Horizon Zero Dawn could just be the most gorgeous PlayStation 4 game yet. I was awestruck from the moment I entered this post-post-apocalyptic world where nature has reclaimed the Earth following an unknown cataclysmic event. Lush, dense woodlands give way to soaring, wintry alpines as far as the eye can see. High altitude vistas provide panoramic views of sun-scorched deserts where the remains of a lost civilization can be seen. It’s all so breathtaking to take in, and perfectly showcases how much potential the PS4 console holds.
Release Date: February 28, 2017
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: T (Teen, 13+)
Powered by Decima
Horizon was developed by Guerrilla Games, best known for their Killzone franchise, including PS4’s launch title Killzone Shadow Fall. This is the very first action RPG from this talented developer, and it was built using their cutting-edge Decima engine. Decima is one of Sony’s most powerful game engines, and was used in Shadow Fall, Until Dawn, and the upcoming game Death Stranding from Kojima Productions. If you’ve seen any of those impressive games in action, you’ll know just what this powerful game engine is capable of.
Aloy – a brave outcast turned hero
Experiencing a brand new game world is generally an exciting endeavour, and this couldn’t be truer than with Horizon. Aloy, the game’s main protagonist, is a wonderfully well-rounded character, instantly likeable because of her wry sense of humour, and staunch determination to do what’s right. Her unrivaled hunting prowess, including her masterful bow skills, only adds to her appeal.
Aloy is also instantly relatable. She’s an outcast from a Matriarchal hunter-gatherer tribe called the Nora, shunned at birth and forced to live in the dangerous wildlands with her guardian father figure Rost. Aloy has no knowledge of who her mother is, or why she was banished at such a young age. Finding answers to these basic existential questions becomes her life mission, as is gaining acceptance among her peers—aspects many of us can surely empathize with in one way or another. She also places logic and common sense above blind adherence to the status quo, an admirable quality that’s easy to relate to.
Machines rule the Earth
I mentioned that the wildlands are dangerous, but let me emphasize that life outside the walled tribes of this Earth is very, very treacherous. That’s because hostile robotic “Machines” roam the land, and day by day they are getting more aggressive. Some resemble dinosaurs, such as the velociraptor-like Watchers, while others are hulking mechanized versions of everyday animals including crabs, horses, deer, and crocodiles.
Making things worse, new species of Machines are popping up at an alarming rate, each one more deadly than the last.
Visually, the Machines are nothing short of awesome. They have striking designs that combine layers of sleek metal plating with futuristic weaponry attached to their body. Looking closer, Machines have subtle weak points susceptible to various types of attacks, including melee strikes, fire, electricity or ice. As Aloy, you’re able to identify these vulnerable spots using her “Focus” scanning device, which she discovered in a mysterious cave as a young girl.
I sometimes get sidetracked for hours hunting in Horizon, a testament to the game’s incredible gameplay. Aloy is an outstanding archer who’s also proficient at laying traps and engaging in close-range spear combat. Her ace in the hole is the aforementioned Focus device, which not only highlights Machine weak points, but also marks their walking route. Gaining such vast intel on your enemies gives you a huge leg up, and is especially needed when confronted by the strongest of Machines.
Using Aloy’s “Concentration” skill you’re able to slow down time much like bullet time in Max Payne, letting you accurately aim at Machine weak spots. Not only does this inflict significantly more damage, but you have a chance to knock off highly valuable Machine parts. Some of these hard-to-find parts can be traded with merchants for new weapons and gear, or they can be sold at high price. I love how Horizon rewards skilled shots with extra payoffs, encouraging you to use stealth and practice your aim.
A vibrant ecosystem
Another aspect I want to point out is how amazing Horizon‘s mechanical ecosystem is. Each Machine plays a different role that contributes to their shared survival. For example, Watchers are usually found among a herd of Machines and act like the group’s eyes and ears. They pace to and fro with their every-watchful eye peering out to spot dangers so they can alert the rest.
At the other end of the ecosystem are Scrappers. These hyena-like scavengers possess razor sharp teeth to carve out precious materials left by the remains of fallen Machines. Despite their metallic composition, they come off as living, breathing creatures as diverse and dependent on each other as animals out in the wild.
A heroic tale
Horizon of course also features humans, and heavy emphasis is placed on their losing struggle with the Machines. Aloy becomes the world’s last hope, even if the majority of its inhabitants either flat out reject her or don’t even know it. The more you uncover about the origins of the Machines, the closer you get to discovering the truth about Aloy’s mother and her branding as an outcast.
It’s an engaging tale filled with interesting characters and several important revelations along the way. This world holds many secrets, some of which the tribes chose to ignore, while other quietly bubble beneath the surface. Expect to get absorbed for dozens upon dozens of hours as you unravel these earth-shattering mysteries piece by piece.
PS4 Pro’s headlining title
At this point I want to mention the differences between playing Horizon on a standard PS4, and on a PS4 Pro. No matter which console you play on, Horizon looks beautiful, but if you play on PS4 Pro you’re in for a real treat. While the game runs at 1080p on PS4, on PS4 Pro it fully supports 4K TVs with 2160p resolution and HDR support.
Furthermore, a day one PS4 Pro patch added two exclusive rendering modes, allowing you to “favour performance” or “favour resolution.” If you favour performance, PS4 Pro’s GPU will more accurately lock the frame-rate at 30fps. On the other hand, favouring resolution will add extra graphical details and smooth out edges with better aliasing.
I reviewed Horizon on a 4K HDR TV and it was absolutely breathtaking. If there’s one game in the PS4 library good enough to warrant upgrading to a PS4 Pro (or a 4K TV), this is it. The graphical improvement is so huge you’ll hardly believe this is a PS4 and not the next generation of consoles.
Horizon Zero Dawn is the real deal. All the impressive trailers and demos we’ve seen leading up to the game’s release have been fully realized, and then some. Graphically, Horizon might be the best-looking home console game yet (especially on PS4 Pro). The Horizon world feels fully fleshed out, and it’s totally fascinating. You’ll want to know more about the Machines and humans that populate these lands, and uncover the truth that binds them. Speaking of the Machines, hunting them is an absolute rush.
When people talk about the very best games available on PS4, Horizon Zero Dawn has earned the right to join that conversation.
+ Best graphics on PS4
+ Captivating story
+ Aloy is a wonderful hero
+ Hunting Machines is great fun
+ Huge game world to explore
+ Long story + many collectibles = high replay
– You won’t want to leave the house for the next month or two
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating: 4.6/5 (92%)