Horizon Zero Dawn Review: Pick Up That Thunderjaw

Credit: Guerrilla Games
Credit: Guerrilla Games /

Horizon Zero Dawn may be PlayStation’s best series ever if Guerrilla can keep this up.

Developer: Guerilla Games

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Platform: PS4

Release Date: February 28, 2017

Horizon Zero Dawn at its worst is merely exemplary. At its best, it is a masterclass in engaging combat design. From the protagonist to the soundtrack, I loved the ride this game took me on. The story knows how to crescendo multiple times without dragging, and the attention to detail throughout the world is awe-inspiring.

A sample encounter in Horizon Zero Dawn’s later game went like this. I was looking to attack a Trampler. A bull-like machine, which can… well, trample Aloy, the protagonist. As I was approaching the tramplers on my overridden Broadhead, a much smaller version of a trampler, Bandits arrived trying to take the Tramplers down for themselves.

Having seen my approach, I am now running from the Bandits as they draw the Trampler’s attention. This means I am running not only from the Bandits, but also trying to take down my target. After a while, I try to break line of sight and slide behind a sand dune. As I try to take a moment, I hear the familiar wind-up sound that lets me know things are about to go south.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

A pack of Ravagers was on the other side of the sand dune. So now, I am sliding, dodging and slinging elements all at once. Slide past the Trampler, hit the Bandits with a freeze bomb while they’re distracted. Now shoot the Ravagers with fire arrows. As they are on fire, set some explosive tripwire in front of you to lure the machines into a trap as they chase you.

After about 15 minutes, I walked away from the fight another level higher with upgrades for my arrows. This hectic battle had nothing to do with a mission. I merely stumbled upon it while traveling to my next destination. Then I ran off through the desert on my new Charger I called upon.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

In the midst of this game, you encounter a variety of areas like this. Playing on Very Hard, it gets very challenging, but you never feel like you cannot beat the game. I never felt like I was being cheated. I merely started over and switched up the weapon assortments I tried out.

I wish I could say this was an easy task, however, Guerrilla did stumble in one area: inventory management. You get four main attack items you can interchange with others. To do so, you need to go all the way into the menu. Additionally, resources you find in abundance continuously fill up slots in your pouches, making you need to expand even if you have only collected a large amount of one resource.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

Collecting resources is a part of the game, but it hardly ever feels tedious (one example when it does, I have only ever found two fox skins in 70 hours of play. This game turned me into a Fox murderer). It is a natural part of Aloy’s evolution. She as the hunter/gatherer she was raised to be, knows when she needs to gather herbs for healing.

It is one of the many quirks of the lady protagonist. She tells you what she needs and even tells you what she did not want. A funny moment in the game is when I went for a quick swim. Upon getting out of the water, Aloy said, “Well, now my dreads are going to be all tangled.” I felt like I was listening to one of my friends get out the pool after swimming without a swim cap.

I love Aloy as a character. Her story is so engrossing. I could not quite put it in words. The way Rost raised Aloy always gave her this belief she was something she was not. I think this James Baldwin quote from his essay “The American Dream and The American Negro” puts it best (my emphasis added):

"In the case of the American Negro, from the moment you are born every stick and stone, every face, is white. Since you have not yet seen a mirror, you suppose you are, too. It comes as a great shock around the age of 5, 6, or 7 to discover that the flag to which you have pledged allegiance, along with everybody else, has not pledged allegiance to you."

Aloy’s discovery of who she was to the Nora at a young age is a shocking moment for her, but reveals her inner resilience. Using this moment, she drives herself to adulthood to prove them wrong. Using life lessons, she drives you through her adventure to find out how wrong she was of who she always thought she was meant to be.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

Is Aloy struggling with civil rights as Baldwin is characterizing in his essay? Yes. She is an outcast for nothing beyond the way she was born. What more pertinent struggle is there than the plight of those wrestling with societal ostracization for the same thing in the real world? The faces of the tribes were diverse, but Horizon Zero Dawn shows our ability to discriminate finds a way.

Replace parts of Baldwin’s quote with a different nation and a different marginalized group and you still run into the same idea. A child grows older to find the land they were raised to love does not love them back. You see Aloy’s realization of this fact throughout the game. You see how unsettling it is for her. This is especially true as she learns of the reason she and Rost were outcasts.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

After her own discoveries later in the game, Aloy becomes a translator of Nora traditions rather than being a holder of them. While always skeptical, her goal was to find who her mother was and join them in their ranks. You watch her as her journey reaches this critical point of no return where she can no longer accept the hypocrisy of their traditions. She loves them, but cannot stay.

As she runs away from this life she has always known to discover a life she had never dreamed of, Horizon Zero Dawn boasts in your ears of each discovery with a vibrant soundtrack. This eclectic mix pulls from traditional music of various real tribal groupings and modern sci-fi. If you have not listened to it, check it out. It is on Spotify and iTunes, officially.

What else can I say about Horizon Zero Dawn? I loved most of its characters. I loved its world and the stories it had to tell. I loved its societal makeup and the various aspects of civilization as it grows and groups together. I loved its soundtrack. Oh… I know what I forgot. The game is gorgeous, and runs with smooth framerates throughout.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

Every picture in this review was captured in-engine on PS4 Pro on a 1080p TV output without HDR. The photo mode may be the best real time representation I have seen on consoles. By this I mean, you merely pause the game in the midst of an interaction and take a photo.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

Look at the light of the sun as it beams through the clouds in the above picture. It is incredible to play this game. Breathtaking, even. It took me so long to complete as I fought myself trying to stop taking pictures in every area I went. As you can tell, I pretty much failed.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

At this point, I am just prolonging the review more to share more photos, but I think you get the point. There is a ton to do in Horizon Zero Dawn, but, if the only thing you did in the game was take pictures, it would still be worth the money.

Credit: Guerrilla Games /

Overall, I bought this game with the notion I would enjoy playing with the dinosaurs. In the end, I loved this game because it does everything so well. There are not many games in a lifetime I have ever spoken this way about, but when it happens you just know when a game nails it.

9.5. Horizon Zero Dawn has an unforgettable protagonist, world, story, visuals, soundtrack and gameplay. Due to minor issues with inventory management and quest selection, I cannot call it perfect but I can say it is absolutely worth your time.. Guerrilla Games. . Horizon Zero Dawn

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