Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn


There is an old adage in entertainment media that products with female leads will simply not sell well enough to be worth the effort to develop them. This seems to go double for games, were only a select few have done anything close to ‘ok’ in terms of sales, and fewer still have gone on to spawn an entire franchise, with Tomb Raider and Metroid being the only real contenders and Metroid being a stretch as for almost all the games you are barely identifiable encased in Samus’ powered armour.

Looking up the list of female characters in games, distressingly few of them are women and even fewer not portrayed as either sidekicks or over sexualized. While I will freely admit that those characters who are a bit scantily clad tickle my hetero white male sensibilities (yes I am part of the problem), I also find the ability to play as a women enticing, especially if the character is written well.

Enter Aloy, star of Guerrilla Games Horizon: Zero Dawn. She is a arrow shooting, spear wielding bad ass who can tear through packs of robotic animals with ease, genuinely develops over the course of the game's story, and is never once portrayed as a damsel in distress. Aloy is, frankly, a next generation hero, someone who is already gaining popularity as cosplay and a game character Guerilla should be proud of.

Aloy’s world is a strange one. Set hundreds of years in the future, nature has reclaimed much of the planet and only ruins of our once great civilization remain. Humanity leaves in various tribes, but are united in a common enemy: the machines.

These robotic beasts have been shown in all of Horizon’s promo material and range from relatively small, to towering monsters bristling with advanced weaponry. They represent things like horses, rhino’s, birds of prey and crocodiles and each one is deadly in its own way. Aloy is dropped into this world with a...bow, not exactly the most advanced weapon ever made, but it is amazingly effective. Her mission is to figure out where she comes from, and what is going on with these machines.

The story is actually pretty great, it twists in some interesting ways and features some memorable characters, but all of them pale in comparison to Aloy herself. The voice acting is top notch throughout with each character a believable person in the context of the world, everyone tinged with mistakes or character flaws and some outright assholes.

After a start as a small, rebellious child, outcast from her tribe to live with her adoptive father, Aloy is eventually allowed to travel the wider world.The open world is huge, with draw distances to match, a play space that is truly stunning and a place that just existing in, not even completing missions or side quests, is worth doing. Climbing up to the top of a ridge or mountain and staring out over the landscape is something made for the photo sharing features of the PS4, and made my jaw drop on several occasions, even without the grunt of the PS4 Pro and a 4K TV.


There is plenty to do and see, but, and this is crucial to an open world game, nothing ever gets overwhelming. The map does contain hundreds of icons once you discover enough or earn the shards to buy the maps to reveal things, but most of those are simply the locations of various types of machines. The collectibles aren’t into the hundreds and I was able to collect them all pretty easily. The last game I did that on was Assassin's Creed II, so Horizon is in good company.

Improving Aloy’s skills and weapons rarely feels like a chore, with most of the materials required gained through the excellent battles against machines. The combat system is expertly crafted, and never gets old even when fighting human enemies, though admittedly these battles are never as interesting as battling even the smallest robots.

Each fight can be approached in different ways, but I found sneaking around and picking my shots the most effective. For example, I came upon a pack of Striders (robot horses essentially), so I snuck up through long grass to conceal my movements. These machines have ‘blaze’ canisters on their backs, so I shot one with a fire arrow. This caused the canister to ignite, resulting in an explosion that killed the target and severely damaged nearby Striders allowing me to pick them off one by one.

That tactic is so satisfying to pull off, though it comes with a downside. Because I destroyed the canister, I couldn’t loot that corpse for it, and this risk/reward mechanic comes into play often. With many machines I can do a similar thing, but I get less back than if I attacked them in a more conventional way. This extends to making ammo for the various weapons, as this takes resources such as those blaze canisters and wood, but also metal shards.

Shards are also the game's currency, so until you get to a point where you have the weapons and armour you are comfortable with, making ammo depletes your ability to purchase items. Killing enemies and machines will net you more and selling things to ample merchants dotted around solves this, but it is an interesting way to get people to think about the combat.

Each weapon also comes with tutorial missions, such as ‘trip three medium sized enemies’ for the trip caster, a weapon that fires wires that might explode or be charged with electricity. These are great experience earners but more than that get you to experiment with other weapons, even if it is just to complete them for the experience. Personally I found a good load out that allowed me to take on even the biggest machines with relative ease, but I also played on default difficulty.


Everything about playing the game is absolutely spot on, combat, missions, side quests. The biggest problem, and Horizon’s only major weakness is animation. I am not talking about animation out the world either, every human, every machine or animal moves perfectly even during combat. I am talking about during cut scenes, and it is absolutely atrocious at times.

Aloy just won’t stay still during scenes, her head is always moving, whether she is talking or not. This goes for the character she is talking to too, but she is the worst culprit. It would be better if this movement was in anyway smooth or natural but it’s not, it is a twitchy bouncy mess, giving Aloy a look of perpetual confusion and the disposition of someone suffering from Parkinson's disease than the naive outcast girl they paint her as in the writing.

It’s frustrating because every other part of the game is of such high quality that this one problem brings the package down, and does so unfairly. Playing the game is so much fun it never gets old, but these broken animations wear out very quickly and pull you out of the experience almost instantly after a while. It can be overlooked, but that then means losing out on an interesting story if you were to skip them or look at your phone.

After 50+ hours with it, I can tell you that Horizon: Zero Dawn is a fantastic game, well worth your time. The problems around the animation are not so bad that they spoil the act of playing, and you can certainly have plenty of fun running about the world without even doing the missions or side quests. The combat is stellar and the designs of the machines are awesome in some cases, providing genuinely intimidating foes to conquer.

The missions are generally great, providing a cool story with some twists and turns and take Aloy on a journey to discover her place in the world. It’s just those damn cut scenes, the game deserves better and while it is a small thing, it ultimately brings the whole thing down from ‘classic’ to ‘great’.Still, shooting robotic dinosaurs in the eyes with arrows is so much fun you would be silly not to give it a go.

Review: Samurai Warriors 4

*this was originally posted on thisismyjoystick

It’s not often one series pretty much corners the market, so much so that the game becomes the genre it created. The Warriors games did this many years ago and, due to various spin offs, if you want to play a game in this genre, it comes from the developer Omega Force.

The latest of these spin off games is Samurai Warriors 4, and represents the genre’s first real leap to the next-gen systems. Unfortunately, that leap doesn’t extend to improved gameplay, graphical prowess or storytelling, and leaves it showing only a small spark of promise that is instantly snuffed once you realise how repetitive it all is.

I haven’t played any of the previous games before it, so I went into this with little to no expectations on what the moment-to-moment gameplay really was. I had an idea, but I was happy to expand my horizons with a series I had never played before, and at first I was pleasantly surprised with a starting character’s ability to mow down hundreds of guys easily.

Soon after, though, I realised that that is literally all you do. Sure, you pick up items to help you out in the next battle, but you really only wander a boring battlefield attacking anything with a health bar until they disappear to indicate you have killed them. This is accomplished with a simplistic combat system that could almost be deep if it wasn’t so pointless.

That system is essentially two buttons to control different attack types, but by stringing them together, you can unleash a whole heap of different attacks. The problem is that it is all window dressing; just one heavy attack and one light attack would do, especially when combined with the musou attacks and rage meter, which grant screen filling spectacles that clear out an area – and any more powerful enemies – very quickly.

Trying to hit buttons in the right way to unleash the different moves in the list feels like button mashing because that is exactly what it is. The move list itself doesn’t do what it says, compromising of a bunch of pictures of the square and triangle buttons next to each other, with no context as what hitting them in that order actually does. It does make the player character do different things, but I just didn’t care.

The story mode makes this worse and consists of a series of battles segmented by what appear to be various historic Japanese clans, fighting it out during what’s known as ‘The Sengoku Period’, though it never really tells you what that means. So a series of five battles will be fought for one clan, then the credits roll with an incredibly boring and drama-free end to that storyline, and you move on to the next.

These segments offer different characters to control, each with their own weapon, but once again, none of it really matters. Each character has pretty much the same move list in terms of controls; it’s just what happens on screen that may vary, but not so much that it makes any real difference. They just aren’t distinct enough.

Story wise, Samurai Warriors 4 is both terrible and inconsistent. If this is supposed to be set during a real historical period in Japan, why does one of the segments feature what appears to be a demon who can disappear at will? Why would you be fighting a set of enemies in one segment, only to have them be your allies in the next? Why do some characters have magical abilities if this is a real battle during that period? It makes absolutely no sense at all.

The voice acting and lip syncing are both terrible

It isn’t helped by the fact that the voice acting and lip syncing are both terrible, and there is no option for an English voice-over. To be fair on that last point it is a game set in Japan in a period where no-one spoke English, so in one sense it is understandable, but it might have given what little plot there is more meaning to a western audience.

On the plus side, there is the odd small spark of inspiration during the campaign. If the developers had focused on fewer characters and woven the story between a few different sides of the same conflict, showing why exactly those people are fighting and the political machinations that lead to each battle, it would have proved much more interesting. Sadly, that spark is put out by poor writing, terrible voice work and a complete lack of sense.

The other modes included are a Free mode where you can play any level with any unlocked character, and Chronicle mode, which is actually the one good thing about the whole package – that is until you realise you still have to fight the battles.

Chronicle mode lets you create a character and then sets them free to wander Japan and build up a book about the people from the Story mode. You do this by either increasing your friendship with them by changing your ‘life’s ambition’ or by fighting alongside them, depending on the character.


Defeating them in battle somehow translates to them becoming your friend and saying they will join you on your journey, and to be fair, it can be interesting to see how these characters progress. On the other hand, it is all stuff you can find out about the real people on the internet and it brings little to the table other than trophy/achievement chasing.

At least the game runs smoothly, as I didn’t notice any frame rate issues or graphical bugs, but it also isn’t the prettiest thing to look at. Some cut-scenes look okay, with the majority just as good as anything on the previous generation, but they wouldn’t have been anything special then and they certainly aren’t now.

I suppose I should have realised just how bad things really were when every single menu option always defaults to ‘No’, and that includes the one that asks me if I want to load my save game. If you are actively asking your player base to not load the save for your game, something has gone very wrong.


Wrong. Samurai Warriors 4 is not a good game by any standards. On Easy and Normal it is so mind-numbingly repetitive that you wish for something, anything to break up the flow, but increasing the difficulty just leads to frustration as it tasks you with moving around the battlefield at a pace characters are not set up for.

The few small areas that see Samurai Warriors blossom into a truly great game are crushed by this frustrating gameplay loop, dropping the whole thing into an endless abyss it never recovers from. There are far better ways to spend your money on the new consoles, so don’t waste it on this.