A New Dawn For Sony as Console Exclusives Start Trickling onto PC
Sony is behemoth in the game industry. For over 25 years they have been a leader in the console industry, having seen off Sega in the mid=’90s and taken in Nintendo and Microsoft in recent years and handily managing to wing both the hearts and wallets of gamers worldwide. A massive part of Sony’s success has been the fact that the only place that you can play their first-party developed games has been on their consoles or more recently via their PSNOw streaming service on PC. However, with Microsoft looking to create a “gaming ecosystem” with the PlayAnywhere and GamePass initiatives and, thus, winning over PC gamers and many console gamers with their consumer-friendly attitude, Sony has lagged by seemingly insisting that the way forward is the way games have been played for the past three decades – on a dedicated machine. However, there are signs that this attitude is softening, and Horizon Zero Dawn is the first of these signs.
A Thing of Beauty
Horizon Zero Dawn is a stunning graphical achievement. When I played it at launch some three years ago it was unbelievably beautiful on a PS4 Pro. On PC it somehow manages to look even better. The colour palette is gorgeous showing off this stunning reclaimed by nature world in glorious detail. It is so refreshing to see Sony developers take the idea of a post-apocalypse away from the drab desert browns of so many games and film and into the lush greens, glorious reds and vibrant blues of a world overrun by nature revelling in the downfall of man. The Last of Us was the first game to show that the apocalypse may be bad for man, but for flora and fauna it was a return to Eden and HZD continues that theme.
Besides the colour palette, the details in the models are wonderfully designed and rendered. Aloy’s clothes and weapons have little splashes of colour and items attached, such as feathers to her bows that move and sway as you aim down sights at that Dinobot (apologies Transformers fans). This attention to detail is a Sony exclusive staple. Talking of the Dinobots, the designs are familiar yet so creative. There is nothing outlandish about them, you can immediately tell what they are based like the Watcher is based off a raptor and the Sawtooth off of a Sabre Tooth Tiger. However, the unmistakable metallic nature of the “animal” and the glowing eyes and weak spots give you that otherworldly feel and menace. I love sitting in a tree or on a rock and just watching these creatures as they go about their lives, Guerrilla has an admirable job of making this world feel alive; as if the animals have a normal routine and pattern that they instinctually follow even when you are on the other side of the map. Oh, and when you come upon one of the bigger Dinobots, and I am not talking about the impressive as heck Long Necks, be prepared to have your jaw hit the floor. The annoying, yet beautiful, yet dangerous as heck Stormbird is my personal favourite.
Talking about feeling as if this world is real and has a true depth, the societies that Guerrilla created feel authentic, in that a people who lose all their history would recreate their societies and rules-based off the odds and ends that they find. Amusingly one of the collectables to be found is a simple company-branded mug that the journal states as being a prized relic from a bygone age. In many ways the society created feels like the one on the terrible Mad Max 3: Beyond the Thunderdome, one where a plane crashed and the ancestors of the survivors have myholgised the pilots and created a whole belief system around the plane and other artefacts. The game world’s blending of Native American culture with some Nordic influences is interesting and gives the game a unique look and feel, but I do think that the designers could have gone further. However, I like that this world, unlike say Fallout’s, shows that even when all knowledge and history is lost humanity will find a way to create small pockets of society that doesn’t just imitate current societal norms, but in a rougher more dangerous world.
Story Tropes Done Well, Gameplay Mechanics Repeated
Horizon Zero Dawn does not break the mould with the story. Aloy is the atypical Chosen One, ostracised from the start as an Outcast due to the circumstances of her birth. By proving herself, literally in a coming of age trial called the Proving she gains admittance to this insulated and judgemental society, but is still required to become the “Hero She Was Always Meant To Be™” by avenging the dead and bringing the villains to Justice – a Justice served by the numerous arrow tips at her disposal. Along the way she will uncover the truth about the apocalypse, who caused it and ultimately her place in this new world via the truth around her birth.
So that is it, all cliched and earnest and done before. However, the execution is very much first class and that is what drives you forward to complete the game. You know what the end of this journey is going to be – Aloy gaining acceptance and bringing a new understanding of her world to her people. However how you get there, the little twists and turns are what spur you forward.
This would be all well and good if you have never played a Sony first party game before, or even an open world game before. However, the gameplay loop is something we’ve all experienced. This is where the experience is tarnished for me. Your character is a flawed hero on a journey of discovery. You will sneak around in third person, thinning out hordes of enemies and then rushing in when detected or when ready to decimate what is left. The world is littered with collectables, rote copy/paste side quests and bandit camps to clear all in the name of XP and resources for crafting and trading. This uninventive grind is meant to extend playtime and create opportunities for you to simply gather materials so you can advance beyond that boss. The recent Ghost of Tshushima followed this path previously trodden by Days Gone and to some extent by The Last of Us and The Unchartered series. What I would prefer is if HZD were more linear like the Naughty Dog games, eschewing side quests and open world padding to be a more focused game.
From a control scheme point of view, I am going to be a typical PC gamer and state unequivocally that mouse and keyboard is the superior control scheme and Guerrilla’s implementation here is top notch. Having played the console version with a controller I am confident in this statement. The ability to target weak spots from what seems like miles away with pinpoint accuracy is only possible with the fine control that a mouse gives you. In hand to hand melee combat the slight edge resides with the mouse and you control the camera with it and not an analogue stick, so you are not changing POV wildly. However, pressing a mouse button is not as satisfying as pulling on the trigger, just seems more combat by remote than when using a controller. I will admit that the advantage of having all the buttons in close proximity is more convenient than having to memorise which key or button on the mouse does what, but I solved that using my handy Coolermaster Conttrolpad. However, if you want to really experience the game as it was, you can plug in a controller of your choice for the lesser experience.
A Port That Shows Some Inexperience
While HZD is a powerhouse game, it does suffer from that old disease of not having as much care and attention lavished on it as it should. The game engine is a powerhouse and Death Stranding showed that the Decima engine is capable of smooth and high framerates and on PC. Sadly, this game suffered quite a bit during the pre-launch reviews from terrible framerates, necessitating a 30GB Day One patch. Even that did not fix everything. I experienced numerous instances of dropped frames and slowdowns, particularly on my laptop. On my desktop the problems were not as bad, but I still experienced them. For comparison sake the specs for each system are:
|Comparison System||Review System|
|GPU||GeForce 1070||GeForce 1080|
|Soundcard||Onboard sound||Asus Xonar Phoebus|
They are fairly similar, with the desktop coming out on top via the 1080, but the laptop sporting a newer CPU. Given that the 1080 desktop card is a better card the better frames are understandable.
I do suggest that you run the in-game benchmark utility, a 3-minute loop, as with such similar specs I was tempted to use the same settings on both machines. What the benchmark showed is that the desktop was suited to “Favour Quality” (higher textures, draw distances etc) vs the laptop which “Favoured Performance” to maintain that high framerate as much as possible.
Another area that shows that the port isn’t as good as Death Stranding is that on first boot you have to sit through about a 7 to 10-minute engine initialisation process where the game sets up based on your machine specs. It is irritating when you install the game on three different machines, I was reviewing a laptop at the same time, and must sit through that same thing. A developer friend said to me that this happens, especially in games made in Unity, but it is usually only in lower-budget games. This is where a console tends to outshine the PC, you install the game, boot up and are into the action and that is due to the fact that a PS4 is a PS4 is a PS4 while a PC has infinite hardware configurations that need to be accounted for.
As Sony studios gain more experience and PC becomes a more viable market for them I expect that these issues will be ironed out and Guerrilla has released statements assuring fans that they are working on patches as we speak to address all the issues that players have reported.
A Game PC Players Should Make Time For
Horizon Zero Dawn is a great first step by Sony into the PC market. They chose one of their best games of the current console generation to woo PC gamers with and on the whole, it has worked remarkably well. The combination of kinetic combat, interesting story and characters and lush, beautiful world to roam about in leaves an impression that is hard to shake or ignore on anyone who takes the time to play this game.
Performance issues aside the game is a worthy addition to any backlog and if you enjoy the open world and third-person action games, you will have a great time battling these Dinobots. Now we just have to wait and see if God of War gets the PC treatment.
Written by one of our amazing freelance team Lynley James
This review is based on the PC version of the game which you can purchase here for £39.99.
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Horizon Zero Dawn
Experience Aloy’s entire legendary quest to unravel the mysteries of a world ruled by deadly Machines. An outcast from her tribe, the young hunter fights to uncover her past, discover her destiny… and stop a catastrophic threat to the future. Unleash devastating, tactical attacks against unique Machines and rival tribes as you explore an open world teeming with wildlife and danger. Horizon Zero Dawn is a multi-award-winning action role-playing game – and this Complete Edition for PC includes the huge expansion The Frozen Wilds, featuring new lands, skills, weapons and Machines.
Product Currency: GBP
Product Price: 39.99
Product In Stock: SoldOut