Can you recall the time when Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was originally released? Developer Naughty Dog had up until that point proven themselves time and time again with Crash Bandicoot and the Jak & Daxter series, but it was obvious to anyone from the onset that this was in a class of its own, a new level of ambition which shone through every single frame of every single trailer ahead of release. Already before the game had hit store shelves it was clear that the start of a major new series was underway.
To feed passionate players with fresh ideas, new universes and exciting new narratives is one of the fundamental necessities on which the industry is built. Ubisoft demonstrated this Assassin's Creed, From Software with Dark Souls, and Blizzard with Overwatch. It happens every now and again, that you can feel deep inside your bones, that a new permanent addition to the gaming landscape has been brought before you, and like with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, it's happening again. Horizon: Zero Dawn is upon us.
Because like Naughty Dog initially did, developer Guerrilla Games has already proven their worth, both as an important piece in the grand scheme of the PlayStation family, but also as a fundamentally talented development studio. The Killzone series has enjoyed great success, but like when Naughty Dog released various titles in the Jak & Daxter series, there was also the sense that the Killzone games felt like a step down a particular path, like a brief stop on the road before the studio was truly allowed to take its place front and centre on the stage. With Horizon: Zero Dawn, the developer is ready to show its hand.
From the very ﬁrst trailer, from the very ﬁrst time the camera zoomed out and revealed the majestic landscape, the lush post-apocalyptic vision of our future world, it was clear that Guerrilla had indeed struck upon something quite special. There was a tone here, a vibe which felt truly unique. Now, somewhat six years after conceptual drawings of giant robot dinosaurs passionately changed hands within Guerrilla in Amsterdam, the game is ﬁnally ready, and we're happy to report that it is indeed as special as we had hoped. Horizon: Zero Dawn is quite plainly everything you want it to be and more.
Horizon: Zero Dawn starts with a beginning, but it's a beginning which happens after a tragic ending. Our world is gone, and has been for quite a while. All that is left of our civilisation, everything we've created, has been eroded and erased off the face of the earth, and only ruins of our once proud technology-crazed world remain. But again, we start with a beginning. The beginning of Aloy. We watch her as an infant being blessed with her name by her tribe's matriarchs, we see her as a child growing into womanhood, and ﬁnally as a brave warrior in a cruel world, where the human race have reverted to a tribal-like existence, and settled for a place much lower in the food chain. Robot dinosaurs now roam and control the wilds, a remnant and a reminder of a time when machines nearly destroyed the entire species. Aloy is being raised by Rost and they're both outcasts for reasons unknown. Aloy does not settle with this, and so she sets out to discover her past and solve the great mystery of what caused the collapse of our world.
The collapse and the mystery of the events surrounding it is the greatest narrative force in Horizon: Zero Dawn, and that's both good and bad. The unique combination split between the post-apocalyptic, the naturalistic and the gigantic robot enemies is so incredibly captivating, that the player primarily wants to continue simply in order to discover why our civilisation was lost, how these tribal societies survived and how these robots took over our planet. This is, however, at the expense of the game's primary narrative, the story of Aloy, and the two don't always align. It's a shame because the intimate, personal story of Aloy and her quest to discover her past is interesting, and the emotionally engaging characters she meets are all credible and well written, if not a bit simplistic in their motivations. The problem is that the grand narrative strangles the smaller one, and as they progress side by side, it becomes difﬁcult for them to coexist. You want to discover the secrets of the world, the story wants you to learn more about Aloy's past. It is, however, quite obvious that Guerrilla thought about the two narratives and the way they interlink, so the story of Aloy herself is purposefully simplistic, so that you can easily go explore and learn, and then return to the linear path.
Exploration is something you constantly want to do in Horizon: Zero Dawn. Not only is the game ﬁlled to the brim with an exuberant amount of varied side-missions, like ﬁnding collectables, solving errands for strangers, and hunting speciﬁc animals and robots, but the world is in and of itself worth exploring, if only just to experience its beauty and hear its story. There are a great deal of varied environments as well; Sunfall is dry and hot, Meridian looks like a post-apocalyptic Canada, and Mother's Embrace is snowy and Nordic. In other words, the variation is spot on, and the world not only feels different, unique and well thought out, but also hand-crafted and not made by committees and algorithms.