Wednesday 22 January 2020

Games: The dawn of a new action hero

Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4), 5 Stars, Age: 16+

Horizon Zero Dawn
Horizon Zero Dawn
Ronan Price

Ronan Price

In a sign of the immaturity of the games medium, Sony fretted mightily about the gender of lead character Aloy while building its blockbuster new franchise Horizon Zero Dawn. PlayStation studios president Shuhei Yoshida revealed the suits had feared she wouldn't appeal to players used to meathead men in armour.

But they needn't have worried because Aloy's adventure comes packed with enough character, panache and gender-neutral action to override any pale adolescent's qualms.

Assembled from a hodge-podge of inspirations (Witcher 3, Far Cry, Hunger Games), HZD nonetheless conjures its own stunning world to host a deep and complex RPG. Aloy channels Katniss Everdeen as a sparky hunter infiltrating a post-apocalyptic land populated by aggressive robotic dinosaurs and hostile human tribes.

Look past the clichés (the sometimes stilted dialogue and pulpy story), grin and bear the over-familiar open-world tropes (towers to climb, bandit camps to clear, etc) and revel instead in the slow-burn build-up of Aloy's powers, the frankly gorgeous landscapes and, above all, the compelling variety of the thrilling combat. With a terrific toolset - wire traps, bow and arrow, even guns filched from the dinos - Aloy can be moulded to your liking as you face down the metallic monsters.

Technically masterful and vigorously challenging, Horizon Zero Dawn marks the debut of a new action hero.

Torment: Tides of Numenera

(XO/PS4/PC), 4 Stars, Age: 18+

Chances are you won't remember the resolutely weird Planescape: Torment from 1999. This Kickstarter sequel ploughs a similar furrow, weaving a profound and nihilistic tale certain to develop a cult following among literary fans.

TTN is a D&D-esque sci-fi RPG, but not as you know it. Gameplay consists largely of reading screeds of beautifully written text, making ambiguous choices and trying to stop your head from spinning as you track the massively interwoven plotlines.

Clearly, Torment remains an acquired taste - combat is entirely optional, the newcomer faces an opaque uphill struggle and it's hardly a looker.

But devotees of this narrow genre will appreciate its craft, guile and ambition.

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