Tom Plays: Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)

Horizon Zero Dawn has been billed as a potential ‘Game of the Year’ candidate but does it live up to the hype? Here’s my latest ‘Tom Plays’ where I give my thoughts on the game and those kind of things.

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It’s been a while since my last Tom Plays but with good reason – that being that, before I picked up this game, all I was playing through was Final Fantasy 7 for the umpteenth time and a couple of other games that didn’t seem to be worth putting together one of these for.

The same cannot be said for Guerilla Games’ latest release on the Playstation 4; the exclusive to PS4 ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ that received rave reviews upon release and, for once, it’s  game that actually lived up to the hype and then surpassed it.

Genuinely think I might have to re-write my Top Ten Video Games because this game has most definitely earned a spot amongst them. Maybe not as high as Final Fantasy VII but certainly worthy of consideration to be somewhere alongside The Last of Us and Life is Strange. Hmm…

So, what is Horizon Zero Dawn? Well, it’s an open-world action role-playing game where you control Aloy, a female protagonist with a mysterious background – that you find out much, much more about as you progress through the game – in a world populated with robotic machines and an evil entity overshadowing the environment.

The game is set around 1000 years in the future after (the event which happened and would be a massive spoiler were I to discuss it here) and human life has returned to tribal societies in the face of (the thing which happened). There are three main tribes that you encounter in the game, some more hospitable than others – the main one you encounter are the Nora tribe. There’s also Oseram and Carja.

I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum because the story in Horizon Zero Dawn is one which I think you need to experience for yourself. I might add some bits about the story later on in this piece but got a few things else I want to cover about the game first.

First thing you notice about Horizon Zero Dawn when loading it up (and, quite nicely, jumping straight into the story before you even reach the games’ main menu) is that it is absolutely stunning to look at. I mean, I’ve been enjoying it on some crappy HDTV with a simple PS4 and I thought it looked insane…can only imagine what it’s like on a top-of-the-range 4K television and a PS4 Pro console. I’d be tempted to buy them just to see how much of an improvement there is.

There’s a lot of technological jargon as to why that is the case – Kotaku covers the “hyper-realism” used in the game very nicely here – and it’s very easy to spend hours upon hours using the games in-built ‘Photo Mode’ to take pictures of the scenery and whatever else you would wish to photograph. I’ve done it a lot and shared a lot through Twitter.

As part of the graphics, I guess I should talk about things like the mechanical robots which inhabit the games’ post-post-apocalyptic environment and it’s fair to say they all look stunning. Whether it’s the horse-like Strider or the bird-like Glinthawk, the enemies in this game look amazing. All have different ways of taking them down as well, giving the game some much-needed variety and, should you wish to do so, an element of strategy to taking them down – eventually though, you may find that the best strategy is to go in “all guns blazing” because that can work very well with one of the multitude of  weapons you can find in the game.

As you progress in the game, you get to ‘override’ these machines and have them either fight alongside you or perhaps fight with other species and cause a distraction, whilst you run away without a scratch. Sometimes that can be very handy.

The override thing comes when you complete “cauldrons” – basically massive underground lairs that house puzzles (none overly-complex to be honest), machines and a final boss battle-type encounter where you have to take down a large machine. Again, these environments look stunning and were challenging…but not so much that they became frustrating and a chore to do. Anyway, the reward of being able to override different machines was enough for me to complete all of them.

That’s one of the many side-quests you can either choose to undertake or choose to completely ignore – granted you’re not going to have a good time in some of the later parts of the game if you haven’t done a lot of the side-quests. Plus you’ll be hampered in certain ways, so it’s probably best to do them before getting too far into the main quest.

There’s always the opportunity to get the collectibles – metal flowers that have grown around the map, vantage points (which show what things were like prior to the incident) and banuk figures – once the game has been completed. If you want that platinum trophy, you’d best get hunting for these things.

It’s fair to say there is a lot to do in Horizon Zero Dawn. The main story takes about 30-ish hours to complete; probably shorter if you rush it, much longer if you take your time with it and do side-quests and all those things. They probably add another 20 or so hours to the game length, so around 50 hours to 100% completion.

Along with those collectables which actually mean something, there’s a lot of audio/visual/textual additions to the game – telling stories about those who lived in the past and their experiences; some people don’t like that kind of depth in a game but I love it. Just immerses the player into the game world that much better.

Considering the story is something that could one day happen in real life, maybe it acts as something of a warning to the people of today. Or maybe I just read into it way too much.

Suppose I should talk a bit about the story because that’s one of the main points that got me hooked on this game, along with how it looks and how it plays.

So, as I’ve mentioned before, it is set around 1000 years or so in the future and you’re controlling a female named Aloy. The game starts with her as a young child who has been put into the care of an older man named Rost – there’s a lot to his backstory and you find out much more about that later in the game, so no spoilers about that.

Then, during a training montage-thing, you morph from young Aloy to teenage-ish Aloy (very impressed by that sequence, by the way) and then the main story gets going as you find out more about the machines that patrol the games environment, learning about the past and – most importantly – what the ‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ title the game refers to actually means.

It’s so hard to talk about the story without any sort of spoilers – there’s some brilliant twists in the story that left me shocked, others which were sad and then there’s always some sarcastic humour throughout to lighten the often-tense mood.

Character-wise, Aloy is up there as one of the best in all the video games I have played. I was fully invested in her character and I wonder if that might have something to do with the voice actress, Ashly Burch, being the same who voiced the incredible Chloe Price character in ‘Life is Strange’.

There are a few other good characters that you meet throughout the game but you don’t get as attached to any of them as you do Aloy – probably for the simple reason that you’re actually playing the game as her, experiencing the world through her eyes and likely feeling what she feels. Unless you’re a complete monster with no feelings. Which I probably am not…kind of.

Now I won’t say the story affected me as much as, say, Life is Strange’s did but there were definitely moments in it that I felt things. Like sorrow (when people die) and happiness (when people die) and also shock (when people die). Starting to sound like The Walking Dead with all these deaths…but, hey, this is a world where machines like massive dinosaurs and mad cult leaders run things so what do you expect besides the occasional death?

From beginning to end though, Horizon Zero Dawn delivers one of the most gripping, tense action-adventure games I have ever experienced. It’s completely different to anything the developer has ever tried before and, it’s fair to say, they knocked it out of the park with this game. Every single bit of credit they’ve been getting for this game is well and truly deserved.

Simple put, Horizon Zero Dawn is a masterpiece of a video game. I can only hope the sequel (provided there is one…and why shouldn’t there be?) is just as good as this adventure.

I think that pretty much covers everything I wanted to talk about in this blog about Horizon Zero Dawn. If you have a PS4 and have yet to play it, why have you not already done so?

I know it’s early in the year but Horizon Zero Dawn is the early front-runner for my ‘Game of the Year’ title. Well, that is until I get and play through Persona 5…which will probably be the next ‘Tom Plays’ blog whenever I finish up that. If I ever finish it.

Until then, I’m out. Buy HZD.







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