Horizon Forbidden West Reviews
REASONS TO BUY
+ Ambitious story with deep characters to match
+ Side-missions feel a step up
+ Gorgeous open world that's easy to get lost in
REASONS TO AVOID
- Enough bugs to consider holding off on purchase at launch
- Swimming just not that fun
"The world always seems quieter when it snows," Aloy observes as he gazes across the vast mountainous regions of Horizon Forbidden West.
While anticipation for Horizon Forbidden West – arguably the biggest PS5 game to date – is high, it wasn't the massive open-world environment or epic encounters with 50-foot mechanical mammoths that drew the most attention. The quieter, more character-driven moments propelled Aloy into the pantheon of PlayStation greats.
Horizon Zero Dawn was an open-world post-apocalyptic game that had the unfortunate misfortune of being released just days before The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, another open-world post-apocalyptic game that quickly became an all-time great. Like many others, I thought Zero Dawn was a fantastic game in its own right, but not one of the best games ever. Is it now, five years later, and free of the shadow of a looming Zelda release, Horizon Forbidden West's time to shine?
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HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST REVIEW: RELEASE DATE AND PRICE
- What is it? A single-player open-world action RPG that serves as a sequel to 2017's Horizon Zero Dawn
- Release date? February 18, 2022
- What platforms can I play it on? PS5, PS4
- Price? $69.99 / £66.99 / $AU124.95 (PS5), $59.99 / £59.99 / $AU109.95 (PS4)
HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST REVIEW: WHAT IS IT?
Horizon Forbidden West picks up six months after the events of Horizon Zero Dawn, with protagonist Aloy. A mysterious new plague has begun to sweep across the land, annihilating all life in its path. Aloy searches for a backup of the AI program known as GAIA to help prevent further death and destruction, convinced that she is the only one who can stop the plague from spreading. As a result, the huntress is transported to the new Forbidden West territory.
Guerrilla Games has once again handled both the PS5 and PS4 versions, demonstrating how far the studio has come since the days of Killzone. The story itself is extremely ambitious, taking you to unexpected places and leaning much more heavily on sci-fi elements than its predecessor. It doesn't actually jump the robo-shark, but it does occasionally skirt the lines.
Although a large portion of the plot revolves around a fetch quest (it is a video game after all), it is compelling and provides a compelling reason to explore the many stunning regions that the Forbidden West has to offer.
As Aloy, Ashly Burch is flawless: "scaling an ancient rickety tower with killer machines waiting down below," she says, channelling the same charisma as Nathan Drake in Uncharted. This is her story, and she proves to be a formidable force carrying the burdens of all humanity's survival hopes. Burch delivers a genuine human performance once she gets in over her head and the emotional weight of it all becomes too much for her.
The ensemble cast is one aspect that I did not expect to enjoy as much. Apart from Sylens and Erend, I couldn't recall any of Aloy's companions from the first game. However, Forbidden West goes to great lengths to ensure that you are familiar with each character as you gradually build your own team. This all culminates in a joyful Avengers-style moment that, while overdone in this day and age, had me grinning from ear to ear.
HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST REVIEW: HOW DOES IT GAMEPLAY?
Horizon Forbidden West is an action RPG that plays very similarly to the first game, with linear levels set in a vast open world. Combat is centred on taking down the machines with a bow and arrow, a spear, and a slew of other prehistoric weapons.
The Pullcastor (grapple hook) and Shieldwing (paraglider) are the two most significant upgrades to help exploration reach new heights. Structures can also be pulled down by the latter. They also feel fantastic, adding to the filmic atmosphere by allowing Aloy to jump off a cliff without fear of being eaten by a grizzly.
Climbing has also seen a noticeable improvement. More often than not, there are now markers brought on by Aloy's Focus – an augmented reality device that allows the character to scan the environment – that allows the character to scale the majority of the land. Movement feels eerily similar to Uncharted, making you wonder if Guerrilla sought advice from fellow PlayStation studio Naughty Dog.
Horizon, no matter how many submerged machines there are to discover, continues to struggle to convey fun when it comes to swimming. What I can say is that it's tolerable and doesn't consume too much of the campaign's time. The depths are beautiful, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to get back to land as soon as possible.
The only exception is during a lengthy segment in which you descend into the depths of a ruined casino, forcing Aloy to drain the building in order to progress. With no weapons available underwater, it creates a lot of tension as Snapmaws (crocodiles) constantly circle. This section's conclusion is exceptional, and one of the most memorable of the entire experience.
For me, the original Horizon Zero Dawn's side missions were a little lacking. Go here and take out a machine. Go there and destroy another machine. You get the picture. This time, the machine-destroying element is still present, but the variety is greater. Everything feels a step up, whether it's machine racing, figuring out how to reach the peak of a Tallneck, a Melee Pit where you face off against other hunters in combat, or even a surprisingly deep board game called Machine Strike. This variety is further enhanced by the ability to dive to the ocean's depths or ride high on the back of a Sunwing. Whatever the case may be, it simply works.
It also helps that the skill tree is much more extensive, allowing the player to shape Aloy into whatever type of hunter they want – Warrior, Trapper, Hunter, Survivor, Infiltrator, or Machine Master. As someone who prefers direct combat over stealth, the Warrior skills provide a plethora of different moves to learn, as well as special perks (known as Valor Surge) that charge over time and are ready to be used whenever trouble arises.
The machines are undeniably appealing. It felt unusual to encounter the same boss-style machine more than once, as they were bigger, badder, and more varied. In reality, I'm pretty sure I only saw a few Tremortusks (elephants) and Slitherfangs (cobras) during the main campaign. The DualSense's haptic feedback, which increases the pressure when hunting their prey, helps to capture the scale of these beasts. Similarly, when Aloy fires an arrow from her bow, the DualSense's adaptive trigger tension really makes you feel it.
Furthermore, Guerrilla has done an excellent job with its accessibility options, building on the already impressive suite found in Horizon Zero Dawn. The biggest new, welcome additions are a new custom difficulty setting that tailors how much damage Aloy gives out and receives, as well as a new co-pilot setting that allows a second player to jump in on the action. The studio appears to have taken feedback seriously in order to make the game as accessible as possible.
This all paints a picture of a near-flawless experience, which it would be if it weren't for the bugs. Camera glitches, soldiers stuck in walls, surfaces that didn't react properly, and blocked vents were just a few of the minor issues I encountered. The major ones were several crashes and a locked loading screen, which required me to return to a 20-minute-old save. Sony has now released a day one patch that addresses these issues.
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HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST REVIEW:
HOW DOES IT LOOK AND SOUND?
Horizon Forbidden West is filled with beauty, whether it's the snow-covered mountains, the sunny shores of San Francisco's ruins, or the desolate ruins of what was once Las Vegas. The water makes extensive use of the console's capabilities. It's truly mind-boggling to look at! To help bolster the action or get lost in the stunning vistas found at every turn, players can choose between 60fps in Performance Mode and 4K resolution in Quality Mode. For TVs that support it, High Dynamic Range (HDR) is also available.
The most significant improvement has been made to facial animations, which can now elicit more convincing emotions. Few games can compete with this level of authenticity. For one thing, Aloy's hair is terrifyingly real, in both good and bad ways. Sometimes it reacts normally to physics, but other times it dances around as if the huntress were standing in front of a blaring wind turbine. It was quite distracting, but hopefully it will be fixed by the time you read this.
In some ways, the absence of music elevates the world of Horizon. The scurrying of a fox, the swaying of plantlife in the breeze, or the galloping footsteps of a Charger. However, it ramps up when necessary. The music used to convey the approach of a Tremortusk, for example, is electrifying.
Aloy, as a character, is now on par with Nathan Drake, Kratos, Crash Bandicoot, and other Sony mascots, and her theme is a big reason for that. It's well-known. Through and through, it's Aloy. When you hear it, you immediately know who it's about. That takes some effort.
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HORIZON FORBIDDEN WEST REVIEW: HOW LONG TO BEAT?
Horizon Forbidden West took me about 28 hours to complete the credits. I spent the majority of my time mainlining the narrative after testing nearly every piece of side content once. There are over 15 additional side-mission variants, ranging from Hunting Grounds and Melee Pits to Rebel Camps and Cauldrons, that if completed would easily double, if not triple, the playtime.
The game constantly feels like it's expanding its map, with the first instance of this happening around 12 hours in. It then did it again after 20 hours. However, Forbidden West, like the original, suffers from lore overload. Text, audio files, character biographies, machine catalogues – whatever you want! It can be overwhelming, and I imagine that committing to reading every tidbit of information presented by the game would significantly extend the playtime.
Fortunately, the ending delivers in blockbuster fashion and is quite difficult - especially if you don't get a chance to level up Aloy through additional side-missions and such. All of this points to a very exciting future for the series. I can't wait to see it.
Horizon Forbidden West is an incredibly ambitious game in every sense of the word, continuing Sony's track record of blockbuster success. While the swimming is lacking and the story occasionally gets out of hand, it's difficult to deny that Horizon Forbidden West is Guerrilla's best game yet, and Aloy has joined the pantheon of PlayStation greats.