Incoming Class: Horizon Zero Dawn Looks to Lead 2017's Action Pack

Aloy joins the incoming class of Waypoint High School—and she's bringing a load of robotic dinosaurs with her.

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Dec 31 2016, 3:00pm

Welcome to the Waypoint High School Class of 2016 Yearbook. We're giving out senior superlatives  to our favorite games, digging into the year's biggest stories via extracurriculars , and following our favorite characters through their adventures together in fanfic.  See you in 2017! 

Remember Zoids? Of course you don't: you're on a VICE site, you're probably 21 years old and the 1980s might as well be the 1880s for all you care, culturally. But allow me a moment of nostalgia.

Zoids were these fantastic toys, originally called Mechabonica in Japan, but brought West under a snappier name, that you built from a kit. They were models of mechanical animals, from tigers to spiders to dinosaurs, with wind-up or battery powered parts, so that they'd awkwardly walk forward when assembled. Each of these machines had a pilot, a little gold or silver person in a seated position who'd get lost down the sofa three hours after you got it; but really, Zoids weren't about people.

They were all about constructing these heavily armed mechanoids and, assuming your friends were willing, banging them into each other by hand once you realized they marched into bedroom warfare about as well as breezeblocks swim.

Bits would come loose, like all those rubberized end caps and so many spikes and pincers, tail parts and teeth, but you could usually retrieve them before the vacuum cleaner came round. And as they were made up of a multitude of separate pieces, when Zoids "broke" they could easily enough be put back together. Unlike the dinosaurs from another of my childhood favorites, the Transformers' Dinobots.

Header and all Horizon Zero Dawn screenshots courtesy of Sony

From what I have seen of its titanic mechanical creatures, in both trailers and a slice of playable game at 2016's E3, Horizon Zero Dawn is as close as any of us are getting to a worthwhile Zoids: The Game. It stars behemoth evolutions of how I recall Zoids—great, hulking creations, crashing through the thick dust, tromping down the mountain, flames spewing out of their nostrils

Okay, I might've mixed the brands a little, there.

I digress: Horizon Zero Dawn is shaping up to be my action-RPG for next year, in much the way The Witcher 3 was 2015, and its Blood & Wine expansion has been 2016. It has the trappings of a big, AAA blockbuster: It has a vast open world. There's crafting—for main weapons, for traps and bombs, and for armor—and a multitude of traders with which to exchange the game's currency, "shards" for better clothing and equipment.

Horizon Zero Dawn

But this is not, in the words of executive producer Lambert Wolterbeek Muller (when he addresses my small group of press sorts at E3), a "hard" RPG. It's not going to bury its story beneath sub-menus full of befuddling statistics. Rather, it's nudging closer to action-adventures with substance, the likes of The Last of Us, rather than presenting itself as a life-consuming successor to CD Projekt's astonishing achievement, undoubtedly the best RPG I've ever seen through to its end.


Related, on Waypoint: Make sure to check out another promising class of 2017 prospect, Resident Evil 7!


And, like Naughty Dog's greatest game yet (IMO, don't @ me), strategy is going to be of paramount importance when it comes to combat. Just as you wouldn't start shooting a pistol in the company of several clickers, the player character, Aloy, cannot charge into a field full of aggressive robo-whatevers with just her bow and a healthy slug of courage.

She'll be annihilated, fast. So, stealth is always viable: when I play the game, there's a raft of options, from the basic—hiding in tall grass—to the more advanced, where Aloy studies the tracks of her individual quarries to best ascertain when they'll be positioned out of sight from the rest of the pack.

Aloy can also take command of the robotic creatures that have become dominant on this Earth of the future, the game set some 1,000 years after an unspecified event, known as "the fall," has upturned the natural order we know today. She can hack into quadrupedal contraptions to use them as handy steeds, riding them like horses to cover ground faster, or to run rings around slower-moving mechs.

Horizon Zero Dawn

I really enjoyed the flexibility afforded to the player when previewing Horizon several months ago. I savored the ability to go in hard, astride a bull-like charger; or to slowly slip through cover to close distances between hunter and hunted—and the full game, I hope, will always provide options in any situation. Not in a low/high chaos, or paragon/renegade sense, influencing the overall ending, but more to reflect the particular moment-to-moment circumstances of Aloy's journey to… wherever it is she's destined for, in the final game's plot.

That it looks stunning isn't all that surprising—Amsterdam-based developer Guerrilla Games is behind the visually sumptuous PS4 launch title Killzone Shadow Fall, and Horizon's been an obvious choice for Sony to preview their PS4 Pro console with at press events. The real test for the game is whether or not it possesses depth to match its surface-level flair.

We all began as the same Geralt, but by the time the credits rolled, everyone's Geralt was theirs alone. I'm hoping that Aloy follows suit—and that the Zoids keep on coming for me, for her, to explode into chunks of jaw and tail, like so many children's toys before them.

Horizon Zero Dawn is released for PlayStation 4 on February 28, 2017.

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