March 06, 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn - Review

When mankind falls and nature reclaims the earth, that would normally be the end of our story, but Horizon Zero Dawn paints a different picture, one where not only did humans survive, but somehow machines evolved into lifeforms of their own.

When you start the game, you will be treated to a wonderful cinematic, showing a baby Aloy, as she is given her name for the first time, a rite developed by the tribe to whom she is outcast from. We get to then learn the basics of the game as Aloy is mentored by Rost, the man who looks after her and is a follow outcast, with Aloy being a small child at the time. It is during this time that Aloy fall into the ruins of the Old World, the place that we know as our time and here she discovers her Focus, the triangle device she wears on her right ear. Using this she can scan creatures and discern their weakness’ and the paths they take. After saving someone, she is attacked by one of the local children from the tribe and demands to know why, however Rost does not know and notes the only way she can find out is by winning the Proving, a challenge for the children of the tribe to become braves.

It is at this Proving where things go bad, after being pushed to the back of the pack, Aloy and her fellow contestants are attacked by a group of people and everyone else is killed and while Aloy puts up a good fight, she is almost killed, until she is saved at the last moment by Rost and then her world changes. As speaking more about the story here would impact the reveals or hidden events, I won’t say much more, but the story is a by the numbers, however it’s the people that you can interact with that make it interesting. The Nora, Aloy’s tribe have rules and traditions that they follow, but Erend and the guard in the city of Meridian are lively and boisterous by comparison and even the bandits have their own appeal. Each group has their own reasons for doing things and the more you interact with the world, the more you can learn about them and it is something that you should do.

Aloy herself is in interesting character, she is smart, questions everything and even more importantly has the skills to match, while the people of the world are no stranger to the dangers that they have to live with, in a fight, there are only a few who can do damage and Aloy is one of them. Even outside of combat, in the standard chats she has with people, there is a lot to be learnt, based on how you approach things, Aloy can occasionally respond to people with one of three emotion driven choices and while they do result in different outcomes, they don’t really change Aloy around. When you are out in the wilds, exploring the world and taking on whatever quest strikes your fancy, there can be a lot to take in.

From the get go, Aloy is shown as this nimble person, able to climb up surfaces, dive away from danger and such, however that does not translate so much into the game. Aloy can make her way around the world easy enough, but she can get stuck on small rocks and tree branches. Thankfully, a lot of the movement is a blend of running and crouching and while that does not sound all that appealing, when you blend it together while on the hunt, things just work. Aloy will spend a lot of her time crouched and hiding in the tall grass, using the tall grass, you can make your way closer to the animal that you are hunting, combine that with your arrow or weapon selection and things become a puzzle. Alerting one robot animal to your presence is not too bad, if you can take them down, before they tell the rest, because if they let the others know, it’s not just the same creatures of that type that will be told, it’s any in the area. So while you might be trying to take down a Watcher or Strider, if you are not quick enough, you may draw the attention of a Prowler or worse, so you really need to wait for the best moment to strike. Each robotic animal has weakness and strengths that you can exploit and you can learn them by using your Focus to scan them. Creatures have panels that can be removed in combat, allowing you access to the inner workings of the machines, to take them down faster.

When you are not hunting, or fighting giant robotic animals, there is local wildlife, boars, turkeys, rabbits and more to hunt, using them you can craft better gear for yourself, as well as trade with merchants. In fact, trade is one area of the game I was surprised by, while earning shards, the games currency, is easy enough, you can’t simply buy an item with them, for the higher spec gear, you will need to trade resources as well. If you are looking to purchase a new bow for yourself, you can do that by selecting in from the merchant, but if you are missing a specific resource, you can then create a job for yourself, which will add it to your map, letting you know the rough area you need to look around to locate the animal, robotic or organic that the resource can be sourced from. Taking these jobs is not required, as I found myself hunting and gathering as I went from place to place, which left me with a collection of items all the time, though there was usually one item that eluded me. The problem with the game is that outside of combat, which can be a challenge unlike anything else, there is nothing left to do in the game, you will spend the bulk of your time moving from place to place or gathering resources, which is a shame.

One area that the game shines, is in the visuals, the level of detail applied to almost every aspect of the game, from the clothes worn by the various tribes and groups, to the robotic creatures and even the old world. When the sun rises and peaks over the mountains in the distance, seeing the light bounce of the world, it truly is stunning, even better, when the fog rolls through, blocking out light and causing the world to darken is even a more wonderful site, because it feels like the real world. The people you meet are all varied enough, from their faces to the clothes that they wear, offering up a lot of options, without being repetitive, though bandits and enemy tribes do have a repetitive look to them, must be in the bad guy dress code. The creatures, of both types also have details applied that make them stand apart, the Snapjaw is one of the creatures that you know its inspiration from the moment you see it, purely based on its design and look, seeing a heard of them in one area is something to be seen. Perhaps the best way to see the world, is when you climb up to the top of a Tallneck, the view in all directions from up top is something to enjoy, which is just one of the reasons to get up there.

Sadly, it’s not all good news here, when the game does one on one chats, the camera will cut to close-ups of the people speaking, which is nice, but the close look does highlight some issues. While the detail again shines, from the micro-expressions and facial details, the lip syncing is just not right. There are times when characters look like they are speaking, matching their voice to the movements of their mouths, but I found those to be few and far between, most of the time, the characters will act like they are in a bad English dub of a movie, with mouth movements not matching anywhere close. In addition to that, the clothes that Aloy can wear, while nice and detailed, clip constantly against her, from her hair to her weapons, they pass through all the time and while it might not be an issue to some, as the camera is going to be likely pinned behind Aloy, it is something I noticed way more than anything else.

My other issue is the performance of the game, there were occasional stutters within the game, but those never really bother me, however here the issues I had were the game would crash and the worst offender, right after the tutorial section, the game went to load the next section and while it loaded it up, it got stuck in a loop of ‘copying’ game date to the hard drive and then loading the level again, it did this for almost an hour. Even quitting the game and starting it up again did nothing to help, in the end I had to power down the console and reboot the game, twice and this was on the PlayStation 4 Pro. The other issue I have had, with this game, was that the console kept getting hot, so hot that the fans had to kick into the higher speed to help get rid of the extra heat, something that no other game has had to do, not Final Fantasty XV or Watch Dogs 2 and while I have not seen a lot of people mention these issues, it is something to be aware of.

Horizon Zero Dawn is a solid game, while its open world begs to be explored, its lack of things to do outside of hunting, gathering or combat is a letdown. If you want a game though that can prove the power of the PlayStation 4, then you need to look no further than right here.

Thanks to PlayStation Australia for supplying the game for review

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