Back in 2017, Guerilla Games’ PS4 exclusive Horizon Zero Dawn made waves, winning Game Of The Year awards the world over. This year, the hotly anticipated sequel came to our cutting-edge next-gen consoles and we couldn’t wait to dig into it and find out what unhealthily-addictive updates Forbidden West had to offer. Does it embrace the Assassin’s Creed model of resting on its laurels, copy-and-pasting the world’s snaggiest code year after year? Or does it go above and beyond the abundance of adventuring opportunities afforded by its predecessor and aim to build something fresh and different on Zero Dawn‘s foundations?
First things first. This is undeniably the best looking game ever made. Operating in 4K and running at a targeted 60fps the fluidity of the gameplay is silk. The granular details in the various landscapes are so fine and precise it often looks photo-real. From overgrown jungles to desert wastelands to snowy peaks, there isn’t a pebble out of place in this vast, open-world that you are dropped into as Aloy, the returning heroine from the first game (reprised by voice-actor Ashly Burch). Just like Zero Dawn was groundbreaking in its visual effects for the PS4, Forbidden West is a breathtaking showcase of the sheer, unadulterated power the PS5 contains within its bowels. Unfortunately however, thats where the positives end…
The narrative in Zero Dawn wasn’t the best but it had some compelling elements. Set a thousand years in the future with humanity reduced to tribalistic ways of life, devoid of technology and infrastructure, with ruins of the ‘old world’ scattered throughout the land. It’s a solid premise that opens up myriad opportunities for exotic costuming and dynamic environments. As the game unfolds, the truth about what happened begins to crystallise and though it becomes a little convoluted towards the end, it’s just about interesting enough to keep you plugged in. Forbidden West shoots for something different, at least it starts off that way. In the end the story is painfully similar to the first with no new revelations (none that have any real weight at least) and tries desperately to pave a unique story while still clinging to the better aspects of the Zero Dawn plot. The result is dull, forced and boring. The characters are equally as hollow. We learn nothing new about any of the core cast, least of all Aloy and at every cutscene I’m at war with myself whether to press the alluring skip button. Cutscenes should be a reward, not a chore. The voice-acting leaves much to be desired but when you’re working with such stunted, unnatural dialogue, there’s only so much an actor can do. The story-telling aspects of Forbidden West are painfully dry and when you are competing against games like God Of War and The Last Of Us Part 2, with such depth of character and elegance of story, you have to do better.
Then, alas, we come on to the gameplay. Don’y get me wrong, they try to do something different with the combat system and I’m into that. The stealth elements are pretty much a carbon copy of most other open-world games which is very much a case of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ but in a fire-fight, things become more refreshing. A range of creative tools and weapons at your disposal against mechanical enemies with elemental strengths and weaknesses for you to navigate, it has the makings of something pretty fun and varied. Sadly, it tries way too hard and the result is a tangled mess. It desperately needs simplifying. Cut out 50% of the elemental states, give me fewer weapons and a better evasion feature and it could be a truly groundbreaking system. As it is, there are more weapons types than you can carry, machines that have moves that are literally unavoidable (a huge gripe of mine) and far more elemental damage types than you could ever keep track of. It makes any open fight become chaotic and inelegant and it never feels good when it’s over and that, is a major flaw. Winning fights should be rewarding and give you a sense of accomplishment. This never does. Sometimes less is more and the combat gameplay here really needs to take that on board going forward. The explorative elements are decent but don’t really further the options provided in the original game. The skill trees and upgrading systems are more developed which is appreciated and they offer a greater range of special abilities and moves, some of which are a lot of fun to play around with but have little practical use in the midst of a fight.
Ruling – A game that aims for sophistication and falls catastrophically short. Stunning visuals let down by an anaemic story and a brutally inelegant combat system.