GAMETECH: Dawning of a brand new experience

Ronan Jennings bring you the latest in gaming reviews. This week he puts Horizon Zero Dawn, Dirt Rally and Nintendo’s Switch under the microscope.

GAMETECH: Dawning of a brand new experience

There have been many false dawns in gaming, but Horizon Zero Dawn feels like the real deal. It’s the best new world gaming created in many years, and one that we would happily experience in any medium, from gaming to TV to novels.

On paper, the setting for Horizon Zero Dawn is derivative, but in execution this is a thrilling new universe to explore. The world is a post-apocalyptic Earth, where civilization has fallen back to tribal ways, a hodgepodge of what seems like Asian, African and Euro-centric traditions.

Surrounding them are the ruins of fallen ancestors, an advanced society that clearly destroyed themselves.

The only aspect of that ancient civilization to survive are machine ‘animals’ that roam the earth, taking the form of horses and bulls and dinosaur-like creatures, their machine innards exposed for the world to see, their singular eyes taking the form of bright blue lights that turn red when intruders are seen.

The world is full of colour and brightness and lush greenery, populated with these wondrous machines that move and act like animals, all metal and wires. The contrast between the human tribalism and the hard sci-fi is one of the most beautiful examples we’ve ever seen of the trope.

In the midst of this is Aloy, an outsider of the Nora tribe who doesn’t know why she was made outcast or who her mother was. Aloy grows up a hunter, capable of taking down the machine animals, something that both her tribe and the larger world soon call upon her to do — as both the humans and animals become corrupt, throwing the world into conflict.

Horizon Zero Dawn is one of those very, very rare action games in which the story and universe is worth watching for its own sake. Much like Mass Effect, this is a universe with incredible depth and lore, with some of the best ‘performances’ yet seen in a game. Every character, from Aloy to the smallest supporting character, is compelling to watch.

The emotional beats are spot-on too, making you really feel for the cast. If this were a TV series, we would buy it in the morning. In fact, Aloy might even be the first video game character we really relate to as human, in the traditional cinematic sense.

What’s even more important is that Horizon Zero Dawn is a fantastic game, too. It’s the best open-world game since The Witcher 3, combining the best of Metal Gear Solid V’s stealth with Uncharted 4, Shadows of Mordor and even Skyrim.

Hunting both machines and baddie humans is an absolute pleasure, with plenty of customisation to choose how to want to approach any given situation. You can use arrows in many customisable ways, traps, stealth, control other machines and modify weapons and armour to your satisfaction.

Throughout it all, Aloy controls like a dream, with excellent animation and smooth transitions. What can we say? Horizon Zero Dawn surprised us. What could have been a derivative open-world game turns out to be one of the best new video game worlds in ages. Don’t let the sun set on this one — it’s worth the chance.

Eyes on the horizon

The horizon is just dirt in another place, and you could probably drive there in Dirt Rally. The popular rally driving game has just released a PlayStation VR update that allows players to play in virtual reality mode. It comes with a price tag of around €15, which isn’t exactly, well, dirt cheap.

We haven’t tried it yet, but racing games in VR can often lead to queasy feelings, so it will be interesting to hear how people adjust to it. The VR enhancement also contains a ‘Co-driver’ mode, which allows a second player to steer the driver through the course by providing instructions, which sounds fun.

Nintendo Switch on

Speaking of new dawns, Nintendo is hoping they are on the verge of one with Switch. However, the sun has truly set on the Wii U, which in January was outsold in the US by the NES classic.

The NES classic plugs into televisions and allows people to play old Nintendo games from 30 years ago. It’s a shame to see a console go down like the Wii U, but hopefully Nintendo will bounce back — it’s the land of the Rising Sun, after all.

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