To call Horizon: Zero Dawn one of Sony's most anticipated titles would be putting it lightly, and it's only February! Ever since it was first unveiled, each trailer captivated us with looks at the majestic yet terrifying mechanical beasts, our red-headed fiery protagonist, and of course the beautiful post-apocalyptic world they occupy. However, no trailer or preview could prepare me for just how amazing Horizon: Zero Dawn really looks, and more importantly, plays.
Horizon tells the story of Aloy, an outcast from birth, raised by a man who isn't her real father, preparing her for the harsh and cruel place the world has become. Aloy is an inquisitive being, never satisfied with the status quo, always wishing to learn more about her past, and the world she lives in. Thankfully, there is lots to learn and discover. Since Aloy is an outcast, she's not bound to the rules and restrictions of those living under tribal rule. That means she has access to mechanical ruins filled with wonders of ages past which starkly contrast the beautiful nature found in the world above. Of course, not counting the mechanical beasts roaming the land.
It's great then that Horizon also plays like a dream. It's not something you can get a good sense of when watching gameplay trailers, but from the minute you gain control of Aloy, you realize just how responsive controlling her is. She doesn't feel sluggish at all, instead, feeling incredibly agile as she traverses through the world, be it climbing tall structures, or acrobatically leaping through the air to dodge dangerous mechanical tail swipes.
The combat for Horizon is split into three sections; There's the stealth combat, which doesn't directly place Aloy into a state of danger but relies on her to stay out of view and strike when time is right, and you'll be doing this with the spear from up close, or with a bow from afar. Then there's the more indirect combat with the use of the various ranged weapons, which also, for the most part, allows you to stay out of harm's way and deal damage from afar. Granted, you're not guaranteed to stay out of danger as enemies can close gaps quick, but you can easily get a lot of good damage in before that happens. The last is the use of the spear, Aloy's weapon of choice when it comes to close combat damage. You'll have access to quick strikes with the R1 button or slower but far more damaging attacks with R2. You'll have to use these based on your situation. Your quick strike can get some good swipes in for quick damage, but your heavy strike can topple your enemies.
You'll either be tasked with taking down human enemies that are part of enemy tribes or bandits, or you'll be trying to survive against increasingly difficult mechanical dinosaur-looking beasts, that grow more and more dangerous as you progress through the game. Watchers will be the first small robots you'll have to contend with, but soon you'll deal with the invisible Stalkers, the Chocobo-like Longlegs, Snapmaws who look like giant alligators and the dreaded Thunderjaw which is this game's version of the T-Rex.
However, as you play through the game and explore Cauldrons, you'll also be able to override these mechanical beasts. Sometimes you'll be able to ride them like a mount, other times you'll be able to use them as a distraction to sneak past others, or simply make them battle with each other, as you sit back and watch the carnage unfold.
Much of Horizon is also spent collecting materials and resources for crafting. Hunting wild animals is necessary to craft bigger pouches so you can carry more weapons, ammo, or the resources themselves. Picking up various berries is necessary to restore your health, or craft various status infused arrows. Most importantly, you'll have to craft your ammo on the fly. Thankfully, this is extremely easy as it only requires you to open your weapon wheel and hold the X Button while over the type of ammunition you need crafted. Time slows down during this process so you're not scrambling to craft ammo under pressure, but it doesn't entirely stop, so you'll need to stay on your toes.
The world of Horizon is absolutely gorgeous. It's easily one of the best-looking, most realized post-apocalyptic worlds I've ever seen, and a big part of that has to do with just how beautiful it is despite taking place after a cataclysmic event. The world is covered in lush, green forests, deserts and mountains, and you'll get to explore all of these at your leisure, taking place in all sort of fun activities.
What's great about Horizon is that despite its seemingly large size, it's quite a manageable game, all things considered. While there are lots of things to do, the map isn't overcrowded with activities. There are only five Tallnecks to climb (which unlocks the map Assassin's Creed Style), around 6 bandit camps to overthrow, and just over 10 corrupted zones to clear. When you compare that with the likes of Ubisoft games that like to clutter their maps with something every few feet, Horizon is rather tame by comparison. That's fine because each of those activities never outstays its welcome. With that said, it's still quite a lengthy game, which will probably clock you at around 30 hours, and that's if you're rushing.
If there's one slight issue I found with the game, it's that the face capture is hit or miss. It's clear that the main character and bigger supporting characters got the best treatment and look awesome, but then minor characters certainly look a little less stellar, and their expression can range from passable to straight up janky. There were also few instances where the lipsyncing wasn't exactly matched. However, this is far from something game breaking and you can easily overlook this given the game's overall beauty.
Even given that slight blemish I described above, Guerrilla Games has to be praised for what they've crafted with Horizon: Zero Dawn. It's almost sorcery how they were able to achieve the level of graphical fidelity, smooth framerate and tight gameplay. Sometimes, one of those must be sacrificed in order to make the other two shine, but here, no compromises were made. Given Guerrilla's past portfolio, which mostly consists of Killzone titles and RIGS for PSVR, it's incredible how much they were able to come out of their comfort zone.
So let's say you skipped my gushing about the game above and now you're wondering, is this yet another great PS4 must-own exclusive? Absolutely and without question. It crafts a wonderful, fully realized and explorable world, and an interesting story that's worth seeing through to the end, if just to find out what Zero Dawn actually means!