Horizon Zero Dawn – Getting started

Horizon Zero Dawn seems like a game that requires no introduction.  A runaway success almost straight out of the gates, and completely drowning in critical acclaim.

Released in February 2017, I’ve often fancied giving it a try, but it’s never been at the top of my list in the ever-increasing world of current-generation “must play” titles.

With such a massive backlog to contend with, I’ve not really considered getting stuck-in, particularly with another massive 3rd-Person, action RPG on the horizon (Red Dead Redemption 2).  But, in the gap between finishing Shenmue and Spiderman, and only picking up Battlefield 1 for short bursts of online fun, I needed something substantial to sink my teeth into.

About eighteen hours in and I’m mostly annoyed that I hadn’t played Horizon Zero Dawn well before now…..

 

What a beauty

Let’s be fair, everyone talks about how good Horizon Zero Dawn looks, but damn…….even after seeing screenshots and videos, it still kind of takes your breath away.

Long draw-distances, vibrant colours and different biomes across the map, make for a stunning world to explore.

The facial animations range from excellent to a little ropey, depending on the importance of the character, but that’s no odds.

Tribes with their unique styles, robot creatures with their modern design and this believable world which is borne out some kind of post-future apocalypse.

Horizon Zero Dawn has a fully crafted world that retains elements of the past (our future), and their day to day living as tribes.  The technology has been there (and is being used in places) but humanity has gone way way back to spears, bows and tribal societies.

Photo mode is basically where I’ve spent a hefty chunk of my time here.  The angles, the creatures, the lighting.  Those rays of sun coming through the trees……man……I bet people could become full-time in-game photographers with games like Horizon Zero Dawn.

Animations of the creatures here are wonderful.  With different robot animals clearly designed to reflect a real-life counterpart.  Watching the deer-like grazers wandering around, like deer! The heads-up to spot danger, the walking, the grazing.  Wonderful.

Every creature has clearly been made with intricate levels of detail.  They’re shaped, and move like the real-world creatures they’re based on, with incredible accuracy.  Further still, they limp when damaged, pounce when alerted, it’s amazing. Yet at the same time, they look like machines and have a synthetic appeal.

The whole concept is excellent, but the execution is so much greater than I anticipated.

 

Sounds

Ok, holy shit…..

Sure, this game looks amazing.  But do you know what? Horizon Zero Dawn has blown me away with the audio.

A game where robot dinosaurs and horses wander around freely.  It could have easily just gotten away with throwing-in some mechanical noises while you free-roam.  But no….

Here, the mix of sounds between organic and synthetic is bloody incredible.  Yeah, there are robots and they sound heavy and how you’d expect robots to sound.  But then there’s their calls and their “animal” sounds that are distinctly robotic, but somehow natural.

One of my favourite things to do in Horizon Zero Dawn is to stick on a headset and just roam the world.  Hide in some tall grass and listen to those Watchers and Grazers, just going about their business, doing animal things.

Amazing.

Everything sounds real.  I don’t know quite how else to describe it.

Non-robotic creatures like warthogs and turkeys wander around with their little oinks and gobbles, you recognise them straight away.  I’ve learned to recognise the robot sounds in much the same way.  I can tell you if it’s a Sawtooth, or perhaps just a Watcher, without even looking.

Beyond that, the voice acting is great, although sometimes the script is a little ham-fisted when it comes to talking like we’re in the tribal environment.  One particular line that stood out was a reference to how eager Aloy and another Nora were to go on a mission, and it came out as something about having “two arrows ready to fly from the bow”.  It was a bit cheesy, a little on-the-nose, but it doesn’t ruin anything.

Water, the moving of grass, the sound of an arrow flying by you as you enter combat….perfect, seriously, just perfect.

If Horizon Zero Dawn looks amazing, then it sounds goddamn incredible.

 

Handling

For the most part, controlling Aloy is a smooth and fluid process.  The directional movement is great, speed and agility aren’t an issue.  You can slide, and dodge and attack with ease, and it’s all very responsive.

The only issue I have here is with jumping/climbing.

Climbing is a very Uncharted-like affair, in that you can only really climb using pre-determined points or ledges.  That’s fine.  There’s a fluidity in it that makes it feel like Assassin’s Creed, and it works fine.

Why though, does Aloy have the ability to jump at a reasonable height, but nothing to jump on? You have this freedom of movement, but you can’t jump up things and clamber-up, because there are none of the designated spots to use.

It isn’t the end of the world, but sometimes, you’re forced to have to find the “climb point” even though you’re perhaps a couple of centimeters away from clearing it and realistically, could pull yourself up.  It’s a little jarring against the freedom you have on the horizontal plane.

Beyond that, though. You can creep and sprint and mount robot creatures to cover the massive map.  You can slide into the cover of tall grass, and pop an arrow out over a wall.

Combat is slick and accessible (although the enemies can quickly overwhelm).  Switching between weapons is easy, scanning the environment with your focus and learning weaknesses of your enemies is at the touch of a button.

Excellent!

 

Moving on

I’m no way near completing this game yet, so I’m breaking the review down into a couple of pieces.

There’s still the array of weapons and tools, the story, the side-quests and the wonderful Tallnecks to discuss.

Horizon Zero Dawn is shaping up to be exceptional, to me.  The world, the visuals, the audio.  Everything is lovingly crafted and executed.

I can see that I have so much more to do here, and I will……after I’ve stalked this Sawtooth and turned it against that group of nearby Grazers.  Watching the carnage from a distance and then picking up all the materials I can extract from the now defunct machines.

Until then, this is to be continued….

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