The gaming industry can sometimes feel weary and jaded, given the frequent transition from one sequel to another, but within “Horizon: Zero Dawn,” we sensed something uniquely special from Guerrilla Games’ new IP.
However, what we observed during our first hands-on experience at EGX differed noticeably from what was actually playable. Aloy’s key abilities were showcased, likely to ensure players grasp the ongoing events during solo adventures. We witnessed a segment where Mother’s Embrace village comes under attack, and Aloy rushes in to defeat colossal mechanical creatures on the landscape. It’s evident that scanning your prey—a unique ability exclusive to Aloy—is crucial for your success. This feature provides insights into the weaknesses and elemental vulnerabilities of each mechanical creature, making encounters without it potentially brief.
The demo, displayed on the impressive Sony tablet, mirrored the PlayStation Meeting presentation, even though one hopes that by the game’s release in March next year, issues like furniture leveling and shadow appearance will be ironed out. Lighting, stunning in both the Pro and standard versions of the game, isn’t a surprising revelation coming from the developers of Killzone: Shadow Fall.
This open world begs exploration, yet, unfortunately, the demo area was quite limited. Locations appeared on a compass reminiscent of “The Elder Scrolls,” but they remained tantalizingly out of reach. Despite warnings not to stray, the demo reset multiple times as I attempted to surpass invisible barriers, confining me to a small area and a set of mechanical creatures.
When holding the controller, Aloy feels substantial, and her ranged combat with the bow will be familiar to those who recently played the “Tomb Raider” series. However, the similarities end when the first enemy appears, as the demo level’s mechanical beasts make a formidable effort to end your existence. The first creature, a Watcher, is an agile, raptor-like entity that leaps toward you, attempting to close the distance and strike with its tail. A well-placed shot to its single glowing eye easily defeats it, or you can opt to approach and finish it off with a blade.
They travel in packs—something we were told many creatures in “Horizon” tend to do—attacking you from various directions, making it easy to feel overwhelmed. Another key strategy seems to be knowing when to flee, and, as in “Monster Hunter,” sometimes the best defense is swift offense, taking the time to knock down your assailants one by one.
The next mechanical monster I encountered was a massive Shell-Walker, bearing cargo on its back. After finding its weakness, you can shoot off the container, collect some loot, and make a swift escape. One such creature in pursuit is truly intimidating, capable of deploying a large energy shield with its front claws. However, you can craft explosives from items you pick up from fallen mechanical creatures, set a trap, and detonate it at the right moment. The Shell-Walker succumbed quickly after a few encounters with flames.
Fortunately, the game includes mechanical creatures you can ride after overriding their programming. The Broadhead is a robotic counterpart to a water buffalo, navigating rugged terrain with its robust body. However, you must approach cautiously to avoid startling the herd. Indeed, all wildlife has a awareness icon, indicating whether they’ve noticed you, and even a glance can trigger fear or aggression.
Your arsenal includes various weapons. In addition to your bow, you can use the Tripcaster, a device that fires ropes to bind animals to the ground at multiple locations. Using this to pull creatures down is incredibly satisfying and effective, giving you time to inflict serious damage. Moreover, the demo features a Sling, which can launch various projectiles with curved trajectories. The controls are notably tight and responsive, running at a stable 30fps even under pressure, and I had no issues executing precise attacks.
Although my hands-on experience confined me to a limited gaming area, I’m eager to play more of one of the most anticipated games of next year. The gameplay of “Horizon: Zero Dawn” might not be particularly revolutionary, but witnessing an array of mechanical beasts roam the untamed open world brings a delightful sense of childlike wonder.