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Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4) artwork

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4) review

"In the future, there will be robots..."

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4) image

You can sum up the Horizon Zero Dawn experience in a number of ways. It's a post-apocalyptic robot hunting game. It's also an interactive sci-fi adventure. And it's a thrilling sandbox title that offers plenty of diversions and side quests. More than any of those things, though, it's a modern open world game full of memorable moments, both unscripted and spontaneous. Honestly, that's what I loved most about it.

For instance, I once scaled a mountain to claim a collectible item that counted towards the game's completion percentage. Deadly robots dotted the hillside, from cyclopean velociraptors called "watchers," to high artillery felines known as "ravagers," as well as a handful of ice-shooting robotic hawks. I crept most of the way up the slope, successfully stealth-killing watchers and nabbing goods to craft arrows. Thankfully, I didn't need to stop at a special worktable or go through a ton of menus to contrive additional projectiles or traps. I only had to summon an in-game pop up menu and hold a button for a few seconds to obtain dozens of arrows.

As I reached the hill's penultimate stretch, I couldn't find a way to quietly sneak past the mechanical beasts and decided straightforward warfare was a more realistic option. I set numerous traps to either paralyze or blast my opponents, and rapidly fired arrows to detach some of their weapons or parts (of course, I also swiped the busted bits for future crafting and trading with merchants). However, my skills were not entirely up to snuff. I took out the ravagers by hand, knocking them down with great spear blows and finishing them off with critical stabs into their vital machinery. The watchers and hawks fell after a lot of tricky dodging, shooting, potion drinking for health restoration and moments spent silently thanking the developers at Guerilla for programming tight play control. Ultimately, I depleted my supplies, but I was close enough to my goal to complete the quest.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4) image

As I summited the mountain, though, a tremendous armored bird rose from the snowy haze and descended upon me. I threw my hands up in exasperation because I knew I lacked the resources to scotch this one. However, I could still run like a coward and take my prize, then fast travel to safety. That's right; unlike certain other open world games, Horizon Zero Dawn doesn't prevent you from fast traveling just because there's an enemy near you.

I had numerous other misadventures, including a trial where I had to knock guns off a dinosaur-like automaton called a "thunderjaw." I then had to use the artillery to pulverize a couple of ravagers within a time limit. I first attempted to "override" the thunderjaw with a handy item I obtained through the storyline, thereby turning it into an ally. However, the thunderjaw refused to utilize its disc launchers, and I was forced to remove the blasters and do the work myself. It was during this fight that I learned how chaotic and needlessly frustrating Horizon Zero Dawn can be. Sometimes, there's so much pandemonium on the battlefield that robotic bodies pervade the screen and you can't tell what you're doing. No matter how you rotate the camera, all you see is either a closeup of a gigantic creature or a confused mess of moving machinery. Meanwhile, you die.

Thankfully, that's an uncommon occurrence and doesn't detract much from the rest of Horizon Zero Dawn's terrific content. As does any good sandbox game, this one offers plenty of exploration and a variety of environments. You can venture into a jungle with a canopy so thick that its interior remains relatively dark, or mount an electronic horse called a "strider" and pound across open plains and arid mesas, or voyage into the mechanized guts of a factory called a "cauldron."

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4) image

Along the way, you might lend aid to those in need and discover that Horizon Zero Dawn also presents you with side quests and errands that feature more than mere item fetching activities. Since you come equipped with a device called a "focus," which allows you to scan various items and communicate with others who also possess a similar object, you can track people across vast terrains. That allows you to locate runaways or track murderers, plus uncover secret plots to overthrow those in power or dispose of anyone who might know too much. Your travels take you to towns overrun by aggressive machines, refugees plagued by illness or folks who've had trouble with bandits. You'll help a ruler in peril slip away from a cult that means to murder him and his mother, and end up formulating a strategy to deal with the cultists and their army of corrupted robots as they pursue you. Maybe you'll set mines or use a special bow that fires tripwire traps. Heck, you could even just hide in the bushes and snipe some of them, because Horizon Zero Dawn sports fair and actually functional stealth elements.

Sadly, your list of memories won't include many battles against unique critters. If you follow the game's story, it's understandable why there aren't one-of-a-kind machines serving as bosses, but it's no less disappointing. You can only war with the same thunderjaws, stormbirds or deathbringers so many times before sigh and say "This fight again?"

As you might suspect, there's connective tissue for all of these events. Horizon Zero Dawn showcases a decent science fiction plot with plenty of twists and veiled secrets that tie everything together. I found myself advancing the story just so I could learn more about its world. Why is it littered with robots and ancient technology? What happened to the previous civilization? Who are protagonist Aloy's biological parents? How does she factor into the post-apocalypse? The game wisely drip feeds you the answers to these questions as a means of keeping you playing and guessing, but also doesn't force them on you. If you don't want to continue the story and prefer instead just to mess around, Horizon Zero Dawn is patient. I completed about eighty percent of the side content, including optional quests and special events, before even starting the seventh or eighth plot mission.

Horizon Zero Dawn (PlayStation 4) image

On her way through the world, Aloy meets with heartache, triumphs in the face of adversity, discovers a ton of information about the previous society (some of which is cringe-worthy, and might leave you asking "Why would any society do something that stupid?") and gets to know a terrific cast of characters. Erend, for instance, is the every man who stumbles through life, but has to mature so he can fill his new role as captain. Sylens is a mysterious ally who appears to be using Aloy, but also seems to genuinely care about her crusade. Then there's war chief Sona, a bold, no-nonsense woman who seeks nothing more than the safety of her tribe and her warriors.

Like Horizon Zero Dawn's non-scripted content, the primary story is memorable and entertaining. As I completed the last two missions, I didn't want the experience to end. I wanted to continue scouring the open, lush landscape and delving into ruins. I wanted to meet additional inhabitants and watch their tiny story arcs play out. I wanted to climb "tallneck" machines, hunt buffalo-like behemoths and experience the dread of swimming across a lake, while hoping that no crocodile-ish "snapmaws" were watching me. I wanted to create further open world memories, resume battling machines and recommence trading parts for consumable goodies and new sets of armor. Horizon Zero Dawn is a wonderful sci-fi adventure packed with hours of great, memorable content. I'm glad to have played it.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (January 07, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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wolfqueen001 posted January 15, 2018:

Nice review. I'm playing this game now, and haven't gotten very far at all, really, so I haven't encountered half of the machines you talk about in your review. Makes me kind of nervous, actually, because so far, I've played it stealthy and tend to run from tougher encounters because I haven't really grasped the combat yet. I mean, I struggle with sawtooths, especially when there's more than one. And you can forget about Bellowbacks; those things murder me right now. I also don't seem to have much luck (or skill, I guess) taking out machine components. Not sure if I'm just missing that much or not executing it right. Your description of firing several arrows in rapid succession gives me something to try, as I tend to shoot slowly in the hopes of achieving accuracy.

Anyway, I'm having a good time with this. I've also done a lot of side questy things because I find it more entertaining than the main plot. Though, like you point out, the mystery of Aloy's, well, mysterious past and everything surrounding the previous civilization does keep me curious, so I've leaned toward progressing the story myself just to see things through.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted January 16, 2018:

Yeah, the side quests were actually well done in this game. They all had so much personality that they didn't feel like menial tasks.

Bellowbacks are the bane of my existence. Those guys and stormbirds. There's one corruption zone that took me forever because you have to fight a corrupted fire bellowback, and I had a hell of a time taking it out. It also had a few other machines along with it to distract me, which only makes things worse. I think I ended up using my tripcaster a lot in that battle. Hell, I used the tripcaster a lot throughout the game, especially against humans.

Anyway, thank you for reading!

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