Horizon Zero Dawn is the Best Game I Haven’t Played
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 10:01pm 05/08/20 | Comments
With Sony and Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn hitting CPUs and GPUs, Kosta has finally stepped into the post-apocalyptic shoes of heroine Aloy to slay some robo-dinos. And to stop and look at all the beautiful scenery...
Confession time, back in 2017 I didn’t play Horizon Zero Dawn when it debuted on the PlayStation 4. Partly because there wasn’t a PS4 situated all snug and close to my, err, 1080p display. Yeah, dark times to be sure. As per Joab’s glowing review, paired with the stunning shots of its vibrant post-apocalyptic world overrun by robo-dinosaurs, it was always something of a wish-list title.
In the ensuing years, as my gaming space went 4K and the arrival of a PlayStation 4 Pro let me experience the glory that is God of War, there were plenty of chances to jump in and check out Horizon Zero Dawn. But we’ve all been the star of our own Shame Pile: A (Insert Name Here) Story, and seen big releases come and go only to nod in their general direction to say, “Yeah fam, I’ll get to you soon”.
Thanks to the PC release of Horizon Zero Dawn, that ‘soon’ has become now. And after close to 16 hours spent in its world – it’s safe to say that the legends were true. Horizon Zero Dawn is legit awesome.
"We’ve all been the star of our own Shame Pile: A (Insert Name Here) Story, and seen big releases come and go only to nod in their general direction to say, 'Yeah fam, I’ll get to you soon'.”
Paired with impressive art direction and a style that is as focused on beauty as it is technical detail, this 2020 re-release that also includes The Frozen Wilds expansion in a Complete Edition is simply put – stunning. Some of its advanced visual effects and graphics options make it look next-gen too – a little glimpse at the sort of stuff we’ll be seeing in the PlayStation 5-bound sequel Horizon Forbidden West.
I mean, it’s nuts.
Built on developer Guerrilla’s in-house Decima engine, the same toolset and technical wizardry that powered Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding (another PS4-first title that recently got an equally impressive PC release), this version of Horizon takes an already solid foundation and adds all manner of premium bits and bobs. Like modifying a bow for more damage or better handling or upgrading a few pouches so you can store more rabbit meat, Horizon Zero Dawn on PC takes full advantage of current high-end graphics technology.
In that it’s more like the robotic Sawtooth and Snapmaws you’ll face – bows and pouches are way too lo-fi.
Horizon Zero Dawn on PC does that thing we always love to see when a third-party or big console title makes its way to the home of the keyboard and mouse – improved texture quality, increased draw distances, better shadows and reflections, fluffier clouds, and thicker and more interactive foliage. Plus, support for a wide range of aspect ratios and frame-rates, including friendly ultra-wide settings (going all the way up to 32:9), the ability to adjust the FOV, set render scale, frame-rate limits, and variable resolution to maintain a solid 60 frames-per-second.
As with most console third-person RPGs (and yeah, Horizon Zero Dawn is an RPG), the PlayStation 4 originally ran at the TV-friendly 30 frames-per-second. Which is fine, and when it comes to the Assassin’s Creeds and Spider-Mans of the world – playing at 30fps is something that doesn’t take all that long to adjust to. Again, it’s fine. To quote an old-timey linguist, it’s pleasantly perfectly playable.
"Horizon Zero Dawn on PC does that thing we always love to see when a third-party or big console title makes its way to the home of the keyboard and mouse – improved texture quality, increased draw distances, better shadows and reflections, fluffier clouds, and thicker and more interactive foliage.”
Pssst, now that the console scrubs have left – how awesome and smooth is 60 frames-per-second? How much easier is it to spin the camera around and line-up the perfect arrow-shot? Amazing right. Running around and seeing this lush post-apocalyptic world as smooth as God intended – heavenly.
Guerrilla’s focus on beauty is as diverse as it is measured, purposely homing in on warm, golden hour lighting to present early narrative beats, with dramatic weather shifts brought in at key moments to showcase rain, storms, and the truly stunning glow of a world basking in moonlight as Aloy’s journey progresses. It’s only after you’re a decent chunk into the game that the full day/night weather system kicks in – and with snow-capped peaks, lush forests, sand-swept rocky formations (as in the areas I’ve seen so far) you’re never a few minutes away from stopping to smell the digital roses. Translation, hitting that F12 key in Steam.
Unfortunately, one area where Horizon doesn’t follow it’s Decima-powered brother, Norman Reedus, is the lack of a DLSS 2.0 implementation. This means that for the best 1440p/4K experience (even with some scaling) you’ll need at least a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2080 to keep the frame-rate in the region of 60-fps. With DLSS 2.0 no doubt this would be achievable across the wider RTX range (that is 60-fps) with no loss in picture quality. It’s amazing tech. The render scaling and use of TAA anti-aliasing is the one area where Horizon Zero Dawn doesn’t quite feel as bleeding edge as Death Stranding.
A minor complaint, and one that probably has something to do with Sony’s hardware partnership with AMD – but even so, the only cards currently capable of running Horizon Zero Dawn using its high-end ultra-settings at 4K are found in the RTX range.
Now that may sound — and kind of is — a not-all-that relevant trivial technical tidbit (be gone, old-timey linguist), but it’s a sentiment born from just how gorgeous Horizon Zero Dawn consistently is. A quick look at my screenshot folder, and it has over 200 captures – all lovingly framed via the excellent in-game photo tool - was proof enough. This was a looker on the PS4 in 2017, and in many ways helped further the serious approach and acceptance of digital photography (that is, in-game shots) as a serious art-form. A testament to the work by Guerrilla in presenting a vision of the future that can highlight its present without dwelling on the remnants of our own current day modernity.
"Guerrilla’s focus on beauty is as diverse as it is measured, purposely homing in on warm golden hour lighting to present early narrative beats, with dramatic weather shifts brought in at key moments to showcase rain, storms, and the truly stunning glow of a world basking in moonlight.”
It doesn’t hurt that it’s a great game to boot, with engaging combat, progression, exploration, narrative beats and world-building. It’s not perfect, but it’s one of those RPG titles that either grabs you or doesn’t. If it does, you’ll be hooked for weeks, and will keep coming back to simply exist in its world, fight the good fight, and discover what lies over that hill. A new robotic threat? No doubt. But also, a glimpse into the past through the lens of a stunning modern-day technical achievement. Words that rang true in 2017, words that cover the entire spectrum of concept art through to texture detail, and thanks to Horizon Zero Dawn: Complete Edition on PC -- words that still ring true in 2020.