Thoughts on…Horizon Zero Dawn

Reviews, Video Games

For me, Horizon Zero Dawn came at very strange time. I had just come off a two-week binging of both Uncharted 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider. Plus, Breathe of the Wild was going to be released in just a few days. One could say that I was going through somewhat of an open-world/action game overload.

I mean, for various reasons, Uncharted 4 and RotTR are both excellent games. Uncharted does cinematic story-telling better than just about anybody and that facial animation is worth the price of admission on its own. And Tomb Raider crafted a really fun campaign filled with interesting RPG elements. Add in the fact that the hype for Zelda was at a fever pitch and it’s easy to see a world where Horizon didn’t a fair shake from me.

Which is why it was so impressive to me that Horizon was as enthralling as it was. Literally everything in my life was going against this game and it still made an impression. That’s when you know you have a true gem on your hands. Often, when playing games, my real life experiences help shape how I view the game. So, when a game takes my current mood in life and just says, “no, you need to pay attention”, that’s exactly what I do.

At the core, Horizon is so captivating because the developers have nailed two major things. First, the game is pure fun. Guerrilla Games locked in what is, for my money, the best bow-play in the business. The central shooting mechanic is so perfect that it almost feels like you’re handicapping your own experience when you decide to go for the easier stealth method.

Even beyond the shooting, the way different weapons in your arsenal interact with each other and your enemies make for a deceptively deep combat system. After awhile, you sort of find what works best for your playstyle, but it’s worth it to look for opportunities to switch it up. You’ll be rewarded with immensely satisfying fights that will truly test you.

Speaking of immensely satisfying, the other thing Horizon nails is how to tell a story. Now, if someone wrote the plot of Horizon out and handing it to me, I don’t know if I would think it’s some amazing post-apocalyptic fiction. That said, Guerrilla Games understands how to string you along and keep you invested.

Countless times during my playthrough I found myself saying, “just one more quest”. Horizon’s drip feed of information is as close to perfect as I’ve seen in a video game. Every answered question comes with more questions and you have to know the answers. And, while the game doesn’t completely stick the landing, it does better than just about any other video game narrative I’ve seen.

On top of these two gigantic pluses in Horizon’s “pros and cons” sheet, the game looks incredible. The skyboxes are breath-taking and Aloy’s hair might be the best in gaming. Sure, the facial animations are a little stiff and the voice sync gets off from time-to-time, but those are minor complaints. If you want a game to show off your PS4 (or your Pro), this is a great option.

So, as you can see, I’m pretty high on this game. It became my second platinum (though the other one is Fallout 4, which is a game I kind of hate) last week and I’m currently rocking the platinum theme. I think this game is more than worth your time. It’s ability to stand out even during my open-world/action game overload made it a game I’d recommend to everyone. Do yourself a favor and pick it up, if you haven’t already.

Thoughts on The Video Game Awards

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Last night (December 3rd), Geoff Keighley put on the second annualĀ  Game Awards, which is an award show that doesn’t really focus that much on rewards (something that’s somewhat refreshing given how boring the Oscars, Emmys, and other often feel). Instead, Keighley slick production tends to put more focus on their “world premieres”. Back when The Game Awards was the Video Game Awards, these were usually big reveals of things like Skyrim, MGSV, and Mass Effect 3.

Sadly, for fans of seeing lots of video game trailers, those days seem to be behind us. In fact, the biggest news out of this conference might be the announcement that Psychonauts 2 is coming out (if you crowdfund it). That said, I wanted to take some time to post some of my thoughts on various announcements as something of a personal catalog that others are free to view.

Psychonauts 2 is COMING (but you have to fund it first)

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When this trailer hit, my jaw hit the floor. I honestly never thought we’d be getting this game because of how long it has been since the release of the first Psychonauts.That said, it was a little disappointing (though not surprising) that it was going to be a crowdfunded title.

Obviously, we’ve seen a lot of success in the crowdfunding platform over the last few years. And Double Fine has been among the most successful at building quality campaigns. However, it still feels weird to have something announced like this. I know Shenmue 3’s campaign was announced at PSX last year, but that felt like a one-time thing that was Sony’s way of showing that they are actively going forward with the “Building the List” initiative.

This announcement, on the other hand, felt like Double Fine’s way of trying to prove that Fig is a viable platform. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that they would go with such a cult favorite to be the first big game on their new crowdfunding site; I just didn’t see it coming and don’t really love the announcement for something that might technically never come out.

Of course, at the time of this writing, the game has raised 1.3 million or 40% of their goal, so the chances of it not hitting its funding in 34 days seems pretty low. I guess this is our new reality and old men (or twenty-somethings) like me will have to get used to it.

Kojima barred from attending by Konami

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In a surprising and disappointing turn of events, Hideo Kojima was legally barred from attending this year’s Game Awards by Konami’s lawyers. It was a pretty shocking and petty display by a publisher that has been in hot water all year long. Surely the bad will gained from moves like this are going to cut into the company’s bottom line at some point (at least in America).

It really was a bummer that an artist like Kojima was unable to accept the awards he earned by putting everything into his Metal Gear Solid series. It’s pretty rare in gaming to see a creator as synonymous with his creation as Kojima is and not seeing him presentĀ  for what should be a night of celebration left a bad taste on the proceedings.

The Witcher 3 cleans up

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The Witcher 3 led all games with six nominations and came away with Role-playing game of the Year, Developer of the Year, and Game of the Year. That’s about as successful as a studio can be at one of these things.

However, it felt weird to me. Obviously, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and if you want to champion The Witcher as your GOTY, then you’re free to do so. I just didn’t expect so many industry veterans to come to that consensus over Bloodborne, MGSV, and Mario Maker.

Listen, I adored The Witcher when I played it earlier this year. I was pretty glowing in my praise when I wrote about it for this blog. However, it didn’t really stick with me like other games did. I can’t really remember too many notable quests and the gameplay wasn’t good enough for the narrative to not matter. It’s a great game; I’m just surprised it’s the Game of the Year.

Telltale’s making a Batman game

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So, my brother is the biggest Batman fan I know. He loves all the Arkham games, buys tons of comics, and watches Gotham religiously. Thus, I was expecting he’d be excited when I told him Batman was getting the Telltale treatment.

His reaction? “You mean the ones where don’t really play a video game?”

And really, he’s not wrong. I’m sure this game will sell like gangbusters, but are Telltale games still worth getting excited over? The engine is pretty terrible and the whole “illusion of choice” seems to be wearing out its welcome. Time will tell, I suppose.

Xbox gets Rocket League (and other Microsoft news)

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It wasn’t too surprising to see Microsoft bring some noise in contrast to Sony pretty much saying nothing. After all, Sony has their own press conference coming up this weekend at PSX.

That said, Rocket League is a pretty good get. Obviously, this one was coming to XBone at some point, but it’s still something that’s going to really excite that community. Also, that Tomb Raider DLC is making it even harder to wait an entire year for it to come to PS4. Not that I’m questioning my console choice, but that last game was pretty great.

Quantum Break still isn’t really doing it for me. Even after reading Game Informer’s big feature story last month, I’m still not sure if I should be interested in this one or not. But overall, Microsoft had a subtly good Game Awards.

Her Story and Rocket League lead the way for Indies

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Speaking of Rocket League, it and Her Story won two awards each, which put them on par with any other game outside of The Witcher. I haven’t gotten to Her Story just yet (curse you Fallout 4), but I’m very intrigued to play it sometime soon.

Rocket League was one of the better games I can remember being released during the summer and I thought it should’ve been up for GOTY over Fallout 4. In a year of great Indies, it’s nice to see a few get some big time recognition at these awards.

Greg Miller and Reggie Fils-Aime bring the feels

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In the most heartwarming moments of the night, Reggie Fils-Aime and Greg Miller delivered poignant tributes/shoutouts to various developers.

Reggie, obviously, had a lot to say about his friend and mentor Satoru Iwata, the former Nintendo President who passed away this summer. It was a touching send-up of one of the more key figures in gaming.

Greg Miller dedicated his speech for winning Trending Gamer to the people who make video games. It was an excellent speech that you should really seek out for yourself here:

All in all, this was a pretty slim show as far as announcements go. I was expecting Microsoft to drop at least one big, Triple A bomb to get in front of whatever Sony’s bringing this weekend. Additionally, Nintendo was very quiet on the announcement front, which left the show feeling sparse. Of course, this could be a sign of Keighley’s production trying to put the awards first. If that’s the case, then I think they did a decent job and set a solid foundation to build next year’s show on. I guess we’ll find out in 2016.