Every now and then, the world of console gaming is blessed with a work of art so powerful, so moving, and so incredibly beautiful, that we wish it would never end.
Horizon Zero Dawn is – simply put – one of the greatest video games ever created. As a life-long console gamer, I can confidently say that it’s a genuine masterpiece.
The game’s developer, Guerilla Games, had spent years working only on the Killzone series – strikingly beautiful games that weren’t necessarily innovative or special.
This time around, however, the studio has broken free of that series to bring PS4 players an experience worth every minute and every penny.
We’ve all seen a post-apocalyptic Earth dozens of times. We’ve even seen what happens when we leave Earth behind. What’s so special about this story, you ask?
It’s deep. Like, really deep. I often found myself staring at the screen in wonder, marveling at the intricacy and ingenuity of the plot.
You take on the role of Aloy, a huntress with less-than-humble beginnings in a world populated by primitive, warring tribes of humans, and beasts made of metal.
She is the link between two storylines parallel to one another: the conflicts between tribes in a post-world, and the disaster that got them to this point.
Nature has reclaimed the planet, with a little help from the mechanical monsters, and human clothing and architecture is peppered with scrap metal from successful hunts. It’s a beautiful, cyborg-like world.
The story is exceptionally well-written, and I’d love to see sequels or spin-offs. Trust me, there’s plenty of room for it.
Aloy is a great female lead. She’s hasn’t been overly sexualised or objectified, but she’s not androgynous. She’s empowering. She’s a hunter and an ice-cold killer. Downright badass.
Aloy, the red-haired warrior.
She’s also approachable and intuitive – Guerilla has done amazingly with the game’s facial expressions – and she is emotionally layered. Throughout the game, she wrestles with her origins and her destiny, and you really feel as if you’re part of a meaningful story.
It’s the kind of game that leaves questions lingering in the back of your mind. It’s fiction, yes - but it’s also a subtle warning to humanity: Don’t out-innovate yourself.
You’ve seen the posters. You’ve seen the trailers. Aloy’s weapon of choice is not a gun. It’s a bow and arrow.
Yes, folks, our huntress stays true to her name, taking on big and small with her trusty bow and a sharp spear.
Other weapons become available as the game progresses, but none will ever replace your trusty sharp-shooter.
Weapons can be upgraded using parts found on ‘killed’ machines, and you can buy new outfits that have different advantages.
Upgrading a bow with parts found on a machine.
Aloy is equipped with a device called a "Focus" - an augmented-reality projector that allows her to see things that others can't. The Focus is her most important tool, and is key to the storyline.
Aloy is quick and nimble, and the game encourages stealth when taking on strong machines. Each machine has its weaknesses, made visible by the Focus – ignore them at your own peril.
Conversations aren't straightforward, requiring you to choose a response that can either be comforting or scathing.
Like many RPG adventures these days, Horizon places a lot of emphasis on foraging and crafting.
What’s really cool, though, is that Aloy needs both machine parts and animal products to craft everything from ammunition to storage space.
Small animals like boar and foxes can be found everywhere, and are easy to hunt. Machines, on the other hand, require a bit more finesse. The general rule is: the tougher the fight, the better the loot.
Rare items can also be traded across the map, giving you ‘metal shards’ to spend on upgrades and medicines. There are plenty of collectibles to uncover and trade, too.
The game’s world is pretty big, and even when you complete Aloy’s story, there will be plenty of side-quests and hunts to do.
Probably one of the best things about Horizon is the amount of detail put into its digital world. Grass blows with the breeze, weather conditions change according to environments, and a day/night cycle keeps things more realistic.
The world is quite big, and nearly all of it is scalable. Even the tallest mountains always seem to have a way up.
The movement of both humans and creatures is fluid and natural, and that’s important – especially when it comes to making the machines look like they belong in nature.
Cutscenes are glitchy at times, but Guerilla’s facial tracking is exceptional. The company has tried really hard to convey as much emotion as possible during conversations.
A particularly funny glitch. "Animal skins are so last year! Rocks are the new black."
One visual feature in particular leaves quite an impression. The map is incredibly detailed, showing depth as you zoom in and out. It’s like looking at a mini-version of the world, and not just a drawing.
Buy this game. Go out and buy it now! A lot of modern games leave you feeling ripped-off, with price-tags that don’t ever seem justified.
That’s not the case with Horizon. It’ll give you your money’s worth both in terms of playing time and enjoyment.
It’s certainly lived up to the hype, and it’s definitely the current front-runner for game of the year. It may even be good enough to convince people to buy a PS4 just so they don’t miss out.
Trust me. You don’t want to miss out.
If you're not convinced yet, checkout the gameplay footage below: