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E3 2016 – Playing Horizon: Zero Dawn Feels as Good as it Looks

horizon zero dawn

Realistic robots and bows that don’t suck.

Games rarely feel as lively and dynamic as they appear in their promotional material, but Horizon: Zero Dawn is the exception. At E3, I got a chance to go hands-on with Guerrilla Games’ new venture, a chance to dive into a world where giant mechanical beasts dominate, and a weakened mankind, having lost their own history, merely survives in ignorance.

My hands-on demo was preceded by a live demonstration, where I saw Aloy leave her tribe’s safe borders, make way towards another tribe in need, and get told she’s insane twice before even reaching her objective. She’s alone in wanting answers about humanity’s past, but she’s well equipped for her insanity.


Aloy scans the area with the help of salvaged ancient technology, identifying in the surrounding wildlife along with their vulnerabilities and loot. She can quietly sneak close to a Machine and use her time-slowing ability to launch arrows straight into its weak points. She can also run in headfirst, thrusting blades into robotic jugulars. Most intriguing to watch and use was the Ropecaster, a gun that will lodge a rope into a machine and stick the other end in the ground. A web of well-aimed ropes completely immobilizes a Broadhead, which Aloy “overrides” and subsequently mounts. I tried this myself, and found that not only was the creature fun to ride, but it could maneuver over rocky terrain fantastically well and be called into battle for help. You can also kill your tamed friend, and it won’t fight back. This was disturbing to test, but it had to be done.

The presentation ended with a boss battle against a large spider mech that had been corrupting nearby Machines. It fell with the help of my last-minute dodging and a couple of bombs that Aloy detonated with ranged strikes from her own arrows. These corrupters seem to be just the tip of Horizon: Zero Dawn’s conflict, and though so much remains a mystery, I can’t help but feel Guerrilla has a deep narrative spiral in store.

From my hands-on time with the game, one thing was abundantly clear: Horizon feels good. Shooting arrows – a rarely enjoyable mechanic – is smooth and reliable enough to be a primary attack. The Machines move with terrifyingly animalistic qualities, their wiring tensing and releasing like muscles, their lunges wild and fierce. A Watcher rushes past me as I hastily roll sideways, painstaking animations capture perfectly the intensity in both our movements, and after its defeat I eagerly anticipate my next encounter. In fact, it’s this very species, its coy movements and character, that first convinced the development team that convincing robot animals could be a reality.

There’s a strong, skilled hand behind Horizon: Zero Dawn, shaping an experience that, thus far, plays as well as it looks on screen. With hopes that its characters and open world can be as engaging as its combat, we can’t wait to see more of Aloy and her story.

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