Growing up, I was always obsessed with dinosaurs. I knew every dinosaur by name and my parents bought me a ton of dinosaur books. I even bought one of my old favorites recently for my incoming newborn. When I saw the trailer for Horizon: Zero Dawn, I was immediately intrigued. The game blends two of my favorite things in the world: a post-apocalyptic setting and dinosaurs. Actually, the dinosaurs are robots, but functionally they act like dinosaurs. The game also features a strong female lead who shoots a bow. My wife loved the new Tomb Raider games, so I bought this one for her because I knew that she’d like it. I also knew I’d love it, so I’ll admit to an ulterior motive.
The combat in Horizon is excellent. It’s hard to describe, but the tactile feel of the bow is really impressive. When you shoot it and hit the side of a dinosaur, it has a punch to it that most games don’t have. You can shoot an entire clip in Call of Duty or Battlefield and the guns don’t have the same feeling you get from the bow in Horizon. It’s really great. There are a number of skill points you can invest in as you move through the game that add cool and interesting abilities to your character. This is not new to action games, but a lot of these abilities add dimensions to the combat that elevate this game above your average action game.
There aren’t a ton of weapons in this game, but the ones that are present are great. Like I said, the bow is outstanding. Many games use bows, but this is probably the best video game bow I’ve ever used. Outside of the bow, the tripcaster was especially good. The Tripcaster lets you place a tripwire on the ground, and the wire is rigged to an explosive. Since stealth plays fairly heavily into the combat, it is very satisfying to set up a complex series of trip wires and then lure enemies into them. While the number of weapons in this game is low, each one had something interesting to add to the combat.
Fighting the robot dinosaurs is the real meat and potatoes of this game. Most of your time spent in Horizon is spent fighting giant robots. Each of these robots can be scanned for weak points. The weak points typically have some kind of weakness, fire, frost, or electricity. Horizon introduces a new kind of weakness called tear. Tear is a stat that you can increase on your weapons, and it increases the likelihood that you will tear off a component when you hit a robot. Horizon slowly introduces new dinosaurs as you explore the gigantic world map. There is a large variety of dinosaurs, and seeking out every last one helped motivate me to explore every corner of the world map.
While shooting dinosaurs is a pleasure in this game, shooting humans is not much fun. The combat dragged for me when I fought the humans. They were either too few — which made them easy and boring, or there were so many in one area it felt impossible to get past them. I hope in the inevitable sequel they either limit the human enemies or revamp them.
Horizon’s main character is Aloy. She’s a strong woman who overcomes all odds. She’s a little tropey in that way, and I found her personality to be a little wooden. Most of the NPC’s she meets through out the game aren’t much better. The facial animations and overall graphics are great, but I didn’t find the characters to be written all that well.
The story however is really cool. There’s a reason the world of Horizon is post apocalyptic, and finding out how we got from present day to robot dinosaurs was really interesting. There’s some cool twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. However, there’s a lot of Die Hard-esque set pieces in this game and even though I was playing a game about robot dinosaurs, I found some of it to be a bit unbelievable. This game is definitely not shooting for realism.
Horizon is easily my favorite game this year so far. It’s a game that combines many things that I already like and features some really impressive combat. Despite some small shortcomings, it’s an extremely well polished action game. My wife and I are both playing through it separately, and we compare notes every couple of days. I’m probably going to start over again, I am still addicted to the combat in this game. Check it out if you like dinosaurs or fun. Thank God one of my anticipated games this actually turned out decent.