The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
After more than a decade of work on its flagship Killzone
series, the sci-fi stalwarts at Guerrilla Games have made the jump from the FPS
genre to the increasingly crowded open-world format. While the developer hews
closely to the formula established by staple series like Assassin's Creed and
Far Cry, Horizon forges its own path with a grand sci-fi tale and smart,
Horizon presents gamers with a classic hero's journey,
albeit with a lot more robot dinosaurs. Young protagonist Aloy is consumed with
unraveling the mysteries surrounding her birth, which led to her being an
outcast of the matriarchal Nora tribe. This quest for knowledge intertwines with
figuring out the state of their post-apocalyptic world, and the increasingly
violent machines that inhabit it. Where did these beasts come from, and what
happened to the ruined civilization that created them? Discovering the answers
takes Aloy to every corner of the harsh and primitive world.
Just when you've mastered the basics, Horizon's massive
world opens up. Aloy's first journey out west provides a remarkable sense of
discovery; the new desert landscape is teeming with different, deadlier
machines, along with new settlements to explore and beautiful vistas to behold.
Horizon's mysteries really sink their teeth in here; while it may lack the
power and meaningful choices of narrative-driven series like The Witcher and
Mass Effect, Guerrilla has crafted compelling lore for its post-apocalyptic
world. Unlike most open-world games, I looked forward to finding new audio logs
and emails that detail the old world's collapse, and the modern-day conflicts
between the isolationist Nora tribe, sun-worshipping Carja, and combative
Oseram give Aloy's quest more meaning and complexity. Most importantly, Horizon
isn't afraid to delve deep into heady sci-fi topics, and the myriad mysteries
it sets up are all answered in a marathon of revelations and explanations
toward the end of the game. Despite its flaws and foibles, Horizon's story
unexpectedly became one of the major driving forces of the game for me.
In fact, my only major complaint about Horizon is how
closely it clings to the established and increasingly tedious formula of
open-world games. Guerrilla has excelled at crafting a gigantic and gorgeous
world, but the activities that populate it feel all too familiar. You clear out
bandit camps, hunt animals for inventory upgrades, and track down various
collectibles that clutter your map. Every trip you undertake is disrupted by
the urge to collect more crafting items (your primary source of ammo), and
every exciting skirmish ends with the unexciting and ritualistic looting of
enemy corpses. This necessary scrounging periodically pumped the brakes on my
enthusiasm, but the story missions and action provide enough fuel to keep
Thankfully, the story-based missions make up the bulk of
Horizon's adventure, and are spread across three tiers of importance: main
quests that reveal more secrets from Aloy's past and the precursor
civilization, side quests that follow up on narrative events and flesh out
Horizon's secondary characters, and errands that Aloy can complete for other
acquaintances. I was pleasantly surprised by all three tiers; the main and
secondary missions especially do a great job of detailing the world and
providing variety to the gameplay, whether you're sneaking through herds of patrolling
enemies, or making a mad dash through massive man-versus-machine battles. Even
simple errands present enough interesting twists and turns that I felt inspired
to complete them – if not for the story content, then for the sizable XP
The mundane hunt for collectibles is also spiced up by
Horizon's engaging combat. Stalking through bandit camps and silently scoring
headshots is standard-yet-satisfying fare, but Horizon's robot dinosaurs really
steal the show. Each of the 25 different species of synthetic beast features
its own behaviors, attacks, and mechanical components that can be harvested or
exploited during the thick of combat. Every species demands a cautious and
thoughtful approach; even the weakest Watcher is capable of blinding you and
calling in deadlier allies at a moment's notice. Taking on a bigger foe like
the towering Thunderjaw feels like a full-fledged boss battle and requires
multistage strategies like chipping off armor to expose weak points for extra
damage, laying out traps to aid a hasty retreat, and tearing off powerful
weapons to use against your enemy. Unlocking new skills and customizing your
weapons with various mods helps even the odds, but you still have to think
through every encounter, and Horizon is better for it.
I picked up a few other minor gripes along Aloy's lengthy journey,
from a sketchy map system that is often more trouble than it's worth, to
annoying NPCs that look like roadies for a post-apocalyptic grunge band. Aloy
herself can be a real wet blanket sometimes, complaining about everything from
the weather to her boots being wet. Like the need to scrounge for crafting
items, these problems are small bumps that are easily forgiven and forgotten on
Horizon's long and winding road.
None of Horizon's faults stopped me from sinking 55 hours
into the game, or walking away supremely satisfied with the experience. Horizon
may not be a revolution for the open-world genre, but it is a highly polished
and compelling adventure that proves Guerrilla is more than a single franchise.
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.