With the all-online E3 looming, promising a bounty of new-game reveals and substantial updates on announced titles we're already excited for, it's highly likely that Guerrilla Games' Horizon Forbidden West - which was confirmed in June 2020 - will finally receive a release date. (Or, maybe, on May 27 - thanks, Guerrilla, for posting that as I wrote this.) Currently pencilled for late 2021, the PlayStation-exclusive open-world action-RPG, the sequel to 2017's celebrated Horizon Zero Dawn, is a tentpole project for Sony's first year of PS5, and it'd be disappointing indeed if it slipped into 2022 (which is when we're expecting the God of War sequel).
I'm looking forward to reconnecting with Aloy, the protagonist of HZD, and following her adventure across a futuristic but primitive United States. Forbidden West is promising more epic vistas, more gorgeous visuals, more robotic creatures to both defeat and tame, and weather effects that will light up the screen. As a game that's also coming to PS4 as well as PlayStation 5, players shouldn't be expecting sights and sounds spectacularly beyond the previous game - but then, Zero Dawn was quite the looker, already.
Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the games that really made the PlayStation 4 what it was - check out our list of the console's most important games in the vid below...
But as much as I am keen on Forbidden West, having very much enjoyed its predecessor, it's not the Horizon game I really want. And here's where I have to slide in a spoiler warning, because I'm about to get into the Zero Dawn story. Well, not the story of the game you, the player, actively control Aloy through in the year 3020 - but the story that came before it, almost 1,000 years in the past of the world of HZD.
The timeline of the Horizon series begins in 2013, with the birth of Ted Faro. Faro will go on to found Faro Automated Solutions, a company that eventually develops a range of military robots known as the Chariot Line. These machines, designed in three different forms, were an endless army, with two of the three units able to be produced by the other one without the need for production-line control. And should they run out of fuel, they could convert biomatter for energy - whether that matter was alive or dead.
In the year 2064, in the Horizon timeline, a Chariot unit begins to malfunction. It no longer responds to human commands. Faro and another key character in this fiction, Elisabet Sobeck (you hear a lot about her in HZD, as Aloy is her genetic clone), desperately try to overcome the issue, but it's no good - rouge units are multiplying and consuming biomatter at such a rate that all life on Earth will be extinct in 15 months. Cue: Project Zero Dawn, a plan to restore life once the so-called Faro Plague has run its course.
I'm skimming a lot of details here, but as Horizon Zero Dawn progresses, the player and Aloy learn of this 21st century nightmare, this apocalypse that took humanity and all living things on our planet to the brink. And it's this bleak-AF world that I want a new Horizon game set in. I want to experience, through gameplay, the incredible, overwhelming odds of fighting against an enemy that just keeps coming - and what's more, it eats you to make more of itself. Hearing about this devastating time in the game's fictional history through audio logs and notes in Zero Dawn just isn't enough. I want to feel that misery, that hopelessness - and what an amazing contrast it'd be, against the sunshine-kissed majesty of so much of Zero Dawn.
What's more, I don't want this prequel game to play like Zero Dawn or Forbidden West. Keep the open-world experiences in the 31st century (31st, right?). I believe that a game version of the Faro and Sobeck era could be a very different beast. My initial thinking is a game along the lines of Into the Breach - an intense, challenging, absolutely all-or-nothing strategy game where hard choices need to be made to claim the smallest victories.
One of the best games of 2018, its story sees the human race threatened with extinction at the hands and claws of gigantic aliens. Sometimes, in order to achieve victory in a stage, you have to lose a unit - or even a whole city. Or if that's too niche, think Halo Wars, or XCOM, but Horizon-themed and exceptionally sombre.
Even if you 'win' in this prequel, you lose - because the events of Horizon Zero Dawn tell us that you have to. But I think there's a genuinely fascinating well of potential here, some compelling, entirely tragic stories to tell, of people, families, communities doing anything and everything to slow a tide that simply will not stop coming. And to complement that narrative power with a testing strategy game that asks you what's worth sacrificing now to save something small for later, that'd really be something.
Games rarely provide anything but happy endings - but ambiguous ones, even outright disheartening ones, can be well worth an arduous journey too, if handled sensitively. And I sincerely believe there's something in Horizon's past that's worthy of a prequel in its future. This might not be one for Guerrilla Games to work on - but there's a good number of amazing indie studios who could make this nightmare of mine a wicked reality. I'm happy to connect the calls, Sony, if you're up for something very, very different.
Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, Guerrilla Games
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