Horizon Forbidden West - Definitely Not a Review
Here at Player2 we like to take a gamble – from our yearly draft to Hewso’s constant attempts to finance us via Powerball winnings. The next step was obvious – could a Player 2 writer take a punt on a game review before even playing the game? Our foreign correspondent Tim has rolled the dice on this hare-brained scheme with a pre-play review of Horizon Forbidden West
2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn felt like a kind of rebirth for developer Guerrilla Games. A technical powerhouse of a studio, Guerilla nonetheless seemed stuck in a loop of developing showpieces for Sony’s most recent hardware and chasing the ever-elusive crown of Halo-killer, continuing to do so long past such a concept even seemed relevant anymore.
Make no mistake, their last effort, Killzone: Shadowfall, was actually pretty solid and a truly stonking launch display of what the PlayStation 4 could do, but that entire franchise faded to almost immediate irrelevance the moment the world first got a glimpse of the robot-dinosaur populated open world of Horizon. The release of the game sealed Killzone’s fate – Aloy, Horizon’s fiery redheaded protagonist standing spear and high-tech eyepiece atop the grave of the studio’s earlier FPS work, Horizon 2’s existence fully and deservedly assured.
That game would come to be known as Horizon Forbidden West, and after what many fans will no doubt describe as an eternity, it is finally here. Taking place not too long after the events of the original game (about a year or so has passed), Forbidden West returns control of Aloy to players, revisiting familiar mountains and plains in this post-post-apocalypse world as well as, importantly, not-so-familiar places, too.
Unsurprisingly, the main game kicks things off in familiar territory, introducing (or reacquainting) players to core mechanics and skill sets, as well as the pecking order of the world in which this takes place. Did we mention robot dinosaurs yet? We did? Well, as comes as no surprise, this puts humans a few pegs lower on the food chain than the current peak of our species enjoys. If combat and exploration seems a mite simple at first, though, worry not; things develop considerably as you progress and the newer areas open up with the key to combat again being in planning approach and laying traps rather than pinpoint accuracy or the memorisation of combos.
To those who played the original game, this will of course sound obvious. What is worth knowing, however, is that things have evolved – it is now easier to focus on attacking the parts of the larger beasts you want, allowing for strategic stripping of armor, or even a heist-like getaway with a key item or two. Of course, Aloy can again ‘tame’ some of these beasts for some fast-tracking around the impressively large open world on dinosaur back.
Played on a PlayStation 5, at least, getting around has never been faster. Once available, fast travel is pleasingly swift, but it’s possible that you may never want to use it. The world, especially as Aloy travels further on her quest, is absolutely stunning. Detail drips from each corner of the screen, and while – yes, some animations have been reused (who cares?), the sheer amount of actual movement and just… stuff on the screen is gobsmacking. And that draw-distance? So good you may never even think about it. Heaven help anyone who is particularly prone to standing a character on a cliff edge and opening the photo mode.
Of course, the whole mantra of if you can see it then you can explore it applies here. This is nothing new at this point, but while the first game garnered a lot of praise upon launch, it came out in the same (*ahem*) breath as The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of The Wild. Horizon, then, served as something of a near-perfect refinement of what had come before, while Zelda looked to the future, really toying with physics systems and allowing players to scale any surface. By comparison, Horizon often limited players to guided paths forward when scaling mountains, in particular. While still in a world of refinement before innovation, Breath of the Wild is now one of the games that is fair game for cribbing and, while not quite as open that, Zero Dawn feels wider than before with greater scaleability, the ability to glide, and some surprisingly enjoyable swimming mechanics.
Such a beautiful world is fittingly occupied by equally impressive towns. They feel larger now, at once more populated and lived in, a real part of the landscape that goes beyond places for plot to unfold, side-quests to be picked up and gear to be upgraded. Those things still happen, mind, but it’s worth noting that side-quests feel, in general, more fulfilling, and the upgrade system more refined.
As ever, side-quests will be at the mercy of your own inner sense of urgency or completionist tendencies. After having effectively saved what remains of human civilisation once already, Aloy finds herself needing to do so again – this time, from a biome (because it wouldn’t be a modern-day videogame release if the word biome didn’t pop up somewhere) threatening illness known as the red blight. We can’t elaborate much on this, but suffice to say, as with the plotline in the original, it is actually quite engaging and one of the better examples of pulp science-fiction storytelling that we’ve experienced in recent years.
There’s just so much here that it’s at times possible to forget that this is a game where you hunt down robot dinosaurs. As alluded to (far) above, this is still very much present, tinkered with, refined and evolved. We advise against head-on combat where possible, at least until you’ve sufficiently leveled Aloy, just just because it’s a quick means to a frustrating death, but also because using Aloy’s Focus (a kind of AR eyepiece carried over from the original game that helps to integrate and justify a lot of UI and game-y stuff) to plan out your approach almost never fails to satisfy. This is especially true once you get to the really big robots; factor in the nuanced detail of the controller rumble (again, if you’re fortunate enough to be playing on PS5) and you have some of the most epic encounters ever to appear in a videogame.
Hats off to Guerrilla, then. The team has clearly used its time carefully planning and expanding its ideas, with the end result being Horizon, only better. That it’s cross-generational is mind-melting. On its own, this is a technical feather in the PlayStation 5’s cap, a statement daring the Series X to make its next move. 2022 is off to a blinding start, at least so far as things to do while staying at home are concerned. Killzone is truly dead; long live Horizon.
Expected Grade: A
Critics are going to respond very favorably to Horizon Forbidden West, although there will be a couple that find it too pulpy. Not quite reaching Breath of The Wild’s full breadth of world systems (and climb anything exploration) will be the most common recurring complaint.