By Henry Lopez
Guerilla Games has always been one of the more interesting studios working for Sony. Making a name for themselves with the Killzone franchise, they always seemed like they were on the cusp of a big break. While the Killzone games were always very solid shooters, they could never quite live up to the hype that in my opinion was unjustifiably put on them. So after working on the same series for almost a decade they decided to take a gamble, and reach out of their comfort zone. This led to them developing Horizon Zero Dawn, a new Action RPG for the PS4. As it turns out the gamble payed off. Not only is Horizon Guerilla’s big break but it is one of the best Play Station exclusives across the entire console family.
I am still a bit shocked at how great the game turned out to be. While all the trailers and gameplay looked fantastic, it is quite easy to distrust what we see in trailers given the amount of times we been burned by them recently (No Man’s Sky, and vanilla Destiny come to mind). But with Horizon Guerilla seemed determined to deliver a game that lived up to all the expectations. Where Horizon succeeded and others had failed is that it was a truly complete game. There was no season pass, no road map for patches, and no significant pre-order exclusive content. Everything was already in the game that people bought. This is incredibly significant given how more and more not only are games having ridiculous season pass plans (I’m looking at you Arkham Knight). It seems games more often than not are being released unfinished. So it was very refreshing to see a new game come out without any of these issues.
Still having a complete game at launch is not what makes Horizon special, it’s a combination of different factors ranging from story, to gameplay, to the overall visual design of it. Admittedly the premise of the game being set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity has reverted back to a tribal state and giant robots roam the wild like they are the natural habitants of it seems slightly silly, cool, but silly. Guerilla managed to make it work perfectly thanks to them crafting a wonderful narrative journey and a visually stimulating world that feels lived in. It also features one of the more interesting protagonist I have seen in a game. With Aloy Guerilla could have easily gone to the slightly generic route of a super strong/tough character, and that is all there is to her. But instead they did something far more interesting. Yes Aloy is a very strong character without a doubt, but she is also vulnerable, and just like the player she is trying to unravel the mysteries of this world and also her origin. The amount of range in Aloy can not only be attributed to the wonderful writing in the game, but also to the incredible voice acting from Ashly Burch (Life is Strange, Borderlands 2). Every little quip and piece of dialogue delivered by Burch just makes it easier and easier to connect with Aloy and everything she is going through.
The also game features one of the more interesting and original stories I have experienced in a game. Throughout my time with it I wanted to see what was going to be the next reveal. I won’t go into too much detail here due to spoilers, but I can say that there is no stone left unturned, all your questions get answered. The story goes to some very unexpected but exciting places that left me engaged from beginning to end. Along with the story, the visuals as well as the overall art design are phenomenal. The amount of detail that Guerilla put into them is breathtaking. There really is not anything quite like it available on the PS4. Every blade of grass, every sunset, and every mechanical beast is beautifully detailed and realized. It feels like everything has a purpose for being the way it is.
Having gorgeous visuals, and an original engaging story is not where the quality of Horizon stops. The gameplay is what makes it really standout. Not only is the combat challenging, but it is also exhilarating. Every battle can feel like a mad scramble for your life where you need to use all the tools and skills available to you to come out victorious. At times it harkens back to Capcom’s masterful Monster Hunter series, where you have to plan every encounter you have or else you are going to have a bad time. Each machine feels unique and interesting to fight. They all have their own set of weakness for the player to find and exploit. The first time I fought and took down a Thunderjaw (the T-Rex looking robot) was one of the most satisfying and exhilarating things I have done in a game.
One thing I will say is that some of the combat encounters with other humans can feel bland at times. They usually result in you sneaking around and picking them off one by one with your bow without much effort. Another thing that slightly holds the game back is that at times it feels derivative of other open world and third person action games, in particular the last two Tomb Raider games as well as Far Cry. While Ashly Birch does a phenomenal job voicing Aloy some of the other voice work can feel a bit inconsistent, as well as there being some awkward talking animations during dialogue.
Even with these minor flaws Guerilla Games has created something special with Horizon Zero Dawn. The combination of an intriguing and original story, along with a great protagonist and fantastic gameplay makes it a must play game. It constantly left me wanting to play more and more. I truly believe that Horizon along with Aloy are going to be the new faces of the Play Station brand. It is going to be very interesting to see where they take this potential franchise next.