The story of Aloy, a hunter in a future world ravaged by climate change and dominated by robotic animals, continues in an open-world game that is even better than its predecessor Horizon Zero Dawn, says Jacob Aron
27 April 2022
Horizon Forbidden West
PlayStation 4 and 5
IT IS a quirk of video games that the sequel is often better than the original. Unlike film directors struggling to produce a follow-up to an unexpected hit, video game developers benefit from the iterative nature of software to improve on their first efforts.
With Horizon Forbidden West, the sequel to Horizon Zero Dawn, there wasn’t much that needed improving – the original was a rare open-world game where I felt compelled to see and do everything on offer, because I was enjoying it so much. Still, developer Guerrilla Games has managed to do so all the same.
The first instalment told the story of Aloy, a hunter in a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change and dominated by robotic animals. She finds a Focus, essentially a very high-tech Bluetooth headset, that allows her to analyse and control the machines, and sets out to discover and fix what happened to the world over 1000 years ago.
Forbidden West picks up six months after Zero Dawn‘s conclusion, with Aloy still attempting to restore her world by tracking down a set of powerful artificial intelligences designed to fix the failing ecosystem.
This wasn’t the only solution that past generations tried, though – early on in the game, as you explore a ruined office building, you come across an ancient hologram recording of a Mark Zuckerberg-like tech bro, explaining his plan to launch a colony ship full of billionaires and escape the dying Earth.
These two approaches to solving problems – essentially, collective or individualistic – make up the narrative spine of the game, as Aloy encounters various people and groups who need her assistance, or who refuse to help in her quest. Some of this gets a bit confusing at the start of Forbidden West as you are thrust into Game of Thrones-style politicking between warring tribes, but an early twist really compelled me to see more.
All of this is supported by the amazing world Guerrilla has built, spanning snowy mountains to dry deserts. Stumbling across a village and realising it is built on top of a ruined solar thermal energy plant was a particular highlight, and it is a lot of fun to get around the world thanks to Aloy’s holographic glider, a new addition to the series.
There are also a host of activities to try, including hunting down black boxes from crashed aircraft in order to gain nuggets of story, playing a chess-like board game or taking on human opponents in sparring matches dotted around the map.
The real star of the show, though, is the robotic bestiary. Each machine is an incredibly detailed creation, generally mimicking a real-life animal, but sometimes mashing together different beasts to form creatures like the Rollerback, a cross between an armadillo and an ankylosaurus. My favourite is the Slitherfang, a giant, imposing snake that curls around towers.
Fighting them is always a puzzle as you look for chinks in their armour plating, or you can gradually learn to override their programming and make them fight on your side. Aloy has a range of bow-based weapons with additional tricks, allowing her to shoot globs of glue or even electrified ropes to tie a machine down. My most memorable battle was probably going toe to toe with a robotic T. rex in the middle of a dust storm as it fired laser beams from its jaws. Realistic it isn’t, but it is an awful lot of fun.
Jacob also recommends…
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
PC, PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One
This 80s-infused spin-off to the Far Cry series sees you up against dragons that shoot lasers from their eyes.
Monster Hunter: World
PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
This monster-hunting series can be pretty obtuse with some archaic game design choices, but World is the most accessible yet.
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