The mad men at Guerilla Games did it. They showed Horizon: Forbidden West during Sony’s PlayStation 5 event, the continuation of Aloy’s journey. By opening with scenic shots, Forbidden West’s gorgeous natural environments echo the studio’s rise to glory through the years. After a decade of generic shooters, 2017’s Horizon: Zero Dawn proved Sony’s Amsterdam outfit could produce a special experience. With new hardware and an established foundation, Forbidden West allows Guerrilla Games to sprout from Zero Dawn’s cracks.
That First Impression
It’s unclear whether audiences saw in-game visuals or gussied up in-engine footage. Considering how good Horizon: Zero Dawn looks on ancient hardware, there’s reason to believe Forbidden Wild’s reveal is representative enough that even if the footage itself wasn’t in-game, it’ll be indistinguishable in players’ hands.
The trailer showcased a few imperfections, leading us to believe gamers won’t be seeing “downgrade” articles near launch. A close-up of crustaceans eating what appears to be seagrass at the 49 second mark looks low resolution compared to the rest of the image, which is par for the course for foliage in real-time rendering.
Additionally, the fleeting shots of other humans aren’t unbelievable. As expected from open world games, Zero Dawn’s NPC’s lacked the same detail and animation complexity employed by Aloy. Forbidden West’s human characters don’t scream “next-gen is here”. Rather, Forbidden West seems to err on the side of consistency. No more 2D animated JPEGS of ants running up trees.
With the customized SSD and a gargantuan leap in processing power, the PlayStation 5 becomes Guerrilla Games’ canvas. The first title’s co-op was scrapped due to technical limitations. Rendering a detailed open-world with a focus on bespoke animations and animation blending made the PS4’s memory and CPU limitations an obstacle the PS5 doesn’t need to contend with. This possibility lines up with rumors that cropped up earlier this year.
Additionally, Guerrilla Games can place a greater emphasis on the lived-in experience with enhanced interactivity. While Aloy’s move-set and abilities supported complex interactions against enemy AI with convincing animations, other elements lacked the same interactivity. Individual settlements are rendered in painstaking detail, yet despite this, they feel lifeless.
Meridian City houses tons of NPC’s, but they don’t seem to exist within that space. They act as set dressing with rote patterns and minimal reactions to players’ actions. Rather than making relevant comments and reacting naturally, NPC’s bumped by the player robotically sidestep Aloy as if she’s an obstacle.
With more memory, more CPU grunt, and next-gen techniques such as variable rate shading along with the mainstream adoption of reconstruction moving into the start of the generation to claw back performance, Horizon: Forbidden West can pump up the visual splendor along with a more complex simulation.
Where Forbidden West Needs Attention
While much of Zero Dawn’s strongest and weakest links can be addressed by the PlayStation 5, no amount of muscle can save its biggest flaw: storytelling. Guerrilla Games succeeded in making the transition across genres with interesting gameplay systems, but its writing didn’t see the same shift in attention. Its setting is less generic than Killzone, but its poorly telegraphed twist and largely forgettable secondary characters make it a serviceable narrative. The script is strong enough to provide context, however, it won’t stick with players in the same way Guerrilla Games expected.
Forbidden West’s Bright Future
With its announcement trailer, Horizon: Forbidden West and Guerrilla Games have bright futures. The lack of a release date should be the least of anyone’s worries. No one expected that generic shooter developer to become one of Sony’s tentpole studios. Even if it fails to one-up its predecessor’s script, the expanded design allowed by the new hardware is enough to make Horizon: Forbidden West a game worth watching.