Horizon: Zero Dawn – Preview – EB Expo 2016
Google… Define: Objectivity… impartiality huh? Oh boy, this is gonna be tough, but I’ll give it a go I guess.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has been a phenomenon at exhibitions and conventions all around the world, and finally, for the first time it is Australian’s that get their taste courtesy of the EB Expo 2016. For those of us lucky enough to attend, the available build was the one playable to those attending E3 2016, and once doors opened I made a beeline for it – keen to experience for myself what the world has been raving about. Horizon: Zero Dawn has made an incredible impression upon the world since its grand unveiling at E3 2015, the hype train is travelling at full speed, and while at times I’ve felt my excitement bubbling over, I managed to put my critical thinking hat on and curb my enthusiasm long enough to deliver my verdict on one of 2016’s highest profile games.
Most of you who are reading this have already seen the demo in video form, it has been publically available since E3 in June, and I, like you had already seen it going into this session. Already knowing the narrative beats that this short demo goes through meant that my priority was with getting a feel for the world that we could play in – and that I did.
What a wonderfully smooth playing experience Horizon: Zero Dawn is! Rather than embarking on the story mission I immediately took off into the world; I scrambled up hills, splashed through small creeks and skulked through long grass and took time to get a feel for the environment. There was a learning curve attached to picking up the controls, one that I quickly overcame, and before I knew it I was breaking into a sprint, sliding into some bushes, scanning my prey, entering bullet-time, lining up my target with an arrow and lodging that arrow squarely between its… eyes? Aloy is both agile and powerful, yet not excessively so, unfortunately however, when I was riding on my harnessed Broadhead things didn’t handle so well. While mounted I found the handling to be quite loose, I was slipping and sliding up/down small ledges, not to mention that leveraging the Broadhead to attack enemy Watchers wasn’t as nearly as accurate as it should have been. The more intimate, close-combat was a bit sloppy largely due to the aforementioned poor handling of mounts, however a ranged approach; darting away from an enemy, turning on the spot and striking my foe with an arrow was an incredibly rewarding feeling.
Players will often find that there are three stages to any encounter. The first of those stages is certainly the most strategic of the trio; it’s your opportunity to prepare. In this stage you’ll often find yourself slowly prowling through the environment, assessing the nearby threats and potential targets, you may need to craft the appropriate gear to help prepare, you’ll identify your targets movement patterns and plan for the safest point of attack.
When the time finally arrived to execute on my plans I found Aloy to be quite agile on her feet, whether that was when she is swinging her makeshift melee weapon or as she is running and diving about to evade a possible counterattack. In some cases however, you may find yourself to have bitten off more than you can chew, and will need to escape; in this final stage, the enemy will pursue you and even after you’ve escaped their line of sight will still remain cautious for quite a while until the foe believes you’re gone. Of course when I play any game, any opponent who feels they’ve escaped my attention is wrong; as soon as the creature had resumed normal activities, I resumed my attack, swiftly taking it down and claiming whatever prizes my prey may be holding.
This playing space for this Horizon demo was unfortunately very limited. You couldn’t stray far from the prescribed path before you would begin to get warnings that you were leaving the demo area and that a reboot was close. It was disappointing that I didn’t get to explore more of what the world had in store, what other synthetic wildlife might be out there, and what has happened to the humans of the world. For obvious reasons though that is all under the tightest lock and key, but outside of a few areas of polish, many of which have presumably already been fixed as it is, I’m filled with even more hope that we may be on the verge of seeing the next great open-world RPG (franchise?).
I want to think of Horizon Zero Dawn as something of a new dawn in the video games business. It doesn’t do anything particularly revolutionary, but like Uncharted it appears (at this stage) to nail everything it sets out to achieve. This is an especially phenomenal feat for a studio who has for years groomed themselves on first-person shooters. What I hope that Horizon is showing other developers (and especially publishers) is that it is possible to stretch your wings, take a risk, and tackle something completely out of your comfort zone yet still achieve the success that giant corporations such as Sony require to keep making huge financial investments. Don’t rule out the possibility that there a lot more up their sleeves at Guerrilla, and I for one cannot wait until they put out their next ace – Horizon is a bold step they’re taking, but I’m buoyed by what I’ve played, and cannot wait to see what is to come.