Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. Some of these are forgotten gems, some you will guess straight away. Others cover more than one game in a series, or compare two similar games.
This week, we continue by joining Chris in the post-apocalyptic, robotic-monster harbouring wilderness.
Well, one of them. The most high-profile of several.
#45. HORIZON ZERO DAWN, by Chris Hepburn
Horizon Zero Dawn has achieved a lot for the medium of video games. On a technical standpoint, the enemies are unlike any other game with their geometric complexity, and the game’s feature rich style runs smoothly without issue. Horizon Zero Dawn has been one of my best gaming experiences in a long time, creating a world that is so incredibly engaging, one can easily lose over a week of their life to the game in a journey to complete it. The beauty of the world and Aloy, one of the best and strongest female characters to arise in a long time, pushes through all else to create a must-play game for PlayStation 4 owners. In a world saturated with post-apocalyptic stories, none have felt more unique to the genre than Horizon Zero Dawn.
Horizon Zero Dawn creates a post-apocalyptic world that feels so distant from reality. By slowly revealing information on the world, having the player learn as Aloy does, the game maintains an engaging story, along with many well-written and developed characters. The take on the apocalypse becomes even more engaging when discovering holograms and recordings from the past, showing the people involved and what they endured to save the world, allowing the player to gain an emotional connection with the members involved and putting much more emotional weight on the setting.
The story begins with Aloy as a child finding a relic of the past, a Focus, that enables her to connect with the machines of the old world and experience the holograms. The plot progresses with Aloy growing up and leaving home to explore the world and discover the reason her tribe was attacked. The slow drip-feed of information stops the player from being overwhelmed with detail, letting them steadily grow into their understanding of Horizon Zero Dawn‘s world and help to solidify a setting that is worth connecting to emotionally.
Despite being a post-apocalyptic setting, the game’s world is full of colour, unlike games such as Fallout, which uses earthy tones. Horizon Zero Dawn consists of many different areas, spanning from winterlands to sand deserts. Each area feels like a different place in the world; for example, the Embrace feels like northern Europe, and the Sundom gives the feeling of ancient Persia. Each biome blends nicely into one another, creating a pleasant flow to the world and making exploring feel more natural. The world is old and humans have survived through the worst possible outcome, a risk to all life as discussed in Fermi paradox: “the nature of intelligent life [is] to destroy itself.” Civilization has survived, and the population remains multicultural, but the game never makes its diversity feel forced. Aloy’s group is led by three women, and is a culture where women stand above men. The characters were not written to dwell on colour or stereotypes, but rather into the role they had. War Chief Sona is a strong independent woman with a knack for war, foregoing stereotypes of race or gender and perfectly playing the role of a war general. In Horizon Zero Dawn, women are powerful and equal to all, but they are not without scrutiny from others. Aloy proves she is a powerful and smart person who deserves the respect of others, earning it through her actions, especially when others look down on her for her gender or tribe. The game creates a world that introduces problems but tackles them with a nuisance that is unseen in most media, leaving combat to the enemies and not the politics.
The game’s foes are a mix of robots and humans, and each one acts differently, creating interesting situations. Fighting humans is enjoyable because they often attack in a group, as opposed to fighting a group of robots. Fighting a robot is akin to humans, except battles often take place in open areas and require more strategy for the larger foes. Battles can be won by using normal arrows and a general persistence to win, but really shine when utilizing many of the other tools at Aloy’s disposal equipment such as the Tripcaster, which lays down trip lines with one of three different status effects and is nice for ambushing a robot or laying a trap, or the Ropecaster, which is a great tool to immobilize an enemy so the player can fight others, easily hit a weak spot, or just override the machine. Horizon Zero Dawn features many other weapons and tools to help create a more tactile and interesting combat style, allowing the player to use brute force or a completely stealthy strategy. The tools and enemies all work well together, giving the player the ability to play in whichever way they see fit.
Some of the most interesting situations is running into a new type of machine; each robot acts differently and has its own weak spots, and learning how to take down each one is part of the fun. Robots such as the Watchers are easy to headshot and kill, but others, such as the Godzilla, come with many weapons and call for much more strategy and focus. The wide variety of enemies make each situation feel unique, especially when mixed up or depending on certain areas. In locations with more bushes and trees, the Stalkers can become invisible and are much harder to notice, thus requiring strategy to defeat, while creature such as the Ravager are more dangerous in open areas due to the lack of cover for incoming attacks.
Using tools to slow down or strip armour can be the difference between life or death in the game. Attacking a strong robot without some explosive trip lines to retreat behind could be a risky situation, as the trap will slow down and possibly kill a charging enemy. The game features many areas called Hunter Lodges, which are a great way to tackle challenges and test equipment to see how well they work. The tools, enemies, setting, and challenges all come together to really make the player feel like a hunter as they progress through their own missions.
Guerrilla Games has created a story that tackles many topics in a fantastic yet sophisticated way, with a world that feels unlike any other. Combat enhances the style of the game drastically, really making the player feel like the hunter from a tribe, as well as an adventurer. The story and world are so engaging with some of the greatest performances, creating characters who are easy to become attached to. The overall aesthetic is so cohesive and well considered that the game does not seem to have any elements that break immersion, and the graphics are incredibly beautiful and run smoothly for a great experience. Horizon Zero Dawn deserves the title of one of the best games created in recent times for all it does for the medium and should be studied for inspiration for a long time to come. The game has a little something for everyone to get engaged with and lose themselves in the crazy world of a recovering earth.
WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON?
Since starting the 50 Favourite Games list, we quickly realised that the newest games can sometimes be the trickiest to cover as a team. Of course, fewer people have played recent releases than, say, the popular names that are more than five or ten years old.
The next hurdle in wrapping up Horizon Zero Dawn is that the title’s true impact on other video games will not be felt for several years at least, especially when considering that open world games take so long to develop. For example, the seeds sown by 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt only began to bloom in 2017, as it arguably influenced both Horizon and Assassin’s Creed Origins. However, even with this delay, Horizon might have a different future in store. For as much as Horizon‘s success and quality professes the continued might of single player action games, it may not be as influential as one expects.
Uncharted saw a few lackluster pretenders after it blew up, but apart from Tomb Raider‘s reboot trilogy (games whose staying power has remained debatable) very few big publishers have continued to punt at the linear action-adventure genre. Horizon, in turn, might be too big—too successful at what it does—that developers would rather pivot to the next big thing than try and top the title with their own.
Regardless of its impact on the rest of the industry, Horizon laid a solid track for a sequel, and going by Sony’s record for sequels to their big properties, Horizon 2 will be a surefire winner. That is enough to be a fair outlook for single-player gamers.
Thanks for joining us for one of Sony’s biggest recent hits. Leave a comment with your own favourite post robo-pocalypse, or your stories of playing Horizon Zero Dawn, and we will join you next week for one of Microsoft’s holy trinity of franchises.