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Guerrilla Games has always been a studio a few steps away from greatness. Horizon Zero Dawn could take them there.

Guerilla’s Killzone games were an attempt to give Playstation its own Halo but after five efforts the series remains an also ran. An ‘almost… but not quite’ franchise.

Given a clean slate Guerrilla had another chance to impress with Horizon Zero Dawn, and impress they did, with last year’s big E3 reveal being one of the highlights of the show.

At this E3 we got the chance to see an extended demo and finally go hands-on with the game.

Horizon Zero Dawn

The demo take place in a sizeable but restricted sandbox created to demonstrate the game’s sumptuous environmental design and behavioural intelligence of the game’s robotic lifeforms.

Even in this contained form the game is immediately impressive. Before taking a single step forward I was compelled to take a few moments to savour the game’s ‘magic hour’ atmosphere. Swinging round the camera and examining the lush and colourful environment is a pleasure in itself; with light of a low sun breaking through the trees, a waterfall flowing in the distance and little bunny rabbits hopping about like escapees from Teletubbies land.

The bucolic atmosphere is only broken when I spot a Broadhead in the distance, a bull-like robotic creature. Edging closer – and stealth was recommended by our demonstrators – I discover a herd of the beasts. From my inventory I select a rope dart with the intention of capturing one to use as a mount. However – largely due to my own incompetence – I fire an arrow instead and the herd, startled, gallops into the distance. This in turn stirs three deadly raptor-like machines, who look up from within tall grass to spot me standing in the open like a lemon.

Horizon Zero Dawn

The battle that ensued was a joy from start to finish. The aggressive attacks of the these nimble creatures were reminiscent of – and surely inspired by – Jurassic Park’s famous velociraptors. By keeping them in sight, and at a little distance, I was able to pick them off one at a time using the ranged weapons at my disposal – the most spectacular being a fire bow.

There is a satisfying ebb and flow to the battle and whether by design or well-scripted A.I., it always felt like a genuine two-sided battle, my opponents considering their next move just as much as I was.

These pesky rascals dealt with I turned my attention back to the Broadheads. This time, having successfully worked out how to use the rope dart, I pin one to the ground. One swift brain hack later and I’m galloping around the sandbox with abandon.

The creatures Horizon Zero Dawn are beguiling to watch, relatable in their movements but completely alien in their responses to what happens around them. The combination of animal behaviour and robotics not only provides some narrative intrigue for the game but also allows Guerrilla allow to flex their creative muscles, freed from the constraints of the FPS genre.

The game’s template – and underlying RPG-lite elements  – recall the recent Tomb Raider reboots more than anything else. However, the formula feels invigorated by the game’s setting, tone and ecology.

At this point Horizon Zero Dawn looks to be a significant step up over Guerrilla’s previous work. If the impressive combat and exploration aspects can be tied to a compelling narrative and mission structure, the game will be another PlayStation 4 exclusive to look forward to.

Horizon Zero Dawn will be released on Playstation 4 on 28 February, 2017.

Preorder Horizon Zero Dawn on Amazon.

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