PAX Aus 2016 – Horizon Zero Dawn Hands-On Preview

PAX Australia has just begun and we’re off to a flying start! There wasn’t much to see in our initial Media access at 9 o’clock, but 7 of us did manage to slip our way into a demo for Horizon Zero Dawn, the PlayStation 4 exclusive title by Guerilla Games. The game is due out on the 28th of February next year, but this demo is available to the public and can be located in the PlayStation booth on the PAX Aus show floor. Alas, no photos are allowed! If you’ve forgotten about Alloy (It’s a metal, get it?) and her post-post-apocalyptic future, here’s a trailer to refresh your memory on what this game is:

The hands-on demo was… Pretty limited. In fact, it was quite frustrating trying to do any form of exploration in this world — which from what we’ve seen so far, IS magnificently breathtaking — because the area we were allowed to run around in was very small. It was not long into the demo before I received the dreaded “you are exiting the demo area please return or it will be restarted”. But how does it play? Well, colour me cautiously optimistic. First off, the stealth mechanics were simple; you blend into the grass and an eye indicates whether or not you are in the shadows, while you can launch sneak takedowns from these areas. It’s also effective to utilise Aloy’s scanner in these areas, to highlight weak points, which is one-hundred percent necessary. Without the scan, there is no noticeable indication of where to strike the robots. I know it’s a pretty minor point to harp on about, but most games fail to make the scanner relevant beyond initial tutorials. Most of the time I just improvise my way through encounters, which can become very stale. What I didn’t gather throughout the demo, is whether planning will still be necessary late-game. Heck, even towards the end of it, I tried to tackle an enemy far beyond my level by just running around the crab-like creature on my moose and shooting it. But I have news for you — it worked! Our weapon kit included a bow and slingshot with a few different elemental abilities, as well as the tether, which pins robots down. There wasn’t enough time –nor room– to test our the different elements enough, but damn, fire seemed pretty effective.

Throughout the demo, there were only three enemies available to fight, all of which were pretty simple. However, they did provide us with an opportunity to ‘override’ them. Basically, once you’ve pinned down the dinosaurs, you approach melee range and hold down triangle, which puts them in a more docile state. This period is when you can mount and ride around moose-like robots (I may have forgotten the name), while other creatures just get stunned for a few seconds. Fortunately, all weapons are usable while on ‘bot-back’, which was pretty fun, despite the difficulty in targeting any meaningful pressure point on enemies at the same time. Resources and crafting are primary aspects of the game, however, they were not testable in the demo. We were still able to collect herbs and resources from creatures stomping about, as well as crates that robot-like crabs were picking off the ground. Interestingly, if you don’t want to actually fight the robots, guerilla-style attacks can be made to weaken their grip and quickly retrieve the items. Unfortunately, the demo didn’t have a boss battle in it, which was… Disappointing. In terms of performance, the game ran fine, at roughly 30 FPS. Although, it wasn’t on a PlayStation 4 Pro, so whether or not there is a noticeable increase in performance is yet to be seen.

Overall, it has potential. Horizon Zero Dawn is a game which feels like it presents a unique take on open-world gameplay, but it could very well fall into a repetitive motion. The strategy in combat is interesting, but will it be necessary after you’ve attained a few upgrades? Will the crafting be fun and engaging, or will it become a monotonous chore? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!