E3 2016 – Horizon Zero Dawn Hands-On Preview – Hunter and Hunted (PS4)

Watching footage of Horizon Zero Dawn during Sony’s press conference, I was struck by the sheer number of things going on. To be sure, the variety of strategies and tactical options looked  impressive, but I found myself wondering if I’d be able to pull off anything resembling the complex-looking maneuvers in that demonstration. Luckily, I got a chance to sit down with a preview build of the game — and while taking control of heroine Aloy can be a bit daunting at first, I think players will find her adventure to be as accessible and intuitive as any of the heavy AAA hitters out there.

There was no beating around the bush with this preview: whoever put it together knew we wouldn’t have the patience for cutscenes or backstory of any kind, so I found myself placed right in that gorgeous, colorful field and allowed to explore. Just as a small aside regarding the visual presentation here, it’s so refreshing to see a “post-apocalyptic” game released where the life and color has been restored to the land; I have nothing against the grey-and-brown aesthetic per se, but its overuse has worn on me a little bit for sure.

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Let’s Go Hunting

In any case, a small swipe across the DualShock 4’s touchpad made the objectives for the level appear. The first of these I took a crack at: bringing down one of those mechanical bull mounts, known as a “Broadhead,” shown in the conference demo using Aloy’s Ropecaster weapon. The first time I attempted this, I idiotically rushed in and alerted the enemy to my presence, which in turn caused a virtual stampede of the creatures as they fled. Once things settled down, I found that crouching, creeping ahead slowly and keeping plenty of distance between the enemy and I made it a lot easier to get in a first hit on them.

Crack! I’d successfully launched a rope out and caught the Broadhead. He started to panic, but I was too quick this time for him to run — firing another quick rope and then another, the bull found himself down for the count. Mounting him, I found myself on the way to complete my next objective, to shoot down the tubes of liquid sitting atop the bodies of stag-like robots in the wild. This, of course, required a bit more precision (something not easily found riding on the top of a charging bull mount — go figure), so I pressed in the right stick, which slows things down a bit and zooms the camera in to give Aloy a better shot.

Smash! One tube after another fell to my arrows, with a handful of them sliding off onto the ground. My second achievement accomplished, I finished off my quarry and approached it to take a closer look. Apparently the tubes contain a valuable material known as “Blaze,” so I’d figure that collecting them — not destroying them — would be your best bet in the full version. In any case, I lucked out, because the moment I finished collecting things, the holder of my third objective slid into view: a special shielding robot with a canister on its head. My job this time? Shoot the canister off, collect the loot inside before the robot grabbed it back, and then finish the clunker off.

Aim and Fire

This was harder than it looked. The first time I successfully knocked the canister off, I found myself careening in the wrong direction on my faithful steed — which naturally gave the enemy plenty of time to pick it back up. I dismounted, figuring the increased mobility would be critical in this case. I was right, because there was only a small window of time to grab that loot once the canister fell. No sooner had I approached than I almost found myself on the receiving end of a particularly nasty-looking attack. I grabbed the loot and rolled out of the way just in time, though, and was able to take down my foe with a flurry of heavy-damaging fire arrows.

Controls and Ideas that Work

From what I’ve seen so far, it’s looking like the developers of Horizon Zero Dawn have taken the time to perfect the most important aspect of their game: the controls. What looked like complex maneuvers in the press conference could be easily learned and pulled off in the actual demo. I was thoroughly satisfied with the way Aloy quickly responded to my commands, and a number of little “assists” — such as clicking in the right stick to narrow your field of view — should make the process of putting together and pulling off impressive strategies an intuitive one.

We won’t get to explore the richly detailed lands of Guerilla Games’ new IP until February 28 next year, and what I’ve played so far of Horizon Zero Dawn has made that wait all the more agonizing. Responsive controls, gorgeous visuals and a host of tricks up Aloy’s sleeve are just a handful of the things this open-world adventure has going for it, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing if they can come together in a cohesive way when the final game launches. If you were like me and thought the moves during the demo looked tricky to pull off, give this game a try if the opportunity presents itself — I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly Horizon will make a hunter out of you.