The First Few Hours: Horizon: Zero Dawn

Current status:  6-8 hours in.  Level 11.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

I am not necessarily fond of reducing an original work of art to a comparison between two other, unrelated pieces of art, but I acknowledge that I do it from time to time.  If I were attempting to be a professional critic, I’m sure my editors would remind me to stop doing that.  I am not a professional critic, however, and so I feel like I can say something like Horizon: Zero Dawn feels like a combination of Uncharted and Far Cry Primal without too much trouble.  Because that’s almost exactly what it is.

In the Uncharted corner, you’ve got:  a technological tour-de-force (mostly), a third-person action/adventure, a character-driven narrative with lots of in-engine cutscenes.  There’s some high-quality traversal animation, though you spend most of your time killing things.

In the Far Cry Primal corner, you’ve got:  lots and lots of crafting, lots and lots of hunting, and an open world in a primitive setting (though there’s obviously something futuristic about it, too, what with the robotic animals all over the place and the ruins of a long-ago civilization that might as well be ours).  Also: lots and lots of side quests, and “towers” that, once ascended, open up larger parts of a very busy map.

Do I love it?  I don’t know yet.  I’ve spent but one day with it, and I’m still mulling it over.

I do know that for the last few weeks I’ve been feeling somewhat at a loss with my gaming time; I’ve mostly just been either tooling around with my backlog, or dipping my toes in the exquisitely silly Yakuza 0.  To that end, H:ZD is exactly the sort of big-budget AAA game that I’ve been longing to play; something that was carefully and meticulously crafted, something that was loved and cared for, something that has a lot of ambition but also a lot of heart.

Is it successful?  Yes and no, though I’m tempted to lean yes just because it’s so obviously well-intentioned.  It is somewhat jarring to see these primitive people wearing primitive clothing speaking very, very modern English in very, very modern American accents – one dude that I happened to meet almost has a hint of Bronx in him, which just feels weird.  But, to its credit, the cast of human characters is a lot more diverse than one is used to seeing in these sorts of AAA games; and while Aloy may not end up being as iconic as Lara Croft she’s certainly compelling in her own right, and I’m fully invested in solving the mystery behind her origin.

I should, at this point, mention that I’m playing H:ZD on an original PS4, on a non-HDR HDTV.  I mention this because H:ZD was one of the first big Sony exclusives that was meant to showcase the Pro and its HDR capabilities, and the presentation on my OG PS4 is… muted?  It’s not nearly as vibrant or as colorful as what I’ve seen in commercials and trailers, and while it’s rock-steady in terms of performance, I can’t help but feel that I’m not getting the full graphical experience.  I am not in any position to acquire a PS4 Pro and an HDR-capable HDTV, however, so I’m stuck with what I’ve got.  When I say I’m underwhelmed, I don’t mean to dismiss the game’s technological prowess; I only mean to imply that I’d be willing to bet a lot of money that the Pro version looks substantially more colorful, and in a game that’s so refreshingly free of the traditional brown/gray color scheme of modern games, I wish I had more access to it.

I should also mention that the game is tough.  I’ve died quite a few times already, even in areas where I thought I’d be over-leveled.  I suppose part of the issue is that you can’t simply rush into the thick of it and start killing everything in sight, even though you feel like you ought to; the game’s tutorial does stress the importance of stealthy approaches and careful planning, of course, but I often feel that I get killed by enemies that I simply didn’t see and had no way of seeing.  Other games do a better job of letting you know when something’s approaching off-screen, but here you just got walloped, and it doesn’t take all that much to get clobbered to death.  Again – I’m still in the early going, and I’m sure there’s better equipment and more effective weaponry out there for me to acquire.

I am compelled to continue, though, and so to that end the game’s got me hooked.  And I feel obligated to apologize to Night in the Woods, which I started over the weekend but didn’t quite get far enough into in order to keep me focused.

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