Horizon Forbidden West review: Mankind, Machines and Aloy’s Beard

Guerrilla Games
Guerrilla Games /

Title: Horizon Forbidden West
Developer: Guerilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PS5 (reviewed on), PS4
Release Date: February 18, 2022

You would think that the theme of life after the apocalypse would be as played out as can be in the game industry. With heavy hitters like Fallout, Dying Light, the Metro series and more, there are a lot of games that deal in the harsh reality that is life in the after; that is life after everything else has died. Horizon Zero Dawn took a different direction, though. It was bright and beautiful, throwing out the concept of humans as monsters (well, mostly) for actual monsters in the shape of destructive machines. You climbed snowy mountains and ran in river valleys to save humanity. Now Aloy, the game’s protagonist is back at it again, but this time she is going to the wild, wild west (“Jim West, desperado, rough rider, no you don’t want nada”) in Horizon Forbidden West.

Horizon Forbidden West picks up two months after the fight with Hades as Aloy realizes that the fight isn’t over and the fate of this new version of humanity is still in danger. She is the only one who can keep the world they have going but to protect all she cares about, she must travel into the barely inhabited lands of the Forbidden West to do it. With new environments, new abilities and some old comrades, she will have the fight of hers and everyone else’s life.

Guerrilla Games
Guerrilla Games /

Straight out of the gate, Horizon Forbidden West is GORGEOUS. It is a truly stunning game. While the environmental graphics are a sight to behold, it is the character models that impress me the most. Every character, down to the NPCs are well modeled and realistic. The fact that some bro on Twitter inquired about Aloy’s “beard” is a testament to the intricacies of the animation. Heads up, men…women have peach fuzz on our faces. We’re mammals, it’s a part of our genetic makeup to have hair pretty much everywhere. The more you know…you know? You can see textures on Aloy’s face and discolorations like actual skin.

The varying lands in the game are vast and each different from one another. From the snowing mountaintops to running waters with green foliage to the barren deserts, each one unique and just as gorgeous as the previous. Something that I do notice in terms of the graphics is the issue of clipping. This was a problem in the first game, as well. Things will clip in and out of each other pretty much all the time and Aloy’s hair defies the laws of physics and possibly clips into other dimensions. Aside from that and some strange issues with the movement mechanics, the gameplay is really solid without too many glitches. In terms of day one game quality, Horizon Forbidden West released in a pretty solid way without any true game breaking glitches.

While I personally find the story of the first game a little more engaging, it is still incredible to be traversing through the environments and come across old technology or “ruins” of an old skyscraper. There are places on the large map where you will scan an old broken image of a place from the past and it will be up to you to find where the picture was taken to put the pieces back together. It was a small mechanic but really enjoyable when it happened.

New to the game is the inclusion of swimming and even better, a glider. Color me impatient because I can’t tell you the amount of fall damage I have gotten from just jumping off a cliff or any height because I didn’t want to take the time to find the way down. Well, now you don’t have to! Jump off anything and safely glide your way to solid ground. Speaking of gliding, the amount of similarities between Horizon Forbidden West and Dying Light 2 Stay Human were strange to say the least. Both have gliders allowing for more vertical exploration, both have pulsing sensors to allow you to collect all items in an area, and both games have a character named Lawan. I have never in my life heard that name before and in a matter of a month, two of the biggest games to be released in 2022 have characters named Lawan. You know that squinting meme from Futurama? That was my face with every new coincidence I came across. Pretty soon, I was squinting so hard that I couldn’t even see the game anymore.

My favorite parts of Horizon Forbidden West would have to be the quality of the voice acting. This game doesn’t play around with their voice acting. Even one note NPCs have better voice acting and character development than some entire games. John MacMillan’s Varl, John Hopkins’s Erend, and Lance Reddick’s Sylens are phenomenal. While Ashly Burch is an absolute powerhouse of a voice actor (Tiny Tina is everything I aspire to be), but her Aloy voice just seems…strange and that strangeness only increased in Forbidden West. It has almost the same quality as Bella Swan in Twilight; something is wrong with the girl but you just don’t know what.

While we see some familiar faces in terms of the mechanical monsters, we do see some new ones but they all tend to blend together for the most part…except for one. After about 0 hours, all robo baddies with the blue lights tend to feel pretty similar in the way you fight them (unless they are the flying kind, but even still): scan them with your focus, find the weak spots and boom baby, let the arrows fly. But then there are the Leaplashers. I HATE those things with a passion. They are kangaroo-types that jump around and whip wires at you and they are the literal worst. I will happily fight 5 Slitherfangs to avoid one Leaplasher.

Horizon Forbidden West rides the fence in terms of game changes and additions. It doesn’t feel all that different but the new game mechanics are welcome, especially that glider. There are plenty of weapons and outfits to equip and lots of ways to upgrade. The skill trees are massive and at first glance, the leveling system looks intimidating but is a lot easier than appearances. The game itself doesn’t feel all that challenging and I set mine to normal. Instead of focusing on a challenge, Horizon Forbidden West almost seems to put its eggs in the exploration basket, allowing the player to move forward at their leisure, exploring ruins, cauldrons and focus points. The story isn’t bad by any means and I love seeing the return of some of our favorite characters. If you liked the first game, there is no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy the follow up.

Now, if you will excuse me, I must go shooty-shoot some arrows at some robots and brush my beard.

Horizon Forbidden West (PS5) Score: 9/10

Horizon Forbidden West is a delightful follow-up to Zero Dawn with drastically improved graphics and new additions to the gameplay mechanics. While the gameplay can get a bit repetitive and the story doesn’t hit quite as hard as the first game’s, it is an enjoyable romp through a wasteland teeming with machines.