Horizon: Zero Dawn - which is being touted as a showpiece for PS4 Pro - came out of nowhere at , and stands out as a bold new premise amidst a sea of sequels and nostalgic resurrections. It must also feel like a breath of fresh air for developer Guerrilla Games, seeing as this is the first non Killzone-related title from the studio in over a decade.
This action RPG depicts a lush post-apocalypse (in a style similar to cult classic Enslaved: Odyssey to the West), where nature has overgrown modern civilization eons after our time. Mankind is seemingly starting from scratch in a strange new ecosystem. Why strange? Because instead of traditional creatures, this world is a full of robotic animals. Herds of mechanical beasts fill the beautiful world of Horizon: Zero Dawn and our heroine, Aloy must hunt and craft to survive.
When it was announced all the way back in 2015 we hoped that Horizon: Zero Dawn would be out this year but Guerrilla has made sure that we’re getting the most polished game possible and held onto a 2017 release date. This means we’ll all be playing from February 28, 2017. And yes, this will take full advantage of the newly released PS4 Pro hardware.
As if it didn’t already look amazing on PS4, Horizon: Zero Dawn looks incredible on PS4 Pro. Every part of this beautiful world is ultra-detailed and lush. If you’ve got a 4K monitor it’s time to appreciate what the PS4 Pro has to offer. Even if you don’t have the pixels to see it on, the trailer’s still worth watching to see Aloy clamber up the neck of one of the incredible brachiosaur style robot monsters that are slowly thudding across the land. It looks Shadow of the Colossus levels of satisfying as she swings up its neck.
In terms of the improvements made for PS4 Pro, technical director Michiel van der Leeuw has talked on the about Horizon: Zero Dawn’s upgrades on the more powerful console. “The extra power of the new hardware allows us to get even closer to our vision for a lush and vibrant living world. The extra detail in the natural environment and the enhanced colors really add to the experience,” he says. “We’ve used the PS4 Pro’s enhanced hardware to do some exciting things for Horizon: Zero Dawn’s art style. For us, Horizon: Zero Dawn is all about scope, scale and visual splendor. Though the game is technically post-apocalyptic (or perhaps more accurately, post-post apocalyptic) we wanted to create a vision of nature reclaiming the Earth.”
You can see how earth looked beforehand in the Horizon: Zero Dawn Tokyo Game Show trailer below.
The footage revealed at E3 this year shows just how important crafting is to Horizon: Zero Dawn. We got to see Aloy hunting Shell Walkers which carry vital materials around the world. Of all the resources on offer, Metal Shards are what you want Aloy to get her hands on as these can be used for buying goods from shops in villages and for building various forms of weaponry. You didn’t think she just had normal arrows to take down this tech-packed army did you? Explosive arrows are just one of the many deadly weapons available, there’s different types of bombs to experiment with and even new clothing with resistance to specific enemy attacks.
And if you thought you’ll just be running away from the giant robosuars with teeth, think again. More dangerous enemies have more powerful crafting goods so you’ll constantly be on the hunt for bigger and deadlier creatures to get better gear for your arsenal.
Horizon Zero Dawn stars Aloy (pronounced 'ay-loy' rather than 'alloy'), a twenty-something hunter who's an ace with a bow. She hails from one of the few remaining tribes that make up mankind (more on those in a sec), and if far-future folklore is to be believed, her tribal lineage might've been the first to settle down from the nomadic lifestyle and rekindle the art of hunting. Like Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot, Aloy is clearly a survivor - a capable modern-day warrior who kills not out of bloodlust, but for necessity.
When conjuring up their main character, the folks at Aloy's design closely mirrors Game of Thrones' Ygritte (of "You know nothing, Jon Snow" fame), given how they're both courageous, red-headed archers who can fend for themselves. Other inspirations include famously tough female leads like Alien's Ellen Ripley and Terminator's Sarah Connor; there's even a bit of Pitch Black's Sharon Montgomery thrown into the mix for good measure.
Plus, it’s not there to open up different narrative paths but Aloy has a number of dialogue options for finding out more about the world around her. In this year’s E3 she speaks to a number of different people in the village and it’s possible to find out more about the history of the tribes.
Horizon depicts a world 1,000 years after Mother Earth hit the 'reset' button on humanity. It's unclear what happened a millennium ago to make mankind crumble away; "the stories don't tell where the old ones went" muses Aloy in the opening narration. But whatever civilization-shattering calamity occurred, it seems to have hit densely populated regions the hardest, given how those same ancient tales mention that our "cities turned to graves."
The catastrophe that kicked off the apocalypse is a mystery but the event sent society back into the Stone Age, complete with cave paintings and folklore as the only means of archiving history. Where there were once skyscrapers that towered above a bustling metropolis, all that remains are aging concrete foundations overgrown by vibrant plant life and we’ll get to explore plenty of them.
It wasn't just humanity that was sent reeling by the 21st-century apocalypse; the animal kingdom also went through some serious genetic upheaval. After 1,000 years of evolution, the wilderness is now populated by lifeforms that appear to be some kind of organic technology - cybernetic robots that look and act like mammals, birds, and even extinct dinosaur species. A new predator sits atop the food chain: the Thunderjaw, a colossal T-Rex-looking 'bot with circuits instead of sinew and armor plating in place of scales.
While the Thunderjaws are clearly a threat to Aloy's continued existence, not every electronic creature is out to get you - at least, not directly. Grazers are the future equivalent of deer, mulling about open fields and harvesting some kind of bright green fuel into canisters growing out of their backs, which Aloy can snipe off and snag for crafting purposes. There are also Brachiosaurus-like behemoths called Longnecks stomping around, while Watchers act like Velociraptors, wailing out for help with alarm-like shrieks if they spot Aloy sneaking through the brush. Aloy can even ride a buffalo type creature called a Broadhead if she manages to lasso it down. All the robo animals have set behaviours too. Broadheads are skittish and will run away easily while other more dangerous creatures will hunt you down.
The gigantic, verdant landscape you see in the demo isn't just for show - as in Skyrim, every distant mountaintop, far-off forest, or apartment-complex-turned-waterfall is an actual area you can visit as you trek through the virtual wilderness. Better yet, Horizon: Zero Dawn does away with any load times, so your journey will be entirely seamless. To help sell the sensation that you're adventuring through Earth's actual remains, there's also the requisite day/night cycle and weather systems, as well as interplay between the different pieces of Horizon's ecosystem.
Each cyber-species can roam freely throughout the environment, with the capacity to react to each other even if Aloy's not directly involved. Guerrilla Games has stated that the goal is to design the robotic wildlife in such a way that leads to memorable moments without the need for scripted vignettes. To help the player understand how these creatures are interacting with one another, the bright lights that function as their eyes are color-coded. Blue means they're just going about their instinctual business, yellow indicates that something has startled them, and red means they're either fleeing in fear or aggressively charging at their prey.
A good hunter knows that there are multiple ways to take down their prey. Aloy's got three primary methods of dealing with the robotic dangers in her environment: sneaking up for quick and silent stealth kills, setting up traps and herding her targets into tripping them, or going with the direct approach and just letting her arrows fly. The gameplay we’ve seen demonstrates the effectiveness of stalking through foliage to line up a perfect shot on your mark - but inevitably, some Thunderjaw will come trampling into view and force you into a direct confrontation.
At that point, the action flips to a prehistoric battle of David vs. Goliath, with Aloy having to duck and dodge around the hulking Thunderjaw's pincer-like mouth and devastating missile volleys. Yep, these cybernetic beasties also have built-in rocket launchers to go with their armor-plated exteriors, though Aloy can use this to her advantage. As in Monster Hunter, you can break off individual pieces of your titanic enemies - including the explosive disc launcher mounted on the Thunderjaw's back, which Aloy can pick up and wield as a sluggish-but-devastating weapon.
It simply wouldn't be an action RPG with some good ol' character progression and item hoarding. Horizon's vision of mankind might've forgotten what a computer is, but they still know the intrinsic value of bartering for necessities or crafting the tools they need. on her adventure and she can gain XP from completing quests, downing enemies, and exploring the vast expanse of wilderness.
Though Aloy's not one to wantonly kill mecha-fauna for sport, she can make use of various machine parts harvested from their bodies (like fuel canisters from the Grazers) to craft essential weapons, ammo, or even stat-boosting armor parts. If you're eager to do some real-world crafting and recreate Aloy's 'prehistoric chic' ensemble, you're in luck: there's already an to get you ahead of the costume-crafting game.