2. Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4)
Horizon Zero Dawn is quite simply a beautifully made open world action RPG which gave me loose vibes of Fallout 4 and hints of Mass Effect, yet adds it's very own flavours that sets itself apart and feels very rooted as it's own franchise managing to pull something really special off.
Generally this game has a lot of love for it from most who have experienced HZD and I can easily see why, and while not perfect (but what game ever is) it's well worth checking out for many reasons. Firstly the music is amazing and the sound in general has been really well thought out. I absolutely love the sound effects and how they are implemented into the noise of the machines while you fight. You get that rise of darker music, but then the actual battling sounds have this real weight to them and texture of mechanical chaos. There's a thing I love where the sound during the chaotic fighting almost kind of does this silence effect where there a super quick momentary sensation a bit like how when games and films do that temporary ear buzzing tinitus noise after an impact, the sound outside of this dulls. In HZD there isn't any of that but there's a very very subtle thing with the audio almost imploding on itself creating a slight attenuation in the audio. I also like the sound of something revving up or down. Simply put, the sound is massively on point and possibly the best I've heard as far as weighty mechanical sfx go. The music is also great with most importantly, a sense that it has a proper memorable theme to it, rather than just a load of orchestral music. It evokes emotion well and gets stuck in your head after a while, (for those who've played this you know, the one with the female adlibbing ooohhh ohhh ooooh ooooooooooo.)
The story lived up and really sucked me in, and in fact later on when you really start to pick up the pieces of the puzzle as to what's actually going on, It kind of blew me away as to how intricate and fresh it felt. While you spend a lot of time among the primative tribes, there's a lot to learn about the past (our near future) and the whole concept of Zero Dawn. It proper drew me in, especially later on as you learn a lot of information especially if you are listening to and reading all of the logs you come across. It has the whole futuristic AI shtick going on, and while often this is hard to work with in a way that keeps us entertained or refreshed as it's been done to death, I really liked what they do here.
Th graphics are fantastic and so colourfully dynamic. There's a photo-mode there for a good reason and it gives you a lot of flexibility to alter the scene where you are stood to get the perfect shot. The sun cycles and weather changes all really add life and emotion to the world itself.
The gameplay, i.e. one of the most important elements of a game is fresh, or at least for me I was experiencing things that I'd not done in a game until now. The enemies for a start are all robots based around animals and they have been really intricately designed with so many parts and just explode into many bits, however this is also incorporated cleverly into the game play where you are forced to pick spots, find weaknesses and sometimes even shoot off a weapon in order to pick it up and then use it against itself. The weapons are cool, and while there aren't loads, what is there is great to use. The bow feels amazingly fluid to use and once you upgrade things and allow it to slow down while running and sliding or jumping, it just all comes together nicely and slick. One of my favourite weapons is the tripcaster which shoots out like a cross bow, however has two shot phases and a connecting wire between each shot effectively allowing you to shoot a trip wire in place across a huge distance. These allow for trip explosions or electric shock traps. Often it's great to go in quit and set up lots of traps in advance, only to have many of the enemies fall right into them and take loads of damage before the fight even begins.
Somethine else I like about this game is the sense of freedom to be able to jump up mountains and really go where ever you want and being able to neatly fit through small gaps to get past the sort of thing that is always always blocked/clipped in many other games forcing you to work another way around. For example there are many ruins and places with twisted metal and broken concrete creating lots of small places to get through and this rarely posed any problems.
So onto weaknesses.
I read a few bits on occasion in the main HZD thread, and some of it rings true. A weaker element to the game are definitely the fights with the humans by far. They all felt boring and were always much easier in comparison to taking down the robots which often had more strategy to think about. The map can get full of icons and feel like an Assassin's Creed game. You get access to several maps very early on which give you the locations of all the main collectables, and they just take over the map instantly. I know you can remove this, but it also gives me that sense of a chore, knowing I'm inevitably going to end up having to go everywhere to get them all which I did. I'd rather they were either not given out at all, or split up into a series of smaller maps drip feeding the locations so as to not overwhelm the player. In fact I wish games didn't show you things in general in advance, like the outline of the whole map, or the total number of item x's you need before you finish the game, or the ability to read every single upgrade right from the word go. It's something I've grown to dislike over the years and it affects the mystery of progression and can give a good indication of how far you are in the game which can be a bad thing. Not a major thing but just more a personal preference thing.
I felt that there could have been a bit more going on in place on the map rather than samey settlements with people asking for things, particularly off the beaten track as far as side quests go. There was a person who needed help on the side of a road very early in the game, but this sort of thing didn't happen later on. It was a more predictable collection of people all together in a settlement who'd ask you. Fallout was great for doing this right. Like finding a house and ending up in a random encounter with a family who you get talking to who then end up being cannibals, who their neighbour is scared shitless of. They could have done more with the bandits to add story elements to them I think too.
I often found it difficult to scroll through my items to get to the health potions fast enough due to too many things to cycle through while in a panic. I initially didn't like this, but came to the conclusion that this is a toss up between keeping your eye on the ball and being prepared in a way like the Souls games do when having to change the weapons and stances or whatever you do (it's been years since I played) while fighting a boss.
Another thing is that later on it felt like there were way too many digital readers and audio logs to go through all around the same time. Difficult one as it tries to give you a lot of the added weight of the story of Zero Dawn and the people of the past, however it just slows everything down almost too much if you want to see it all. There's just so much of it. But then it's also the reason I got really invested in the story too so that's a difficult one.
Anyway, I'm going to conclude here as it's quite a long write up, but considering it's a longer game and a fantastic one at that, and that I'm stuck inside with little to do, it was worth it. HZD took me about 95 hours to get through and I played it on hard which can be tough early on until you get to grips with the best strategies to use and level up more. These types of games I generally prefer though when the threats are greater since playing FO4 on Survival.
9/10 for me.
[Edit] - To add to this quickly, I have the complete version which comes with Frozen Wilds as part of it but decided to completely ignore this space and come back to it at a later time to avoid over staying its welcome. The main section of the game is long enough if (like me) you do all side quests and collectibles. I do have those training grounds yet to finish though, and as I'm not far off the platinum if I get a blazing sun in every challenge, I might try and pull it off.