2022 Preview: Horizon Forbidden West is the blockbuster the PS5 needs
It’s been a while since Sony’s last first-party offering, but Aloy’s coming to fix that
Words by Chris Scullion and Jon Bailes
It’s nice when game trailers actually show us the game they’re promoting, instead of getting all mysterious about it.
Vague images and cryptic messages are okay up to a point, but give us something like 2020’s first look at Horizon: Forbidden West any time. In three minutes, we got the gist of the plot, a quick tour of the game’s locations and a glimpse at some shiny new machines. This was also followed by a commentary from game director Mathijs de Jonge, to fill in some of the details. Very useful, thanks.
Sony went one better this year with a healthy 14 minutes of gameplay footage back in May, showing some of Aloy’s new moves, including the ability to use a new grappling hook and shield glider, as well as a diving mask that lets her stay underwater for as long as she likes. Players can also override some of the game’s machines and mount them for faster travel or combat.
What we didn’t realise at the time was that this new footage was of a game that was still nearly a year away from launch. What was expected to be a 2021 release was officially confirmed to be delayed in August, with February 18, 2022 the new release date.
The immediate takeaway from what we’ve seen so far is that the environments in Forbidden West look even richer and lusher than those in the first game, Zero Dawn.
Protagonist Aloy will be exploring a different setting this time, as she heads west, taking us through a wider variety of landscapes, from grasslands and forests, to vast deserts and palm-peppered beaches. Apparently, Aloy’s far-future journey will cover what was once the western United States, from Utah to the Pacific Ocean, with the range of climates that implies.
According to de Jonge, the size of the map will be “a bit bigger” than in the first game, and we hope it is only a bit. Zero Dawn may not have been as vast as some open-world games, but it was still substantial and stuffed with memorable sights and encounters. While more might be better in terms of fully exploiting the potentials of different biomes, we don’t want much repetition or dilution.
One thing that’s clear, especially with the new footage shown this year, is that even if the world isn’t that much wider, it will be deeper. With her new diving mask, Aloy will be spending a lot more time diving down into lakes and seas to see what’s submerged out of view.
We have to hope she’ll have something new to defend herself within these sequences – nothing’s been shown in the footage yet – as the idea of swimming undetected between the crocodile-like Snapmaws feels pretty daunting.
“Protagonist Aloy will be exploring a different setting this time, as she heads west, taking us through a wider variety of landscapes, from grasslands and forests, to vast deserts and palm-peppered beaches.”
Still, the reward should be worth the trouble. There’ll be plenty of ruins to discover left behind by the ‘old ones’ (that’s us) in Forbidden West’s post-apocalyptic landscapes and waterscapes, including a number of real-world American monuments.
Remnants of San Francisco and the Yosemite Valley have been mentioned, and there’ll likely be other recognisable structures jutting out above ground or hidden beneath. It’ll be like the scene at the end of The Planet of the Apes, except less traumatic, and with a photo mode to share snaps with friends.
It’s also very likely that the old ones and their ancient technology will again be key to the plot. This time, Aloy is confronted with violent storms and a terrible plague that’s sweeping the land, killing the flora and fauna as it goes.
It’s a decent bet that we’ll be finding the answers to these phenomena by digging through the world’s historical leftovers, and listening to old-world audio-logs. We wouldn’t be surprised if the plague outbreak was connected to the story of ancient rogue AIs in Zero Dawn too.
But the most important old ones’ tech in Horizon is always the mammal, bird and dinosaur-inspired machines that roam the land. Aloy’s many encounters with these robo-beasts are the game’s real USP, and the sequel will need to find ways to keep these fresh. One interesting new feature shown in this year’s footage was the ability to override some of these machines and mount them for faster travel or combat.
The other good news is that alongside previous models we’ve been promised dozens of new types, including small, velociraptor-like hunters, great metal turtles and even greater mechanical mammoths bristling with armour and weapons.
Identifying and exploiting the weak points of each machine is a big part of the game’s appeal, and we assume each new kind will reward different strategies, whether taking control of them, setting traps or shooting off key components to reduce their threat. We hope there are even more tactical options this time and some new weapons to back up Aloy’s trusty bow and spear.
If there was one area where Zero Dawn did fall a little short, it was in its encounters with humans. We’ve been told that there will be a number of new tribes in Forbidden West, some friendly, some not, including one that overrides machines to use in combat. While the people in Horizon will always play second fiddle to the machines, we would like some more memorable quests in the sequel and some deeper AI when we’re forced to battle against them.
“Aloy’s many encounters with these robo-beasts are the game’s real USP, and the sequel will need to find ways to keep these fresh.”
Finally, there have been a couple of important developments since that first trailer. We now know that Horizon isn’t only a PS5 title but will also come to PS4. This news came as a surprise to some, especially at a time when Sony has been trying to emphasise the new-gen attributes of its tent-pole PS5 releases.
Still, Guerrilla recently released screenshots of the PS4 version and it has to be said that they’re still very impressive. For now it looks like PS5 owners will need to be happy enough that the increased resolution and detail, quicker loading times, haptic feedback and 3D audio they’ll get in their new-gen version will be sufficiently cutting edge.
From what we’ve seen so far, Guerrilla Games seems to have its priorities straight. Regardless of the arguments that a PS4 version could hold back the potential of Aloy’s PS5 debut, if ‘all’ we’re getting is another Horizon with more luscious scenery, deeper exploration and a host of new machines, that’s certainly good enough for us.
If they can also deliver a next-gen showcase on PS5, and complement the game’s representations of nature and technology with some more intriguing humans, it could be a huge release. And given that Sony hasn’t actually released a new big-budget PS5 game (director’s cuts aside) since Ratchet & Clank in June, a huge release is exactly what a lot of new-gen owners are craving.