Hori­zon Zero Dawn

Guer­rilla de­liv­ers an am­bi­tious com­bat sys­tem in its sprawl­ing ac­tion RPG



Dur­ing our demo of Hori­zon Zero Dawn, pro­tag­o­nist Aloy tack­les a tow­er­ing bipedal Cor­rupter, which is thought to be the cause of a grow­ing num­ber of cor­rupted ma­chines en­coun­tered in the wild. The fight, though played in real­time, is care­fully chore­ographed for pub­lic view­ing as Aloy first de­ploys ex­plo­sive bal­loons, fires ar­rows from the back of a hacked Broad­head, and fi­nally teth­ers the ir­ri­ta­ble, an­cient ma­chine be­fore go­ing in for the kill.

But although smart stage man­age­ment neatly com­part­men­talises the bat­tle, play­ers are free to tether from the off, re­main on foot through­out, or even run away and hide. This flex­i­bil­ity rip­ples through­out the en­tire game and prom­ises to de­liver an un­com­monly deep com­bat sys­tem for even the ac­tion sub­set of RPGs. “We wanted to cre­ate a lot of tac­ti­cal op­tions so that you have dif­fer­ent ways to ap­proach com­bat,” Troy Mash­burn, lead com­bat de­signer, ex­plains. “We built a lot [of as­pects] into the ma­chines that work with the va­ri­ety of weapons and dif­fer­ent ammo types that you have along the way.”

One ex­am­ple of this think­ing man­i­fests in the Blaze can­is­ters that sit on the haunches of the graz­ing Broad­heads. The sickly yel­low/ green liq­uid that’s col­lected as the ma­chines ‘eat’ is a key re­source in the game, and can be used to craft ammo. You could, of course, just kill one of the herd and ex­tract the can­is­ters from the wreck­age. Or you could sneak to within range and knock them off with a wellplaced ar­row and then leave the group to flee as you col­lect your prize. But Blaze is also, un­sur­pris­ingly, ex­plo­sive, and hit­ting a can­is­ter with a flam­ing ar­row will light the fuse on an ex­plo­sion. And since that’s the case, you can turn fallen Broad­heads into bombs to help take out larger ro­bots.

But while there’s sys­temic depth in the way you can tackle any given sit­u­a­tion, there is also added com­plex­ity in the form of the be­hav­iour of the game’s ro­botic wildlife. “We wanted to give crea­tures be­liev­able be­hav­iours,” Mash­burn tells us. “The Broad­head looks like a graz­ing an­i­mal, so they run away when they’re fright­ened. If you get very close and then star­tle them, they have a quick at­tack and then dash away. But the Shell­walker’s main be­hav­iour is it wants to de­fend the cargo that it’s car­ry­ing around. You can knock it off, but then you’ll no­tice it will put its shield up and try to get be­tween you and the cargo to pro­tect it. Each ma­chine has its pur­pose or role, and we try to make them be­have in a way that re­ally fits that role, and also wrap that into the com­bat struc­ture.”

They’re also sur­pris­ingly ro­bust. Ev­ery ma­chine poses a se­ri­ous threat to Aloy, who must rely on her wits and a slow-mo aim­ing func­tion that al­lows her to pull off im­pos­si­ble shots while, say, on the back of a gal­lop­ing Broad­head or rolling un­der­neath the swip­ing claw of a Shell­walker. But key among her strate­gies is the op­tion to re­treat, leav­ing a dam­aged ro­bot for later or sim­ply mak­ing off with a com­po­nent and not put­ting her­self in fur­ther jeop­ardy. “We wanted the ma­chines to be much more pow­er­ful than you are – they’re more ad­vanced, they have greater num­bers. They’re re­ally tough,” Mash­burn ex­plains. “The way Aloy coun­ters those is with her agility, her weapons and her skills. But we also wanted her to be able to re­set the en­counter, by re­treat­ing, so she can main­tain con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion. She’s smarter than they are and knows all the weak­nesses that can be ex­ploited. That’s the feel­ing we wanted to go for to make you feel like a hunter.”

Guer­rilla seems to have achieved its goal if the min­gled sense of em­pow­er­ment and im­mi­nent dan­ger that arises as you stalk a tar­get through the long grass is any in­di­ca­tor. And Aloy’s hefty, pow­er­ful move­ments be­lie a grace­ful nim­ble­ness that lets you dance around the ag­gres­sive ro­botic op­po­nents, even if hubris can swiftly put you back in your place. We’ve seen in­spired tac­ti­cal choices quickly de­volve into some­thing less ap­peal­ing in Guer­rilla’s pre­vi­ous PS4 ef­fort, Kil­l­zone

Shadow Fall, but if the stu­dio can main­tain the va­ri­ety and depth on show in the small por­tion of Hori­zon we’ve played, it could turn out to be some­thing very spe­cial in­deed.

“We wanted the ma­chines to be much more pow­er­ful than you are. They’re re­ally tough”

Guer­rilla Games Cam­bridge SIE PS4 The Nether­lands Fe­bru­ary 28

Watch­ers de­fend other ro­bots, stay­ing close to herds and creep­ing through the long grass to weed out pesky ma­raud­ing hu­mans Devel­oper Pub­lisher For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease

Lead com­bat de­signer Troy Mash­burn

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