Guerilla Games, developer of the “Killzone” series, brought us “Horizon: Zero Dawn” which released on February 28th, 2017. While the “Killzone” games single-handedly represented the First Person Shooter genre in Sony’s stable of developers, they never met with the critical acclaim other first party studios like Naughty Dog garnered. In my opinion and limited exposure to them, their games were often relatively single dimensional, with a bland color palette and a predictable story. This time, either by their own choice or by Sony’s bidding, they dropped Killzone and created something new. And now we have the multifaceted gem that is “Horizon: Zero Dawn”.
(Consider this a spoiler free Review)
Aloy’s story (pronounced like the letter A) is one of discovery in constantly broadening concentric circles. You meet Aloy and together you explore that story from the moment you sit down with the game all the way through the final moments after the credits finish. In many ways, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” is a coming of age story. Driven by the absence of a traditional family and the identity, or lack thereof, that comes along with it, Aloy sets out to understand who she is and how she fits into the world. In doing so, she gives us the opportunity to not only share in that discovery process but guide it in a meaningful way.
The world comes alive as you overhear nearby conversations about current or historical events. You delve deeper by doing side-quests, by reading journal entries and old mail, or listening to audio logs. Horizon gives the rare opportunity to experience a world, its history, and its people without the bias of belonging to a particular group. The more you learn, the wider the view, the grander the scope. The game is about family. Aloy’s family, from the story of Aloy, to that of her family, and her people. It is an exploration of culture (over ethnicity), from her people to the other factions within the world. And as I said before, it is a discussion and pursuit of identity, from Aloy’s to that of the world itself. Horizon weaves all of these unique threads together.
What Guerilla Games created for us is as deep as it is broad. Their attention to detail is part of what makes everything come alive. Every person you come across has their own life, their own agenda, and their own history motivating them. You may only catch a small glimpse as you pass through, but those glimpses connect everything. No matter where you are, in cities or in the wilderness, the game has a distinct and unmistakable feel to it which is both hard to accomplish and hard to describe.
All told, “Horizon: Zero Dawn’s” story is one of its strongest assets.
A game can have the best writing and the most engaging story ever, but if the mechanics of the game aren’t on point so too will the overall experience. Fortunately, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” doesn’t fail to deliver in this regard either.
Moving throughout the world, whether you’re climbing, running, sliding, or whatever else you might get into is intuitive, smooth, and satisfying. You almost never find yourself wishing the camera were somewhere else. The controls are equally intuitive and allow you access to all of the various weapons, maps, inventory and other things in a relatively simple manner.
The game is not without frustrations though, and the inventory is where I have my main complaint. While tedious and a seemingly pointless drain on your resources, you can upgrade your inventory and ammo pouches with “money” and animal pelts or bones. I made it my personal mission to completely upgrade every aspect of my inventory as much as possible relatively early on in the game. To do so I was forced to hunt rabbits, turkeys, fish, boar, and even rats ad nauseam. I do not like hunting and I do like stories and exploration … which didn’t overlap at all. The game took me about 80 hours to beat, and I don’t even want to think about how much of that was spent wandering around sneaking up on rats and raccoons.
Once my time had been wasted upgrading everything, I quickly realized that no amount of inventory upgrades would solve my problems. I may be a bit of a hoarder when playing games like this, so it may have mostly been an Abe Problem as opposed to a “Horizon: Zero Dawn” problem, but I really struggled with the inventory system in the game. I never knew what I needed to hold on to for long periods of time, so I held on to multiple versions of everything I came across on the off chance I would need it later.
Not-so-spoilery Spoiler Alert: I didn’t need it later.
Not knowing this though, I spent much of the last half of the game delicately managing my very limited inventory. It was irritating, but not game ruining.
Beyond the inventory, the difficulty of the game and the development of you as Aloy was done remarkably well. If you wander too far and wide you can easily find yourself in areas where you’re not prepared for what you might find. Later in the game though, you’ll return to those same areas where you thought it would be impossible to conquer a challenge and you’ll manage it as though you were born for it. That sort of empowerment and progression can be difficult to capture for some developers, but Guerilla Games delivers with ease.
There are many other aspects of the game that are excellent, but I’d like to specifically call out a few here. The rest you can discover on your own, as this game is really a work of art. The game’s cast of characters is extremely diverse. It’s not done in an overhanded way, as some people seem ridiculously sensitive to. Your character, the protagonist is a strong woman. Everyone you come across is of a different ethnicity and different gender. Men, women, boys, girls. There’s no stereotype where all the leaders must be men, or all the warriors are men.
The voice-acting is incredibly well done, as is the animation. The world is vibrant, colorful, and full of life. The sounds and music are fantastic as well. Without going into what I’ve mentioned before, regarding the story and mechanics, I thoroughly enjoyed this game from start to finish.
As I mentioned before with the inventory, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” isn’t without its flaws or challenges. While that racial diversity is incredibly well done across the world, it isn’t quite as well implemented in the game’s main characters.
Is it fantastic that Aloy is a woman? Yes. Does she need to be a white woman? No.
Aloy and her portion of the story and world being white don’t detract from the game for me, but then again I’m white as well so her being white was somewhat representative of my experiences. I’m not saying the game failed in any meaningful way here. I’m just saying that it was perhaps a missed opportunity to further embrace the diversity of the world they created. There’s no reason why she needed to be white, and it could have given a remarkable representative experience to people who are desperately in need of one.
The platinum trophy for this game is relatively easy to get, especially when compared to many games out there. It was the second platinum trophy I ever got, and it didn’t waste my life obtaining it. My only advice is to look up a quick guide before you start playing the game to make sure you don’t bypass something early on that you’ll have to return for later.
In summary, “Horizon: Zero Dawn” is a fantastic game. I would recommend it to anyone looking for an action adventure game to immerse themselves in. Almost every aspect of the game is artfully done and its flaws are few and far between.