Another decade has passed by, and with it comes a next-generation of consoles that continues to raise the benchmark in console gaming by upping the graphical fidelity to eleven, improvements and innovations to gameplay mechanics, and a chance for the consoles to really flex its’ new muscles to provide you the greatest gaming experience possible.
Just like Infamous Second Sun and Sunset Overdrive released during the inception of the PS4 and Xbox One respectively in 2014, the architects of Guerilla Games and creators of the legendary Killzone series of games takes up the mantle of improving the next-gen gaming experience with their critically-acclaimed Horizon series with Horizon Forbidden West.
In the words of Danny Sexbang, lead vocalist for the band Ninja Sex Party and in the song ‘Dinosaur Laser Fight’; “Oh yeah. It’s a god-damn dinosaur laser fight.”. And what an experience it is jumping back to the world riddled with literal murder-machines and humanity’s mission to continue to survive.
Guerilla Games is notoriously known for producing the absolute banger of a series known as Killzone, and during the time they focused on the Killzone games they’ve always sneakily tease the (highly) possible chance of a sequel (by the way, where’s the next Killzone game?).
Horizon Zero Dawn is not spared from Killzone’s influence, and gamers who played through the entirety of the first game already know that a sequel is in the works because of the expansive worldbuilding and lore that dragged them into it in the first place. And lo and behold, Horizon Forbidden West completely expanded the world by a thousand-fold and introduces a ton of new elements to give this entry a new feel. And gives a new feel it does.
The events of Horizon Forbidden West take place moments after the ending of Horizon Zero Dawn. After preventing a world-ending apocalypse, a new threat looms and a disease ravages Aloy’s people’s lands to the brink of a famine. Now, Aloy and her friends must travel to San Francisco, California to find the technology that will ultimately save humanity’s fate once again. However, her journey will not be an easy one, as raiders are prevalent throughout the lands as well as even more deadly mechanized creatures and worst still, the raiders have the power to completely control these machinations to their will.
Horizon Forbidden West does the delivery of the main storyline and the lore of the world much better than its predecessor. Whereas Horizon Zero Dawn just drops you off with the largest exposition dump in video game history shortly after the introduction, Horizon Forbidden West perfectly balances story and gameplay as you play along at your own pace and letting your discover more bits and pieces that connects the lore together and what life in this world was like before machines completely took over.
And it’s not just the main story that is paced extremely well, side quests are also a joy to complete and offer a much more satisfactory experience when you carry out errands for the inhabitants of a ruined California. These side missions aren’t just simple ‘go there and get something for me’ quests that have been done to death extremely poorly, but rather mini episodes that help you to connect emotionally with these characters and making you care about their fates further down the line.
While not directly related, there are moments in the game where I was just doing my own thing and exploring the area myself is when I stumbled across some metal structures that aren’t space-dinosaury in nature. Or to describe them more accurately, 3 F35 Lightning-IIs (Aw shucks, my inner Ace Combat kicked in…) parked next to each other in a uniform fashion and just rusting and rotting away while being overgrown with plant life as it surrenders itself to the elements, leading me to believe that I am standing in an air force base of some sort. It’s moments like these where when you really start to take it easy and explore the carefully constructed world and wondering what these structures were what happened here all those years ago.
The visuals of Horizon Forbidden West is something that I can only describe as “Sharp, bright, and cold (?)”. Having being used to the dull hues of brown, brown, more brown, some handfuls of green and blues, and even more brown, the colors of Horizon Forbidden West is a splash of bright and vibrant colors. At the beach areas, the white sands and the deep crystal blue ocean water makes a beautiful contrast and green and grassy forests that give off a calming experience while you are fighting for your life.
Where the visuals really start to shine is when you have a good TV and setting it to “Resolution Mode” to output 4K 30FPS output where the contrast of different colors and crystal-clear and sharp lines pulls you into the world. And “Performance Mode” is no slouch either, downsizing to 1080P 60FPS instead and makes the overall gaming experience smoother, more fluid and dynamic when taking on a group of raiders and telegraphing your attacks against big metal monsters. There is definitely a downgrade in visual performance when you switch between both mods, but I personally do not see a big of a difference and just stuck to performance mode for the fast and fluid gameplay. Playing it on resolution mode didn’t hinder my gameplay ability either, and actually felt more immersed in the world if anything at all.
The designs put into the tribal and primitive theme of the people in the world of Horizon Forbidden West is expanded to this new region, from the simple robes to the armor worn by soldiers and fighters of different factions, all the way to the unique structures built by all of them. But the real winner in the visuals department definitely has to be the enemy designs. Alongside with the return of the Tallnecks and the Thunderjaws, there is now a whole slew of awesome robotic killing machines that if you look closely enough, resembles a real-world animal of some sort and each one with their own unique arsenal to take you down.
I had an absolute blast playing the game fresh from playing the previous release in preparation for it. The introductory parts were easy enough to follow for me and especially so for those who are just starting to experience fighting space dinosaurs for the first time and get a head start, although I strongly urge that you play the first game and experience the lore and worldbuilding by yourself. Otherwise, I had a much more easier time following along with the story and gameplay all the way until the end of the main story quest.
One of the major things that I have discovered early on during the game almost immediately when I was pressing random buttons to get a feel of the game was Aloy’s melee capabilities. Combat was no longer restricted to rolling away from your enemies to a safe distance and taking potshots at them, melee combat feels more upfront and dynamic with her spear once I maxed out my hunter skill tree, I absolutely destroyed even the toughest human enemies that stood in my way. Each time I did so, a cool cinematic animation of her supercharging her weapon adds more to the action.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of verticality that is newly introduced to Horizon Forbidden West. Your new finder/scanner tool pings all possible points where you can now scale vertically to get a better vantage point to assess the environment around you or get away from predators chasing after you through the ruins.
Speaking of which, Guerilla Games definitely took a page out from The Last of Us II’s gameplay mechanics when it comes to engaging your enemy and then retreating back to lose them temporarily. This is one of the gameplay features that I enjoyed in that game and adds a new element of combat when you hide in the bushes or at the tops of the pillars above to ambush and pick their numbers off one by one.
In my second playthrough, I ditched the traditional method of steamrolling my enemies with my arsenal of brand-new weapons and instead invested heavily into the Machine Master skill tree and got the metal beasts to do perform my bidding and fight other smaller metal beasts instead. The Thunderjaw that I was eager to face again is now a temporary ally that unleashes hellfire to the nearby raider base and hijacking a Sunwing, a Pterodactyle-looking animatronic is a blast to take to the skies and fly over land at great speeds. And running across plains and sniping raiders with my fully-upgraded bow from the top of my robot raptor with chainsaws for teeth will never not be fun.
A new generation of consoles usually means that shortly after its release, a game will be released shortly afterwards to truly showcase the console’s performance powerhouse. Horizon Forbidden West took the opportunity to demonstrate itself as the next step up in console gaming with its beautiful visual and evolved gameplay from the first release. Newcomers of the game and RPG aficionados will have a blast in experiencing an open-world experience that could possibly be in the running for being one of the best action adventure experiences of the PS5.