Saturday, January 22, 2022

Horizon Zero Dawn: a very short review

For much of the last six months, one of my pandemic companions has been Horizon Zero Dawn, the richly-imagined, deeply-realized, beautifully-executed, eerily-compelling video game from the Dutch game developer Guerilla Games.

HZD is five years old at this point, as it was released in 2017. It was a Playstation exclusive at that point, and it quickly became known as one of the signature games for the PS4, and it was credited with substantially boosting PS4 sales.

I originally bought HZD for the PS4, and even tried it once or twice. But I find playing games on the PS4 directly to be hard. I find the Sony controller to be awkward and I've struggled to learn how to use it properly. It often slips out of my hands, and I don't have the coordination, sadly to execute multi-finger combination key sequences with fingers and thumbs of both hands simultaneously, with the result that, sadly, the controller generally ends up in a corner of the room and the (human) controller stomps away in frustration.

Over the years, my kids continued to play the game, and would regularly tell me and show me how wonderful it was, so every so often I'd pick up the controller and try again, only to set it down again.

But in late 2020, Guerrilla released a PC version of the game, and my interest was rekindled.

I don't know, in detail, how the PC version differs from the Playstation version, but I can certainly tell you that the PC version is just gorgeous! It's essentially bug-free, very very stable, very responsive on my six-year-old PC, and oh so very much fun to play.

The overall story arc of Horizon Zero Dawn is quite well known, and you can read about it everywhere, so I encourage you to do so. The game executes that story extraordinarily well, immersing you in a world that is both foreign and familiar, real and yet fantastic, current and yet remote.

As the story is unveiled, and you begin to put the pieces together, the decisions you make as you play take on more and more importance, and you quickly find yourself in something that's much, much more than just a hack-and-slash typical adventure game of quests and monsters.

The story comes to a very interesting conclusion, which will certainly leave you thinking about our modern world, and its modern technology, for quite a long time.

For me, it's hard to decide on a tie breaker, but I think by a slight margin the best quest was Maker's End, where you learn all about Elizabet Sobeck and her relationship with Ted Faro, and the second best quest was The Mountain That Fell, where you learn all the details of the great betrayal and its consequences.

The collectables quests that I most enjoyed were the Banuk figurines, because I loved the mountain climbing and ropes courses, and the Vantages, because again I loved the world exploring. The Vantages quests also provide the loveliest alternate plot line, I think.

And I can't stop without observing that the Frozen Wilds DLC, which came bundled in the PC version I bought, is far and away the most visually appealing of the world landscapes to me. The snowy peaks and valleys and the lovely color pallette of whites and blues and grays combined with some very different background music made that section of the game really immersive to me. The DLC also has the single most appealing location to me, namely the enormous dam and waterworks with its deep underground areas.

Lovely game, through and through. I really, really enjoyed it.

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