Press Start: 'Horizon Zero Dawn' is a promising first step for a new franchise
I can only imagine the pitch some creative director or executive gave to a room full of developers or investors during the genesis of “Horizon Zero Dawn's” creation.
“Imagine a game where you play as a tribal red-headed woman who uses a bow and arrows to hunt robot dinosaurs in a rich, beautiful, post-apocalyptic world,” he might have said to wide-eyed game industry veterans.
I'm happy to say the final product is every bit as ridiculous and awesome as that description sounds. “Horizon” isn't only a blast to play and explore. It also features a compelling story in a confident first foray for a new franchise, even if it stumbles at a few points along the way.
“Horizon” gripped me right from its first moments. For the first hour or so, you play as a young version of main character Aloy to learn the gameplay mechanics and the setting. This is a creative and effective way to introduce the world and its lore.
Right away, Aloy discovers a “Focus,” which is an incredibly useful device she can use to not only scan for clues during quests but for weak points on the hundreds of robot enemies she'll come across. I often relied on the Focus to plan my strategy when facing tougher enemies, and it only made my eventual victories that much sweeter.
The combat is easily “Horizon's” strong point. Each of the impressive array of 26 unique robot enemies Aloy faces has different weak points you have to exploit if you want to survive. For instance, shooting the crocodile-like Snapmaw's fuel-filled canisters with flaming arrows causes them to explode, damaging other enemies. To make things interesting, you can hack the creatures and make them fight on your side or ride them into battle.
Luckily, Aloy has a huge arsenal of modifiable weapons at her disposal—each with ammo that is simple to craft on the fly. I found the number of weapons and various ammo overwhelming at first, but once I had a handle on how they worked, I was thankful to have them. Pretty soon, I was shooting Ropecasters to tie down flying enemies to stab them on the ground and using electric tripwires to shock stalking predators for easy kills.
Things really get interesting when you face several enemies at once—especially if they're of different species. In a typical fight, I might switch weapons a dozen times to hit the glowing weak spots on different enemies with various weapons and ammo. When it all comes together, battles are nothing less than thrilling.
As great as the combat is against the robot hordes, fighting other humans is pretty stale. The only strategy is to stealth kill as many as possible before you're spotted and you have to resort to shooting them with arrows. You don't have to fight other humans often, but every time I did, I wished I was fighting more robots instead.
When not fighting, I was traveling—often stopping to admire the incredible world of “Horizon.” The setting is absolutely beautiful with its lush plants, gorgeous skies and lighting and amazing landscapes. Water is about the only thing that looks less than stellar, and it's still pretty good. Characters look amazing, too, but their animations can feel stiff during conversations.
While admiring the world, I often took the time to collect sticks and weeds that Aloy can use for crafting. Collecting ingredients necessary for potions and ammo and managing an ever-filling inventory of junk can quickly become tedious, but the world is interesting enough to make it tolerable.
The first half of “Horizon's” main quest is a fun romp through the environment as Aloy tries to learn more about her past and the world around her. The second half requires her to delve into ruins, kill too many humans and learn more about the story through exposition. This makes things a bit more boring.
Fortunately, there are plenty of side missions to enjoy. A lot of them are fetch quests where Aloy is told to go somewhere; collect an item, kill a robot or rescue an enemy, and then return. The recipe is cliché, but I didn't care. Any chance I had to explore more of the setting and destroy robots along the way was welcome.
“Horizon Zero Dawn” borrows some of the best elements of other action games such as “Tomb Raider” and “The Witcher III” for a rich experience all its own. Hours melt away when moving from one robot creature battle to another in the breathtaking world Guerrilla Games has crafted. The story is enticing, though I could have done with less human combat and ruin exploration.
Final score: 9/10
“Horizon Zero Dawn” was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 with a physical copy provided by the publisher, Sony.
Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.