by Matthew Thompson
(Throughout the next couple of weeks, I will be posting impressions and reactions to some of the games shown off at E3 based on info I’ve gleaned from watching demos and interviews online. Enjoy!)
I wasn’t surprised to see Horizon: Zero Dawn show up at E3. In fact, I was expecting it. But what I wasn’t expecting was just how taken I’d be with Guerrilla Games’ new IP. I was initially struck by the beautiful and intriguing world depicted in our first look at the game. Guerrilla describes the setting as post-post-apocalyptic. This isn’t about humanity trying to recover in a cataclysm’s aftermath, but what life is like 1000 years removed from that world-changing event. Nature long ago reclaimed the land. People have returned to a more primitive way of living. And yet at odds with this are the technologically advanced robots that have now taken the mantle as the dominant species here. The result is this wonderful, captivating world, one I can’t wait to explore, to solve the mysteries of and uncover the secrets that brought about this wild future.
Of course, it helps that the developers have brought this vision to life in such a stunning manner. Guerrilla Games have always been one of the best in the business on the technical side of things. New Killzone games have regularly been among the best looking on the market. But with Horizon they married this graphical proficiency with striking art direction to create a dazzling showpiece for what the PS4 is capable of, especially given the game’s open-world structure. The gorgeous landscapes as well as the excellent robot designs, based on dinosaurs and animals, are both eye-catching, but I have to give them some extra praise for what they’ve done with the protagonist Aloy’s design which stood out as particularly remarkable with her braided red hair and sensible tribal outfit. She both feels right at home within Horizon’s gameworld and stood out during an E3 packed with new games and characters.
While all this helped Horizon: Zero Dawn make a great first impression, the combat is the aspect I expect to making a lasting one. I love third-person shooters, but so often developers miss the mark with their controls creating experiences that are clunkier than they need to be. Obviously I haven’t played Horizon for myself, but I loved how fast and fluid Aloy’s movement appeared. They made the smart move of not locking you to a strafe giving you greater camera control and freedom of movement, allowing you to keep an eye on your opposition as you sprint out of danger, jump away from attacks or slide into an advantageous position to help you slay the gigantic mechanical beasts that you’ll face in the game. The game’s arsenal looks to fit right in with the anachronistic setting. Aloy’s main weapon is a bow, but it is equipped with electric and explosive arrows. And I loved the rope gun she used to tether down the T-Rex-esque robot that acted as her main enemy in Horizon’s E3 demo. In the behind closed doors portion some press were treated to, Guerrilla also demonstrated how this could be used to create tripwire-style traps. This plays into how strategic the fights in Zero Dawn seem to be. They have mentioned that the way they downed that robo T-Rex in the demonstration, chipping away at its armor to reveal weak spots, even knocking off one of its weapons to use against it, is just one of many ways to take down this particular enemy.
Horizon’s initial showing seemed to primarily be about giving us a glimpse of this new universe and letting us see a bit of the core combat, but by watching a number of interviews and demos online I was able to gather plenty more information. They describe this as an open-world action RPG. Aloy is a hunter and she takes down the machines to gather resources. These can be traded or used to create weapons, armor and clothing. Different clothing will give you various passive abilities. There is a skill tree where you can unlock various abilities like the slow-motion aiming seen in the demo. You will apparently fight human enemies along with the robotic ones. And the game world will be free of loading.
I think if there are concerns to be had about Horizon at this early stage, it might be just how different of a game this is compared the developer’s typical output. For instance, how will they adapt to the challenges of creating an open-world game? I thought the developer’s last title, Killzone: Shadow Fall, actually suffered for its move to a more open level design structure, so how will they handle a fully open-world for Horizon? The same goes for the move to the RPG genre. It looks like they have been hiring those with experience in this area (the internet tells me a guy who worked on the story of Fallout: New Vegas and one of the quest designers for The Witcher 3 are working on Horizon) which should certainly help the studio’s transition to this new genre.
Horizon: Zero Dawn has been in development for four and a half years with a small team breaking off to work on it after the completion of Killzone 3 and others joining after finishing up Shadow Fall. All the time seems to have paid off for Guerrilla Games as Horizon had arguably the most impressive showing at this year’s E3. I can’t wait to see more of what this imaginative new game has to offer as we approach its targeted 2016 release.