Star Rating:

Horizon: Forbidden West

Platforms: PS4, PS5

Release Date: Friday 18th February 2022

Play Modes: Single Player

The sequel is the trickest thing to nail in any creative artform.

More often than not, the biggest hits are the games with little expectations.

'Horizon Zero Dawn' reviewed strongly upon release in February 2017, but very few could have foreseen the success the game would go on to have.

Over the case of the last 5 years, Aloy has become a PlayStation mascot on a par with Sackboy, Nathan Drake or Kratos and the game has shipped 20 million copies.

'Horizon Forbidden West' is one of the most-anticipated games for the PlayStation 5 and in a lot of ways is your typical sequel to an unexpected hit.

'Portal 2' and 'Red Dead Redemption 2' are the examples one points to when they think of sequels to surprise hits, in both instances the original games were made as part of a smaller part of a larger studio, and when the game becomes a hit, the sequel has the entire studio and kitchen sink thrown at it.

In the time since the original game, developers Guerrilla Games has seen Managing Director Hermen Hulst tapped to become the Head of PlayStation Studios and as such, PlayStation has positioned 'Forbidden West' as the killer app the PlayStation 5 has been waiting for.

This is an enormous amount of pressure and expectation to put on a game, but if there was any pressure, it doesn’t show in the game.

In a word, ‘Horizon: Forbidden West’ is the blockbuster title every console needs.

The game picks up a few months after the events of the previous game, and in one of the games masterstrokes, the world has moved on despite Aloy’s heroics and the game explicitly spells it out that the world doesn’t revolve around her.

In another tentpole sequel like ‘Mass Effect 2’, Commander Shepherd is treated as a walking space god and saviour of humanity, and while Aloy gets the occasional positive comment from passers-by, Aloy merely exists in the world.

‘Majora’s Mask’ treats Link as an insignificant pawn in the grand scheme of the game's plot, and Aloy occupies a relatively similar position in this game.

There is always a bigger fish and threat to contend with, and just because Aloy saved the world once doesn’t mean she can rest on her laurels and expect to coast off the success of her one hit.

One of the main themes of the game is coming to terms with an ungrateful world, and the game explores it in a different and interesting way.

The driving plot behind ‘Horizon: Forbidden West’ involves Aloy travelling into a mythical land ruined by blight, and she must find the source of the problem and prevent another apocalypse.

Players are already familiar with Aloy prior to beginning ‘Forbidden West’ but the game digs deeper into what makes Aloy tick.

Aloy has become one of Sony’s mascots and has become a firm fan favourite, with Ashly Burch’s working wonders in helping players grow fond of Aloy.

The story is without question the strongest part of the game, and fans of the first game will find a lot to love here.

Brave New World: Aloy must brave the Forbidden West to save the world once again

If the game has one major complaint, Aloy is a very talkative character, and she brings it upon herself to narrate every single action she’s performing.

A major part of any story is the principle of “show, don’t tell” and ‘Horizon: Forbidden West’ breaks that cardinal sin countless times.

Trying to establish a video game protagonist is tricky, on one end of the scale you have Gordon Freeman in ‘Half-Life’ where the players can project yourself onto him, or Duke Nukem where you’re reaching for the remote every time he blurts out a pop culture reference.

After this game, we may have to invent a new point on the talkative video game protagonist scale, as Aloy shatters all previous known records.

It’s not merely enough to let players pick up a crafting supply or come across a new location, Aloy brings it upon herself to give a running commentary to no one in particular.

Aloy was talkative in the first game too, but Guerrilla Games staff must have had an office bet to see how much expository dialogue they can make Aloy say.

This isn’t a hit on Burch’s performance by any means, but she narrates what must be the equivalent of ‘War and Peace’ by the end of the game.

On the topic of Burch, the actress has become one of the most in-demand voice actresses in video games and her performance here is truly winning.

Burch is able to sell the dramatic story beats well and with gravitas, but can also deliver the quieter character moments with aplomb.

Thanks to the motion capture animation really coming to life on PlayStation 5, players may be reminded of Amy Adams whenever Aloy speaks.

The story itself is engaging, and at times the game is evocative of ‘Fallout New Vegas'.

While this game doesn’t have the sprawling dialogue trees or branching questlines, ‘Horizon: Forbidden West’ often captures the same strange, off-kilter tone as ‘New Vegas’ which is always a major point in a game's favour.

The world of 'Horizon' is a world half-full, and players can come across some brilliantly odd little characters along the way, which we won't spoil here.

The main story does a good job of establishing the stakes, introducing characters whose motivations aren’t always clear cut, and most crucially, the players feel themselves in Aloy’s boots for the entire game.

Of course, while a strong story and engaging characters is a major factor in a game, it needs strong gameplay to back it up, and in this case the game passes with flying colours.

The PlayStation 5 controller has proven itself to be a versatile bit of kit for developers, and using the DualSense controller to pull back on arrows never stops being satisfying, likewise with the controllers vibrations adjusting slightly based on Aloy using a light or heavy attack.

Combat is as satisfying as ever, and in a major improvement from the first game, you’re no longer encouraged to hide in tall grass to hide from your enemies and you can charge in head-first like Leeroy Jenkins. 

The combat feels weighty, free-flowing, and above all, fun.

Of course, players can approach combat in a stealthy manner, and sometimes sneaking past enemies undetected may be the smarter option.

Aloy is an aloof character with her own motivations. This doesn't sit well with Varl.

One early game encounter sees players come up against the robot version of Michael Jordan crossed with a T-Rex and it will repurpose you for wall paint if you approach it unprepared and under levelled, which makes it satisfying to come back later on in the game and run rings around it.

The elephant in the room when discussing the 'Horizon' games is the virtue of 'Breath Of The Wild' releasing mere weeks after the original game and redefining what can be done in a sandbox game.

'Horizon: Forbidden West' took perhaps the wrong lessons from 'Breath Of The Wild' and its environmental puzzles.

An early game story quest involves travelling into a flooded maze to unlock a genetically-protected vault door.

At this stage, a game would be more subversive and original if a player discovered an abandoned building and everything worked perfectly, no questions asked.

The major problem with the original 'Horizon' game remains: it's bad at telling you stuff and how mechanics work.

This quest is an exercise in frustration and tedium, and what seemed like a clever quest idea on paper quickly becomes infuriating.

Once you think you're finished with the quest, it throws another obstacle in the way and it quickly becomes tiring and tedious.

Just once, a game should have a character show up to an old abandoned ruin and they don't have to jump through any hoops - that would be truly revolutionary.

To bring it back to the 'New Vegas' analogy from earlier, the game captures the quirky spirit of the game in spots, but it doesn't quite have its environmental storytelling chops.

Granted, the game has sweeping vistas and is a visual treat from a graphics standpoint, but in 'New Vegas' or 'Breath Of The Wild' the game had a knack for telling a story with the environment, and 'Horizon: Forbidden West' takes the approach of having massive ruins jut out of the landscape and do nothing more with them.

It isn't merely enough to have robotic and human ruins exist side-by-side like 'The Matrix', and a game with a tighter focus would have players actually interact with the environment in a meaningful way instead of using it as set dressing.

The game map is larger than the original game (we played the PlayStation 5 version and experienced no problems with loading, the poor PlayStation 4 is going to sound like a jet engine) but the game lacks the focus the original game had.

With a bit more restraint and chopping off around the edges, 'Horizon: Forbidden West' could have been a truly special game, as it stands, it's a touch too self-indulgent for its own good.

Open the door, get on the floor, hide from the robot dinosaur

That isn't to say the game isn't worth your time, because it most certainly is.

It would be a major shock if this game wasn't in our year-end top 10 list.

'Horizon: Forbidden West' is a soaring and confident triumph from Guerrilla Games, and the studio is now on a par with the likes of Naughty Dog or Insomniac Games.

If you've been on the fence about picking up a PlayStation 5, the first time you see 'Horizon: Forbidden West' in action with your own eyes will make you drop everything and run out to buy a console.

Watching the game on a stream or YouTube video doesn't do the games graphics justice.

However, top-tier graphics need tight and refined gameplay to back it up.

Games that are nearly perfect and have one major flaw away from perfection are the most frustrating to review because the immaculate gameplay, engaging story and thrilling combat make for a great-tasting cake.

In simple terms, the game is missing the cherry on top.

In this instance, the chef put so much effort into getting the fundamentals right and was a bit too liberal with the whipped cream, and in the process forgot to add that one last piece to make the dish a masterpiece.