Horizon: Zero Dawn could well be PS4 Pro’s much-needed killer app

By Alex Donaldson, Thursday, 3 November 2016 13:49 GMT

This game looks ridiculous. Yowzer.

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We can’t call this one a hands-on, sadly. Let’s call it eyes-on. We got to watch as Sony reps played, but that was perhaps better, since we could really focus on the visual aspect of things. The rub: Horizon Zero Dawn looks amazing on PlayStation 4 Pro. Of all the new and upcoming stuff for the Pro shown at Sony’s launch celebration event, it was by far the most visually impressive.

“HDR’s vastly superior colour range is what really hits you first and foremost about Horizon running on the ludicrously lovely and expensive screens Sony is using at the event.”

While Gran Turismo Sport’s ridiculously lovingly detailed photo mode is an ideal place to see a flat-out comparison between the visuals of a PS4 Pro game with and without the boost HDR visuals offer, Guerrilla’s latest offering isn’t just a great example of what the kit can do: it just looks ludicrously stunning up-close and personal.

Just as with Gran Turismo I’d ultimately say that HDR’s vastly superior colour range is what really hits you first and foremost about Horizon running on the rather lovely and expensive screens Sony was using at the event.

The rich colour palette and colour tone Horizon generally has really seems to suit these high-end displays with HDR in particular. There’s lots of bright greens and earthy browns in the environment, but they’re supplemented by blooms of bright, often orange lighting and plenty of glowing blues around the electronics that fill the game’s curiously ruined world.

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I’ve always been a fan of Guerrilla’s technical work but from an artistic perspective Killzone never quite did it for me. Horizon seems to be taking some of the best elements from that series in a new direction. In some weird way I can’t explain this is still artistically a Guerrilla game that clearly shares lineage with Killzone, but it also couldn’t be more different.

So, yes, HDR in Horizon looks great. That’s becoming a theme in all HDR-supporting games, and not just on PS4 Pro. Gears of War 4 and Forza Horizon 2 benefit similarly on the Xbox One S. With that said, the helping hand the extra power the PS4 Pro machine offers to the game’s visuals is far more pronounced here in Horizon than in Gran Turismo, with any time heroine Aloy clambers up to a high spot a particular highlight.

“This is the type of game where a casual player could see it and be sold on needing a Pro based on an in-store demo or the like. It looks that immediately impressive.”

It’s one of those moments where one has to risk looking just a bit stupid: I step closer to the screen. I get stupidly close, propping my face right up against it to inspect everything; hard edges around characters, just how crisp the HUD is – all that stuff. Honestly, even under that silly magnifying-glass level of scrutiny, Horizon remains pretty hard to fault.

There are vague signs of some standard-issue open world roughness about the edges – this isn’t the tightly-scripted and controlled world of Uncharted, after all. Even so, the game looks remarkably good. It feels a bit of a marvel. On PS4 Pro it’s running at 2160p checkerboard thanks to the PS4 Pro’s built-in upscaling gear. It looks lovely.

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One of the major obstacles for PS4 Pro that we’ll be talking about in the next week or so as we review the hardware is the challenge of 4K and HDR TV set penetration. I don’t think 4K alone is enough to justify the purchase of a new TV, which means those who currently have 1080p sets that were fine and top-of-the-line at the start of the generation face the prospect of buying an expensive set that makes use of both HDR and 4K to really make the Pro shine.

Horizon, however, is a game that looks so good on these big screens one can’t help but ask: how good is this going to look running through a Pro on a 1080p screen? This is the type of game where a casual player could see it and be sold on needing a Pro based on an in-store demo or the like. It looks that immediately impressive.

Guerilla has explained in blog posts and the like that the game will still render at these higher resolutions when plugged into a regular TV, but the system will then downsample these images to a 1080p signal. I’m extremely curious how good this will look on a lower res screen and without HDR, because if it captures half the detail that’s visible on Sony’s expensive event screens, Horizon could be a PS4 Pro killer app for everyone, not just those willing to drop big money on an expensive TV. Fingers crossed.

Oh, and the game bit looks brilliant, too. Roll on February.

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