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Zero Dawn reads like the greatest text package of 2010s gaming and pop culture magazines. It is fantastic, and it has made one hell of a splash for critics and was sent to do extremely quite well-going toe to toe with the new Zelda and the new Mass Effect in the same month. The fact that it exists at all is something of a minor miracle, that it’s enjoying so much acclaim is astounding when you cast your mind back to its announcement at E3 2015.
Horizon is brilliant and it’s gorgeous and it might just be the best new IP to come from Sony in decades. The developers, Guerilla Games were normally for the thing, the game Killzone.
The Killzone games aren’t secretly amazing or anything like that. But, what the Killzone series did do secretly is showcase Guerilla’s incredible talent for world-building. The Killzone universe depicts a human civilization in the far future that is split into two genetically diverse factions and are at war with one another.
The player spends the game fire fighting their way through locations which feel anchored in reality and environments are just staging grounds for firefights. So, the player doesn’t really get a chance to explore the world of Killzone. But it does show off Guerilla’s knack for building believable worlds. It comes as a normal surprise then that their next game would exploit that signature standout world building ability and apply it to a land that is open and filled with the explorable.
Horizon feels like Guerilla with the gloves off. A studio which after spending years messing around with a string of seven out of ten shooting games that aren’t like the game Halo, finally gets to breathe. To stretch its legs, to unfurl its wings. Horizon: Zero Dawn is by far the best game they have ever released. Despite being completely at odds with the linear natural patency’s that they have done previously. Their talent for weaving worlds into ideas is on full display. Depicting a matriarchal nature-worshipping society that is sprung up from the ashes of the cold and ill fainted technocracy that it always feels like we are a few years away from. This isn’t a special unique idea of a post-apocalyptic society.
Imagine that the humans who follow would develop a robust theology from the harsh lessons learned when civilization ended at the hands of men with telephones and nuclear warheads. But Guerilla Games have gone all in on the execution. They have made lore integral to the main character’s backstory. So, as the player is learning about the world, they are learning about her. When sufficiently topped off with generous helpings of mad mysticism and calming book mallow drama, the complexity or originality of the concept ceases to matter. It’s just good and highly absorbing. It’s a world which the player relishes discovering alongside Aloy, who is the main character Horizon: Zero Dawn and is another one of Guerilla Games first, and most wonderful characters to spend time with.
Aloy is quite a special lead for a video game. She isn’t super human, she isn’t simply a conduit in which she just kills things. In fact, she spends most of her time in constant danger, hunting animals real and robotic, it’s all part of her life blood. It’s not easy and even when the player has taken out entire packs of robot dogs with her a thousand times, she never feels completely in control of the situation. Far removed from the ballistic bravado of a shooting game. Horizon: Zero Dawn explores her virility and vulnerability as a flesh and blood human being facing endless threats. Not just her body, but to her mental state. Aloy is shunned and disliked by other humans, starting the game as an outcast and having to work much harder than everyone else just to be barely tolerated by society.
Even though this game is now two years old, its story has a massive impact on many people that played it. Its story allows the players to make a connection with the character; it’s a game where it’s the medium that unknowingly forces it on you. We call this immersion or even captivation, the story in Horizon allows one to just get lost in it, and few games do this. As a role-playing experience this game set a new bar. An experience that pulled players into the game where they felt part of the story, where they felt invested in the characters and their outcomes. It didn’t feel forced, it made players connect in a way that they couldn’t when playing other role-playing games.
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