Review: ‘Horizon Forbidden West’ is a spectacle to behold and a joy to play

Horizon Forbidden West is a continuation of what made its predecessor special – and quite simply a technological marvel. But is its gameplay loop starting to grow stale?

Horizon Forbidden West is one of the most anticipated video game titles of 2022 for good reason. It continues the adventure of protagonist Aloy as she tries to save her troubled, yet mesmerising, world of majestic machines and breathtaking vistas.

The first game, Horizon Zero Dawn, demonstrated that Guerrilla Games could craft a game full of empathy, wonder and mystery – something a little different than their work on the Killzone series. And its open-world gameplay was one of the finest examples of its genre.

That said, as the years have passed the narrative surrounding Horizon Forbidden West has changed. The focus has drifted away from the story and character of the game, which deserve attention, and become centred on the war of console exclusives between Sony and Microsoft.

It isn’t hard to see why. Horizon Forbidden West plays like a Sony mission statement: cinematic storytelling mixed to perfection with technological innovation. Which notably isn’t the same thing as general innovation (gameplay anyone?).

horizon forbidden west review
Image: Horizon Forbidden West / Guerrilla Games

With that in mind, the game has become a sort of torchbearer for Sony – riding headfirst into the bloody fray that is the video game industry. But how does it actually fare? Does it wipe the floor with the tired bodies of its competitors? To be honest, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Horizon Forbidden West is spectacular

I don’t mean to gush but Horizon Forbidden West is quite simply the most gorgeous video game I’ve yet experienced. The world swings and sways like a leaf caught in a gentle breeze. I’d say that the graphics are lifelike, but they are far more beautiful than that tired description suggests.

This game, with its stunning depictions of nature and the tattered remains of civilisation, is a joy to behold. The graphics play a role in achieving this, but the art direction is equally as important. The team at Guerrilla Games are wizards, it’s as simple as that.

horizon forbidden west sky
Image: Horizon Forbidden West / Guerrilla Games

So if you’re looking for a beautiful game, a game that you will literally stop playing just to can gaze at, then Horizon Forbidden West is a must play experience. It’s a triumph of both technology and artistry.

Characters and character

Despite being, at least partially, a cautionary tale of the post-apocalypse, Horizon Forbidden West is notable for its positivity. I don’t mean that there aren’t moments of tragedy and heartbreak, but the game lionises bravery, friendship and diplomacy.

In some ways it reminds me of the Mass Effect series because at its core is the tenant that problems, no matter how great or small, can be solved. Sure, one could argue that’s how video games work (we complete the levels, solve problems), but playing this game feels like an antidote to cynicism.

slitherfang boss
Imagine: Horizon Forbidden West / Guerrilla Games

Aloy and the likeable cast of supporting characters are critical to achieving this. They talk about their problems, recognise where they disagree, and attempt to make the world a better place – generally with a smile on their faces.

And while the game’s world could be seen as dystopian, the tone of the game actually come across as somewhat naïve and optimistic. There’s an unmistakable Disney energy to the game and, while in my opinion that’s part of its charm, not everyone will feel the same way.

Formulaic and fun?

If you liked the gameplay of Horizon Zero Dawn then you are going to like Horizon Forbidden West – because at the end of the day they are essentially one in the same. The question is whether that’s a problem or not.

As I already touched on, the game is a technological marvel. But in terms of gameplay mechanics it’s an old car that’s had the rust sandblasted off it and then been given a fresh coat of paint.

Keeping with that metaphor though, Horizon Forbidden West is still a goddamn Cadillac. As I made my way through the game’s central adventure, exploring new environments, crafting items, and hunting majestic robot creatures, I was could barely wipe the smile off my face.

Horizon Forbidden West isn’t groundbreaking from a gameplay perspective, but it is fun, memorable and addictive. And isn’t that what gaming is really about in the first place?

Horizon Forbidden West is out now on PS5 and PS4.