Review – Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn is a departure for developer Guerrilla Games, who have basically been the House of Killzone since the first game in the first-person shooter franchise released in 2004 on the PS2. After releasing five Killzone titles – six if you count Killzone: Mercenary developed by the now-shuttered Guerrilla Cambridge – over the course of the next nine years, Guerrilla Games switched gears to the third-person action arena for Horizon.
Though it represents a radical shift in gameplay design, Horizon is still recognizably a Guerrilla Games product – heavy on production value and left a little wanting on the narrative side of things. Whether played on a PS4 or PS4 Pro, Horizon is a gorgeous game that’s tantalizingly close to a rock-solid 30 frames per second framerate. Every bit of the environment is filled to the brim with foliage and creatures, all lit by a day-to-night cycle that’s complemented by a dynamic weather system. There’s the odd bug here and there, like the appearance of weather effects while inside or underground, but aside from some nitpicks it’s awfully hard to criticize anything about the presentation.
The gameplay side of things falters a bit in comparison, largely due to the feeling that so many mechanics were lifted from other open-world games. Tallnecks, for example, really exist for only one purpose – the large beasts are a stand in for the towers from Assassin’s Creed or radio towers from Far Cry. Climbing these creatures allows Aloy, the game’s heroine, to get a view of the surroundings and unlock map data. Horizon also features a crafting mechanic that seems strikingly similar to that from Far Cry games.
There are some interesting ideas here as well, including dialog options that let Aloy respond with aggressive, intelligent, or passionate choices. These choices don’t make for a dramatic swing to the plot, but it’s nice to see some ability to influence the story in small ways. In addition, as Aloy gains experience she can learn new skills via the skill tree. There’s really no game-changing must-have skill, but gamers can choose to have their version of Aloy be more of a stealthy ninja or a blitzing warrior. Stealth tactics might even be a little too rewarding, as enemies have a curious inability to see a pile of bodies next to tall grass and put two and two together.