Horizon Zero Dawn is the robot-hunting adventure game I didn't know I wanted.
Stalking deadly mechanical beasts from afar with a hunting bow, setting up tripwires to topple them and leaping from concealment to stab them in their robotic guts when they are down are as satisfying as they sound.
If being stealthy is not your cup of tea, your sassy protagonist, Aloy, is just as adept at confronting these robots head-on, thanks to a dizzying array of arrows that rain fire, ice and other elemental attacks.
Besides her trusty bow, Aloy can use a variety of weapons, from a sling that lobs bombs to a rope-firing tool that entangles the legs and wings of robots.
While these robots - which are mostly based on predators like alligators, tigers and dinosaurs - appear fearsome, they can become as helpless as kittens when hit with an elemental attack that they are weak to. Their weaponised appendages can also be shot off with precise hits.
PRICE: $72.90 (PS4, version tested)
GENRE: Role-playing game
Aloy is an independent, self-sufficient warrior who can instantly craft arrows even in the heat of battle. Her health can be restored using herbs foraged in the wild, or using potions that she brews using gathered materials.
This foraging process often slowed the game down, as I had to stock up on supplies before confronting a difficult enemy. For some reason, the merchants in the game do not sell some of the necessary crafting items, so you are forced to gather these yourselves, even if you have plenty of in-game currency.
Her biggest advantage is Focus, an augmented reality earpiece picked up at the beginning of the game. It lets her scan the surroundings for enemies and tells her the weaknesses of each robot type. It also plays a key role in completing a number of quests that require Aloy to track down the paths of enemies via bloodstains and other clues.
Horizon Zero Dawn is set in a distant future after apocalyptic events that seemed to have wiped out most life on the planet. But, unlike the usual Fallout-type of games, there is no nuclear wasteland. Instead, nature has reclaimed the planet, with lush greenery burying the remnants of civilisation.
Humans, however, have not fared as well. They have gone back to using bows and arrows and living in constant fear of robotic beasts.
Aloy has been deemed an outcast from the Nora tribe since birth. Raised by another outcast, she trains her entire life to prove her worth and to learn why she is persona non grata. Unlike her people, Aloy is inquisitive and her quest for knowledge leads her to far-off lands, where she discovers the cause of the apocalypse and her own origins.
Because Aloy is basically solving an ancient mystery, much of the main story is told via audio and text recordings found at ruins. The world described in these relics is familiar to us, as the world is set decades ahead in an alternative vision of the Earth we know, with advanced artificial intelligence and robots.
Horizon is an open-world game, which means you are free to explore its varied environments, which range from icy slopes to an arid desert. There is a day and night cycle and the weather changes depending on the area. It looks stunning, especially when played on a PlayStation 4 Pro with HDR enabled and upscaled to 4K resolution. I was not surprised to learn that Metal Gear Solid developer Hideo Kojima is using the same game engine for his next game.
Developer Guerrilla Games, known for the Killzone series of first-person shooter games, plays it safe by taking gameplay elements from other open-world games. For instance, you can remove the fog obscuring the world map by climbing up giant robot dinosaurs called Tallnecks and hacking into their radar. This is akin to climbing up and ringing the bell towers in Far Cry 4.
There are also plenty of side quests and areas to explore, such as bandit camps to clear, robot dungeons that, once completed, grant Aloy the ability to control and even ride certain robots - not to mention the many unique collectibles that can be traded with merchants.
The game world is not quite as big as that in The Witcher 3 and the main story can be completed in around 30hr or so. However, you can always dive back in to finish the quests and grab that last relic.
• Verdict: Horizon Zero Dawn does not reinvent the open-world genre but incorporates the best gameplay elements into a beautiful world teeming with danger, and anchored by a strong female protagonist with a mysterious origin.