Aloy's brilliant adventure lands on PC complete with The Frozen Wilds.
After watching Microsoft splashing around and having fun in the inviting paddling pool that is the PC space, Sony has clearly decided that it might actually be alright to roll up their proverbial trousers and get in there with them. The result is the abandonment of former exclusivities and the embracement of the PC audience, and all the potential sales that come with it.
Death Stranding came first, a PS4 console exclusive that landed on PC with a sprinkle of new content and a few upgrades to suit those with wide-screen monitors and whatnot. Now it's time for Sony to roll out the big guns and bring its first proper first-party blockbuster to the PC in the form of Horizon: Zero Dawn, and it does so as a Complete Edition that includes The Frozen Wilds expansion and a bunch of additional content, all packaged together with a number of improvements that mean Aloy's adventure has (potentially) never looked better.
Of course, the experience you have with Horizon depends very much on the rig you're rocking. I had it running on 'ultra' at 50 frames-per-second on my laptop's RTX 2070 on a 1440p screen, and I was able to tweak certain effects when I hooked up the laptop to a 4K OLED TV and got the game looking great with it running at a steady 30 frames-per-second on the big screen. However, if you've got an old and decrepit GPU, obviously you'll have to sacrifice something, be that frames or texture quality and effects. Still, I turned the graphics settings all the way down just to see what it looked like and while it's nowhere near as stunning as when everything is up to the max, it's still a good-looking game thanks to the bold work of the designers.
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And we're not just talking about environmental artistry either - everything in Horizon screams quality, and even though it looks great on PC with lovely reflections, a reactive environment, convincing lighting, and atmospheric particle effects, that's fine detail on an already picturesque game. Most notably, the landscapes are truly breathtaking, the rugged beauty of the outside world both a thing to behold and a challenge to analyse and overcome. Then there is the accomplished work of the designers and the animators, and the concept artists who came up with the incredible metallic creatures that stalk this world. There are few titles out there that deliver a vision as bold as this, and even fewer that do it so completely and comprehensively.
I've got this far without diving into the story itself, an oversight no doubt because the game is more than three years old by this point. For the uninitiated, Horizon: Zero Dawn is set in a distant future where wild machines rule the world. Living in tribes, humanity has returned from the brink and now lives in close proximity to aggressive robotic creatures that roam the lands. Taking control of Aloy, a young woman and an outcast from her tribe, it's up to the player to explore the world, help those in need as you encounter them, and dig into the mystery surrounding the new world order that has humankind on the back foot.
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Horizon has a great story, and that alone is enough to push you through if you ever find yourself running on fumes. This is an expansive adventure and it comes complete with a substantial expansion, and overall it represents dozens of hours of gaming if you really sink into things and explore every avenue that's open to you. There are two main story strands at play and they intertwine nicely, with Aloy's more personal journey woven into a grand narrative that gives context and colour to this futuristic world. What's more, expansion The Frozen Wilds is best experienced as part of a playthrough rather than as a standalone adventure, so it fits in nicely.
A memorable story is complemented by an intense blend of action and stealth. Using a piece of tech called a 'Focus' to monitor her environments, Aloy can see the path taken by machines on patrol and can plan her own movements accordingly, stalking them in the tall grass and slipping by unnoticed when their backs are turned. When she's ready to strike, it's using a mixture of powerful melee attacks and her bow, which can be fitted with different arrows. Keeping stocked up on ammo is easy enough, although you'll be stopping to grab resources constantly and that affects the overall pacing just a little.
There are a couple of areas where I hope to see a big improvement in Horizon Forbidden West, the planned sequel, and chief among them is the wooden facial animations that undermine some of the NPC encounters. That said, the voice work is generally pretty good (and Aloy is an excellent character brilliantly brought to life by actor Ashly Burch), although I did notice some audio balance issues where in-game dialogue sounded too distant. Otherwise, I didn't find any game-breaking issues during my time with the PC version, and there's a patch planned just after launch which should improve things further.
The game wasn't perfect in 2017 and it's still not perfect in 2020, yet nothing that I encountered ruined the fun, and three years after its arrival on PS4, Horizon: Zero Dawn remains a quality single-player adventure. It's great that the game is getting a second chance on PC and I'm pleased that Sony is finally starting to bring its best and brightest to the platform, and this is a big step in the right direction as far as I'm concerned (and I also welcome the chance to experience Aloy's adventure on a system that doesn't sound like a motorbike revving its engine). With ultra-widescreen monitor support, adjustable FOV, unlocked frame-rates, and customisable technical features that you can tweak to suit your setup, Horizon: Zero Dawn is a great fit on PC. Now, bring on God of War, Uncharted, and all the rest... go on Sony, you know you want to.
Photo: Guerrilla Games
9 / 10
Looks great on PC with lots of adjustable features, still a fantastic game with a memorable setting and story, good stealth-action gameplay.
Some wooden facial animations and a couple of audio balance issues.