Release Date: February 28, 2017
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Games
System: PS4
Review Spoilers: N/A
IGN | Gamespot | Metacritic | Polygon

Looking for a new video game suggestion? Look no further. As the end of the year gets closer and closer I begin thinking about my favorite “game of the year” as well as those games that I encourage friends to try or purchase as holiday gifts. There was no question this year that the stand out title for me was Horizon Zero Dawn, an action role playing game.

Horizon Zero Dawn is the story of Aloy, a young outcast who seeks to discover her origins, as well as unravel the mysteries of an advanced civilization, in a world ruled by machines. This is a common theme in video games, but Horizon Zero Dawn has added a fresh spin to it with the addition of robotic creatures, as well as some intriguing surprises that you’ll have to play the game to discover.

The game is set in the far future, but it is more of an apocalyptic future, with scattered tribes that fend for themselves and live off of the wild. The juxtaposition of a vibrant rich echo of our world and highly intelligent and advanced machines creates a stunning masterpiece that I highly recommend.

Man VS. Machine

Man versus technology is a trope that’s been tried again and again in popular culture, and in many cases, there is an factor of “be careful what you wish for.” In Horizon Zero Dawn, this is not a situation of machines gone bad. In fact, their origins were the complete opposite.

There are roughly 24 different machines found in Horizon Zero Dawn and each type of machine is unique (they have awesome names too). You may note similarities in body types to real animals, such as a horse, bull, deer, crocodile, eagle, lion, or dinosaurs, such as a T-Rex. Many have unique abilities, such as cloaking, or travel in herds or flocks with each other. There are predators and then there are prey.

While you can opt to simply kill the machines, Aloy discovers how to override, or “tame” the machines essentially. With stealth and the right timing, you can override machines and turn a deadly machine into a mount or a traveling companion. The latter is incredibly fun and these battle companions becomes particularly useful as you progress through the game. The machines practically acted like real animals and each reacted differently. On an additional note, there are also regular run of the mill animals such as foxes, turkey, and mice that Aloy can hunt and craft with in the game.

Each machine has different vulnerabilities and players can scan machines to identify these weaknesses and weak points. Aloy has an arsenal of weapons at her beck and call, but her strongest is her bow and arrows. You can craft arrows that cause fire, ice, or shock damage and even arrows that will rip or tear away armor from machines, leaving them even more vulnerable.

Of course you can always just run straight in and lay down as much hard damage as you can do without identifying machines’ weaknesses, but strategy becomes crucial with larger more difficult machines. Aloy also has spears, bombs, traps, and other melee tools to work with, each of which can be upgraded, like her bow, as you progress through the game and find rare machine parts and upgrades.

You do have to create or craft your own ammunition unfortunately but crafting material is easy to find and stock up on. In essence, Horizon’s combat system is basic but incredibly effective. You can easily switch weapons, craft ammunition on the fly, and roll or dodge out of harm’s way. Aloy’s outfit is also customizable to fit her environment and give her unique benefits when fighting certain enemies.

Stories, Maps, and More

Horizon Zero Dawn has a lot of great aspects, although some people may say that the game isn’t unique enough, but I beg to differ. Horizon Zero Dawn may be the freshest game I have ever played. Yes, it does have some similar elements to other open world RPG games, but it emulates these while creating its own elements and individual feel and culture at the same time.

Horizon Zero Dawn has a huge map that players can explore, with forest, desert, and mountain niches. If you start to grow bored of one, you can easily move into a different area. The graphics are top notch and I honestly can’t say that I ran into any glitches while playing the game. Not a single one.

For open world role-playing games, side quests can be the bane of their existence. In Horizon Zero Dawn side quests can include gathering crafting materials, conquering bandit camps, killing particular machines, saving people’s lives, and solving disappearances or mysteries. Sadly, this may be where Dawn falters slightly, but only slightly. The side quests aren’t boring, but they can occasionally seem a bit repetitive, and aren’t particularly unique in the grand scheme of things.

Horizon Zero Dawn also features a photo mode, where you can essentially pause the game, and manipulate not only the camera angles and the lighting, but also Aloy’s position. Patches over the past few months have added over two dozen different poses that you can set Aloy up in, and when paired with Dawn’s stunning backdrops and detailed machines, you can have a lot of fun with this photo mode.

What surprised me the most about Horizon Zero Dawn was its complex narrative. On the surface, it may not look like a lot, but the developers have created a rich world with detailed and deep narrative. By the time you finish the main plot, you aren’t quite ready to leave Aloy behind and I was left with a desire to continue to play, something that not many games can accomplish.

You won’t have to wait much longer though, as Horizon Zero Dawn’s first expansion, titled The Frozen Wilds, drops on November 7. The Frozen Wilds takes Aloy to an entirely new region up north, with new machines and characters, and it is a continuation of the main story.

Final Thoughts

Horizon Zero Dawn is an exhilarating game that you aren’t going to want to stop playing. It may be one of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing games to date on the PS4. You can expect a full immersive story that will give you a proper ending or closure and a tale that follows a relatable and likable protagonist.

With this strong narrative, I believe it stands a strong chance of being named “Game of the Year” in the eyes of other critics and gamers. This is a game that you are going to want to experience first hand.

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