Thursday, 11 May 2017

Review No. 130 Horizon: Zero Dawn - PS4 (16+)

Strong Points:
Beautiful, varied world design
Awesome combat
Intriguing story with unexpected philosophical depth
Great voice acting
Varied weapons for most play styles
In-depth characters
Great connection between old and new
Bursting with energy
Multiple routes when climbing
Nothing is blocked off - free to specialise or go Jack-Of-All-Trades
Astounding graphics
Photo mode
Ability to find tracks without the Focus (mostly)
Lots of collectables and extras
Interesting change to the 'Tower' quests in open-world games

Weak Points:
Lip-sync problems
Repetition of dialogue
Difficult to estimate how much an attack may damage you
Frustrating having to find that one climbing point
A journal keeping details of the story would be nice
Tutorial quests have to be equipped to progress
The map is packed and could be overwhelming
Can't attack animals in villages - breaks the immersion

Spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
North America: 28th February 2017
Europe: 1st March 2017

Left Analogue Stick: move Aloy (press down to sprint)/move mount
Right Analogue Stick: move camera/(press down while aiming to enter Focus)
X: jump/speed up mount
Square: slide/crouch/context sensitive strike
Circle: roll
Triangle: interact with environment/override/mount/dismount
L1: weapon and ammunition panel
L2: aim with ranged weapon
R1: weak attack/(while L2 is held) reload/mount's weak attack
R2: strong attack/(while L2 is held) draw & fire arrow/mount's strong attack
Up D-Pad: use med pouch
Down D-Pad: use item/trap
Left/Right D-Pad: choose item/trap
Touchpad: open menu

It's nice when a new IP is able to establish itself in the competitive market for just being a great game. Aloy is probably going to be a PlayStation mascot, the reputation of Guerrilla Games has been restored and the game has sold over 2 million copies, not because it's tied to a successful franchise or good 'bad' publicity no or even because it revolutionises a genre (coming out the same time as Breath of the Wild wouldn't have allowed that). It's simply because it's extremely well made, polished and justified to a degree where everything just works. And robot animals. Don't forget them.

We should probably talk about them first, shouldn't we? Arguably the biggest stars of the game, the robot animals vary from your typical deer and crocodile to a sandworm and dinosaur and cover the terrains of sky, land and sea (although the latter is a bit lacking). The great thing is that they move like you think they would, with the Grazers (deer) being skittish and dodging while the Thunderjaw (dinosaur) charging at you and throwing firing rocket launchers out of its back (OK, maybe that doesn't happen in the natural Animal Kingdom). They also adapt to your fighting style, jumping over traps if you keep laying them or running away when the going gets tough, causing you to have to track them.

Of course, you can adapt on the fly to, with around half-a-dozen weapon types and numerous arrows/bombs at your disposal. It's simply the case of holding L1, slowing down time and choosing your weapons (you're allowed 4 in the quick slot menu) and if you have no ammo then you can just craft some on the go. This system allows you to adapt quickly to any given situation if you have enough materials (I did run low a couple of times but was playing on Very Hard) and doesn't break the speed of the fight at all. What does, however, is if you want to craft a potion or change your weapon to one which isn't quick-slotted. Pausing the game to craft potions and traps seems a bit counter-intuitive to me, especially as everything else is so smooth.

Fighting the robots is fun, exhilarating and occasionally frustrating but normally comes out with a great story like my first encounter with a Stormbird involving a 30-minute bout where I piled everything at it, rolling out the way of its attacks and running circles trying to find some more Ridgewood. The same can't be said about the human attacks. While I enjoyed stealthily picking them off with my bow, as soon as the humans realise you're there then it's just the case of meleeing them as they fire too fast for much else (except sling bombs as I came to realise). It's a shame both types of battles weren't similar in terms of emotion, but I guess it's just the case of me fighting humans before in games and knowing what to do against them compared to a giant crab with a forcefield shield.

Talking about knowing what to do, the game offers little in the way of tutorials, opting for a more trial and error approach with tutorial quests offering hints about what each weapon is used for. These tutorial quests are all right for learning but I mostly ignored them as unless you have them equipped then you can't progress in them and you can only have one quest equipped at any one time. Instead, you learn through playing as I did with the Stormbirds so that when I next met them a while later I could tie them down and override them to do my bidding!

The game allows you to approach battles and world-traversing in a number of ways including stealthily taking everyone down, going in bows blazing and overriding machines to take down others. All three are viable and you'll end up doing all three, especially when things go sour, and along with all the different ammo options, the game's action is very varied. Traversing too is varied, allowing you to take the long route, fast-travel, ride a mechanical mount or climb the cliff. Climbing feels fluid and has many routes which weren't needed but remove some of the linearity of climbing in any game but BOTW. However, it doesn't remove it entirely as I did have to search for quite a while to find that one part of the rock which was climbable sometimes, especially when searching for Vantages.

I'm not going to detail the story here, it's something that should be experienced fresh but let me say this - it didn't go where I expected it to. The characters also had unexpected depth and I genuinely felt emotion for them, be it pity or anger. Also, while there are evil characters in the game, the greater danger is the world itself and that's nice to see - everyone's just trying to survive in this post-post-apocalyptic world.

One last thing about the story is I'd recommend doing the sidequests as you go along, they add to the world and story and you'll meet some great characters (although a journal detailing these characters and story similar to The Witcher would be nice as I did tend to forget some of the main quest while playing all the sidequests).

The extra things to do fall under a few categories: collectables (4 different types), hunting grounds (training for fighting), Cauldrons (allow you to override more robots), Corrupted Zones (make the area safer) and Tallnecks which open up the world map similar to the Ubisoft Towers. However, these Tallnecks are actually giant robots and move, giving an extra layer to the Tower trope. All of these extras offer a nice diversion to the quests and through buying maps you can have markers for all of them on your map from near the beginning of the game just be warned that the map suddenly becomes very packed and could be seen as overwhelming.

Graphically the game is gorgeous with the environments being especially excellent (and made me use Photo-Mode very often). The people look great as well, and the voice acting brings them alive but they do suffer heavily from lip-sync problems (sometimes the mouths just don't move), making me feel like I was watching and hearing two slightly different things. Sound-wise the game is decent, if not memorable (besides the voice-acting), with the world sounding and looking alive and some precise sound design allowing me to pinpoint where people are. However, it does start to get annoying when Aloy or another character repeats the same piece of contextual dialogue for the hundredth time.

Conclusion: overall, I was blown away by this game and its ambition, especially as it's from a developer which has been stuck in a rut for the past few years. With DLC and a sequel being teased, I can't wait to dive back in, hopefully with more robots!

Rating: 94%

 Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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