Horizon Forbidden West
2017’s Horizon Zero Dawn remains one of Sony’s greatest accomplishments as a publisher and did more than most first-party games when it came to world-building. Aloy’s bond with her father figure, Rost, alongside her ability to overcome being born as an outcast was an adventure that allowed us to see the love he had for her and experience her growth from birth to a young explorer, to finally being the brave sent out to save her world and figure out the mystery behind her AI tech. It was a top-shelf game and may be Guerrilla Games’ magnum opus as a developer.
The follow-up takes place after the original game and features more deadly, large machines to tackle and a bit more of an emphasis on action. Aloy and her partner Varl are back and trying to figure out why a red fungus has spread across the land, killing humans and animals alike. The original game put the world on display in a manner that did a lot of heavy lifting and brought more characters into the fold, while Forbidden West acts as a logical successor with all of that work being done already and just throwing the player into the action faster and with more intensity.
From the moment the adventure begins, Aloy and Varl are taking out machines with a blend of stealth, action, and traps. Varl gets his own Focus tool like Aloy and gains a new perspective on the world by seeing it as she always has. As a result, their bond grows and we see her evolve more into what Rost was at the start of Zero Dawn. Aloy began that adventure fearful and apprehensive and Varl is more self-assured than she was then but is just as new to the Focus as she was to general combat. She is in the role of the teacher here instead of the apprentice and that did a lot to help show just how much Aloy has grown as a character. She has far more confidence and never fails to find a solution to an obstacle.
Combat is far better here than it was in Zero Dawn thanks to quality-of-life improvements making it more enjoyable overall. The original game’s light and heavy attack system with Aloy’s staff worked quite well and has largely been retained in the sequel. The staff itself works wonders at taking out enemies if you get surrounded as it’s possible to get spotted and get a sense of panic, but then put yourself in a tight area and attack the machines one by one and evade attacks whenever possible. This tactic works well because the enemies are so large, they can’t all fit into an enclosed space – so the player still has a way to pick them off one by one; it’s just a bit tougher. Ideally, you want to avoid being caught and the stealth gameplay is about the same as ever.
Players can use Focus to check out the walking paths of enemies and set traps to either stun them or possibly wipe them out completely in one shot. Traps have been expanded upon in volume and offer up a great way to attack in a stealthy method without having to really feel like you’re being stealthy. As someone who usually sucks at dedicated stealth games, the extra-approachable nature of the stealth in Forbidden West is perfect and having more options than before to take out foes helps immensely when it comes to enjoying the final product. My goal is always to avoid detection, but if that doesn’t happen, there are other ways to attack most enemies – with the bow and arrow being made better than ever as a way to survive.
The original game hit the PS4 and was fantastic – but also lacked gyroscopic aiming for the bow and arrow. This made precise aiming a bit tricky and thankfully, gyroscopic aiming is intact for both the PS4 and PS5 versions this time around. I would love to see gyro added into Zero Dawn later to give it another playthrough because it makes such a drastic difference to how combat flows. Gyro aiming enables far faster and more accurate aiming, and lets the player focus on taking time to charge up a powerful shot instead of trying to juggle that task alongside careful stick movements to land a perfect shot on a moving target. Gyro aiming is a game-changer when it comes to making combat fun and it allows the shooting mechanics to feel almost as fluid as the melee combat while still keeping a high level of precision intact for long-range combat. Horizon Forbidden West is a textbook example of just how gyro controls can make for a better aiming experience and it’s on-par with the best-ever versions of this alongside Splatoon and Splatoon 2.
PS4 and PS5 owners are in for a treat across the board. The default DualShock 4 setup is fine on PS4, while PS5 owners can enjoy things like haptic motor rumbling when machines are stomping nearby. It’s a small touch, but one that adds to the immersion of the world. Visually, the PS4 looks a step above the original and I would say delivers about 80% of the visual goodness of the PS5. The PS5 does have far better foliage and overall world detail, but the PS4 version is impressive, and neither is hurt by slowdown – although the PS5’s SSD does enable better streaming of assets and has better draw distance. Animations are the same across the board and remain as smooth as ever – offering enough detail to be realistic without taking forever to actually play out. Combat animations look incredible, but there are some janky jumping animations and collision problems from time to time.
As with the first game, the voice acting is incredible, mixing in a bit of light comedy alongside a lot of drama. Ashly Burch’s work as Aloy is even better than it was before and the cast as a whole does an incredible job at making sure the material is taken seriously. The soundtrack is epic and tops the first game, which is no easy feat. The sound design as a whole is stellar, with things like the machines stalking around and surrounding the player really shining with a great set of headphones or a surround sound setup and adding an extra layer of tension to the game.
As a whole, Horizon Forbidden West tops the original game even if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel in quite the same way. Much like how The Last of Us 2 had a lot to live up to and struggled to do so, but was a superior game technically, the same holds true here. The gameplay here is more exciting as is the moment-to-moment storytelling. The pacing is faster and with that comes a bit less time for the story to breathe at points. However, it’s still a great story overall and one that keeps the player engaged from start to finish. Forbidden West is a fantastic looking, sounding and playing experience that benefits from the addition of motion controls in way that few AAA-level games have showcased before. If you enjoyed the original game, be sure to pick up the sequel – although newcomers can enjoy the action just as much, as the story can be easy to get lost in without knowing the cast and the world.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Horizon Forbidden West for the PlayStation 5 provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.