Horizon Zero Dawn Review
What’s that on the Horizon? Robots. Giant killer robots. Giant killer robots that want to kill you. Such is life in the world of Horizon Zero Dawn.
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Since the game’s stellar looking E3 trailer last year, this game has been on a lot of people’s radar. Depending on who you ask, it’s either going to make buying a PS4 worthwhile, or it’s going to live in the shadow of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo’s latest blockbuster open world game, due to release only a few days later. Well those people are sonyponies and nintoddlers respectively, and that’s why daddy Daven is here to tell it like it is.
Horizon Zero Dawn revolves around a young girl named Aloy, an orphan and literal outcast, as she seeks both revenge for her tribe and answers about her origins. If that sounds like the premise of a million other games and stories, then I guarantee you’re not alone. In a post apocalyptic world set hundreds of years after the downfall of civilisation, humanity has survived, and the technological remains of mankind have been reclaimed by nature. However technology has also formed a brand new nature of it’s own. The world is now dominated by predatory machines, animal inspired robots that stalk the last living humans, who are forced to live a tribal existence in a harsh environment. Using a combination of primitive tools and weapons and old world technology, players will need to learn to hunt machines in order to stand any chance against them.
Honestly, the writing in this game leaves me feeling a little conflicted. There’s a lot of lore to be discovered in the data logs that remain from the days of civilisation, as well as the history of the tribes themselves, and these are genuinely enjoyable and interesting to read. Piecing together the larger backstory through leftover technology is reminiscent of something like the Fallout games, and it does a good job at adding context to what players are doing and the world around them. That’s about where the writing creativity stops. The main storyline itself is choc full of cliches, overused plot points, and just generally nothing new or exciting. Not only that, but the main story can’t seem to make it’s mind up about which narrative it wants to follow, quite literally pulling you in two different directions a lot of the time.
Perhaps this wouldn’t have been so obvious if it weren’t for the fact that most of the characters in the game have about as much personality as a clump of wet Papier Mâché. The game cares little for anything that might resemble something along the lines of character development. Instead, NPCs and Aloy exist to blandly vomit exposition at each other, with character interactions and animations that are so awkward that they make Oblivion conversations seem natural. It’s hard to actually care about any of characters when they could be replaced by cardboard cutouts with text on them and do just as good a job.
The combat though, aw hell does the combat make you forget about the game’s flaws, even if only for a brief moment. The game has quite an impressive variety of different machines that range from small enough to be toppled with a decent enough kick, to massive behemoths that could wipe their ass with a truck and leave behind nothing but scrap. Each machine has it’s own characteristics, as well as specific weapons, weak points, and abilities, so just when you think you know how to approach one type of machine, another will come along that forces you to change your strategy entirely. Aloy can use a kind of technological HUD known as a Focus to identify machines and their weak points, which is vital for planning an assault, and in this game failing to plan is planning to fail.
The best way I can describe the machine fights is like a combination of the combat from Far Cry and Dark Souls. Players have a range of weapons at their disposal, such as bows that can inflict status effects and destroy enemy armour and weapons, as well as trip wires, and even several bombs. Learning to use everything available to you is vital to success, as the enemies are dangerous and tough enough to absolutely ruin you if you’re not prepared. Being able to use stealth appropriately to scout out and pick off major threats or weaken enemies will also give you an advantage, especially considering that machines are rarely alone. Once your cover is blown, machines are merciless, and learning to dodge their attacks will give you the time to slip away or finish them off depending on the situation. It’s fast paced, and it requires strategy as well as fast reflexes. The combat is definitely a strong point for this game.
Apart from that, the rest of the gameplay is disappointingly average. The game pretty much follows the standard open world game formula. You climb high things to scout the map, collect plants and materials for crafting, stumble across side quests, fill out your skill tree, and explore the occasional dungeon. Besides from the combat, the game really makes no effort to improve or innovate on the genre, instead nestling itself right in the buttocks of safe, sweet mediocrity.
I find it hard to forgive Horizon Zero Dawn for managing to bore me in a game that involves fighting giant robot dinosaurs, but the best parts of the game are just spread too thin. Between a tired plotline, uninteresting characters, and formulaic gameplay, those fast paced moments of bot bashing entertainment are buried beneath the beaten track. Horizon Zero Dawn has some breathtaking moments, but the rest of the time it’s more like Horizon Zero YAWN.