A commentary on Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West

Screenshot via my own playthrough

Thankfully, I do not have the coronavirus.

Unfortunately, and I place the blame solely on my aging 30-something body, the common flu has cleaved right through my entire weekly schedule. Gone are the days when I could shake things off with a Hot Toddy, a large beef Pho from a local Vietnamese restaurant and multiple daytime naps. Instead, I’ve rescinded the next five shifts of my part-time job, a much-needed haircut appointment, and my writing productivity has taken a full, snot-filled nosedive. I’ve barely the energy to engage in any conversation or discourse, much to the chagrin of my chatty live-in partner. But despite the fatigue, Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West has grabbed my attention span harder than this flu has grabbed my respiratory system.

I played and loved Horizon Zero Dawn, the first of Guerrilla’s post-post-apocalyptic robot dinosaur saga, for at least 80 hours. Though I was taken by an interesting Beast Wars-ian concept and exhilarating combat mechanics, it is the detailed machine design in Zero Dawn that begged to be remembered. Essentially bogging down to character design, the meticulous anatomy of these machines betray their fictional existence. Pipes, plates, horns, tusks, canisters, fluid sacs and appendages – every machine is meticulously, and specifically, designed for in-game world realism. Forbidden West harnesses the power of the PlayStation 5 and doubles down on those details in spade, funneling it into a larger machine bestiary, each with its unique set of reactions, personalities and varieties. Watching these machines go about their business in the wild is recreational, and theoretically the same as riding through a safari. Very National Geographic. Except, Aloy could get bulldozed, burned, and/or paralyzed doing her best Steve Irwin impression.

While the machines may be the obvious stars of this AAA-show, the side content in Forbidden West features remarkably affecting simulated humanity. Clearly, a full voice cast of characters, nuanced facial expressions and snappy writing coalesce into some of the realest humanity I’ve seen in a videogame in recent memory. We’re running the gamut in humanistic stories the game tells, with healthy dosages of political dalliances, the short- and long-term effects of natural disaster, the true meanings of community and family, and a global blight. How in vogue. Obviously, other games have amped up side quest game way before the Horizon franchise – CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3 boasts some of gaming’s most memorable ancillary stories. But Forbidden West comes armed with such conviction (and budget), it is easy to forget Guerrilla Games is no progenitor to the open-world genre. Plus, with the most beautiful vistas and graphical fidelity – almost perfect visual execution arguably has amplified what already was excellent storytelling. Perfect binge fodder for me, as I cough and sniffle through the hours living vicariously through Aloy’s exploits.

Screenshot via my own playthrough

As my grunting Fire Bristleback dashes through the winding roads of Horizon Forbidden West, with enemy machines rearing their whirring heads to watch as I speed by, there is an unquantifiable zen to this world. It feels similarly to a mental haze, but somehow more tangible and enveloping, like a successful yoga session. Arguably all open-world game developers hope to slather their games with this secret sauce: Square Enix’s Final Fantasy XV (2015), Kojima Productions’ Death Stranding (2019) and Sucker Punch Productions’ Ghost of Tsushima (2020) are a few titles last console generation I’ve personally disappeared into for weeks on end. Forbidden West comes dripping in sauce though, and this delectable immersion allows players (me) to disappear from their personal situations (my common flu), even for just an hour or two at a time.

As of the posting of this blogpost, I’m completely recovered from the flu – Horizon Forbidden West has healed me, a messianic digital laying of the hands. It seems I owe Guerrilla Games a medical bill. Don’t tell them; I work freelance!

Additional reading:

“A commentary on Final Fantasy VIII’s Shumi” for Windhill Journal

“A commentary on Yoshitaka Amano and fashion” for Windhill Journal

“I Can’t Stop Ogling Horizon Forbidden West’s Wind” by Ethan Gach, for Kotaku.com

Additional viewing:

One response to “A commentary on Guerrilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West”

  1. […] same escapist quality of Bierstadt’s landscapes in Guerilla Games’ Horizon franchise. I spent a chunk of time barrelling through the robodinosaur post-apocalyptic plains of California, U…, in awe of how wondrous and terrifying it must truly be to a puny human in a world beyond a bombed […]


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