[We’ll have a full review and performance analysis up as soon as possible, once we know how a brand new pre-release patch affects things.]
Horizon’s open world is teeming with deadly robot wildlife, machines designed in the mold of dinosaurs and huge mammalian predators. There are the small sentries, Watchers, that behave like nasty dropkicking raptors. They’re fragile enough on their own, easy to take out from a stealthy position with a single critical strike. But Horizon will often throw a couple of them into the mix with some bigger creatures, like the Bellowback, which expels globs of flammable glaze out of its huge belly to set everything on fire. Or the Snapmaws, gator-like machines which send relentless frost-bomb artillery strikes your way, then close the cap while you’re still cold and sluggish.
It’s easy to get into a huge panic and accidentally aggro a whole bundle of the machines, kicking off a massive brawl in which you are the main target. This regular occurrence was a huge pain on PS4 when I first tried to play Horizon. I eventually gave up because I didn’t feel capable of getting out of these messy situations without tripping over the inherently sluggish controls and tight FOV.
A shame, because Aloy has so many tools at her disposal. Horizon, like most modern stealth-action games, gives you plenty of tall grass in which to invisibly tip-toe, setting up traps and tripwires. You get a minute to study their movement patterns and weak spots before kicking things off, too. I’m reminded of stalking guards from the rooftops in Dishonored, except the guards are as tall as the rooftops.
When things do kick off, when I fire a concussive bolt into one of the disc-launchers on the back of a rex-adjacent Thunderjaw, Horizon presses the eject button and sends that leisurely pace into the stratosphere. For a good portion of the early game, the first 15 hours or so, some of the bigger creatures can take you out in one or two hits. This is where leakproof—like, hermetically-sealed—combat improv is required. And on PS4, the analog sticks just didn’t cut it.
While a slowdown effect kicks in when changing tools, that’s all the help you get (except for a limited, optional bow-aim slowdown skill). On a PS4 I felt like I was waiting for the sticks to catch up to my brain. Let’s draaag the cursor over here, fire, and then draaaag it back over here, fire, and—oh, the Sawtooth is gnawing on my lower torso? I’m dead? Coolcoolcool.
With a mouse though? Palm sweaty, but capable. I can plan and execute without a hitch. The controls dissolve and my intuition flows from brain to CPU and into Aloy in an uninterruptible circuit. I’m laying down multiple tripwires in the path of a charging Behemoth, while running and jumping away. I’m slinging an electric bomb at the Longlegs in front of me, then switching to a firebomb, whipping an instant 180 and coating the ground below some Scrappers in flames within a few seconds.
I’m pinning every errant Watcher to the ground like an CS:GO aim-training course so I can easily chip away at weak points between the armor plates of a Ravager without aim-assistance or the bow’s slowdown skill. I’m a hunter, not some big-thumbed dope on his couch yelling at his TV.
Mouse aim doesn’t make the game easier, it just helps the combat reach its full potential. With a PS4 controller I didn’t feel capable of keeping up with what Horizon threw at me, but with a mouse I know I can dig myself out of a tough spot. And If I don’t I know the fault lies with me, not an analog stick guessing at my intent.
Situational awareness is key too. Rather than perch the camera on Aloy’s shoulder in the classic Prestige Character Action PlayStation Game stance (see God of War, The Last of Us). I keep the FOV zoomed out at around 90 or 100 degrees. Aloy looks like a sunflower seed next to these things, an ant beside behemoths. The scale isn’t lost on me. But I can also keep an eye on other creatures in my peripheral vision. These bots can close the distance in seconds with huge lunging attacks, and on PS4 I depended almost entirely on audio cues and excessive rolling to avoid them. But most of the time I only knew someone else had joined the fray when they suckerpunched me from off screen.
With a wider FOV I can actually manage fights with flying and terrestrial creatures at the same time. I don’t need to drag the camera up and down or pray my headphones and the sound design perfectly interlock.
Now that I’m playing on PC, I’m excited to get into messy situations. I throw myself into danger because I have faith in the combat design, the enemy AI, and my ability to react to however they collide. Horizon’s PC release erases almost all friction. It’s where games like this belong.