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Chris Kavan's Video Game Reviews (448)

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Detroit: Become Human 4/5
Destiny 2 4/5
Horizon: Zero Dawn 4.5/5
Oxenfree 4/5
Murdered: Soul Suspect 3/5
Kirby Star Allies 3/5
Celeste 4.5/5
Dark Quest 2 3/5
Just Cause 3 3.5/5
Guacamelee! 2 4/5
The Incredible Adventur... 4/5
Rise of the Tomb Raider 4/5
Dead Rising 3 4/5
Layers of Fear 3.5/5
Prey 3/5
Zero-K 2/5
Tales from the Borderla... 4/5
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt 4.5/5
Hammerwatch 3/5
AereA 1/5
Divinity: Original Sin 4.5/5
The Yawhg 4/5
Sword Coast Legends 3.5/5
Spelunky 2.5/5
We Are the Dwarves 1/5

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Horizon: Zero Dawn   PlayStation 4 

The Dawn of Something Great    4.5/5 stars

Exclusives have always driven fans of systems. Nintendo has Mario, Zelda and Kirby - SEGA has Sonic. While that ultimate rivalry might never be rivaled, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony continue this tradition with the current generation of systems. In the last decade or so I have gravitated toward either Sony or PC, even as Nintendo has made a big resurgence. Sony offers me games I like - and their exclusives match my style. Horizon: Zero Dawn was one of the first, big games to show off the flashy new system. And while I took my sweet time getting to it - waiting for a complete version at reasonable price (too used to Steam mentality), I have to say the wait was worth it. This game sits right alongside The Last of Us as a compelling reason that Sony still deserves my full support.

Presentation: The game is simply a marvel to play as much as it is to experience. The landscape is varied - from vast forests to frozen lakes to wind-blown deserts - and it looks stunning pretty much all the time. Likewise, characters are rendered with amazing detail, facial expressions, eyes, mouth - it is a great representation of just how far games have come this generation. The casting is spot-on: Ashly Burch, such a great standout in Life is Strange, voices the main character, Aloy, and really hits it out of the park. The smooth-voiced Lance Reddick plays in important role and a bunch of big-name voice actors are on hand as well: Crispin Freeman, Josh Keaton, JB Blanc - and many, many more - this game has a fully-voiced and massive cast, and each one does a fantastic job. Real-life actress Hannah Hoekstra is even given special credit for being the model for Aloy.

If the scenery and characters aren't enough, the game presents some of the best creature design to come along in some time. You fight a wide variety of metal machines - many based off animal life - but with unique twists. You can ride some as mounts, others require stealth and traps to take down and many use specific elemental attacks, but it's never boring. You can even hunt down actual creatures (rabbits, boars, foxes and the like) for crafting material. Each one is rendered in great detail - from the smallest to the most gargantuan.

The soundtrack is also a plus with full orchestral support that works whether it's a quiet moment or sheer bombast. It's one of the better ones in recent memory as well. I never experienced any glitches - even the few times I thought I might be stuck in the environment, I was able to recover, though the game does have a fast-travel option in the unlikely event it would happen. Loading times can take awhile, but considering the scope of the game, it wasn't too bad - and I didn't notice any major screen tearing and such.

Story: Set far in the future but rooted in a more primitive culture, much of Horizon: Zero Dawn is spent trying to figure out how humanity has got to this point. Aloy is a young outcast in a matriarchal and isolationist society known as the Nora. She is raised by the gruff but loving Rost - an outcast himself. This is a world where people hunt the metal creatures that roam the land for parts - parts to use, parts to trade - it's their way of life. Even outcasts must survive and Aloy falls into one of the forbidden ruins - left over from the "Old Ones" where ancient technology still survives. She comes across a triangular-shaped focus - a device that lets her analyze the world around her. Even though Rost is worried, he lets her keep it and it helps save the life of a young hunter they come across.

Fast forward several years and Aloy is a young woman and Rost decides it's finally time for her to rejoin her clan. The only way an outcast can do this is through The Proving - a trial for young warriors, and only if she wins will she be accepted. A visit to the local Nora community Mother's Heart shows much, but not all, of the tribe cold and distant toward her. There are also guests from the Carja - a clan who worship's the sun and has just come off a very bloody conflict with their old king, Jiran having conducted Red Raids across the lands to collect people to sacrifice. New King Avad wants to set things right - and one of the men, Olin, also has a focus. It is during this time Aloy learns that the machines have grown much more aggressive in the last several years, along with newer and deadlier machines suddenly appearing.

At The Proving, Aloy is victorious, but her celebration is short lived as the young Nora are attacked - Carja led by a deadly warrior named Helis - and Aloy seems to be their prime target. Rost sacrifices himself to save Aloy - who awakens in All-Mother Mountain - a sacred place to the Nora. With an enemies' focus in hand, she learns that she indeed was the target - and the high matriarchs meet and give Aloy the title of Seeker - one who is permitted to leave Nora lands on a sacred quest. Thus Aloy finds herself thrust into a vast world - as she seeks the answer to why she is so important - and finding this out will lead to a much greater discover of the history of the Old Ones, why they were wiped out and what it means for the future. This includes meeting with a duplicitous man known as Sylens, fighting a corrupted Carja splinter group known as the Eclipse and facing down a rogue AI looking to destroy all that has come to be.

The game also features DLC The Frozen Wilds which takes you up to the area formerly known as the Yellowstone National Park where you encounter another rogue AI that is wrecking havoc for another tribe, known as the Werak, who pride survival and strength - as you seek to unravel a new mystery - and encounter even deadlier machines.

Gameplay: Horizon: Zero Dawn is an open world action/adventure game. The game is in the third-person perspective, with the camera always over your shoulder. Combat is either up close and personal with a spear or firing your trusty bow. Arrows can be various types from straight-up damage to elemental (fire, freeze, electrical, tear) to even being able to turn machines over to your side. You also have tripcasters that can lay traps, ropecasters that can tie machines down for a short time, slings that lob explosives and Rattlers - primitive shot-gun like projectiles (also elemental). The DLC provides access to much stronger elemental spears as well.

Combat can be taken from several angles. My favorite is stealth - hide in grass, distract and lash out for big damage. You can lay traps, shoot weak spots for big damage or go full-on rush and take them down with your spear (great on smaller enemies - not so much on the big guys, however). Machines are usually grouped in packs, so some strategy must be applied to avoid being overcome, though avoidance is always an option. You also have armor you can don that gives you benefits to things like stealth or elemental protection or protection from ranged/melee attacks. You do fight humans as well, so changing armor can make a difference.

Everything you kill or discover gives you experience. This unlocks several abilities - set across four categories: Prowler, for up close combat; Brave for ranged combat; Forager for collecting items and Traveler (included with the Frozen Wilds DLC) for mounted combat. You also get increases to health and attack per level. Each creature you kill, be it animal or machine, gives you resources. Some resources let you upgrade your ammo capacity, some let you craft specialty arrows and others you sell for money. I never found myself running low on pretty much anything - the game is generous with what it hands out.

The world is vast and there is a lot to explore. Your focus can scan areas for collectibles (old coffee mugs, metal flowers and figurines among them) as well as coming across recordings, emails or articles that present a history of the Old Ones. There are also holographic messages that tell a story - and they are all worth seeking out to get a bigger picture.

As you progress, enemies get bigger and more deadly. Some fights can last a long time - sometimes patience and planning are needed to take down the most deadly machines. It's worth it in the end, as Zero Dawn actually makes you feel like you've accomplished something big when you manage to fell a huge machine.

Replayability: There is a new game plus for those who like to challenge themselves, but it doesn't change the core story or anything. There is a lot to discover for those willing to look over every nook and cranny, but otherwise, it's a pretty straight-forward game.

Overall: Horizon: Zero Dawn is one of the best original games to come out in a long time. Great characters, interesting story, fun gameplay, great visuals and a superb soundtrack make this one of the crowning games in the PS4 lineup.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 5/5
Gameplay: 5/5
Replayability: 4/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


Recent Comments
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Nelson Schneider

Nelson Schneider- wrote on 06/09/19 at 07:56 PM CT

 

This is pretty much the ONLY PS4 exclusive I'm interested in. Maybe I'll get to play it if it comes to the Epic Store... or maybe I'll borrow your PS4 once you blow $500 on a PS5.

 
 
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