Over three years after its initial 2017 debut, Horizon Zero Dawn arrives on PC with graphical enhancements that make its already striking presentation even more lush and detailed. Is Guerrilla Games’ shimmering Action RPG worth revisiting? The answer is an emphatic “yes.”
For those who haven’t played Horizon before, whether it’s because you don’t own a PS4 or you just missed the train the first time, by all means, now is the time to buy this game. It’s one of the very best Action RPGs of this console generation, but the PC version is the definitive experience.
But for those who played the game the first time around, I still think it’s worthwhile to re-experience Aloy’s odyssey if for no other reason than to rediscover the picturesque landscapes that the artists and engineers at Guerrilla created. Truly, this is one of the most beautiful and cohesive game worlds I’ve ever explored, which is saying something considering its design is based on a juxtaposition.
As Aloy (voiced by Ashly Burch, whose performance is second to none), you explore a mysterious future world populated by various tribes of people and, more notably, what are essentially robotic dinosaurs that prowl windswept plains, arid deserts, and snow-blanketed mountains for hapless prey to rip to shreds. It’s this mash-up of prehistoric naturalism and futuristic tech horror that defines Horizon not just aesthetically but thematically. As you discover relics from the past and uncover the truth behind what brought the world to the post-apocalyptic state it’s in, the dichotomy of the natural environments and the metallic monstrosities that inhabit them comes into clearer view and ultimately says something poignant about human beings, our relationship to our planet, and second chances.
Even though Horizon Zero Dawn is a three-year-old game, it’s still a stunning audiovisual achievement on PS4 and PS4 Pro. But on PC, the game is presented in the highest fidelity yet, with full 4K rendering, unlocked framerates, ultra-wide monitor support, FOV customization, and more. Playing the game with these graphical enhancements is fantastic, and while some of this can be attributed to the superior processing power of PCs, the beauty of the game was already baked in.
Release Date: Aug. 7, 2020
Platform: PC (reviewed), PS4
Developer: Guerrilla Games
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Guerilla harnessed the powerful Decima engine to create richly detailed environments featuring a staggering variety of flora and fauna (both mechanical and organic) and a dynamic weather system that impresses even by today’s standards. When you see storm clouds brewing in the distance, you can be sure that in due time they’ll be rolling over your head, drenching you and everything around you in darkness and rainfall. The clouds look uncannily realistic and are even more spectacular looking on PC (I have an Intel Core i7-7700, 16GB of RAM, with a GeForce GTX 1070 GPU).
There are several graphical improvements on PC that really make the game’s visuals sing, like more character-foliage interaction, a longer draw distance, higher fidelity reflections, and the unlocked framerate, which makes everything flow really smoothly. The snow effects in the included Frozen Wilds expansion are a standout as well, with the bump in fidelity making the deformable snow and ice sections even more impressive than they were in the PS4 release.
There are some drawbacks to the new presentation options, however. In the graphical settings menu, there are options to customize different aspects of the visuals, which is nice. From clouds, to reflections, to character models, there is a decent amount of options here. But upping most of these settings from Original (PS4 quality) to Medium or High or Ultra results in some nice-looking results but can cause performance to dip to a disproportionate extent, affecting framerate drastically if you, say, bump the cloud setting up to ultra. This may be due to my own PC setup, of course. Ultimately, playing the game on Medium settings was the way to go for me.
This isn’t a next-gen looking remaster by any means, but like all games with immaculate art design (Super Mario Bros, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Shadow of the Colossus), Horizon Zero Dawn is going to look great whether you look at it now, 10, or 20 years down the line. Even on the base PS4, the game looks fine because the graphics are at the very least powerful enough to convey the beauty of the game’s art. Any graphical enhancements beyond this are bonuses.
I’d be remiss to not mention the game’s sound design, which is simply outstanding. You can practically tell where an enemy is in relation to Aloy just by listening carefully, and a big reason why the game’s landscapes feel so organic and vast is that the sound design creates a spatiality that is perfectly convincing and three-dimensional.
As for gameplay, Horizon’s combat and exploration hold up incredibly well. Hunting mechanized beasts feels great because there’s a real sense of weight to the way Aloy and the machines move through the environments and around each other, which makes combat and movement feel almost tactile. Aloy’s weapons are all essential to master and feel great to employ, especially the Tripcaster, which is such a joy to wield. Some of the archery animations are still a little wonky-looking, but the aiming controls feel natural.
In truth, I think Horizon Zero Dawn is worth replaying even on a base PS4. It’s a wonderful game centered on a complex female protagonist who goes on a journey of personal discovery that feels intimate and grounded but has more than enough sci-fi appeal to satisfy the geekiest of palates. On PC, the game looks better than ever, and the experience itself is strong enough to warrant another look.