights that begin quietly, but become hectic very fast.
The world, meanwhile, is completely and utterly riveting in every sense of the word. Without it, Horizon would not be the superb game it is. After a main quest that further defines who Aloy is, the map proper becomes completely unlocked, and the player can go wherever they desire.
Every time I thought I saw everything, the game surprised me again. Whether I was admiring flying mechanized birds as I stood at the edge of a cliff, hearing my shouts echo as I stood at the top of a snowy mountain, or desperately hiding from ever-larger enemies, the game that Guerrilla crafted never ceased to amaze me. The more I found, the more I wanted to explore - a gameplay loop that's not often found in games these days.
There's nothing subtle about what's available to the player, as the map is absolutely plastered - almost laughably - with icons. The game assaults the player with proof that there's a lot to do in Horizon. It puts even the busiest Assassin's Creed game to shame.
While combat and the environment are the delicious meat and potatoes of Horizon, there are other aspects that don't work quite as well. It's all small stuff, but in a game this expansive, it can add up to noticeable annoyances.
Resource gathering is extremely important in Horizon, and while many items can be found without breaking a sweat, it can become a real grind when you're looking for a specific animal meat, for instance, but it simply never drops. I spent a solid 45 minutes at one point killing foxes, waiting for one - just one! - to drop something I needed so I could craft an item that I desperately wanted. It simply isn't fun scanning the environment constantly, finding and targeting an animal, slowly and carefully hunting it, and then hoping the carcass has what you need.
Even picking up the most common items can be a pain. As alluded to earlier, you'll be going through a lot of bows during your time in Horizon. You'll need a lot of a certain resource (Ridgewood) to build more bows, and while Ridgewood is plentiful in Horizon, your character has to physically stop moving to pick it up. There were many times were my button input wouldn't register when I was picking up the resource, too, making a simple act kind of annoying. This doesn't sound like much, but multiply it by literally the thousands, and it becomes grating. Simply allowing Aloy to continue moving as she picks up resources would help immensely.
Aloy's movement is also a bone of contention. When she's moving slowly and stealthily, I have no issues, but when it's time for her to begin running over broken terrain from a large and quick group of angry enemies, though, things change. Getting hung up on the tiniest environmental imperfection will stop Aloy almost dead in her tracks, and don't even get me started on what happens when she lands in water. And when you do end up surrounded by several enemies, they love to knock you down repeatedly before you have a chance to retaliate. That's never fun, no matter what game you're talking about.
Even if I was annoyed by these things, they weren't enough to make Horizon: Zero Dawn less than a stunning achievement. The wonderfully realized world - and the protagonist who traverses it in desperate search of answers - is a true treat for anyone who can even remotely appreciate world building.
The best part? It's very possible this is just the beginning of Aloy's story. Considering how tight a game Guerrilla crafted, a sequel is bound to be that much better. We hope to see you in a few years, Aloy.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
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