Horizon Zero Dawn

FBT headed for the horizon. He’s still there.

I only picked up Horizon Zero Dawn because it was in the sales and I had nothing else to play – it looked like one Free-Roamer too many, a Far Cry Primal knock-off with the animals lazily reworked as robots. Gimmicky. I love proving myself wrong all the time.

In the 31st Century, humans live in simple hunter-gatherer tribes, co-existing with huge mechanical beasts left behind by a long dead civilisation known as ‘the Old Ones’, which the humans deify. Recently, the robotic wildlife has started to become threatening, and a cult forms around this new breed of machines. When the cult attacks a village looking for Aloy, an outcast who was found outside an ancient sealed door belonging to the Old Ones, she sets out to discover the truth about the machines, the Old Ones, and her past…

The first hour or so felt like I was playing a mod of something else. There’s practically every free-roam game you’ve ever played in here; Tomb Raider reboot, Fallout 3, Far Cry Primal, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed 3, TES, the list of nods is endless. And it’s the same process – doesn’t matter of it’s a wild animal or wild machine, you kill it, strip it for parts, use them to craft or sell. You find traders, (their currency is metal – the one overabundant material in the place?), side missions, take over camps, craft, make choices, level-up… it’s all here. And not just games - I’m sure the plot is from an old Star Trek episode.

But… it doesn’t feel derivative. The truest measure of a free-roamer isn’t when you free-roam, it’s how drawn back to the main story you are, and I never stray too far from Aloy’s self-discovery and what happened to the Old Ones. You totally buy some cataclysmic extinction event occurred and want to find out how - and why we’re no longer the dominant species. The new food chain is automated.

It’s endlessly exciting going up against metal creatures with a bow and arrow. You do gain more conventional weapons, but they’re cumbersome and it’s more fun using the terrain and your wits. I rarely swap out my bows. Some animals move in herds and startling one can cause them all to run – sometimes toward you. Others are pack animals, predators, or huge, lumbering giants; a standout is clambering the roving giraffe-like machines which scan the area, unlocking the map. There’s a few surviving ‘real’ animals, and hunting those helps with crafting. Just be sure it is a salmon you think you’re shooting at.