Horizon Forbidden West: The Strange Reasons Why The Sequel Is Being Review Bombed

While most gamers are heaping praise on Horizon Forbidden West, some are leaving oddly negative reviews. Here are several strange reasons why.

Horizon Forbidden West
Photo: PlayStation Studios

Horizon Forbidden West is one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. The game certainly has its flaws but is otherwise a solid and enjoyable experience that has won over many gamers and critics. However, the game is also attracting a notable number of negative reviews that are…weird…to say the least.

When you check out the Metacritic reception for the PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 versions of Forbidden West, you might notice a discrepancy in opinions. Critics shower praise on the game, and their scores have yet to dip below a 60 out of 100. However, user scores are all over the place. Granted, critics and gamers disagreeing is nothing new, but a suspicious number of Metacritic users have given Forbidden West a bad score — and have reviewed that game and that game only.

Now, it would be reductive to claim all the people who left these negative reviews were trolls. Instead, let’s take a deeper look at some of the issues these negative reviews raise as they, and other comments around the internet, have left a trail of breadcrumbs that bring us closer to the source of this apparent dissatisfaction.

Horizon Forbidden West’s Pre-Release Controversy and The Last of Us Part 2 Fallout

The seeds of Horizon Forbidden West’s various “controversies” were planted before the game was even released. Many of them can be traced all the way back to The Last of Us Part 2‘s leaks. Yes, that means that it’s time once again to talk about Abby.

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While the first The Last of Us revolved around the survivors Joel and Ellie, the sequel introduced a new protagonist named Abby Anderson. Abby soon found herself at the center of several controversies, most of which concerned her place in the narrative. However, before all that, she left a bad first impression on some largely due to her looks.

Simply put, Abby is ripped. She is no bodybuilder, but she definitely has more muscles than most of the other characters in that franchise. You probably wouldn’t think that would be a problem, but that design did not sit well with some gamers for a variety of reasons. In fact, some of those gamers started to form a conspiracy theory that suggested Sony was intentionally trying to make its female video game leads look “masculine.”

While the initial controversy surrounding Abby and her design has died down, it still opened the door for more controversies that focused on the design of female video game characters. That brings us back to Horizon Forbidden West

Some Gamers Insist That Aloy’s Design Isn’t “Feminine” Enough

Instead of recycling Aloy’s Zero Dawn character model for the sequel, Guerrilla Games made a new one designed to take advantage of the PlayStation 5’s graphical power. Of course, when recreating a character for a new console, one can’t expect a flawless translation. When some of the first close-ups of Aloy’s new look were circulated around the internet, some gamers took offense to them and repackaged the Abby design conspiracy theories for Aloy.

After examining early versions of the new Aloy model for Horizon Forbidden West, some gamers claimed that the character looked a little…chunkier. They tried to argue that the “new” Aloy wasn’t quite as slim and “feminine” as the character model from Zero Dawn. One disgruntled Twitter user even posted an image they claimed “fixed” the protagonist’s appearance to look more “feminine.” That photoshopped picture gave Aloy altered physical features, as well as eyeshadow, lipstick, and other cosmetics that no longer exist in the world of Horizon. Some claimed to like the fan redesign, but most mocked it.

While the post was eventually deleted, the image and the discourse it fueled have resurfaced since Horizon Forbidden West’s launch. Some gamers are bringing that negativity to the game’s Metacritic score, although, to be fair, there are many more who are roasting those posts and all who agree with them.

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The Aloy “Beard Controversy”

Since Guerrilla Games decided to make a new character model for Aloy, the developers tried to push the limits of what they could render by adding fine details that previous consoles couldn’t handle. One of those design additions apparently went over some gamers’ heads and left the wrong impression that opened the door for undeserved criticism.

Shortly after Horizon Forbidden West was released, a Twitter post asking why Aloy suddenly had a “beard” started to make the rounds. Unlike other pictures of Aloy that contributed to the controversies addressed above, the source of this confusion wasn’t a bad camera angle but a simple misunderstanding (or just plain ignorance).

When Guerrilla Games listed many of Aloy’s new “fine details,” one was described as “peach fuzz.” Otherwise known as vellus hair, peach fuzz is a soft, translucent hair that grows on a person’s face. Normally, you can’t see peach fuzz unless you get within several inches of someone’s face. While some people choose to remove peach fuzz from their faces, usually through a procedure called dermaplaning, the hair itself is perfectly natural and is by no means a beard.

Much like the tweet about Aloy’s facial features, quite a few people agreed used the “beard” misunderstanding as the basis for their criticisms despite it being quickly debunked. But yet again, you can find quite a few negative reviews that mention Aloy’s “beard.”

Horizon Forbidden West Has Been Accused of Copying and Pasting Animations From…The Original Game

Even though Guerrilla Games created a new Aloy character model for Horizon Forbidden West, not every asset in the sequel was built from scratch. Ironically, the knowledge that the studio kept some things the same went down as smoothly as the knowledge that the studio made new assets.

Early in 2022, IGN published a side-by-side comparison video that demonstrated the differences between Forbidden West and Zero Dawn. The video displayed countless graphical improvements and new animations. However, some eagle-eyed viewers noticed that certain small animations, such as Aloy’s grappling hook animation, were identical across the two games. Some of those fans were offended by Guerrilla Games recycling animations, calling the studio lazy.

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It’s no secret many studios recycle animations and other assets, which helps cut down on costs and development time. It’s a common practice and almost invisible when done right. Either way, since both Horizon games star the same main character, it’s only natural that some of Aloy’s animations would be recycled. Why shouldn’t a character with a distinct way of traversing in one game continue to do so in the sequel?

If IGN hadn’t posted the side-by-side comparison, gamers probably wouldn’t have noticed that Aloy occasionally uses the same animations in Horizon Zero Dawn and Horizon Forbidden West. Much like the other controversies surrounding this games, many more Horizon fans came to Forbidden West’s defense than criticized the move by Guerrilla.

While there are certainly some negative Horizon Forbidden West reviews that simply point out things about the game that the reviewers didn’t like, don’t be surprised to find more than a few negative reviews based on these pre-release controversies, regardless of the quality of the final product.