Like many others, I spent much of the past weekend diving into Guerrilla Games’s long-awaited robo-dino sequel, Horizon Forbidden West. It’s a gargantuan game, one with amazing style and set-pieces, yet also one I fear lacks substance in the places it matters most.
While nothing on the “fail scale” of an Anthem or a Cyberpunk, Forbidden West is a surprising disappointment. More significantly, it might be a sign of something I never expected to experience: PlayStation fatigue.
What’s Wrong With Horizon Forbidden West?
On the surface, Horizon Forbidden West is a worthy next step in protagonist Aloy’s adventure. The game inherits many of the incredible traits of its predecessor, Horizon Zero Dawn—its world is expansive, its lore is rich, and its environments are gorgeous. As any sequel should, Forbidden West also improves on elements of the first, from overhauled skill trees to meatier, Witcher-quality side quests.
Yet, even early on, these qualities struggle to overcome a laundry list of issues I’ve encountered while playing Forbidden West:
- Its intro is a slog, retreading the basics of Zero Dawn without offering much new.
- Platforming (something notoriously janky in Zero Dawn) hasn’t visibly improved at all. I found myself regularly fighting the controls, and failing to reach seemingly easy handholds.
- Climbing is equally cumbersome. There’s Breath of the Wild-esque “free climbing,” but only on certain walls.
- In fact, the only way to identify those free-climb walls is with your focus (Aloy’s version of Batman’s “Detective Vision”). Prepare to click ping—a lot.
- There are tons of tiny, incessant bugs (from glitching through scaffolding, to Aloy’s hair blowing around indoors).
- The new underwater mechanics are way too unwieldy to be fun. (Have we learned nothing? This is the case with any water level in any video game, ever.)
- Melee combat’s still, sadly, one-note.
Individually, these bullets may seem like minor nitpicks. By and large, this game is Horizon Zero Dawn 2.0, and while many may be fine with this, for me it simply isn’t. It’s been five years since the original game, and it feels like I’m playing a (beautiful) game that’s stuck in the past.
When a Nitpick Becomes a Pattern
There’s a famous Ian Fleming quote from the James Bond novel Goldfinger: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.” While Cold War espionage may not fit the battle between Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, the point is the same.
Were Forbidden West an isolated mark on Sony’s resume, I wouldn’t make much of a fuss. Yet, this is the second time I’ve been let down by a big-name PlayStation exclusive in recent months. The first was when I played Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, a game most agreed was fun (myself included), just perhaps not the next-gen next-step forward it’d been billed as.
Make no mistake: When I say “let down,” I don’t mean “I think it sucked.” I remember making my way through Rift Apart at the same time as a friend of mine. While we both enjoyed the experience, we settled on an identical score to describe our time—8.5.
Does This Mean Trouble for PlayStation Studios?
I donno. Maybe I’m taking too much issue in trivial points, and splitting hairs for the sake of splitting hairs. I also recognize the far bigger issue with these AAA games—that they’re built on exploitative labor conditions and mass crunch. Also, there’s the other elephant in the room, and that’s the continued impact of COVID-19 on game development.
This isn’t a feeling I think is reasonable to have in 2022, nor do I think it’s a feeling most PS5 owners would even agree with. Still, it’s a feeling I have, especially as video game industry consolidation continues and AAA development shifts toward an even bigger budget AAAA production tier.
The stakes are high for any company choosing to invest in video games today. Xbox has planted its stake in the ground with Game Pass. Will Sony stick to its guns and prioritize narrative open-world games long into the future?
If my early adventures with Horizon Forbidden West are any indication, perhaps it shouldn’t.