This week in Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Horizon Forbidden West.
Let's face it, Sony: you and I haven't been seeing eye-to-eye lately. You refused to give us a Ratchet & Clank review code; I called you out on the video. You didn't send us a Horizon Forbidden West code before launch day; I came over and pissed through your cat flap. But I want you to know that I believe maintaining my journalistic integrity is more important than keeping up a petty, one-sided feud. I say that to disabuse any notion of bias being attached to the following statement: I hate Horizon Forbidden West, and I hate you.
Bit confusing, actually; Horizon Forbidden West doesn't feel that much different to the first one, and I don't remember getting a hate-boner for that. Truth be told, I don't remember very much about it at all. I went back and watched my review of it for a refresher, and my past self was actually vaguely positive; certainly no mention of the main character being a total fucking charisma vacuum who only ever talks in a breathy monotone, constantly... pausing like she's trying to... work out a... kidney stone, making her voice performance the aural equivalent of Chinese water torture. Maybe it's my ever-solidifying antipathy towards the standard Jiminy Cockthroat model for AAA open-world games. Maybe Elden Ring spoiled me. Maybe I'm just in a bad mood from the way a cat flap recently snapped shut on my bellend. I did extract some amusement from the way all the characters are dressed like an abandoned farmer's market in a high-graffiti neighborhood, and then, in conversation, just awkwardly stand around, sweating under ridiculous headdresses, fidgeting and mumbling like a bunch of teenagers chatting outside a cinema where none of them want to be the one to suggest they go home 'cos it's a school night.
Anyway, back in the post-reboot mumblecore future of Horizon, Aloy, having spent the last game learning how to transcend her outcast status and learn to work with other people, promptly chucks all of that development in the bin so fast, it makes the lid spin around. When it transpires that all the shit she did in the last game to save the world didn't actually save it properly, and she has to journey to the titular "forbidden west" to save it for realsies, she is fucking chomping at the bit to get away from everyone she knows. Oh, but don't you see? It's too dangerous for them; she's the only one who can shoulder the burden of saving the world, and it's not like anyone else has an investment in helping her succeed in that goal! What a selfish fucking bint!
Aloy comes across like she holds everyone who doesn't have her old-world technology cheat sheet in total eye-rolling contempt; whenever quest-givers are telling her the problem, she's like a disgruntled computer science teacher's assistant watching an old person type. "Ugh, get out of the way; I'll do it!" It's the classic problem of an overly competent protagonist who's already had their character development, wedged into the middle of the story like a fucking unmoving tree trunk with half the charisma.
But here's the punchline that makes it twice as obnoxious: she's not actually competent! Or at least, she doesn't come across as such in gameplay. She swans about the cutscenes, going, "Yeah, no worries; I'll just go overcome the current adversity in my unflinching ginger finery. Want me to pick you up some baby wipes while I'm out?", and then she runs out into yet another fight with robot dinosaurs and gets screamingly batted back and forth between two giant metal thagomizers for five minutes, while having to constantly scarf down healing berries like a Sony QA tester with a bottle of caffeine pills. (At least, she does when I'm controlling her.)
I was a bit underleveled, 'cos I was trying to rush through critical path for the review; I did try a few random side-quests, but all of them were variations on, "Oh, please rescue my close friend/family member, who went alone to confront a robot/group of bandits in order to prove themselves, and didn't realize you need protagonist status to get away with shit like that!" So, direct combat with robots was mostly me getting nine-tenths of my health blasted off by an unexpected tail-whip or missile barrage and having to frantically roly-poly into cover to suck down three açaí smoothies. But I can only assume that's how it's supposed to go, because all the combat areas are absolutely carpeted in berries; it's like the hemorrhoid ward synchronized swimming team out there.
Oh no, I'm out of berries! "Don't worry; just press a button to refill your berry pouch from your stash." Well, what's the point of even having a fucking stash mechanic if we can just teleport stuff out of it whenever? Are we trying to smuggle shit through airport customs? Oh no, I'm out of berries for real! Not to worry; there's a small health potion in my consumable quick-select. Just have to scroll through to find it. Trap, trap, trap, stamina potion, trap, medium health po-- I haven't got any medium health potions! Why is the icon still cluttering up the fucking quick-selec- oh, I just got thagomizered again.
See, this is what's driving me nuts about Jiminy Cockthroat games: always bloated with game mechanics layering over each other and getting in the way, none of them with enough focus to provide a solid core to the experience. It's like trying to appreciate your spouse's naughty underwear while they're also wearing baggy pajamas, and a Sou'wester, and the back half of a pantomime horse. Go to the upgrade menu and the game proudly unfurls multiple distinct gameplay styles with separate upgrade trees: warrior, trapper, hunter, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. But on closer inspection, half the upgrades feel kind of inconsequential - "Add 30% damage to ranged combat while critically low on health, as long as it's before 9 P.M. and you're wearing a sombrero." - or just add more exotic combat moves I'm never going to remember that I have in a pinch.
I was trying to focus on stealth, 'cos surprise attacks do ridiculous damage compared to whaling on dudes head-on; it's the difference between throwing knives at a condom full of guts and flicking gumballs at a breeze block. But mandatory combat kept coming up, so I looked at the warrior upgrade path, and the first thing was "Gain the ability to hit an enemy to build up energy, then tap a button to infuse them with energy, and then shoot an arrow at them to do extra damage." Anything else I need to do for this process, game? Take down their names and addresses, perhaps? How about just "More damage”, or a standard melee attack that doesn't look like we're trying to forcefully eject our own spine?
So, Horizon Forbidden West wasn't the best. The highest praise I could offer is that its world offers frequently quite spectacular visuals somewhere behind all the GUIs and objective markers, and omnipresent tutorial text that seems eternally worried I'll forget where the "Quick Berry Refill" button is. I note the visual spectacle gets brought up a lot in other people's positive reviews, and to those people, I would like to pose a small question: have you ever tried pressing on your eyelids? If some pretty shapes and colors really can sell the experience for you, then you might save a bit of money in future if you just sat on the couch, pressing on your eyelids. Also, you can add the experience of listening to Horizon's dialogue by doing it while pouring cold porridge down your ears.
- Not here to make friends: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- See it was a reference to the 60s Salisbury rock band Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch so it was actually quite an amusing oh forget it
- I haven't shot down so much neon bullshit since I worked as a civic engineer in Nevada