One of the reasons I love video games so much is because they're able to transport me to a world very different from my own, and show me the magnificence of places I could never see. Some even allow me to do more than act as an ethereal observer, they allow me to keep mementos in the form of pictures of my travels. Horizon Zero Dawn isn't the first game to give players the option to "photograph" the player's journey, but it might be the most beautiful experience I've ever witnessed.

After seeing the first footage from Horizon Zero Dawn about a year ago, I was immediately fascinated. Horizon supposed a world in a distant future where humanity had been thrown back to an age of barbarian tribes and technology was shunned. It's not unfamiliar narrative ground to anyone into post-apocalyptic fiction, but Horizon had a number of elements that made it stand out from its contemporaries. (It does have quite a bit in common with The 100, but that's a story for another day.)

First, technology had evolved to be sentient, and not in an I, Robot kind of way, but in a manner of animalistic nature. Mechanized monsters roam the plains of Horizon's world, with some more docile than others, but many viewing humanity as a direct threat. There are analogs for horses, tigers, giraffes, and all manner of creatures from the animal kingdom. The design of these beasts is one of Horizon's most captivating aspects, and being able to study the intricacies of their machinery is only possible when you can slow down the action in Photo Mode.



Secondly, there is Aloy. It's still a rare sight to see a woman in a leading role in video games, even though recent years have seen an improvement over the reliance of men to be the centerpiece of a given adventure. I'm fascinated by stories that aren't about me, and Horizon more than qualifies. Aloy is a strong, angry, curious and intelligent lead that challenges the norms of the tribe that considered her an outcast for much of her life. Additionally, Guerrilla Games has designed her to be aesthetically appealing. I don't mean that in a slimy way. A lot of attention was paid to Aloy's look as Guerrilla wasn't just developing a lead character; Guerrilla was creating what it hoped would be the next gaming icon.

For as much as I've enjoyed playing Horizon, I've spent just as much time trying to capture images of Aloy in ways that show who she is in a single still image. It's actually not all that hard given how expressive, animated, and photogenic she is in the game. Thankfully you can literally pause the action at any moment and attempt to ensure that fraction of a second lives on for eternity. With a number of photographic tools offered in-game, you can even twist and manipulate the frozen world to make even more dynamic and vibrant imagery.

You could of course take more somber photography as well, but Guerrilla's game is full of color and life, and it seems like a waste to dismiss the careful thought that went into the visual design of Horizon's future. Even just in Aloy's village where it all begins, there's so much diversity in the landscape, the architecture, and the people. I've spent hours just tweaking positions, poses, apertures, the time of day, and the depth of field in this small stretch of land, and I haven't even seen the world outside Aloy's gates yet where even more wonders await.


Guerrilla Games


It's not every game that has me counting down the hours until I can get back into that world, but Horizon Zero Dawn is undeniably calling to me every moment of the day. Too often we take the art and style of a game for granted, and getting the chance to intimately observe Guerrilla's hard work has made Horizon that much more appealing. From its characters to its world, there's little about Horizon that isn't gorgeous. Whether the story and the gameplay will hold up for the duration remains to be seen, but as long as I'm able to document the journey along the way, those factors are almost irrelevant to me.

Horizon Zero Dawn is out now exclusively on the PlayStation 4.


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