Horizon Forbidden West PS5 Review. In so many ways, Horizon Forbidden West is the perfect sequel. Treading that very thin and often deceptive line between evolution and revolution, Horizon Forbidden West is a statement of intent from Guerrilla Games. Not only has the legendary Dutch studio kept the essence of one of the greatest games of the last console generation fully intact, but it has also meaningfully iterated upon it too, providing PlayStation gamers with a jaw-dropping Game of the Year candidate in the process. Quite simply, it’s a darn good time to own a PlayStation console – and especially a PlayStation 5 console (if you can find one, that is).
Horizon Forbidden West PS5 Review
An Open World Epic With Spectacle To Spare
Taking place directly after the events of its prequel, Horizon Zero Dawn, Forbidden West doesn’t thrust players right away into the depths of its titular domain. Instead, Aloy must make her way there first, crossing borders and encountering a whole heap of new places, people and areas in between. Though the intially slower pacing might grate a little for some, the feeling of going on an epic journey only adds to the spectacle of the whole affair – affecting a similar feeling to watching the Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit for the first time, say.
That feeling of taking part in an odyssey infused with grandeur is borne out by the swathe of new settings that you’ll travel to in Horizon Forbidden West. Though the same leafy forests, dusty deserts and snow-blotted peaks feature in Guerrilla’s sequel, these settings are now complemented by the sort of sun-kissed, idyllic looking coastal regions that one would readily associate with the picturesque North American West Coast.
Despite using the same engine that powered Horizon Zero Dawn nearly a half decade ago and also being a cross-gen title, Horizon Forbidden West is nonetheless a stunningly opulent first-party effort that gives the still fairly youthful PlayStation 5 hardware something of a work out. Environment complexity and geometry is much improved over Horizon Zero Dawn, resulting in much more vibrant natural environments and ecosystems that are packed with the sort of incidental detail that you might expect to see in such a flourishing realm in which nature has reclaimed her dominion.
Beyond its depiction of a resplendent natural world, where the visual presentation of Horizon Forbidden West also excels is in its realization of the various ruins and landmarks that are dotted around its lush realm. Encompassing a whole range of overworld and underwater cities, together with a range of Old World ruins and settlements that each deftly represent the bespoke visual motifs of their tribe, Horizon Forbidden West fashions a world that is surprisingly visually diverse and one which certainly plays to substantial strengths of Guerrilla’s crew of talented artists.
From a purely technical perspective, Horizon Forbidden West also brings the goods too. Though many of the same animations carry over from Horizon Zero Dawn (Forbidden West is its sequel after all), the visuals see an across-the-board improvement, resulting in everything from much more nuanced facial animations on character models, to much improved lighting, shadow effects and generally a far more detailed visual presentation than what we had in Horizon Zero Dawn. Certainly then, while I would have loved to have seen Horizon Forbidden West take full advantage of the PlayStation 5 hardware, Guerrilla’s sequel nonetheless is a stunning game that stands as one of the most impressive cross-generation games to date.
The icing on the cake however, are the two visual presets that Horizon Forbidden West allows players to choose from on PlayStation 5 – namely Resolution and Performance focused modes which each strive for a different technical presentation at 30 FPS/4K and 60 FPS/1440p respectively. However, as has largely been proven the case with just about every PlayStation 5 release to date, Performance mode is absolutely, positively the way to go, as it quite literally transforms Horizon Forbidden West into a much more responsive experience, where everything from platforming to combat is much smoother, much snappier and by proxy, much more enjoyable.
Of course the fact remains that with Horizon Forbidden West’s Performance mode you’re trading visual quality for framerate – a welcome trade for sure, but one that does result in Horizon’s sequel losing just a small portion of the sharpness that helps to bring out even the smallest details in its world. Don’t let the fact that Horizon Forbidden West is a cross-gen effort fool you; Guerrilla’s sequel makes full and wholesome use of the PlayStation 5’s other neat hardware features. Loading a saved game from the main menu takes just over seven seconds, while the use of the PlayStation 5’s Tempest 3D audio technology allows you to not only hear enemies approaching Aloy from any angle, but also take in the subtle environmental sounds of a beautiful world that is regaining its primacy.
By far though, it is the one-two combination punch of the DualSense’s haptic feedback and adaptive triggers that really draw you into Aloy’s world. Guerrilla Games have done a fantastic job of leveraging the Dualsense haptic feedback as a conduit for the player to feel everything that Aloy feels. From the palpable rolling thunder of riding a hulk Bristleback over treacherous terrain, to the tense feeling of a taut steel cable sliding its way through your hands as Aloy rides a zip-line at speed, Horizon Forbidden West stands out as one of the most impressive uses of haptic feedback so far.
When it comes to the adaptive triggers, these are employed deftly to replicate the feeling of resistance when Aloy pulls back a bow, winds up a disc thrower or tightens a sling and in the process make the many encounters in Horizon Forbidden West feel much more keenly immersive than ever before. Ostensibly, all of this technical stuff is ultimately just prologue – where Horizon Forbidden West truly excels is in how it blends a genuinely captivating story and tactical combat with an open world that just begs to be explored. First though, the story.
With the initial world building of Horizon Zero Dawn behind it, Forbidden West can look to build upon the narrative bedrock established in the first game and peel away at the corners of what we know about Aloy’s world, gradually unveiling a gorgeously realised and sophisticated setting that is both bursting with detail and revelation at nearly every turn.
Newly crowned as the saviour of Meridian, a resolute but troubled Aloy follows in the footsteps of the mysterious Sylens in search of a backup of the GAIA artificial intelligence to restore the natural world, uncovering an all-new threat in the process that harkens back to the ancient past. And… that’s it. I really can’t say much more than that at all without veering into connect-the-dots spoiler territory and for the sake of everyone who plays this game, Horizon Forbidden West’s plot is much more emotionally charged than its predecessor too, marking significant changes in Aloy’s character and companions that will surely be discussed for a while to come. Again, there will be no spoilers here – Horizon Forbidden West’s story is absolutely worth experiencing as fresh as possible.
Speaking of Aloy, despite enjoying premium guest spots in other games such as Fortnite, Fall Guys and Genshin Impact, the fact remains that Horizon’s flame-haired firebrand has been greatly missed and her place as one of PlayStation Studios marquee heroes remains well-earned, thanks in no small part to Ashly Burch’s superlative vocal performance that continues to elevate the character duly.
Away from the more intimate and low-level beats of the story, the scribes at Guerrilla Games should also be applauded for ambitiously expanding the themes and wider background elements of Horizon’s world. A veritable kaleidoscope of science fiction, spirituality and how they intersect, Horizon Forbidden West muses on how humanity might regress after the fall of the world, with certain tribes idolizing some machines as gods, while others remain resolutely apocryphal and superstitious about the presence of those very same machines.
And really, that’s the main overarching thrust of Horizon Forbidden West – it’s ultimately an epic meditation about how humankind might rise or fall further from its seeming nadir. While it hardly seems like a ground-breaking premise in the face of so many other post-apocalyptic fables, Horizon Forbidden West’s unique blend of sci-fi, religion and a vibrant setting, makes it all feel much more fresh than the usual dusty, radiation blasted/infection riddled hellscapes that we’re usually made privy to.
A key part of this setting and arguably an equally iconic foil to Aloy herself are the numerous machines that have also sought to claim the remnants of the world for themselves. The various machines of Forbidden West are arguably more fun to tangle with than their flesh and blood counterparts. With each one presenting a mechanical facsimile of one of mother nature’s creations, encompassing such creatures as bulls, wolves, eagles, kangaroos and more. Again, for fear of spoiling a game that absolutely should be experienced as fresh as possible, I’ll not spill the details on Horizon Forbidden West’s more jaw-dropping machines – and trust me, your jaw will drop.
Much like Horizon Zero Dawn, the machines bring with them a certain amount of sophistication to the combat system thanks in no small part to their unique attributes, strengths, weaknesses and bespoke attack patterns. As such, Horizon Forbidden West brings back that familiar thrill of combining melee, ranged and trap based attacks in order to outthink your machine foes, developing a strategy that is at once tricky to pull off later in the game, but amazingly satisfying when you do.
There’s nothing quite like baiting a Sunwing with a shower of arrows into an acid bomb you prepped earlier, or carefully using tear ammo to blast off key components of a WIdemaw for use in crafting later. Clearly then, combat in Horizon Forbidden West is as satisfyingly creative as it always was, but here the developers have also made some welcome improvements to boot.
Though ranged combat remains largely unchanged, it’s the melee side of the equation that Guerrilla Games has given the most love to, as Aloy can now perform an extended set of fairly sophisticated combination attacks, chaining together various strikes in a way that feels utterly satisfying. Another big change that Horizon Forbidden West brings is the notion of Valour Surges. Essentially one off special skills that must be recharged by attacking (and being attacked by) enemies, there are two Valour Surges embedded within each of the six skill trees in Horizon Forbidden West with each one performing a tide-turning function such as providing Aloy with extra attack power, a durable damage shield or even invisibility.
As mentioned previously, Horizon Forbidden West boasts six skill trees (versus the four seen in Zero Dawn), that each provide an avenue for players to fully customise their playstyle and approach to combat. Coupled with the greatly improved melee combat and the new Valor Surge mechanic, quite simply combat and progression in Horizon Forbidden West feels more rewarding and compelling than ever before. This is intelligent third-person combat done right.
Of course when Aloy isn’t smashing up machines or following the beats of the main story, players will be spending their time wandering the wide expanse of Horizon’s Forbidden West and it is here that the game perhaps shows the least amount of growth from a design perspective. Many of the open world activities from the first game return – such as the Hunting Ground trials, hacking Tallnecks, matching up Vista images, conquering Cauldrons, tracking down odd collectibles and more besides.
Essentially then, this represents something of a two-edged sword in that if you’re currently experiencing open world fatigue (which can easily accumulate from one game to the next – I’m looking at you Far Cry, Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs), then the idea of these activities might come across as suffocating busywork. If however, you simply cannot spend enough time in Horizon’s world and want to do everything that the game can offer you, then you’re in good hands with Horizon Forbidden West.
That’s not to say though that the full array of side activities in Horizon Forbidden West are all quite so predictable. Indeed, the various side quests that you’ll ran into throughout the game are easily a cut above what was presented in Horizon Zero Dawn, often being well constructed tests of your platforming and exploration prowess that not only reward you duly, but make you want to keep on doing more of them as you uncover more of the Horizon Forbidden West’s world. Elsewhere, additional activities such as using flying machines and other such distractions also help to alleviate the occasional over-familiarity that Horizon Forbidden West’s extracurricular tasks sometimes causes.
With a span of nearly five(!) years existing between Horizon Forbidden West and its immediate prequel, it becomes clear that there is a sense of grandeur that oozes from the digital pores of the Horizon games that no other genre effort has come close to replicating. More than that, Horizon Forbidden West arguably represents an offering that sits near the apex of the open world, action adventure genre, presenting a more mature (not to be confused with gritty) world and story compared to its predecessor.
Pointedly, Horizon Forbidden West not only furthers the narrative of one of PlayStation’s most recognisable icons, but also manages to reassure PlayStation gamers of the rude health of PlayStation Studios sterling reputation for creating stunning first-party, single-player adventures. In every way that it can be, Horizon Forbidden West is Horizon Zero Dawn 2.0 and while I might crave some more variety in its open-world activities, Guerrilla Games has nonetheless crafted a triumphant sequel that earns its place among the very best that PlayStation Studios has to offer.
Horizon Forbidden West releases for PS4 and PS5 on February 18, 2022.
Review code kindly provided by PR.