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Horizon Zero Dawn’s Broken Whistle Mechanic Was A Thing Of Beauty

I started Horizon Zero Dawn over this week. I’ve written in the past how I’ve failed time and time again to get into Guerilla’s open world epic, but something about Forbidden West finally changed my tune as I found myself pouring hours into the sequel as I became eager to uncover each and every little secret it had waiting for me. But now I’ve gone back to the beginning, and one silly, yet brilliant feature from the original has me reeling.

Stealth in Forbidden West is more refined. Aloy now has a selection of specific stealth attacks and added abilities that make the act of luring wild machines and hostile humans over to your hiding place that much easier. However, enemies are also smarter and more reactive, making it harder to wipe out a field of watchers or take over a rebel camp without being spotted. I prefer this approach, but there’s one absent mechanic I miss dearly.

In the early hours of Horizon Zero Dawn you can unlock the ability to whistle. An innocent gesture, but one with deadly capabilities when used correctly. As the studio’s first game outside the Killzone franchise, Aloy’s debut was filled with teething issues and small annoyances that would all be addressed in the sequel. It’s charming in a way, and the whistle fits neatly within that definition. Use it while crouched in long grass and the nearest living thing will come running, eager to investigate the sound for themselves.

You can either murder them immediately or override machines in an instant, a process that can be repeated over and over again so long as you remain far enough away from huge groups of machines and/or people. It’s busted, and turns what the game clearly hopes to be a robust stealth system into an incidentally comical game of abusing the same mechanic over and over again to grind experience points or turn even the hardest encounters into an exercise of trivial patience. I understand why it was removed in the sequel, but I’ll be damned if I don’t miss it. It made stealth fun for all the wrong reasons.

Forbidden West has stealth attacks that lock Aloy into animations that take far too long, meaning you’re often spotted when performing them anyway, and headshotting human foes with a well-placed arrow is just unreliable enough that I never wanted to depend on it. I’m happy the stealth system has matured, but I’m also heartbroken that its most eccentric element was left behind in this maturation. It had to go, but that doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.

Playing the Horizon games in reverse order unveils a number of fun developments like. The climbing is vastly improved, as is the impact that comes from firing weapons and tearing components across myriad machines. Aloy moves with so much more grace, and the world itself feels more alive thanks to improved animations and quest design. All the changes are for the better, except the whistle. We were robbed of something magical.

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