The best thing about the PC version of Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t what I expected when I first installed the game.
The visual upgrades, especially on a powerful system, are almost always going to be the focus when a console showpiece makes the jump to PC, and Horizon doesn’t disappoint in this area. The frame rate has been unlocked — a major change from the 30-fps limit when played on a PlayStation 4 or PS4 Pro — so anyone with a beefy gaming PC will be able to play in 4K, at 60 fps or higher.
There are plenty of visual toggles and a benchmarking tool to make sure you’re finding the best balance between performance and aesthetics, support for ultra widescreen monitors, and an adjustable field of view.
That’s all well and good, and a lot of folks may stop reading there. That’s the information they came for, if all they care about is how the game looks on modern gaming PCs. But the best thing about this port to me wasn’t how it looked, but how it played, and that all comes down to the controls.
Why the controls matter
Horizon Zero Dawn is a game about a seemingly cursed young woman in a future so far ahead of us that giant lumbering machines are treated as dinosaur-like ancient relics. She’s an outcast, there is an external threat, and she has to go on a quest to save her people … even though they don’t seem to want her. And while a little of the ancient technology of the forbidden places still works, the people of her tribe still primarily hunt, and fight, with traditional weapons including our hero’s bow and arrow.
Accuracy matters. Knowing how to scan your mechanical adversaries and find their weaknesses can mean the difference between clearing out multiple targets with a single shot or death. And that’s the catch: knowing that the tanks on the back of certain enemies will explode doesn’t help unless you can hit those tanks, and doing so is a lot easier using a mouse and keyboard, at least for me.
It’s not that Horizon controlled poorly on PlayStation 4, it’s just that the extra precision that comes with mouse and keyboard are huge assets in a game that focuses so much on hunting and survival. Battle conditions can change rapidly, and sometimes it’s that one shot that makes all the difference, and I had a much easier time making that shot on PC. It doesn’t hurt that the game also runs at a solid 60 fps on my rig, which further aids in responsiveness.
Playing one of Sony’s best-known exclusives on PC is already a novelty, but the increased lethality I’m finding with the new controls and increased frame rate arguably makes this the more enjoyable version of the game. I’m the same hunter, just with slightly better equipment.
Horizon Zero Dawn will be released on PC through Steam and the Epic Games Store on Aug. 7.