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Horizon Zero Dawn

Sam Loveridge



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Exclusive to PS4

Horizon Zero Dawn release date: TBC

It's safe to say that pop culture has a little bit of an obsession with the apocalypse. From The Last of Us to the Walking Dead to I Am Legend, the story of our eventual comeuppance has been told a thousand times.

But Guerilla Games, the development team behind the Killzone series, is taking a slightly different approach to the apocalypse. Just like Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us, Horizon Zero Dawn explores what the world could be like thousands of years after the apocalypse, when the world we know now has long ceased to exist.

In our extended hands-off demo behind closed doors at E3 2015, Horizons quickly became my top title of this year's show. We were guided through a live gameplay demonstration and were told more about the game's mechanics, combat and RPG elements.

All we know about the game's story so far is that centuries after the apocalypse, the cities are abandoned and the Earth is slowly taking them back. Humans still roam the land, now contained in Tribes scattered around the world. But, humans are no longer the dominant species on Earth, as robotic dinosaurs are the top dogs around here now. For humans, existence has now become a dangerous balance between man and machine

The game follows the story of a flame-haired girl called Aloy, who we believe could have been ripped straight out of Disney's Brave. We also hope she's going to become one of gaming's iconic characters, perhaps even to rival the Tomb Raider herself.

Tribes in the game have their own unique personalities and attributes. Aloy comes from the machine hunter tribe, a group that has a low level of technology knowledge and can be likened to a Stone Age level clan.

The monster hunters play a very important role in this new-world society though, as they gather the resources required to build and create.

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My demo starts with Aloy surveying the land, watching a group of grazer robots in the valley below. Mist weaves its way through the pine trees, while in the distance ruins of skyscrapers pierce the sky, filled with mystery and intrigue like the pyramids of tomorrow.

I've played a lot of PS4 games but never have I seen anything as beautiful as Horizon Zero Dawn. This open-world action RPG is simply stunning, running on a completely revamped version of the Killzone: Shadow Fall engine in full 1080p HD and at 30fps. Bold colours sculpt the landscape, but also bring out the detailing in Aloy's tribal clothing and the braids in her hair. Even the robotic animals that dominate the land have bursts of colour and tonnes of detailing.

Aloy has been tracking this herd of grazers for several days, keen to get her hands on the green vials of Blaze atop their backs. Blaze is the main resource of Horizons. It's created by the grazers by munching on the world's greenery and comes out in the holding containers on their back.

The gameplay seems like the perfect mix between action and RPG, with elements of stealth throw in for good measure. Aloy is an expert at hunting the creatures, and she knows that she'll need to come in quietly in order for them not to flee.

Up close the machines are beautiful. Machine versions of our current animals such as stags, it's clear that there's a rich story in Horizon, even if Guerilla isn't talking on the subject. Aloy skilfully takes down a scout grazer, and apologises to it as it goes offline but she couldn't take the risk of it alerting the others. She harvests it for parts before going for the true prey.

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After gathering the Blaze from the backs of some of the grazers, just before the herd flees for good, Aloy is confronted by a great mammoth of a machine that is known as a Thunderjaw.

This is a powerful beast that uses a devastating tail swipe as its main attack. But, combine that with metal shields, razor mandibles and the fact it can fire mortars from its side and you've got one hell of a foe. Of course, just like any other game, Thunderjaw's have various weaknesses.

In Aloy's armoury, she has a bow with three type sof arrows - electrical, explosive and armour piercing - that she can use to outfox the Thunderjaw. As Aloy doesn't know how to make these from scratch, she can only create them if she's gathered the resources from the machines themselves, or from other tribes.

Aloy also utilises the weapons that fall off the Thunderjaw itself. A few well placed and well timed arrows shake loose one of its mortars, and then she uses that on the monster itself.

She also uses a rope gun to restrict the robot's movements, meaning she has more time to hit its weak points.

Horizon Zero Dawn will use a skill tree system related to XP earned throughout the game to gain new perks. In this demo, Aloy (around level 12 apparently) had a precision shot perk that slowed down time to allow for better arrow aim.

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From what I've seen so far of the combat and gamepaly of Horizon Zero Dawn, it seems like it offers the perfect balance of action and RPG elements. You're looking at a game that is all about exploration, with a storyline that is 100 per cent science fiction. According to Guerilla Games everything is explainable, even though the premise might seem a little bizarre. It's just up to you to go find out what happened.

There will also be no hand-holding either. The developers explicitly stated that this is a game that will feature no tutorials. Again, your success in the new world is down to how much time you're willing to put into learning its rhythms and quirks.

First Impressions

I've rarely been so excited about a game as I am Horizon Zero Dawn. Although I've only seen a short demonstration, there are hints to a grand story and the gameplay seems varied enough that it will appeal to a wide demographic of gamers.

The PS4 might just have got its defining new IP.

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