Giant Bomb Review


Horizon: Zero Dawn Review

  • PS4

Guerrilla's got something really special here.

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Horizon: Zero Dawn is, more or less, an entire game based around Arthur C. Clarke's third law, which states that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What would happen if only one person had the world at her fingertips? If only one person had access to a smart phone and the entirety of the internet, what advantages might that give them over their peers? Replace "smart phone" with "networked augmented reality device," set things in a tribal world where anything the world's inhabitants don't understand is likely to be worshiped as a god, and you've got the basic setup for Guerrilla's thrilling new game.

That tribal world is Earth, in a far-flung future where tribal society is the order of the day. Hunters hunt with bows and spears, but in addition to boars, turkeys, and rabbits, deadly, animal-like machines also roam the landscape. Metal ruins of the old world lie below. This is where players enter the picture as a young girl named Aloy. As a child, Aloy falls into one of these forbidden ruins and finds a "focus," the aforementioned augmented reality device. Suddenly, there's a whole new layer to her world. She can extract data from computers, detect broadcasts, and analyze her environment in a "Batman detective vision" sort of way. This ends up making Aloy far more deadly with her bow, spear, and other weapons, too.

It also means that Aloy's story progresses along two branches. At first, she's the tribal outcast, attempting to gain favor in her small community and avenge the death of her caretaker. But as she ventures further and further away from her old village, she begins working with and against numerous other factions. The focus attached to her face also means that she's quickly thrust into quests that get her closer and closer to the truth behind the nature of the world itself. Why are they there? What happened to the ancient humans that came before her? Where the hell did all these vicious machines come from? Who made them? Who continues to make them? What do they want? The surface level "this faction of this tribe wants to take the city from this other faction" stuff is fine, but once the game starts making good on its initial setup and letting you peek behind the curtain, the story shifts into a higher gear. It's a fantastic science fiction tale that expertly hangs the next piece of information just out of reach without feeling like it's stretching its information out too thinly. I thought the game was coming to an end around two-thirds of the way through, only to discover that there were multiple hours of mainline gameplay left to experience and additional answers to seek.

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By the end, Horizon comes to a satisfying conclusion in a way that left me feeling like they should probably never make a sequel. It's a near-perfect story that creates a world and also provides meaningful answers about said world. Not to soapbox about it, but games don't do that often enough anymore. The events of Horizon have weight and the game feels less like franchise building and more like a cohesive statement. Of course, the developers couldn't help but leave in one little bit that hints about what might happen if and when they decide to make another one, which I found to be a little unfortunate. But I guess that's business.

Zero Dawn is structured quite a bit like the recent Far Cry games. You'll level up, gain new abilities by slapping points onto a skill tree, and hunt for crafting materials that let you hold more things in your inventory. You'll happen upon a handful of bandit camps, tag enemies, and try to prevent them from setting off an alarm if you're spotted. You'll climb a few things to reveal objectives on the map, but the game manages to craft a decent take on that concept that doesn't overstay its welcome. The stealth is satisfying, though some of the options you get to handle enemies can be a little game-breaking. For example, hiding in tall grass means you're effectively invisible, provided you haven't already been spotted. Early on, you can choose an ability that lets you whistle. It only ever alerts a single enemy, and that enemy comes right over to you, where you can take them out (unless they're one of the larger machines or armored humans) with a "silent strike." That doesn't alert the other enemies, usually, so you can do it again and again, clearing out entire areas with zero risk.

Open combat is more exciting, but it can also be slightly clunky. You always have a spear, which has a light and heavy attack. After some upgrades, a couple of heavy strikes will knock an enemy over, letting you jab them with a critical strike. The ranged combat is a bit more varied, though I never felt the need to use some of the fancier weapons, like a ropecaster that lets you strap enemies down, effectively knocking them over the same way your heavy melee strikes can. Or the tripcaster, which lets you set traps for enemies. The weapons work as advertised, but the different bows and arrow types always felt like the star of the show to me.

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Fighting machines, especially bigger ones, gets easier if you pay attention to an enemy's weak points. You can knock off armor pieces and components as you fight, so disabling a stalker's stealth generator will make it unable to become cloaked. Knocking the gun off the top of a big cat machine means it can't shoot at you, and so on. There are lots of bits to chip off of larger enemies, and reducing their effectiveness is a great way to survive the larger fights. You'll have elemental arrows to exploit specific weaknesses, and a type of damage called "tear" is specifically designed to help you strip the machines clean before you start moving in for the kill. This leads to a few cheap moments where you can Skyrim-hop your way up the side of a mountain, where a machine can't follow, then patiently strip off every single piece from complete safety. But, by and large, it's an exciting system that makes every shot count and ratchets up tension in the bigger fights. Of course, if fighting isn't your thing you can reduce the number of encounters by learning how to override the machines, which tames them and makes them aggressive toward your enemies. Or you could always fire corruption arrows to confuse them into attacking each other... point being, the game has some nice options that'll let you play the encounters a few different ways.

The overall story is solid, but the moment-to-moment dialogue is also quite good. Even some of the smaller quests get their own fascinating twists and turns, and characters often defy expectations in welcome ways. Aloy is well-voiced as a character caught between worlds, someone who has to try to explain advanced technology to a bunch of religious zealots who think she's either the second coming or a demon herself. It all makes for a really refreshing experience that zigged when I assumed it would definitely zag on a few different occasions. That said, it's worth noting that a lot of the lip-syncing in cutscenes is remarkably off. In a game with such fantastic visual design, one that pays such close attention to tiny details, this sticks out more than it would otherwise.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is familiar but also really refreshing. It's not a short game (I spent around 30 hours with it), but the storytelling still feels concise and efficient. The combat has some nice options that make encounters fun, even when you're just stacking up stealth kills from the relative safety of a bush. And the presentation end of the game holds up its end of things with a solid soundtrack, great voice acting, and a cohesive design that makes all its disparate parts fit together. All in all, it's a great game, it's Guerrilla's strongest release to date, and I suspect I'll go back in after the fact to clean up whatever side quests and errands I have remaining, if only to spend a little more time in that world.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
327 CommentsRefresh
Avatar image for metal_mills
Posted By Metal_Mills

God damn, a 5 from Jeff? I need this.

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Posted By probablytuna

Damn son, I was not feeling it after watching those preview videos but now I think I'm back in.

Avatar image for honkalot
Posted By Honkalot

Glad to see the grade - I had a feeling it could have swung either way but I really wanted it to be awesome.

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Posted By JWL1092

damn son

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Posted By Colonel_Pockets


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Posted By Haethos


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Edited By NickFoley



Guerrilla has made their Last of Us. Can't wait to play it.

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Posted By axelscythe


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Edited By redyoshi

Wow. I was going to skip this but now I'm not so sure.

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Edited By Itwongo

Fuck a 5?????

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Posted By Par1val


Avatar image for efesell
Posted By Efesell

Aw man I gotta check out a Jeff 5.

I mean was going to anyway but now extra excited.

Avatar image for creamy_pixels
Posted By Creamy_Pixels

So exciting coming from Jeff

Avatar image for syphentos
Posted By Syphentos

This makes me way more excited, i was a bit hesitant to pick this up after watching some early gameplay

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Posted By forteexe21
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Avatar image for denj
Posted By DenJ

Nice review. Love the Arthur C. Clarke reference.

Avatar image for arrested_developer
Edited By Arrested_Developer

Misspelled Gershmann

Avatar image for atheistpreacher
Posted By AtheistPreacher

I'm pretty burned out on Far Cry games, and this looks similar enough that I'll probably wait at least a couple of months before thinking about picking it up, see if I can get it at a discount. But it certainly sounds neat, especially the whole setup/world.

Avatar image for nickfoley
Posted By NickFoley
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Posted By fishriot

My jimmies are rustled in anticipation!

Avatar image for chrjz
Posted By chrjz

This review reads like it's teetering a little closer to 4 stars... Still sounds like a great game, though.

Avatar image for nightonyx
Posted By NightOnyx

Great to see Jeff loving the game! I didnt think I could be more hyped for the game, but after reading Jeff's thoughts, my hype levels are rising even more. I can't wait for the 28th.

Avatar image for shivoa
Posted By Shivoa

Killzone: Shadow Fall also had issues with broken (in-engine) cut-scene dialogue. Strange gaps (loading?) between sentences that broke the flow in spots. I wonder if this engine just has a few issues that mean that's harder than elsewhere to get a good fix in.

Avatar image for mayor_mccheese
Posted By Mayor_McCheese

Welp, I'm sold. Shame I don't have the time or money to play this one yet.

Avatar image for zaccheus
Posted By Zaccheus

I'm so glad to hear this. This game has had so much promise form the start, but you never know about these things, it could have gone horribly wrond.

Avatar image for dr_monocle
Posted By dr_monocle

Part of me was hoping this would be mediocre so I would just have to buy Breath of the Wild and Mass Effect.

But, man, five stars huh...

Sorry, Zelda.

Avatar image for selfconfessedcynic
Posted By selfconfessedcynic

5 Stars from Jeff? Well, Gorilla, you have my pre-order.

Avatar image for quint
Posted By Quint

I was beginning to think this all looked a little generic but a 5 from Jeff? It's got to be worth checking out.

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Edited By doncabesa

Aww damn this looks great, wish I had a PS4. Ended up going with 2 Xboxes instead of 1 of each system so that the Mrs. and I could play co-op. Can't complain as it's been amazing to play things together, but I do miss my bachelor days of owning every console possible.

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Posted By Calvinball

I was really excited for this game when it was first revealed, it seemed like a AAA Monster Hunter developed by a western studio. Watching some of the previews here and on Waypoint really put me off of the game though, I had pretty much completely lost interest. Now, with Jeff giving it 5 stars, I really don't know what to think...

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Posted By Cramsy

Very exciting. Picking this up as soon as it drops

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Posted By JesusHammer

Glad this game will be well worth the twenty dollars I pay for it a year from now.

Avatar image for knifeyspoony
Edited By KnifeySpoony

Reading the review sounds more like a 4, but it's definitely something I'll check out now. Story wise sounds interesting, I just need more time before a Far Cry-esque experience again.

But recently picking up a PS4 and having Nioh, Yakuza Zero, and Horizon all pop up makes me feel real good about the purchase.

Avatar image for fatalbanana
Posted By fatalbanana

Horizon got five stars from Jeff?

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Avatar image for theht
Posted By TheHT

Oh. Oh fuck. Well. Fuck.

I wasn't planning on buying this just yet, but to hear Jeff go on about that "near-perfect" story means I just may have to. Expectations won't be unduly raised, but I'll at least expect some interesting questions and sufficient answers. Oh, and a fun shooting-monster-hunting thing.

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Posted By bawalo

Oh man, just got done with Nioh (the first playthrough anyway), copped Titanfall 2 for 20 euros and this comes out in a week or two. Not to mention Mass effect and Persona 5 around the corner.

This is the best time to be playing video games.

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Posted By saturn5

Jeff refused to give Zelda 10/10 back in the day and that was according to everyone else a great game...if he gives this 5/5 it must be some sort of masterpiece. That is great news =)

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Posted By AlwaysBeClothing

That's surprising to see, this game may have jumped up on my to play list. Maybe its just what I need to tide me over till Mass Effect comes out. I will have to wait and see the Quick Look.

Avatar image for cooljammer00
Posted By cooljammer00

Do we know if @jeff played this on a Pro?

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Posted By rethla
Avatar image for redhorn
Posted By Redhorn

This is awesome news. I was hoping this would end up being at least "pretty cool," so... yeah man. Fucking awesome. Thanks Jeff.

Avatar image for obamasamerica
Edited By ObamasAmerica

Cool. Just pre-ordered. Cause that's how I do.

also maybe stop telling Jeff what his score should have been.

Avatar image for brinty
Posted By Brinty

Watching the stream from the guy who got a copy it seems more like a 3 star game and the review reads more like a 4 star to me, but good for Guerrilla that they finally made a thing that has anything interesting going on.

Avatar image for kenzodielocke
Posted By Kenzodielocke

Jeff, great review, but it's Horizon Zero Dawn.

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Posted By DystopiaX

@knifeyspoony: same got it for yakuza and p5 but this, nioh, and tales make it a great start to 2017 for ps4

Avatar image for korwin
Posted By korwin

A 5 star original IP from a studio venturing outside it's comfort zone? I might actually buy another Playstation game this year.

Avatar image for kub
Posted By Kub

Goddamnit. There's too many great games being released! Where to find time for all of this?

Avatar image for strife777
Posted By Strife777

I'm honestly kind of stunned. Wow. I knew Jeff was positive on it coming out of E3 and such but 5 stars? Damn, I'm excited.

Avatar image for blackout62
Edited By Blackout62
@shivoa said:

Killzone: Shadow Fall also had issues with broken (in-engine) cut-scene dialogue. Strange gaps (loading?) between sentences that broke the flow in spots. I wonder if this engine just has a few issues that mean that's harder than elsewhere to get a good fix in.

*Cringe* That's sounds like quite the portent for Kojima and his cutscene intensiveness using that engine.

And holy shit 5 stars? And this review? Guess I'm gonna start putting aside some PS4 money if this story is as good as Jeff says it is. Well, for that and Persona 5; I'm not being completely crazy.