Hunter becomes the Hunted: Hands-on with Horizon Zero Dawn
Over the weekend at EB Expo I had a chance to finally go hands on with Guerilla Game’s showstealer, Horizon Zero Dawn. I know I’m far from alone in my anticipation for this title, with each trailer and demo after the stellar original announcement only enhancing that. Thankfully Playstation Australia brought a small snippet of the game along for the show, and while the demo was small, it left a good feeling.
Rather than take us through a story mission – I initially assumed we’d be playing the E3 gameplay demo – it chooses to show off the gameplay. Whether the story details are still hush hush or in development is beyond me, but it was nice to simply jump in and get to grips with Aloy and her gear.
As a hunter, it makes sense for this part of Aloy to be showcased. Tasked with completing hunting objectives such as knocking the cargo containers off the back of mechanic crabs with shields or ‘taming’ robo-cows in order to ride them around the environment. It seems like the type of objectives you’d see in side missions and progression quests, but for now the novelty sticks well.
Slow and steady was the initial recipe for success. The creatures you’ll be fighting function like real animals, easily spooked or provoked. Whether you’re going for a kill or wanting to get the drop for an easy hack, the long grass and considered movement sets up an encounter well. You’ll do most of your fighting with the bow – equippable with differing ammo to break armour or light fires – and an enhanced spear. One other tool I found quite useful was a harpoon launcher, good for keeping your target from dashing away from you or giving you opportunity to flank for a weak spot.
When it came to all out combat though the bow reigned supreme. After a few poor swings at the raptors with my spear I rolled back and found I was much more deadly shooting from a bit of range. Weak spots make sense, like the glowing LED eyes, and that in itself lead to a quick downfall for those raptors.
As the hybrid of primitive materials and technology clash, Aloy gains a lot from hunting and discovering the wide array of familiar yet robotic creatures. The resources dropped allow you to keep your ammo restocked, build new traps and weapon types, and later on, build upgrades. While crafting was the focus here, I didn’t get the feeling it would overpower your journey in the game, in fact it reminded me of what Naughty Dog opted for in The Last of Us; crafting is for survival and to be prepared for a scenario, not the name of the game.
The robotic beings that inhabit earth in Horizon are more than mere walking crafting parts though. It was really engaging to see the way they all moved. Sleek, raptor like bots taking a hostile stance and slinking about, while larger robo-giraffes grazed the area around a small lake, looking much more majestic against the mountains in the distance. All of these creatures are rendered with that signature Guerrilla style, almost reminiscent of the Helghast homeworld. Every one of them is shiny and sleek, with a hint of mystery – it’s a great art direction.Speaking of, the background graphics are equally stunning, with the small demo area looking great. Be it creeks, rocks, grassy pastures or ancient lodgings, it was a joy to explore. For me though, the soundtrack stole the show in the game’s presentation, with orchestral music setting the tone for encounters with the raptor bots or riding along on your robo-cow.
Ultimately, I’m very happy with the way Horizon Zero Dawn is shaping up after my brief time with it. While I’m still hungry to learn more about the game’s plot and Aloy’s journey, the core gameplay is solid. The world already looks gorgeous, and the score speaks for itself, ebbing and flowing as you explore and fight. If it keeps up like this, Guerrilla Games may just have the next The Last of Us on their hands.
Horizon Zero Dawn launches for the PS4 on March 1st, 2017.