Hunter vs. hunted

Hori­zon Zero Dawn

HWM (Malaysia) - - GAX / REVIEW - by Ian Chee This re­view orig­i­nally ap­peared on Hard­ware­Zone Malaysia:

Beauty, this side of the hori­zon

If you’re a hunter like me, you’d prob­a­bly make the mis­take of think­ing

Hori­zon Zero Dawn plays like Mon­ster Hunter; you set out hunt­ing crea­tures beyond hu­man reck­on­ing, us­ing ma­te­ri­als sal­vaged from the hunt to craft weapons for fu­ture hunts. While this is true in its loos­est terms, div­ing into the world of Hori­zon Zero Dawn with this mind­set is a mis­take, as this is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent beast al­to­gether, to be hunted on its own terms. This sim­ple fact is both a good and bad thing, but we’ll start with the for­mer first.

The world of Hori­zon Zero Dawn is one of im­mense beauty, with rich, vi­brant colors that you’d eas­ily lose your­self in, es­pe­cially if you’re a bit sick of the dull gray con­crete jun­gle. What the game of­fers is an ac­tual jun­gle bustling with life and green­ery, with a sprin­kle of snow white and desert brown, and a splash of golden sun rays when the time is right.

And the right time makes re­turn vis­its in the form of day and night cy­cles and dy­namic weather. The lat­ter comes in mul­ti­ple forms, de­pend­ing on where you are at any given time. The jun­gles will be em­braced by heal­ing rain that also ob­scures sounds, the desert plains buf­feted by sand­storms that only slightly limit vi­sion, while the snowy al­ti­tude gets fall­ing snow that’s just sim­ply pleas­ant to the eye.

But to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the eye candy that is Hori­zon Zero Dawn, you’ll need to look at the finer things in Aloy’s life. And by fine, I meant go­ing down to the in­di­vid­ual blades of grass, and the in­tri­cate de­tails on the prac­ti­cally em­bel­lished weapons and ar­mor that she uses. Ar­mor gets pro­gres­sively more of the body cov­ered in­stead of less, and the same ap­plies to weapons as well. You start with sim­ple-look­ing bows, slowly gain­ing ac­cess to those that look pro­gres­sively more like they be­long in a mod­ern archery range, while still look­ing prac­ti­cal enough to be brought out­side to an ac­tual hunt. Then, there are the end-game ones with bright colors that would make you want to fork out some cash to have one made in real life. The NPCs haven’t been given the same sort of de­tail, sadly. Most of them look like you’d con­fuse one for another, and there isn’t the level of de­tail that you’d ex­pect once you’re used to look­ing at all the de­tails on Aloy her­self. That said, I’m by no

means sug­gest­ing that the level of de­tail given to the NPCs is sub­par. In fact, it’s more than what most other triple-A ti­tles would give theirs.

Wild ma­chine/life

Guerilla Games made sure to make up for this by go­ing all out on the ma­chine wildlife. The over­lap of ar­mor plat­ing rem­i­nis­cent of snake or fish scales, the ar­ti­fi­cial mus­cu­la­ture that look nearly ed­i­ble, and the nat­u­ral re­ac­tion to the un­known would some­times make you for­get that there are both or­ganic and ro­botic wildlife. Even the more out­landish ma­chines like bi­son the size of small hills look like they might be some­thing that would show up in a few thou­sand more years, un­til they start us­ing their im­prob­a­ble ma­chine abil­i­ties.

For those of you who are in­clined to doc­u­ment your ad­ven­ture, but find that words can never de­scribe it as well as pic­tures can, there’s a pretty nifty Photo Mode in­cluded for all your styl­ized screen­shots. The range in which you can zoom out the cam­era is a tad lim­ited, but you get some ad­di­tional toys com­pared to what other Photo Modes may have on of­fer. For one, if you’re one of the bokeh en­thu­si­asts among pho­tog­ra­phers, then this Photo Mode is one that you’d like, as you’re given the free­dom to change the aper­ture of the cam­era and the fo­cus dis­tance, to se­lec­tively blur por­tions of your shot. You can also change the time of day for the shots that sim­ply need the golden rays to be com­plete, or those that need the sil­ver orb in the sky.

The abrupt end of the hunt

There is, af­ter all that’s said and done, one is­sue that I’ve had with Hori­zon Zero

Dawn, and that’s post-game re­playa­bil­ity. As en­gag­ing and smooth the story is, and as re­lat­able a main char­ac­ter as Aloy is, at its con­clu­sion, you’re sud­denly left with pretty much noth­ing to do. There’s no New Game+, and the only thing you can do af­ter clear­ing the story is to hunt for col­lectibles and tro­phies, if that’s your kind of thing. And it’s not a par­tic­u­larly long story ei­ther. It’s eas­ily cleared within 60 hours of game­play, and the abil­ity to switch dif­fi­culty on the fly leaves very lit­tle in­cen­tive to start a new playthrough.

There is also lit­tle in­cen­tive to hunt ma­chines ei­ther. An av­er­agely well-geared and pre­pared hunter can take down the tough­est of ma­chines in less than five min­utes, with the most time be­ing spent im­mo­bi­liz­ing the ag­ile ones or ones ca­pa­ble of flight or bur­row­ing. And by hunt­ing, you get more re­sources to craft more ar­rows from the beasts you fell, but by this point you could buy most of the re­sources you need from ven­dors, or you could even buy the ar­rows straight up. This is un­like the Mon­ster Hunter se­ries that heav­ily in­spired this game – or so said the devel­op­ers – where hunts take tens of min­utes, and grant ma­te­ri­als that cannot be ob­tained any­where else used to make bet­ter weapons and equip­ment, in­stead of just spe­cial­ized ammo that can be bought us­ing the in-game cur­rency.

As you progress, you gain the abil­ity to take con­trol of hos­tile wildlife. This leads to ma­chines brawl­ing against each other for an amaz­ing spec­ta­cle.

De­spite their fear­some ap­pear­ance, they go down pretty quickly, un­less you’re grossly ill-pre­pared.

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