There’s a game that kept popping up on Steam that I would look at and think: why?!? The game, Horizon: Zero Dawn, appears to be about prehistoric people fighting against robotic dinosaurs. Huh?! Every time I’d look at it, because it kept popping up on the store page, I thought it looked idiotic. Visually nice, but the idea just didn’t make me feel warm and fuzzy. Luckily I have friends who are gamers and one of those that I work with said it was actually very good. Since it was on sale, I grabbed it. What my friend should have told me was: this is Far Cry without the Far Cry title. Had I known that, I would have picked the game up ages earlier because Far Cry has a damned good format and readers of the Junkyard know how much I enjoy those.
Developed by Guerrilla and published by Playstation Mobile, the game costs $50 on Stream but one thing any gamer knows about the Far Cry games is that they have a format that definitely offers value for money so it wasn’t a question of being worth it, once I realized what format the game followed. The question is, does this non-Far Cry game actually compare to the real deal? Put it this way: I picked up the game for less than retail and pulled in 50 hours, so the dollar to hour ratio is there! But what makes it stand out?
For one, the graphics are amazingly good. The visuals are genuinely stunning and the audio quality is fantastic. Often I’ll reduce the music in games like this, but here, it offers a chance to know when you’re being hunted, so it paid to keep the music on. Steam comes from Aloy’s mouth, her hair flows as she runs, and she’s rather cute! The scenery varies widely, from brutal arctic snow to sand blasted desert to lush green forests. Every NPC (non-player character) can be spoken to, although most just say a line and any time you run into a town, the guards snap to attention as you run by – a really nice touch! Those who you are meant to talk offer seamless transitions into video clips (although perhaps a few went on too long). The mechanical dinosaurs are actually a sight to behold and each has certain weak spots that allow for some great fun when taking them down with a variety of arrows you can craft. The variety of beasties is clever too, and tied in with the story nicely as well. There are giant mechanical crocodiles, enormous metal birds, all manner of prowling creature as well, including some that can cloak… the list is long. There’s even a bestiary than you compile as you go, so varied are these monstrosities! But am I alone in thinking that contrast seems off? Who thinks to take down mechanical animals with a bow and arrow anyway?
Ironically, that was the bit that really impressed me because it sucked me in! The story does not take place in prehistoric times. Aloy is exploring a world that fell sometime in our future. When the game begins, Aloy is a young child who explores some old ruins which are very futuristic. This unfolds as the game progresses. During her exploration, she finds an ear pod-like device called a “focus” that allows her to see more than the naked eye allows. You only spend a short time with her as a child, but the focus stays with her and helps identify weaknesses on enemies bodies. It also helps you identify enemies from a distance; I was attacked once when I thought I was running into a camp of allies only to realize they were bad guys, intent on my destruction. This sequence plays very much like the base take-overs in Far Cry; upon completion you are awarded a base from which to do business. The focus also allows you to see silhouettes which help to know where you might get much needed resources for crafting. As you explore, you’ll use the focus to find clues about the lost world. In a nutshell, sometime in the future, man automated a bit too much and created self-replicating machines to fix the ecosystem. The machines begin cleansing the world of human life and there was no way to stop it. The story is actually pretty impressive and does what good sci-fi should: gives us a cautionary tale without being too preachy.
The game offers a number of weapon choices from multiple types of arrow to flamethrower, ice launcher, a fun grenade launcher, and even a ropecaster – a device used to tie down enemies. This was way more fun than I expected and actually comes in handy during a specific boss battle. If there’s one thing I hate in these style games, it’s the boss battle. God, do I find them annoying! I don’t mind a challenge in a game, but I don’t want to be cursing the heavens by the time I’m done. Only one battle was so difficult that I left and came back at the end of the game. The thing is, games should allow the player to save when they want to – having to redo an entire battle because you died just before beating it is infuriating. Couple that with having to re-watch a cutscene… man, was I ready to fling the game out of the hard drive. But when I came back later, it was still challenging, but I had learned some new tricks that helped make it fun again. The funny part is that the final battle in the game was not as hard as the boss battle and was far more enjoyable anyway. And that’s what I like about games like this: a good battle, not one that tries the patience of the player.
Also like the Far Cry games, there are challenges, and this was the other thing I didn’t love, mostly because they are timed and I really like games that I can take my time with, but that’s hardly a showstopper. Barring one single challenge (out of 15), they take 1-2 times to learn and 3-4 times to master. Take those items away, and I’d argue that this is a near perfect game. The video clips are smooth and advance the story. There are a handful of very memorable characters and a few battles made me want to leap out of my chair with glee. The story is incredibly interesting too; I can’t stress that enough. There’s also something very clever: fast travel. A lot of games offer it, but they just allow you to make huge leaps across a map without consequence. This game offered a neat twist: you needed resources for long hauls and could only perform fast travel if you had resource kits. That’s hardly difficult as I was never lacking in them but it added a small element that made it believable and I liked it. I did have to craft those kits on many occasions but almost never was without the resources to do that. It was like the developers cared to give us a world we might accept. Oh, and you know what? That dude from Fringe, Lance Reddick, is in the game – ironically looking exactly like his real life self. Best of all, there’s an after credit scene that means we may yet have another chance to meet Aloy in the future.
I still may prefer Ubisoft’s Far Cry games just to have a proper sniper rifle, but this game was a far cry from what I expected and if a sequel comes out, I would definitely buy it. Take a look at the trailer and see what you think. And maybe get it yourself to see just how weird our future could be. ML