Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4)
Horizon Zero Dawn tells the story of Aloy, an outcast who overcomes the odds and rises to popularity, all while searching for her origins and battling a threat to a post-apocalyptic world where humans live in primitive tribes and machines are running around in the wild. It doesn't take a genius to figure that mankind bit off more than it can chew when it developed robots and then lost control over them, so that's how these things fit together. Ruins of the previous civilization can be found in various parts of this new world and there are plenty of audio logs and data to be found that explain how things played out hundreds of years ago.
The main weapons at your disposal are a spear and a bow that can fire a multitude of different arrows. The battles are fast and often get hectic when you fight against groups of machines. It's here where everything comes together to form the ultimate double-edged sword. On one hand it's exciting and spectacular what can happen, but on the other hand you have to deal with shortcomings. One of them is the controller design of the DualShock 4 where placement of the left analog stick and the d-pad (for item selection and activation, most importantly healing) don't allow it that you simply use your right thumb for the d-pad to do what you desperately need to do while you create some breathing room between yourself and a furious horde of enemies. The other problem that is repeatedly encountered are inconsistencies in the hit detection between Aloy and the environment. While she can automatically move over obstacles as high as her hips, small stones and fallen trees at ankle height can cause her to get stuck and force you to press a button.
The flaws in traversal extend to climbing where, for example, Aloy is unable to grab a two meter high ledge of a ruined house on one side, but can get up easily on the other side where a ledge is at the exact same height marked with a yellow bar. Getting out of the water also creates strange situations where seemingly flat rocks are too much of a problem, but moving half a meter to the side of the same surface gets the trick done. Horizon Zero Dawn is without a doubt a great game, but it's these irritating little things that made me decide to score it an 8 instead of a 9. Those, and the lack of growth over the course of the game. Make no mistake, there is some growth - and there is certainly a lot when it comes to Aloy's abilities in combat - but weapons and armor do not change much. I suppose that's one way to balance the difficulty for an open world game, but it takes away the absolute destruction of early foes with a late game save file. The spear in particular is disappointing because you keep the same one.
Aside from the beginning hours that force you to closely follow the story, there's a lot of freedom in how you explore the world and when you solve optional quests. There is also a variety of collectibles for which hints can be bought, so there's really no shortage of things to do. The side activities contribute to your character level, but that once again makes it disappointing that things are tied together so well in theory, but provide little reward. All a level up does is grant ten additional HP and one skill point to spend on new abilities. There are no such things as base strength and defense that increase over the course of the game. The only notable stat improvements come from modifications that can be added to weapons and armor, but those work in percentages that are negligible in the first half of the game and do not even impress later on.
Exploring the world of Horizon Zero Dawn was a lot of fun. Especially the ruins under the surface of the earth that gave me Tomb Raider vibes. Probably because Aloy is voiced by the German Lara Croft - at least as far as the Legend/Anniversary/Underworld trilogy is concerned.
|Controls||10||A loaded control scheme that requires some practice.
Hard to keep moving and select items at the same time.
|Gameplay||Open world game with a combat system that provides
one or the other spectacular moment.
|Story||An interesting post-apocalyptic main story, well-written
sidequests and a likeable main character.
|Single-player||The game opens up after several hours of playtime.
Only notable downside: Lacking feeling of growth.
|Graphics||Eye candy that almost always runs at 30 fps.
Oddly enough, most foliage doesn't react to the player.
|Sound||Much like movie music, it sounds good while you listen
to it, but somehow nothing sticks with you.
|Value||About 30 hours for the main story.
Double that for full completion.
|Replay Value||New game+ options with several difficulty settings.
Cutscenes are skippable, dialogue can be pressed away.
|Score||8||Horizon Zero Dawn is a stunning open world game
that commits a couple of frustrating mistakes.