‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ Has Robot Dinosaurs, And That’s All You Need To Know

‘Horizon Zero Dawn’ Has Robot Dinosaurs, And That’s All You Need To Know

Society has collapsed and now functions with primitive tribes and robot dinosaurs. The savages look like Rufio. The robot dinosaurs have the kind of names you’d find in a “Land Before Time” movie: Tallneck, Thunderjaw, Rock Breaker. Players take control of Aloy, an outcast who will find out why the world turned into iLand of the Lost. On the way, she’ll slay a few robot dinosaurs.

As has been said practically everywhere, “Horizon” combines aspects of “Far Cry,” “Witcher 3,” “Turok,” “Galaga,” “Risk,” and Led Zeppelin’s “Physical Graffiti.” It enters an open world genre suffering from a bit of fatigue. Outposts unlock copy-pasted map sections. Countless collectibles and repetitive side missions add “content” but seem mostly to serve as padding to justify needlessly large worlds. It’s become overwhelming and not in a fun way.

“Horizon” isn’t a paradigm shift for a genre that could use some new ideas. It doesn’t have to be. “Horizon” offers a different venue for sandbox gaming, and without being tedious. The standard beats remain: unlocking the map with “towers,” resource gathering, side quests, buying additional skills, and the like.

Yet these rarely become a drag. Unlocking a map area involves climbing a dinosaur. Crafting never becomes unwieldy. Only one set of collectibles seems necessary. Everything’s just different enough that it feels less rote than many recent open-world efforts.

It’s All about the Robot Dinosaurs, Man

But the game really shines during low-tech fights against robot dinosaurs. Each of the roughly 20 types of machines has a different skill set that requires a different technique. Planning ahead pays off. Few games can match the excitement of taking down a mechanized T-Rex with a bow or the thrill of an ever-lengthening shadow as Aloy retreats.

Aloy eventually gains the ability to take control of the robot dinosaurs, turning some engagements into a cyborg version of the fight at the end of “Jurassic Park.” The unique nature of “Horizon’s” most common enemy also keeps the game from sagging during otherwise dull endeavors.

Developer Guerrilla Games didn’t just make a fun game, they made a gorgeous game. Daytime, nighttime, sand storm—it’s all executed well. Few games have forced me to pause and take in the surroundings like this one. It’s easy to get lost admiring the sun rippling on a lake or the moon beaming through the jungle (until a Ravager takes a leap at you). The world looks massive, while not feeling too overwhelming.

I have issues, but they’re mostly minor. The “detective mode” quests grow dull. Many cutscenes feel unpolished. The main character snarks too much. The map and stealth systems could use some refining. My biggest complaint is one I can’t really have: I wish the world were a little more dynamic, like “Far Cry.” Machine-like, it mostly functions robotically unless I specifically interact with it.

Those picked nits really only show how great “Horizon” is overall. Guerrilla Games could have skated on a great premise (robot dinosaurs) and a by-the-numbers sandbox outing. Instead it delivers a great product overall. It’s easily one of the best games of this console generation and one of the most consistently fun games I’ve ever played.

Brian Willett is the publisher of fwd, a daily tech newsletter. He tweets sporadically @brianjwillett
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