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This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Horizon Zero Dawn.

Transcript Edit

First, let me say it's a bit unfortunate that I'm doing Horizon (HRUUH) Zero Dawn right after Legend of Zelda: Death on the Nile. To go from one epic, open-ended wilderness where deserts and snowy mountains can be close enough together to be in the same school catchment area to another, that's just asking to come down with a bit of the old "Majestic Landscape Fatigue Syndrome", or "M.L.F.S." Yeah, it sounds nice to have a villa with big windows overlooking the French Pyrenees, but after a few weeks, you start getting bored of it and increasingly paranoid of snipers.

So I want to make it clear to Sony before we begin that it's not you, it's me. It's not your fault I've played so many sandbox games that I expect a section of map to become visible every time I get a stiffy. I'm just sick of traipsing through miles of lovingly-rendered vegetation that I can't fast-travel through because I need to forage stuff on the way and I don't want to show up to the next boss fight vastly understocked with healing herbs, crisp packets, and dog shit. Also, I'm probably still the only person who cares about things like this, but the title of your game is complete rubbish, as much as it would fetch a pretty good score in Scrabble.

Horizey Zozey Dozey is the game you'll probably be more familiar with as "that thing with robot dinosaurs and the archer girl from that one Disney film". In a post-post-post-apocalyptic future, really weirdly ethnically diverse tribes of future humanity live a subsistent lifestyle in the overgrown ruins of their forbears and all knowledge of their history has become shrouded in myth. There are also robot dinosaurs for some reason, although all of this does get eventually explained by the main plot, including the "weirdly ethnically diverse" thing. There was definitely a lot of thought put into the story of this one, which is gratifying; I do slightly get the sense that the explanation for robot dinosaurs was rather blatantly working backwards from "let's have robot dinosaurs because they kick ass", but I'm not complaining!

Our protagonist is the slightly-misspelled Aloy, which I rank just below Joule from ReCore in the "On-the-Nose Protagonist Naming" event. One wonders what these writers would call the strong female protagonist of a game set in a sewage treatment plant. Pissabeth? Ellen Shitley? Well, anyway... Speaking of weird smells, Aloy is an outcast from her tribe due to the circumstances of her birth, and can only learn those circumstances by proving herself a hunter. But this is only the beginning, as Aloy finds herself setting out into the wider world to unravel the mystery of her existence and discover the true story of what happened to the planet.

See, what they're doing here is starting with a narrow focus on Aloy and her personal issues so that the scope can naturally broaden out over time to encompass the fate of the whole world, in a manner that reflects how our personal scope of the game world gradually broadens as we explore it and uncover more of the map, a bit of ludonarrative synchronicity that will be appreciated by anyone who can determine what the fuck I'm on about. Putting aside the robot dinosaurs for now - difficult as that would be without industrial lifting equipment, I'll grant you - Horizontal Morning doesn't have very many original ideas in its head, but it admirably takes time out to justify the tropes it falls back on, like how it subtly established that Aloy growing up as a shunned outcast is why she does the usual solo protagonist thing of constantly mumbling exposition to herself like the homeless nutter she technically is.

I hope you haven't put that industrial lifting equipment away, because we're bringing the robot dinosaurs back in, it being the unique selling point and all. It's the Far Cry 3 and 4 arrangement where animals roam the land to act as little walking loot dispensers and occasionally sneak up and headbutt your tits off while you're trying to do something else. Obviously, the number of flimsy wooden arrows it takes to pull a chrome exoskeleton apart would jeopardize the rainforests all over again, so you have to use Detective Vision, I mean, Focus Vision, I mean, that thing where everything of importance glows like the warning lights in your head when the in-laws bring up politics at Thanksgiving dinner, to determine the weak points and what weapons to use on them, so you can find a good position and make pinpoint strategic attacks, Monster Hunter-style. And it is fun, once you've taken down a robot alligator or one of those things that look like giant roast chickens with their bums in the air with strategic hits to the sensitive regions; it's easy to get overly impressed with yourself and march with undeserved confidence into the range of those cunting flying motherfuckers, and swiftly discover what it's like to be in a duck pond during a gale when you're a piece of bread.

But hunting robots is just one aspect of the game, and that brings me to another thing I'm sick of about these constant sandboxes, and that's having 500 different gameplay mechanics in the usual, "Ooh, take the approach you want to take!" attitude that usually means, "None of the individual mechanics could carry a game by themselves and we're hoping that stringing together enough C+'s will somehow add up to an A." Let's start with the long-range combat: the hit detection is for shit, unless some of these bandits have learned the mystical technique for making their heads non-corporeal for brief moments, and the game has introduced every available long-range weapon by the time you hit the second village, so there's less evolution going on than in a rural school curriculum. Same applies to melee combat: you start and end the game with one slow and annoying attack that seems to arbitrarily miss half the time and one really slow and annoying attack that definitely arbitrarily misses half the time. The climbing is restricted to rigidly-determined climbing paths and all other terrain can only be navigated by making furious two-footed jumps at it like you're throwing a tantrum over how perfectly climbable this ledge appears to be.

And then there's the inevitable stealth. How that works is, you're visible when standing and invisible when crouching in a specific kind of grass. I'm all for keeping the rules simple - after all, most of Sony's audience is - but it does mean that we can be up to our neck in plant matter and the enemy still spots us because it's not the special designated "stealth grass". I suppose it's because the stealth grass is red and Aloy is a ginge; she needs the one specific camouflage that matches her pubes.

I should stress that none of this is a deal-breaker, but it's also not helping me muster the same enthusiasm most of my peers seem to have for Erection Nice Breakfast. The story aspect's all right, although it never answers the question of how someone who grew up shitting in creeks and sleeping in slit-up robot horse carcasses every night can be so well-adjusted and, perhaps more to the point, "clean". And the robot hunting is a highlight, but it's all held back by the baggage that triple-A open world games now seem to find impossible to shake off. But as I said, maybe it's just me; I've avowed to play something other than a wilderness sandbox now, so if you're expecting me to do Ghost Recon: Wildlands next week, then feel free to go suck the spiders out of Tom Clancy's dead, gray cock.

Addenda Edit

  • Berkshire hunt: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • I suppose Horizon Zero Dawn would make sense if we were listing our favourite documentary series, Mega Man character and dishwashing liquid
  • Who else remembers 'Zoids'
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
Q3 The Darkness Demo · Fable: The Lost Chapters · Zero Punctuation (Episode) · Heavenly Sword and Other Stuff · Psychonauts · Console Rundown · BioShock · Tomb Raider: Anniversary · Manhunt · Peggle
Q4 Halo 3 · Tabula Rasa · The Orange Box · Super Paper Mario · Medal of Honor: Airborne · The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass · Clive Barker's Jericho · F.E.A.R. Perseus Mandate · Assassin's Creed · Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock · Mass Effect
2008
Q1 Super Mario Galaxy · Silent Hill: Origins · Crysis · The Witcher · Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles · Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare · SimCity Societies · Yahtzee Goes to GDC · Uncharted: Drake's Fortune · Devil May Cry 4 · Burnout: Paradise · Turok · Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure
Q2 Army of Two · No More Heroes · Condemned 2: Bloodshot · Super Smash Bros. Brawl · God of War: Chains of Olympus · Mailbag Showdown · Grand Theft Auto IV · Painkiller · The World Ends With You · The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion · Haze · Metal Gear Solid 4
Q3 Webcomics · Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures · Alone in the Dark · Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures · The E3 Trailer Park · Ninja Gaiden II · Prince of Persia Retrospective · Soulcalibur IV · Braid · EVE Online · Too Human · Spore · XBLA Double Bill
Q4 Mercenaries 2: World in Flames · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed · S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky · Silent Hill: Homecoming · Saints Row 2 · Dead Space · Fable II · Fallout 3 · Guitar Hero: World Tour · Mirror's Edge · Left 4 Dead · Sonic Unleashed · The Year in Review - 2008 · Prince of Persia
2009
Q1 Awards for 2008 · Tomb Raider: Underworld · Far Cry 2 · Gears of War 2 · LittleBigPlanet · Thief: The Dark Project · Skate 2 · F.E.A.R. 2 · Spider-Man: Web of Shadows · The House of the Dead: Overkill · 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand · Resident Evil 5
Q2 X-Blades/Halo Wars · Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars · MadWorld · Tom Clancy's H.A.W.X · Siren: Blood Curse · The Chronicles of Riddick: Assault on Dark Athena · Valkyria Chronicles · Velvet Assassin · Duke Nukem Forever · Bionic Commando · InFamous · The Second Annual E3 Hype Massacre · Prototype
Q3 The Sims 3 · Ghostbusters: The Video Game · Overlord 2 · Red Faction Guerrilla · Wii Sports Resort · Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood · The Conduit · Silent Hill 2 · 2.5-D Hoedown · Tales of Monkey Island · Wolfenstein · Batman: Arkham Asylum · Beatles Rock Band & Guitar Hero 5 · Darkest of Days
Q4 Scribblenauts · Wet · Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story · Brutal Legend · Washington D.C. · Uncharted 2: Among Thieves · Dragon Age: Origins · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 · Assassin's Creed 2 · Left 4 Dead 2 & New Super Mario Bros. Wii · Demon's Souls · Holiday 2009 · The Saboteur
2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
Q2 April Fools 2010 · God of War III · Red Steel 2 · Just Cause 2 · Silent Hill: Shattered Memories · Splinter Cell: Conviction · Nier · Dead to Rights: Retribution · Monster Hunter Tri · Alan Wake · Red Dead Redemption · Alpha Protocol · Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands · E3 2010
Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
Q4 Halo: Reach · Dead Rising 2 · Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow · Enslaved: Odyssey to the West · Fallout: New Vegas · Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II · Call of Duty: Black Ops · IPhone Games · Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood · Splatterhouse · Epic Mickey · Holiday 2010
2011 - 2014
2011
Q1 Top 5 of 2010 · World of Warcraft: Cataclysm · Fable III · Minecraft · A Shadow's Tale · Dead Space 2 · DC Universe Online · MindJack · Two Worlds II · Bulletstorm · Killzone 3 · Kirby's Epic Yarn · Dragon Age II
Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
Q4 Borderlands 2 · FIFA 13 · Resident Evil 6 · Dishonored · XCOM: Enemy Unknown · Medal of Honor: Warfighter & Doom 3: BFG Edition · Assassin's Creed 3 · Halo 4 · Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 · Hitman: Absolution · Far Cry 3 · ZombiU
2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
Q4 Grand Theft Auto V · Lost Planet 3 · Beyond: Two Souls · The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD · Batman: Arkham Origins · Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag · Call of Duty: Ghosts · Exclusives Showdown · Ryse: Son of Rome · Dead Rising 3 · Super Mario 3D World
2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
Q3 Tomodachi Life · Enemy Front & Valiant Hearts: The Great War · Shovel Knight · EarthBound · Transistor · E.T. · Firefall · Sacred 3 · Risen 3: Titan Lords · Daikatana · Lichdom: Battlemage · The Sims 4 · Destiny
Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2017
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata

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