In this age of annual updates and endless sequels something genuinely new and genuinely surprising is a rare and wonderful thing. Perhaps that's why I'm so excited about Horizon: Zero Dawn.
Announced out of the blue at E3 2015, Horizon is a brand new IP from Guerilla Games, the guys and gals of Killzone fame. And it's a bold departure for a studio that's been making decidedly linear first-person shooters for what seems like forever, because this is a third-person, open-world action-RPG, your first taste of which should be the gameplay trailer below.
It's the future, Jim, but not as we know it
Luckily, I've not only seen that trailer a whole bunch of times, I've also now had a behind-closed-doors live gameplay demo with Lambert Wolterbeek Muller and Jan-Bart van Beek of Guerilla Games, so have just a little more insight into what it's about and how it works.
For me, the setting is really compelling, albeit not entirely original. What we know is that civilisation as we know it has been deconstructed through the eradication of power and technology, and that the world and its cities have been reclaimed by nature. The Guerilla guys wouldn't be drawn on what the disaster was that killed humanity's electronics. They also wouldn't tell us how and why the forests, fields and mountains of what appears to be Colarado (thanks, Reddit) are now teeming with herds of robotic animals.
What I do now know is that you play as Aloy, a Machine Hunter from one of the oldest tribes in this new world. Apparently she hunts the machines not only to keep her tribe safe, but to harvest their resources. The beasts she's tracked in the demo create a biofuel while they graze, which is stored in the cannisters on their backs - that's what she's after.
Putting the action into action-RPG
This big bugger protects the herd you're hunting, and it's a real challenge to take down
But of course it all goes a bit Pete Tong when the grazing robo-animals are spooked and a massive, nasty robo-dino decides you need a bashing. You can see the ensuing battle in the trailer, but our guides in the behind-closed-doors demo dissected it for us a little bit. For a start it's worth noting the spears that are sticking out of the thing before it even attacks - this nasty bugger has been weakened especially for the E3 2015 demo, because otherwise the battle would simply go on for too long.
The method Muller uses to take it down here is very similar to that seen in the trailer - electric arrows to stun it, an explosive arrow to dislodge the creature's weapon so that it can then be used against it to destroy the armour plating, ropes to keep it still, then a final arrow to a freshly-exposed weak spot in order to finish it off - but apparently there are a great deal of other weapons, traps and specialist arrows that can be used.
But all of that special ammunition is precious and limited because it uses technology that survived the collapse of civilisation and the tribes have no real idea how it works and certainly can't reproduce it for themselves.
What about the RPG?
Beyond the short demo Guerilla is promising a massive open world with forests, valleys, mountains and even now-overgrown cities to explore and a genuine ecosystem to the machine population. There'll be a free-form structure to it, with quests that reward you with experience that can be used to unlock perks and abilities. You'll also be able to select dialogue options.
Those elements make it all sound a bit Witcher 3, but there's also a distinct Enslaved: Odyssey to the West vibe to the setting. That can only be a good thing as far as I'm concerned, so here's hoping Horizon: Zero Dawn turns out to be as good as it currently looks.