Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Innovation of Horizon: Zero Dawn

After a friend of mine finished the game and we discussed our impressions of this masterpiece, I realized that I hadn't touched upon the innovations of H:ZD in my earlier review.

The game perfects the form.  For example, J.S. Bach did not "foresee" the transition from Baroque to the Classical period, to the point where critics complained of his compositions being old-fashioned.  We would call his critics today as "haters".  J.S. Bach perfected counterpoint and subtly transposing to different musical keys, often unnoticed unless one really pays close attention.  In fact, Mozart stated that he could not do counterpoint, so awe-inspiring was Bach's genius. J.S. Bach created absolutely sublime music where one must follow the repeat signs, the passages bear repeating again and again, as one can otherwise miss the complex interweaving of melodies/harmonies and shifts in keys.

Likewise, Horizon: Zero Dawn appears to innovate in the open world genre in the same manner as J.S. Bach, as all elements typical of open world games here are excellent to superb.  Other games that are at least near-masterpieces are less impressive in terms of having too many glitches and bugs, or the combat is lackadaisical, or the narrative middling at best, and so forth.

Another means of innovation is in advancing the art. For example, Beethoven foreshadowing the transition from Classical to the Romantic periods, or Cezanne foreseeing the transition from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism (i.e. being at the forefront of the post-Impressionist period).  I feel that Horizon innovates the combat mechanics in two ways:  the technical aspects of taking down enemies and the sophisticated A.I.

For instance, in the Monster Hunter series, I was struck by the sophistication of attacking various body parts for extra damage. For example, stunning one of my favorite monsters from that game, the Kut Ku (and its variants), by hitting it on its head with a hammer; one needs to be positionally aware to attack the specific body part as there is no lock-on, and one can miss.  Actually, you really couldn't have lock-on as you need to target tails to cut off, heads to stun, and so forth. Each weapon also plays extremely differently and I end up specializing in just one weapon type for the entire game, as it takes expertise to master multiple weapons. As a noob, I admit using the lightning longsword for Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, and then the switch-axe for Monster Hunter 3U.

Horizon goes one step forward than Monster Hunter where one needs to also target certain areas of a machine, slowly peeling off plates/armor and even using the machine's weapons against itself.  Additionally, the A.I. is extremely sophisticated. So, frequently, when fighting a boss, I position myself behind it, since almost 100% of the time the boss would attack in front of it, as if it didn't realize that I'm attacking from behind. Indeed, it makes no sense for a character to attack empty air, but so many enemies do.

However, when I thought I was cleverly attacking HZD's ThunderJaw from behind (thinking that it would shoot ranged attacks and totally miss me), I was surprised to be stomped by its rear legs and/or hit by its tail, as it was clearly aware that I was behind it.  Further, unlike a lot of other games' bosses,  which tend to have at most five or six pattern attacks, the ThunderJaw has around 17(!), as it was coded to respond to your moves in a realistic manner.

Also, much to my chagrin, when I laid down traps, which a machine might be able to note, I was surprised that it jumped over them.  I think future games will need to make the enemies respond to attacks in a realistic manner like Horizon's, instead of reacting in a scripted way regardless of where you are positionally, or what you are doing.

Naughty Dog has mentioned that they will find it difficult to surpass Horizon's graphics, but I think the challenge is to make these battles even more realistic than Horizon's  as I find gameplay combat mechanics more important than graphics.

In conclusion, Horizon innovates in both excelling at all gameplay elements, and advancing the genre with the technical aspects in having to aim at not only specific body parts, but also layered armor and weapons to peel off, as well as the brilliant A.I. it features.

-Alice

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