Sony’s first major PC release brings one of the PS4’s best-looking exclusives to a new format, but how much of an improvement does it offer?
The release of Horizon Zero Dawn on PC could end up being a one-off experiment or one of the most important releases in Sony’s history. Which it will be is impossible to say at the moment, especially given this port of the 2017 PlayStation 4 exclusive has a lot of problems from a technical point of view. But if nothing else the game’s re-release offers an opportunity to reassess its qualities, and failings, ahead of the recently announced sequel.
In the end there’s not really much to say about Sony’s possible plans for supporting the PC, given we have only one example to go on. There are rumours that other games are on their way, including The Last Of Us Part 2, but until they’re officially announced that means nothing.
There isn’t even much of a question of why Horizon Zero Dawn, as the answer to that seems fairly clear. Sony Worldwide Studios boss Hermen Hulst appears to be the most enthusiastic about PC support and since he used to head up Horizon developer Guerrilla that makes this the obvious game to experiment with – especially with the sequel coming up. Whether that will also come to PC is unknown but the only important question right now is whether this port is good enough that you should care one way or the other.
Sony has been rightly praised for the quality of their first party exclusives this generation, such that even the least of them, such as Days Gone, still meets an impressively high standard of mechanical and graphical competence. Studios such as Naughty Dog have been putting out great games for several generations now but until Horizon Zero Dawn, Dutch developer Guerrilla had only really impressed in terms of their graphics, primarily through the technically outstanding but soulless Killzone series.
Horizon Zero Dawn is easily the best thing they’ve ever done and all the more surprising because the best part of it is the plot and the art design. Paradoxically, the script is enough to make a narcoleptic out of anyone and while protagonist Aloy has been praised for adding some much-needed female diversity to Sony’s line-up she only achieves her equality by being as unremittingly dull as most male video game protagonists.
The set-up behind the game is far more interesting though, with a post-apocalyptic world ruled, at least in Aloy’s corner of the world, by a matriarchy that has forsworn technology even as robot animals and dinosaurs roam the land. There is a surprisingly good reason for why the Zoid-like creatures exist, with a fascinating back story for what’s happened. But even if there wasn’t the creatures themselves are so wonderfully designed they’re a pleasure to watch, let alone fight.
In gameplay terms Horizon Zero Dawn does attempt to make things as interesting as possible, as you learn to set traps and gradually gain the means to take on bigger and bigger robots. The combat is always a touch too simplistic though and once you realise that a lot of the rest of the game is just following the usual Sony/Ubisoft template for open world games it begins to lose its magic. Days Gone and Ghost Of Tsushima suffer from similar problems but Horizon Zero Dawn feels more forgivable, its shallowness due more to Guerrilla’s lack of experience than slavish devotion to an existing formula.
The end result is a game that, unlike so many others, is begging for a sequel. One that can improve the script and characterisation, deepen the combat and role-playing systems, and break free of the restrictive template of current gen open world games. Whether Horizon Forbidden West is going to be that game there is currently no way of telling but there’s a good reason it’s already the most anticipated PlayStation 5 exclusive so far.
Horizon Zero Dawn is a good, if not great, game but given this is Sony’s first PC release of the modern era (published under the PlayStation Mobile label, interestingly, not Sony Interactive Entertainment) that puts the quality of the port under intense scrutiny. So it’s surprising that this is a fairly slipshod affair, to the point where genuine questions were being asked as to whether Guerrilla had mistakenly uploaded an unfinished version onto Steam by mistake.
It’s nowhere near as bad as that sounds, and you do get a full suite of graphical options, including 4K resolution, but turning the dials up to improve things like shadows and reflections makes relatively little difference. Most of the anti-aliasing options result in similarly unremarkable improvements, with the biggest upgrade coming from reducing the amount of pop-in for object and character models.
Unless you have an absolutely state-of-the-art gaming PC it’s hard to get the game looking markedly better than the original release. That doesn’t mean there aren’t improvements across the board, but they take far more horsepower than they should to work and can often be very awkward to get going – or prove to be worryingly flaky when they do. No matter what you do the game has a weird stutter, particularly when starting or ending cut scenes, that doesn’t seem to impact the frame rate per se but makes the whole experience feel more glitchy and less fluid than the console original.
You could make a good argument that that’s all exactly what you’d expect from a company with no experience of developing for the PC and that that is precisely why Sony decided to experiment with such a relatively old title. That’s fair enough but at the end of the day they’re asking £40 for the pleasure of playing a PlayStation 4 exclusive on the PC and until things are patched and improved, you’d be better off sticking with the console version.
CLICK HERE FOR THE ORIGINAL FULL REVIEW OF HORIZON ZERO DAWN
Horizon Zero Dawn Complete Edition PC review summary
In Short: Sony’s first experiment on the PC is just that, with a disappointingly glitchy port of one of the PlayStation 4’s most technically advanced exclusives.
Pros: Superb production design creates one of the most distinctive open world experiences of the generation. Surprisingly good plot with an engrossing back story. Enjoyable combat and stealth.
Cons: An unimpressive port that offers only a mild improvement on the PlayStation 4 version and lots of glitches. The underlying game is often repetitive and shallow, with a weak script.
Publisher: PlayStation Mobile
Release Date: 7th August 2020
Age Rating: 16
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