As I stood waiting in line to play Horizon: Zero Dawn, I watched as an attendee came up and placed a sticker on the wall. “Best of E3” it said, prominently written over their website’s logo. Not even five minutes later, another attendee from a different website asked if he could place their E3 award sticker on the wall. It was then that I noticed the wall itself. Plastered with accolades from all kinds of notable press, the Horizon booth was quickly becoming a shrine. The hype train had already left the station when it debuted at E3 last year, but I suddenly felt like I was standing in the middle of the tracks. Could this be true? Could this new IP really be that good? I checked my bag to see if I had any stickers.
Before we were allowed to get our hands on the game itself, the developers walked us through some of the game. They took us through a small mission that ended with Aloy (the name of the main character and the only time I rolled my eyes during the presentation) taking on a Corruptor, just one of the many machines that roam this far-in-the-future Earth. The Corruptor was doing exactly as its name implies, infecting the nearby Watchers (smaller robots that look like mechanical velociraptors), causing them to glow with a violently red hue and attack anyone in their way.
The Corruptor itself looked like a mix between a scorpion and Metal Gear Rex, which I assure you is one of the greatest compliments I can give to Guerrilla Games. They have proven themselves with the Killzone franchise masters of the mechanical, and their visual aesthetic clashes beautifully with the natural landscapes. It can easily be said that Horizon is already a visual showcase for the Playstation 4.
During the fight with the Corruptor, the developers explained that each of the Machines (as they are the dominant species in this world, so shall they be capitalized) have a weakness, and that this particular Corruptor was weak to fire. Using fire arrows to do some initial damage, Aloy jumped and rolled away as the Corruptor used its tail to fling chunks of rock. Watching as the Corruptor leapt high into the air, crashing and breaking the trees around it, I was in awe of the sound design. The trees snapping, the Corruptor howling in a whir of gears and electronic fury.
Even during the demo’s quieter moments, listening to something as simple as the wind gently blowing through the tall grass was immersive. Of course, one does not have time for wind blowing when chunks of rock are flying toward you. Aloy set an explosive trap to lure the Corruptor, then used a series of tethering cables to keep it immobile. Needless to say, the subsequent explosion as Aloy fired her arrow into the trap was also immensely satisfying.
After the developer’s presentation, myself, and the other attendees were appropriately herded into a separate room, where we could finally get some hands-on with the game itself. With no Corruptors in sight, I set my sights on the next best thing: taming a wild Machine. Some of the Machines can be tamed and subsequently ridden, an essential part of this open-world action RPG. Thankfully, I did not have to look far, as just below me I saw a few roaming Broadheads to practice my mechanical cattle wrangling (Broadheads look like cattle). Crouching in the tall grass, I prepared my own tethering arrows to wrestle the Broadhead to the ground. What I did not prepare for, however, were a couple of Watchers nearby.
Once I fired the first tether, I heard a scream not unlike a modem dial-up played backwards, and a flash of blinding light disoriented me as some Watchers tried hard to keep me away from intended target. Two of them gave chase as I ran, so to slow them down I fired a tethering arrow at the first one. Thankfully, the game has a “concentration” button, video game slang for bullet-time, which is Hollywood slang for slow-motion. Using this, I shot the second Watcher right in the face while the first one struggled to escape. I fired one arrow into its gaping eye-face, followed by a swift brutal melee strike. Both Watchers down, I searched each one for parts.
Horizon features a crafting system, as all games made after Minecraft seem to do, but in the context of story and gameplay, it is not a shoehorned feature. Players will need to craft arrows, bombs, traps and more to take down these Machines, as each one will not simply possess a glowing red weak point.
After I took down the Watchers, I returned to my original target. The Broadhead now lay dead (switched off?), leaving nothing but more parts for me to salvage. I ran up to a nearby hill and looked toward the horizon (no pun intended), listening to the soft, tall grass sway mildly in the wind. In the distance, I could hear the low rumble of another herd of Broadheads. I checked my inventory, making sure I had plenty of arrows and traps at my disposal, and was surprised when I received a tap on the shoulder. But my time was up; no more wrangling today.
My time with Horizon: Zero Dawn was too brief to prepare a sticker of my own. However, I can safely say that Guerrilla Game’s pedigree is on full display with this one, and makes for one of the most exciting new IPs to come to the Playstation 4, when it finally arrives early next year.