PAX AUS 2016: Horizon Zero Dawn Hands-on Impressions

November 4, 2016

After the excellent hands-off demo at E3 2016 whet my appetite, I’ve been counting down the days until I could get Horizon Zero Dawn into my hot little hands and go wild. While I didn’t quite get to go wild with the game at PAX Australia this weekend, I did get the opportunity to go hands-on with a relatively open area within the game and get some early impressions on what to expect when it releases.

The demo had me take control of Alloy in a small, open area of the world with a full arsenal, a range of robo-creatures to fool around with and a smattering of hunt objectives to fulfil. My first order of business was seeing how Aloy controlled. I ran around aimlessly, jumping on and off ledges and changing direction suddenly. It’s clear that Guerilla Games has taken some inspiration from Naughty Dog, as Aloy controls extremely similarly to Nathan Drake in Uncharted with some delayed responsiveness to initial movement and sudden stops and responsive evades. Those hoping for some incredibly responsive, turn on a dime, controls may be disappointed, but the movement controls were perfectly fine.


Unlike in Uncharted though, the emphasis here is not on cover based shooting and is instead focused on third person shooting and dodging enemy attacks. This is where the shooting mechanics come to the fore, with an excellent responsiveness and feel. I could easily track enemy movements with bow, with no sluggishness in its movements, and quickly let off shots at enemy robots. The different ammo types for each weapon felt different and were all satisfying to use; especially the fire bombs. Each robot also had its own attack and movement styles which needed to be adapted to. The large crab-style walkers were surprisingly nimble, unleashing fast and powerful attacks that belied their size. The Watchers tended to attack in packs, working to quickly dash in and overwhelm me with multiple attacks. The Grazers would generally run away when attacked, although one did charge me head on in a seeming attempt to gain my attention while the others fled.

From a control and gameplay perspective, Horizon Zero Dawn is interesting in that it takes tried and true control schemes and mashes them up with a variety of interesting enemy encounters. The true strength of my time with Horizon Zero Dawn came from something else entirely: its stunning beauty. On what was presented as standard Playstation 4 units, the colourful and extremely beautiful world goes beyond Uncharted 4, which I consider to be the best-looking game on the console. The draw distance is incredible, the trees and grass look incredibly detailed and move with the wind and your movements, and the general textures are extremely high quality. Yet, despite all its beauty and console pushing brilliance, there were never any noticeable frame drops and no screen tears to be seen. I can’t imagine the sort of technical wizardry Guerilla Games are employing to manage it.

Overall, from my short hands-on time with Horizo Zero Dawn, the game seems to be a remarkably beautiful experience that controls like many third person games before it. The enemies are interesting, the world looks incredible, but the demo I tried didn’t show much of the story. There was nothing to fault in the demo, but for a game that talks about how important its story is, I’ll be waiting to see more on that.