It's a pretty big deal that another PlayStation 4 exclusive has made its way to PC. This time, it's the open-world action game Horizon Zero Dawn. It may be a little over three years old at this point, but proper PC ports of former exclusives tend to offer an optimal way to play for a mostly new audience. In my case, I was just hyped to replay one of 2017's standout games with cranked up visuals, higher frame rates, and, in this particular case, keyboard and mouse controls. After about 12 hours with this version, I've come away with some very mixed results.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a visually captivating experience; its depiction of nature and the wilderness is rich with thick vegetation, vast mountain ranges, and sweeping deserts. Remnants of the world's high-tech past with imposing, beastly machines also contrast with the environments in a fascinating way that entices you to uncover more of the story's mysteries. That's all part of why a PC version is such a big deal. However, in the current pre-launch phase, performance hiccups and some graphical shortcomings can overshadow these elements.
(You can watch the review of the PS4 version from 2017 in the video above, or read the original Horizon Zero Dawn review.)
During my time playing Horizon on PC, I used a rig equipped with a Core i7-7700K, RTX 2080, 16GB of RAM, and Samsung 970 Pro NVMe SSD--a fairly high-end system. I also used the ultrawide 2560x1080 (21:9) resolution and set all graphics options to their maximum along with TAA (temporal antialiasing). While I could maintain around 80 FPS or a bit higher in many open areas, my mileage varied by virtue of the changing density of towns and villages, or the intensity of certain chaotic combat encounters. Here, I would experience drastic drops in frame rate to about 35-40 FPS. It's expected that a game of this scale and fidelity would be quite graphically demanding, but what stood out was the inconsistency in performance and the occasional stuttering or hitching.
Another present bug is that the anisotropic filtering option simply won't work. For a vast open world game like Horizon, it's an important graphics setting to use since it provides much more clarity and detail for surfaces in the distance. (Also, be sure to update your graphics drivers to the latest versions--using older versions may result in significant artifacting and serious visual glitches, which is a mistake I made when first booting up the game.)
The list of bugs doesn't end at the graphics department, however. There are a few issues that actually stop the gameplay from working as intended. For example, the Concentration ability is supposed to let you zoom in and slow down time to carefully aim your bow. But in my particular experience, activating it on the PC version only zooms in and does not slow down time at all. Pulling up the weapon wheel should also slow down time, but this does not happen. This problem extends to the perk that's supposed to slow down time when aiming the bow while sliding or in mid-air--everything keeps moving at normal speed. It seems that the game simply does not recognize any of the time-slowing mechanics. I tried experimenting with different settings to see if it was an issue tied to unlocked frame rates or v-sync, but such is not the case. These mechanics are extremely useful in all the game's combat situations, and the fact that they are not functioning properly at the moment is a major problem.
The big caveat is that there will be a day-one patch, and I've currently only experienced Horizon Zero Dawn's PC port in a pre-launch state without the upcoming fixes. Once I have access to the patch, I plan on reevaluating many of the bugs encountered to see if they're addressed for official release.
Aside from the aforementioned shortcomings, this PC port offers some welcome features such as an FOV slider, native ultrawide support, fully customizable control mappings, an uncapped frame rate, and a benchmarking tool to test out the viability of your chosen graphics settings.
As for the game itself, Horizon Zero Dawn impressed back in 2017 as the first open-world effort from Killzone developer Guerrilla Games. While there's a noticeable reliance on a few tired open-world gameplay tropes, it truly stood out with an excellent combat system that emphasized precise aiming, exploiting weaknesses, and clever use of the many neat weapons and tools in your loadout. Horizon has a distinct David-and-Goliath type of feel as you're often overwhelmed and dwarfed by the hostile machines, and seemingly ill-equipped--like, how the hell am I supposed to destroy robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrow? Devising ways to overcome these odds has a satisfying feel, especially in big fights that test your mastery of the makeshift arsenal of bows, arrows, tripwires, and slingshots (and your ability to repeatedly dodge roll from danger).
Horizon's style of combat always left me wanting to use a keyboard and mouse control scheme, given the need to land pinpoint shots, but that comes with some concessions. The nature of using WASD to move in this style of third-person action isn't as intuitive as an analog stick, and the need to dodge-roll or platform in high-pressure situations highlights how exact directional movement can be awkward. And with the Concentration ability broken right now, I haven't really been able to wield mouse-aiming the way I expected. Controllers have native support with the proper button mappings, but there's an issue: aim assist is hardly present, if at all, regardless of whether it's on or off in your settings, making combat more difficult than it should be.
What remains intact is Horizon's narrative ambitions. A 31st century where civilizations are thriving as hunters and gatherers, living within specific tribes, is fascinating as it's juxtaposed to an "old world" of futurist high tech buried in the waste of a calamity from long ago. Our protagonist Aloy remains relatively steadfast in the wake of wild revelations about her own past as well as the truth about how a super-advanced civilization continues to haunt the present day from its grave mistakes and the technology it left behind. These are also really good excuses to have robot dinosaurs roam the wilderness and pose major threats to you, since it does come together in a thematically coherent fashion.
Admittedly, I'm still wary of its amalgamation of Native cultures and Nativist tropes with little proper context. It's something to be mindful of as you dig deeper into Horizon's characterization of its in-lore tribes and the ways in which it draws upon our real world with terminology and imagery of tribal practices as a backdrop for its fiction.
Overall, it's quite disappointing to see the game in a rough state, but again, this is the experience of a pre-launch version before the scheduled day-one fixes. Considering that Horizon was the progenitor for Guerrilla's Decima engine, and we just saw Death Stranding hit PC with an outstanding port (it uses the same engine), I'm also surprised by the shortcomings. If you're in the mood for a sprawling open world with some top-notch combat thrills--that sometimes get bogged down in genre routines--there's a great game underneath. But you'll probably want to wait and see how the launch day patch goes. I will update my impressions of Horizon Zero Dawn's PC port for the official launch, which is set for August 7.
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