Six months after Aloy’s adventures in the Frozen Wilds, the world is still turning, and machines still roam the land. Underneath it all, however, is a brewing catastrophe, thanks to a signal that’s been sent out, with the intention of wiping out all life on the planet. Zero Dawn’s post credits scene hinted at the mysterious Sylens’ intentions being less-than-noble, and it’s here that the adventure begins, in the wild and wonderful Forbidden West.
PICKING UP WHERE IT LEFT OFF
The game starts with Aloy tracking down a backup of GAIA, the all-seeing AI which created the terraforming functions that shaped the planet as we knew it from Zero Dawn. HADES, the ‘subfunction’ of GAIA which caused all the problems in the first game, has been awoken by a mysterious signal, and captured by Sylens. It’s at this point the story begins to open up, and Aloy is tasked with tracking down her former partner in order to once again save the world from an extinction level event. If you’ve not played Zero Dawn, I’d wholeheartedly recommend doing so, but there is a brief catch-up video which explains the events the first time you boot up the game.
If you are familiar with the world of Horizon, then there won’t be too many shocks in the early going. Once again, you’re let loose in a simply breathtaking open world, with lush jungle juxtaposed with barren deserts and snow-filled tundras. Oh, and there’s tons of robot dinosaurs. Obviously, these were the standout from the first game, with monstrous depictions of lethal animals all caught up in a mechanical nightmare of metal and glowing lights. In Forbidden West, there are some vicious new variants. The Clawstrider, essentially a robotic raptor, is one of the more terrifying ones thanks to its speed and weaponry. Others, such as the enormous cobra-like Slitherfang and the armoured elephantine Tremortusk stand out as key enemies that you’ll have to take down at some point.
ENJOYABLE COMBAT, INTERESTING TRAVERSAL
Armed with primitive weaponry, the combat remains mostly the same as Zero Dawn’s, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It’s still hugely enjoyable. There are some new mechanics introduced here though, with one being slightly less useful than the others. The first is the Pullcaster, which allows Aloy to attach a hook to elements in the environment and either pull them out to create new paths, yank crates off ledges to pilfer from, or scale surfaces more quickly. It’s a really neat concept, but I can’t help feeling there could be more use for it. Valour Surges are also introduced to the combat, allowing you to trigger a powerful bonus that you can unlock via the game’s multiple skill trees, giving you a definite edge in certain encounters.
When it comes to climbing, you’re limited to specific points in the world, and there’s only so many times you can remove debris or a vent panel before it starts to feel all too familiar. Much more useful, though, is the Shieldwing. A deployable parachute of sorts, it allows you to float down to the ground from otherwise dangerous spots in the world, and will likely help prevent some irritating deaths. Importantly, it introduces a new level of freedom when traversing the world, making it by far the most useful of the new features. There are also a bunch of underwater environments, which range from mundane empty rivers to vast lakes and oceans teeming with life. As showcased in some of the promotional material, these can be fully explored after a point in the story which gives you a diving mask, but I’ll not spoil anything there.
A WHOLE NEW, BEAUTIFUL WORLD
I mentioned it previously, but the attention to detail in the environments is absolutely superb. Settlements feel suitably lived in and areas in the world all feel unique enough for you to roughly know where you are in the map. One moment you can be watching the snow deform and crumble underneath your feet, the next you could be silently attacking a machine from a section of long grass underneath a canopy of trees in the pouring rain. My only criticism of the design elements in the world would probably be related to some of the interior sections, as most of the “Old World” buildings feel somewhat similar. Whether this is a commentary on the nature of corporate America, I don’t know, but the abandonment of civilisation feels a bit samey once you get into a dilapidated building. Having said that, there is still a sense of wonder when you find yourself in a cauldron or other facility, with mechanical life being crafted all around you. Plus, these areas are withheld enough in the game to feel fresh each time you enter one.
Of course, the thing that will draw people to the game in the long run is the story. The overarching threat of humanity being wiped out is a recurring theme in Forbidden West, but what made Zero Dawn stand out was its personal story when it came to Aloy. In all honesty, it’s here where I felt I was longing for a little bit more. There are, of course, quieter parts of the story where you take a moment and interact with characters both old and new, but I didn’t quite feel the same attachment as I did to Rost in the first outing. That said, the cast of characters across the world are diverse and interesting enough, adding tons of colour to an already beautiful canvas.
NARRATIVELY AND TECHNICALLY WORTH YOUR TIME
In regards to the main story, I enjoyed what Forbidden West had to offer, but felt certain plot points came to the fore a little late in the day. This resulted in the game being more narrative-heavy in the back half than the front. Again, minor criticism of a story I otherwise very much enjoyed, especially the contrast between the futuristic “old-world” tech and the primitive, almost zealous religious worship of it. I found it fascinating, even though there are a couple of hokey moments in some of the dialogue. On the whole, the story kept me engaged enough to see the credits roll, clocking in just over 30 hours (main story and some side quests) in the process. It doesn’t break the mould like the first game did, but as a continuation of Aloy’s tale, it’s absolutely worth your time. On that, alongside the main quest there are an abundance of collectibles, side quests and a combat arena to tackle. They all feel like they contribute to making Forbidden West what it is. Additionally, there’s a delightful board game called Machine Strike, which is sure to add to your hours played.
On the technical side, the PS5 version runs in one of two modes. First is the fidelity mode, which targets a native 4K at 30fps. This is undoubtedly the mode that looks the most crisp, but as someone who prefers frame rates over pin-sharp visuals, I opted for the performance mode. This aims to hit 60fps with “a lower resolution”. I had access to the Day One patch quire late on in my testing, and this gave the resolution in performance mode a substantial boost to what appears to be a native 1440p, potentially with some dynamic resolution scaling (DRS) happening in some areas. While there is a slight hit to the pure fidelity of certain sections, I can honestly say it didn’t make too much of a difference to my enjoyment. The game runs smoothly, with an essentially locked 60fps. One thing that is prevalent throughout all versions is the staggering facial animation. Zero Dawn’s animation was superb in its own right, but Forbidden West takes it up a notch, with some of the facial movements and textures surpassing the uncanny valley.
PS4 HOLDS ITS OWN
The DualSense is used very well in Forbidden West too, with the controller subtly trembling as you navigate long grass, or the Adaptive Triggers buckling when you pry open a locked door. It’s not until I picked up the old DualShock 4 that I realised just how much the PS5’s new toy added to the experience. The feedback during combat and general traversal felt much more disconnected on the last generation, but other than that, it’s a solid experience if you’ve not been able to get your hands on a shiny next-gen system yet.
Aside from the obvious graphical cutbacks, Forbidden West generally runs really well on hardware that’s approaching a decade old. I played through a few hours on the PS4 and Pro, with few problems to report. I got into the open world, and experienced one or two minor loading issues, but on the whole it’s pretty solid. We’ll have a performance video so you can see for yourself.
Simply put, I loved my time in the Forbidden West. After finishing the campaign, I then did something I don’t often do with open world games, and put another 20 hours or so in and picked up the Platinum trophy. If nothing else, that should give you a sense of just how much I enjoyed it. The world that Guerrilla have created is a staggering achievement, with its depictions of an infrastructure left to crumble for a thousand years far surpassing the first game in terms of scope and scale. A couple of minor quibbles with the story didn’t prevent me from loving the vast majority of time with Aloy’s difficult second album.