Tomb Raider + Jurassic Park + Terminator = AWESOME!
There is no doubt that Horizon Zero Dawn is an awesome game. A lot of thought has gone into fleshing out the story and perfecting the gameplay. That is the strength of Horizon Zero Dawn and that is where it excels at keeping you engaged. Needless to say, the game looks beautiful, especially if you own a 4K HDR TV.
Horizon: Zero Dawn Story
There is very little one can say about the story of Horizon Zero Dawn without spoiling the plot, so let’s keep it simple. You don the role of Aloy, a young outcast who is questioning her existence and the existence of these mechanical dinosaurs around her. The world as we know it has come to an end but humanity has survived. Machines now roam the planet and have done so for thousands of years. It is your curiosity which leads to the unraveling of the mysteries plaguing the earth. That’s all I’m going to say about the story because if I say anything more, we will be in spoiler territory.
If you think the story is about a girl who has come of age and is the hero on a quest to save the day, then you are very wrong. The success of the story is based on the fact that everything that’s happening is personal to Aloy. She is an orphan trying to find answers to questions such as ‘who were my parents?’, ‘where did they come from?’, ‘why am I the way I am?’, so on and so forth. All this leads to the grand unveiling of the finale which is appropriately called Zero Dawn. The end and certain plot twists are predictable after a point and it looks like the developers were aware of this. So rather than introducing the expected clichéd ending, the narrative’s direction takes another twist, one that I definitely did not expect.
Since this is an open world game, there are a number of tribes and settlements that you come across and each of their stories is unique too. You have the standard hunt, gather, fetch, and find quests but some of the side quests tie into the grander scheme of the main story, making them interesting, yet not deviating from the main path.
Overall, the narrative team at Guerrilla Games deserves special praise for the effort they have put into the story. The post credit ending is definitely there to lay the foundation for a sequel. It may seem forced but I’m excited to see the direction the game takes going forward.
HORIZON: ZERO DAWN Gameplay
At par with the story is the gameplay of Horizon Zero Dawn. At its core, it is an open world third-person action adventure game with RPG elements thrown into the mix. There are points where you can choose different conversation responses but I don’t think it affects the overall outcome of the quest/story.
Since the story takes place in a post post apocalyptic world (the post post is explained in the story), you have a mix of weapons that are old school yet new. So, you have a bow and arrows as your primary weapon, along with a staff for melee combat. But, your arrows can be customized. So, you have flame arrows, arrows that can remove the armor from the creatures, freeze arrows, shock arrows, exploding traps, a sling that helps you throw projectiles with the same capabilities as the arrows, so on and so forth. You also have the ability to set traps which largely have the same effect as your customisable arrows.
There are more than 20 types of creatures, from simple Watchers to massive Thunderjaws, which will attack the minute they see you. To best summarise the gameplay, imagine the bow and arrow action from Tomb Raider, add 6 story tall monsters to it and you get the idea.
The way the game presents these creatures to you is perfect. There is just enough hand holding for you to get the ropes of how to identify the foe’s weakness and yet leaves a lot of room for experimenting. You also have the ability to craft ammo on the go, so you don’t need to worry about running out. You can upgrade your resource carrying capacity which is plenty ensuring you don’t run out of the basic arrows at least.
At first, you will feel overwhelmed when you encounter the larger beasts, but the strategic way in which you can take down creatures is a lot of fun. For example, a Thunderjaw will mostly be accompanied by a few smaller creatures, all of whom are deadly. You’d do best to avoid detection, just like a hunter. Lay your traps so that the small creatures can be lured and destroyed with silent take downs. Use your focus (Horizon Zero Dawn’s version of Batman’s detective mode) to identify the weaknesses of the creatures; be it fire, electricity, or structural weakness, and then begin the attack. It is inevitable that at some point you will get detected and the hunter becomes the hunted. This is where the gameplay becomes a lot of fun. You will run, roll and dodge enemy attacks and sling your ammo towards them. If you manage to knock-off one of the guns mounted on the creatures, you can pick it up and use it against them. It will always feel like the odds are against you and the satisfaction of surviving the attack is pleasurable.
There are human foes to fight too in the game and compared to the creatures, they aren’t much fun. But their presence is a nice break from all the metal hunting that you’re doing during the course of the game.
There are platforming elements too here, and they work similar to the way they did in Tomb Raider, and that’s a good thing. There is also the standard slew of collectibles scattered throughout the map for the completionist in you.
Overall, the gameplay is so satisfying that after completing all the story quests and side quests I find myself playing just to enjoy the hunting experience. I am someone who doesn’t play all the side quests in an open world game, so the fact that I’m still playing this one after completing the story and side quests is a testament to how awesome the gameplay is.
There is a lot for you to discover that I have intentionally omitted from here as far as the gameplay is concerned. But, if you like games like Tomb Raider, The Witcher or even Metal Gear Solid 5, then you will feel right at home with the gameplay.
|Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro
Price: PS4: Rs. 3,999
Reviewed on: PlayStation 4 Pro
Developers: Guerrilla Games
Publishers: Sony Interactive Entertainment
HORIZON: ZERO DAWN Graphics
When we got the review copy of the game, a patch was out which lets you choose between performance mode and visual mode. As the names suggest, performance mode sacrifices visuals for a smoother performance, while the visual mode gives you a checkerboard 4K experience that is super-sampled if you0 have a 1080p TV. We mostly played the game on a 1080p gaming monitor.
Getting the cons out of the way, the facial animations of some of the characters you encounter are bland and there are a lot of textures and artifacts that draw in as you approach them. In the grander scheme of things, that’s just nitpicking. When you choose the visual mode, the game maintains a solid 30fps throughout, even during all the high-octane action sequences. Add to it the fact that there are no loading screens in the game and you have an immersive and smooth experience. The only times I encountered a loading screen was when I died, fast traveled or reloaded. It’s only towards the end of the game that you will encounter one loading screen.
The vast world with its dynamic weather is beautiful too. The weather changed from a sunny day to the dead of night, from rain to sandstorm seamlessly and beautifully. Also, the environments you encounter are diverse too. From sandy deserts to dense forests, open landscapes and snowy mountains, the environments are diverse and beautiful.
Also, there are ruins that you can explore, much like the ones we have seen in Tomb Raider. These are ruins but the tech inside them is from before the apocalypse. It’s here that you will find text logs and voice logs that will elaborate on what went down before the world ended. It’s fascinating to see some of Aloy’s reactions to things that we take for granted today. A small nod to this is how your loot is listed. For example, if you pick up a watch which can be traded, it appears as an ancient bracelet in your inventory, keys appear as ancient chimes, so on and so forth.
Coming to Aloy, the protagonist, a lot of effort has gone into her character’s animation. We have seen some cool animation with Batman’s cape in the Arkham series, with Lara’s hair in the Tomb Raider reboot and with Nathan Drake’s reaction to the environment all around him in Uncharted. You will notice similar attention to detail here. From Aloy’s hair to the way she moves and even her combat animation, all of it is very well executed.
Overall, just like Rise of the Tomb Raider was a technical showpiece to flaunt the power of the PS4 pro, Horizon Zero Dawn stands tall in the same league.
HORIZON: ZERO DAWN Sound
When it comes to the voice acting, the story portion of it seems well voiced and a lot of effort has gone into building each character distinctly. It was a pleasant surprise to see Lance Reddick don a key role in the game. For those of you that don’t know, he is the desk/hotel manager in John Wick.
The voice acting is good and there’s some cheesy voice acting moments in the side quests, but nothing that hampers the overall experience.
The USP of the game, however, is the sound effects of the mechanical creatures you encounter. From the scouting screeches of the Watchers to the rage-filled battle cries of the Sawtooths, Stalkers, and Ravagers, the sound design is immersive.
If there is one qualm I have with the sound, it is that the channel shift isn’t very good. When playing with headphones, it’s easy to identify if someone is calling you from the left or the right. Here, the sound comes from everywhere. I faced the same when playing through a 2.1 speaker set too.
Verdict: Horizon Zero Dawn
|Well fleshed out story
Diverse portfolio of enemies to encounter
|Some textures and facial animation issues|
If you own a PS4 or a PS4 pro, you should definitely play Horizon Zero Dawn. It has a well-written story, deep mechanics, and gameplay that’s almost perfect. Sony and Guerrilla Games took a bold step by investing in this new IP and it’s definitely worth it. With Horizon Zero Dawn, Sony has a masterpiece exclusive and can build upon the new franchise. You can finish the story in about 25 hours and add another 10 to 15 hours for the rest and you are looking at a game with a very good lifespan. Completionists will be playing this one long after the sun sets on the Horizon.
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Sameer "Psycho Mantis" Mitha
I live for gaming and technology is my muse. When I am not busy playing with gadgets or video games I delve into the world of fantasy novels.