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Review – Horizon Forbidden West

Code supplied for review by PlayStation NZ. Available exclusively on PlayStation 4 & 5, from 17th Feb 2022 – reviewed on PlayStation 5

When Guerrilla games released the original Horizon Zero Dawn almost 5 years ago to the day on March 1st 2017, it was a really inspiring title for me. I loved it, as both an original piece of storytelling and as a well-crafted open world adventure. It really pushed Guerrilla games into a new space for me, as I had been used to their Killzone titles being the main delivery vehicle for their storytelling up to that point, which whilst they were solid shooters, they were more safe bets for Sony than anything exceptional. Horizon marked a serious departure from that safe zone for Guerrilla, and frankly something of a risk for PlayStation, with this new open-world, future-past, sci-fi, robot-hunter, story-driven, single-player game being an unknown quantity for a first party title. Thankfully, Guerrilla smashed it out of the park, and Horizon Zero Dawn was every bit as good as everyone wanted it to be. Aloy’s story was one that most players got deeply absorbed in, and they were left wanting more at the end of that tale.

Well, 5 years later, here we are. Forbidden West lands as the next release in this series, available on the Playstation 4 and PlayStation 5 consoles, to continue Aloy’s adventures, starting 6 months after the events of Zero Dawn as she seeks to find GAIA, the AI that created her to fix the world.

When I first launched the game on the PS5, I selected Fidelity mode, which is a true 4K setting at 30fps. As the game is single player, I was comfortable trading off the extra frames for the graphical fidelity here. I didn’t have to wait long to be dumbstruck by the visuals either. This game is utterly gorgeous to behold. Aloy and her friends have an incredible level of detail about them. It’s going to sound a bit mental, but one of the first things I noticed was peach fuzz on Aloy’s character model during the opening in-game cutscenes. This might sound like an odd thing to notice, but it stuck me as both being something that was both deeply realistic in terms of well, y’know, humans, and also left me a bit gobsmacked that I could pick it out on the model. It was one of those moments where I found myself thinking “well, that’s new”, but I wondered why no one had really done it before.

Guerrilla’s care and attention to the small things like this was evident through out the rest of the game as I clocked up hour after hour without really being aware of it. Dialogue felt natural and conversational between Aloy and the returning friends she had made in the first game, whilst being cautious and measured with the new allies she established during the push Westward in the game’s campaign. Ability trees, weapons both old and new, and a whole host of new side missions lured me away from the main quest line with the promise of new gear, upgrades, and ways to tailor Aloy’s approach to my preferred style of play. Before I knew it had happened, I was 40 hours into the game and it felt like I was only half way through the main campaign. Despite that feeling, there had already been a number of mind-blowing, Oh-my-gawd moments that I had seen unfold in the game.

It turns out I pretty much was half way through at that point too. This is a big game, not only in terms of its open world, storyline, and side quests structure, but in pretty much every other aspect too. There is a huge depth to all of the upgrade paths, variety of side missions, mini games, robots to hunt for upgrade materials, and so much more besides. Even if you’re a bit fatigued from all of the choices for open world games today, Horizon Forbidden West has a very different feel to it. I’m not sure if it’s the characters, the story, the environments, the gameplay and combat, or maybe all of the pieces coming together in a really solid way, but I never found myself feeling bored when I was playing through this. One thing that really stuck out for me, and I didn’t realise it until much later in the game, was that the game was one continuous environment, with no loading breaks unless I was fast travelling. Considering the map size and density, that felt really significant. Also, as I was playing on the PS5, whenever I did fast travel, or re-load a save, it was pretty much instantaneous to return me to the game, which was awesome.

Now, it’s not perfect, as I’ve mentioned in the past I don’t really think any game could be considered perfect in a review as that’s an intensely personal decision, but unfortunately, there were some graphical and glitchy moments during my playthrough which did put a slight damper and cause a couple of re-loads or restarts of the game. I had a couple instances where I just lost control of Aloy, and she ran around in circles with her bow drawn but I couldn’t fire. Sometimes I would see details in distant buildings and ruins before they had been properly rendered. It was jarring, but they were few and far between, and overall very minor issues when I consider what the rest of the game delivers. Whilst I don’t doubt they will be patched out, it was unfortunate that they found their way into the release version of the game. Note: Patch 1.03 has been released alongside the release of the game, and since I’ve applied it, I’ve not experienced any further issues. I’m leaving this up as it was part of my original experience, but it’s good to see Guerrilla are onto it.

Still, if I consider all that this game is against those very minor issues, the negatives seem very trivial upon reflection. This game has improved upon the first Horizon title in every way, and introduced an awesome sci-fi adventure and a more mature set of characters to support Aloy in her quest on this adventure. PlayStation let Guerrilla take the bold step out of its comfort zone when they green lit Horizon Zero Dawn, and in Forbidden West, Guerrilla have proven that they were just getting warmed up when they did that. This game is utterly amazing, and if you’ve got a PlayStation, it’s absolutely money well-spent if you enjoy grand, single-player adventures.

This is absolutely a 10/10 for me. Whilst there were some issues for me on my initial playthrough, they appear to have been remedied as of 1.03 – leaving an incredible, and incredibly worthy gaming title for your time and money. I will caveat this by saying that I played it exclusively on the PS5, and that is undeniably the best way to play this game.

– Dave

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Gaming & Technology Editor at The Empire Digital Media Ltd.
Gadget fiend, maker of beer, technology enthusiast, and Dad of three, Dave enjoys trying to protect expensive gadgets from the destructive power of tiny people, and frequently fails.

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