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Horizon Zero Dawn: The Frozen Wilds Review – Good But Familiar

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The Frozen Wilds

The Frozen WildsDeveloped by Guerilla Games

Published by Sony Interactive Entertainment

Available only on PS4

Rated T for Teen


At the end of my Horizon Zero Dawn review, I concluded by saying, “Congrats Guerilla Games on your new successful franchise! Now get to work on the next one, I want to play it.” I had to go back and read my whole review to figure out why I gave it a 4/5, as I’m highly considering it for Game of the Year. I really relished the chance to jump back into Aloy’s fuzzy boots and stab, shoot, trap, and leap my way to more dead robots.

I haven’t played again before The Frozen Wilds, and after a bit of research I found that they had dealt with some of my nitpicks about the combat. Booting up The Frozen Wilds, the gameplay improvements combined with the new skills make for a much smoother experience. So, is The Frozen Wilds just an upgrade for Horizon Zero Dawn, or the new chapter for this world that I crave?

The Frozen Wilds

Teach me the ways of your mystic cave paintings…

In earnest, it’s a little bit of both, but not enough of either. What The Frozen Wilds adds is good, but is ultimately just more of the same. Story wise, The Frozen Wilds focuses on the Banuk and their icy homeland, “the Cut.” A hunter/gatherer tribe similar to the Nora but more practical, all that matters to the Banuk is survival of the fittest. Aloy arrives in the middle of a funeral ceremony, and learns that these hearty people and their inhospitable lands are under threat by a new form of corrupted machine.

The Frozen Wilds

As if murder machines weren’t enough, now I have to add being super chilly into the mix…

Cultural superstitions and reality weave and clash in Horizon Zero Dawn, and that’s even moreso the case with the Banuk and their hyper-spiritual societal structure. As always, what they see as mystical has a logical answer that only Aloy can discern with her Focus. It fits into the world, but is isolated enough that you can still play the main game without needing The Frozen Wilds to understand what is going on. It added just enough to intrigue me, but with that signature DLC quality of nothing you do actually mattering in any longterm way. People that do play it will undoubtedly know more about the games to come, but those that don’t won’t be lost when Horizon 2 drops.

I will say that emotionally, the limited exposure I got with the Banuk made it a bit hard to care about them. The Banuk chieftain Aratak was a cool dude, genuinely just wanting what was best for his tribe without a lot of needless plot contrivances. New shaman lady Ourea was okay, and more ready for action than her Nora religious counterparts. But the fact that I can’t even remember any other names should tell you something.

The Frozen Wilds

None other could be chief, for it is my hat that is the silliest and dress most heavily adorned with tails.

As for gameplay, The Frozen Wilds shoves in a whole new chunk of familiar content. There’s a new bandit camp to clear, a new Tallneck to climb, a new hunting ground, three new collectibles to scavenge, and various other sidequests and rewards. As familiar as these tasks are, each of them comes with a little twist to make The Frozen Wilds’ additions unique. The Tallneck first has to be put back together before it can be scaled, and the bandit camp ends with an intense bossfight and new weapon. The new version of the Corrupted Zones have a pulsing towers that heal enemies (and knocks out your shields, if you have them) until you are able to disable or destroy them.

The Frozen Wilds

Huh, I wonder if Mt. Doom over there has something to do with all these corrupted robots…

The various tasks feel more direct and purposeful this time around. There’s a certain amount you have to do just to get on with the story (I think it’s 3?), but for the most part the task/reward is much clearer and more impacting. There are three entirely new weapons you can get, and three new versions of the bows. The bows are all just upgraded version of the other combat/hunting/marksman bow, but with the added bonus that charging your shots now actually causes your arrows to hit harder.

The Frozen Wilds

Which is great, because this game throws Chillmaws at you like they just got taken off of the endangered species list.

The real fireworks come from the three new unique weapons, the Forgefire, Icerail, and Stormslinger. Each dishes out massive amounts of damage in their respective element, and you can go ahead and intuit which is which. In their basic form they essentially all boil down to just element sprayers, but once upgraded each receive a devastating secondary ability. Particularly destructive was the Stormslinger, which deals such massive damage that it can actually overload and kill you if you aren’t careful. These juggernauts consume a massive amount of resources (it’s like 20 Blaze/Chillwater/Spark a craft), which means I finally had an outlet for all of my extra junk.

There are also three new machines, and newer corrupted variants of all of the basic ones. The Frozen Wilds is intended for high level players (the suggested review level was 30), although it can be accessed at any point after the second half of the map opens up. As someone who was already level 50 going into it, the challenge was a welcome one. The new Fireclaw machine was a particularly fearsome foe. There was also only a blessed single spot where Glinthawks spawned, so praise be to The Frozen Wilds.

The Frozen Wilds

As annoying as they are, at least these kicking and screeching bundles of fiery rage don’t fly.

Overall, what The Frozen Wilds adds is good, but familiar. The plot was interesting, but it didn’t integrate meaningfully into the main story. Seriously, your Banuk friends don’t even show up for the final battle. The jerks. If what you really wanted was another 6 hours of hunting for trinkets and shooting respawing robots, then The Frozen Wilds is for you. I liked a lot of the new skills and raised level cap, but honestly should quality of life improvements have to be paid for? For new players that missed it the first time around and are getting into it for the holidays, it’s well worth checking out as part of a package deal. I personally don’t think it’s worth $20, but then again Sony gave it to me for free.

  • DLC
3.5

Summary

So, is The Frozen Wilds just an upgrade for Horizon Zero Dawn, or the new chapter for this world that I crave? In earnest, it’s a little bit of both, but not enough of either. What The Frozen Wilds adds is good, but is ultimately just more of the same.

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Zena’s Period Blood: MOM AND DAD’s Gory Gratification

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It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”

“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.

Have you ever enjoyed a twisted film? You sit alone for minutes, piecing together what you just saw and attempting to validate the smile curled on your face. Your brain begins the list of contacts that need to watch the film. Stop. What will they think of you, knowing that you were the one who recommended it? You realize that this film is worth risking the relationships. With 4% battery life, you text Cynthia first. “OMG! The movie Mom and Dad! Lit af! Watch now!” You hide the phone from your ogling boss, who has somehow also made the list. Oh, crap. You realize: Cynthia has kids. The kids will be damaged if they watch this film. You return to the phone. You text Cynthia. “Make sure the kids watch it, too.” You smile because you’re a jerk. You remind yourself: this film is worth the relationship.

Mom and Dad is a film that bestows hints of coming events. It opens to a suburban neighborhood; therefore, someone will die. Brian Taylor’s name appears as the director; therefore, someone will die. Lance Henriksen, who played the cuddly gorilla Kerchek in Disney’s Tarzan, has a role in the film; therefore, someone will die. It’s daytime; someone will die. Since one plus one typically equals someone dead, let’s find out why.

Taylor introduces us to a somewhat familiar school morning. Mom and dad listen to the news and inquire about everyone’s plans for the day. Over bowls of cereal there is laughter, backtalk, and silence before the family disperses. Children take the bus, ride their bikes, walk to or are dropped off at school by their parents, which is the case with mother Kendall (Selma Blair) and teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters). After the argument from breakfast harshly concludes in the truck, Carly escapes to the high school of engaging teachers, determined athletes, cigarettes, and drugs.

By midday we sense something sinful. Parents arrive at the school hours before actual pick up time and call out for their children from the other side of doors and gates. Police and teachers firmly guard the students. Confused, one child escapes to his mother, climbing the fence and falling into arms that welcome him with a set of minivan keys excited to shank him to death. Activated by this, parents raid the football field and other parts of the school, intent on killing their children.

As with any life-threatening concern, we turn to the higher power: Dr. Oz. He broadcasts across television networks that parents are somehow being triggered to kill their children. This is referred to as rampaging. We eventually discover that static triggers them to attack. We witness the general devastation of this suburban town, but are forced to stomach the details of Kendall and husband Brent (Nicholas Cage) as they rampage after their children Carly and Josh (Zachary Arthur).

The concept of this movie was rare; still, I questioned why it had never been done before. Further research led me to footage of the movie’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), where Taylor stated that one question is typically the catalyst for all of his films: What haven’t I seen before? I respect his prerequisite to challenge the status quo on all levels. One level that I appreciate is having a true horror set mostly in the daytime.

Another challenge is one I once thought was unachievable. During a hospital scene, I assured myself that Taylor would never tease with the life of a newborn. Needless to say, I will never get my sanity back, but I never had much of it anyway, so I think I’m okay.

Blair excelled effortlessly in that scene, as she did in many others. The range of raw emotions she brandished in less than ninety minutes left me floored.

Cage mirrored her performance, which was expected since he worked with Taylor before on Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Taylor is the Houdini of stretching Cage. In one scene, Brent (Cage) bares his disapproval of his current life. The teenage Brent was vivacious, speeding in the car he stole from his father, boobies whacking his face as he executes donuts in an empty parking lot. He never envisioned this present, day-to-day Brent, disillusioned in a household filled with a meek wife, a disrespectful daughter and a son whose toy placement resembled a parent’s deathtrap. Using a sledgehammer, Brent demolishes the pool table intended to be his oasis from the world.

The terror of this film flourished under a warm red and orange color palette, uncommon in most modern horrors. This left the make-you-piss-your-pants work to the unnerving camera movements and angles. Cinematographer Daniel Pearl is guilty for this torture. Truthfully, I never liked Pearl. You shouldn’t either. Why? Would you like the guy who made six-year-old you go through a whole pack of underwear in a night while watching the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre? No. You wouldn’t.

Partnered with these aesthetics is the delicious score from Mr. Bill. When I discovered that Taylor knew about this musical magician, I wrestled between delight and disappointment. Mr. Bill was my secret treasure, coming into my life with his otherworldly 2014 album Settle for Mediocrity. If emojis were professional, I would insert them here. But since they’re not, I’ll professionally say, “Mr. Bill’s music is the playlist for a panty-dropping Great Gatsby party but with extraterrestrial life instead of humans.

During TIFF, Taylor said that he didn’t understand how to convey tone. That deserves “the whatever face” emoji. He knows exactly what he is doing with tone. He also said that for many of his stories, he usually has the ending in mind first, and then he works his way backward. I did the same thing with this review. The first notes I typed will be the last of this review. Mom and Dad gave me gory gratification and will do the same for all of mankind. This is a good horror. Point Blank. PERIOD.



In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.

 


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TREMORS: A COLD DAY IN HELL Review – This Sequel Delivers Hot Graboid Action

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Starring Michael Gross, Jamie Kennedy, Jamie-Lee Money, Tanya van Graan

Directed by Don Michael Paul

Distributed by Universal


Anomaly. Noun. Something that deviates from what is standard, normal, or expected.

That’s the best way to describe the Tremors flicks. After around the third film most franchises descend into “wash, rinse, repeat” mediocrity; yet, here we are, six films in, and the Graboids, Ass Blasters, and most importantly, Burt Gummer (Gross) are still going not only strong, but seemingly invincible.

Once again the action is taken out of the town of Perfection, but this time it heads toward a whole new landscape… one of snow and ice instead of just sand and rock. You see, with the environment changing, so are the habits of long-frozen Graboids. These wormy wonders are not content with just staying all locked into their formerly frozen places. With nowhere else to turn, a science team decides that it is high time for an authority on these friggin’ things to step in… the big guns… the big Gummers: Burt and his son, Travis (Kennedy).

Upon their arrival on the frigid scene, we’re greeted with a truly colorful and likable ensemble of characters who, along with the Graboids, turn the horror, the comedy, and the action up to 11. Director Don Michael Paul once again turns in one of the most entertaining flicks in the film’s franchise, this time even eclipsing the good time that was his first entry into the series, Tremors 5: Bloodlines. It’s obvious that the team of Paul, Gross, and Kennedy is far more cocksure of the direction that their work and characters need to take, and it shows. For a little direct-to-video sequel, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell delivers tons of monster action that almost never suffers from its smaller budget. There’s a lot to like here, and longtime fans of the series are sure to eat this one up. You just cannot help but have a good time as the monster party tone is infectious.

In terms of special features we get the serviceable basics here: The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell featurette, an Anatomy of a Scene feature that takes a look at one moment in the film that is truly a first for the franchise, and a brief inside look at Perfection’s hotspot – Chang’s Market. Nothing earth-shattering here, but certainly nothing bad either.

As long as the trio of Gross, Kennedy, and Paul are up for it, I’m certainly down for more monster-fueled mayhem; and I’m pretty sure other Tremors fans will be, too. Here’s to looking toward wherever road this series travels. Something tells me its best moments are still ahead of it, and that, too, is without question an anomaly.

Special Features:

  • The Making of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell
  • Anatomy of a Scene
  • Inside Chang’s Market
  • Film
  • Special Features
3.3

Summary

This sixth entry into the long-running franchise feels as fresh as the first day a Graboid sucked down its prey back in 1990. That’s quite the accomplishment! Its balls belong in the Balls Hall of Fame.

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THE STRANGERS Blu-ray Review – Let This Stellar Release From Scream Factory Sneak Into Your Home

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Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Man in the Mask, Dollface, Pin-up

Directed by Bryan Bertino

Distributed by Scream Factory


It’s a bit odd – though somewhat fitting, given the number of waited-too-long sequels being produced these days – The Strangers (2008) finally got a follow-up after a lengthy ten-year gap. The original is a fine example of a home invasion picture done right, or at least well enough, but, as anyone who has seen the film knows, the leads probably won’t be returning and the killers have the personalities of dime store Halloween masks. The Strangers is a disturbing film in the sense the events seem like they “could happen to you” – it is, after all, “based on a true story” (not really). Plus, the situations our leads find themselves in are exactly the sort people still freak themselves out, like whenever someone enters a room with large windows at night – let’s all be honest here. The only thing scarier than things that go bump in the night is the thought those things are just out of eyesight, waiting to scare you. With the exception of a few “wait, why are you doing that?” moments The Strangers manages to activate certain primal responses to being stalked and frightened. It’s creepy.

Not-newly-engaged couple James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) have returned to James’ childhood summer home after a day spent at a wedding, where James’ proposal to Kristen was sadly declined. They go through some awkward motions back at home, trying to figure out where their relationship stands, when there’s a sudden KNOCK at the door. James answers and finds a young girl asking for a person who has never lived there. She leaves, cryptically mumbling she’ll “see them later”. She does, along with two other “friends” – the Man in the Mask and another girl in a pin-up mask – who proceed to stalk, taunt, tease, and terrorize both Kristen and James until the morning light breaks.

There aren’t many huge surprises in this film but the less you know about how the night plays out, the better. This isn’t to suggest the main characters make smart decisions viewers aren’t expecting, though. James is initially dismissive of a series of terrorizing occurrences Kirsten experiences when he goes out to get her a pack of smokes, brushing all of it off like she has an overactive imagination; this after the weird situation with the girl moments before. And expectedly, once James is finally on board with believing something sinister is afoot it’s already too late to do much about it. Past that point he and Kristen do act like rational people (mostly) and their plight gains a little more sympathy because of their noble efforts.

I hate the scene where James’ friend, Mike (Glenn Howerton), shows up, though. Spoiler alert: any viewer can see his accidental death coming from a mile away. Since it’s established early on James has called Mike to pick him up, what would have worked better would be if all the footage of Mike’s arrival and inspection of the house was cut. That way, his reveal at James and Kristen’s makeshift stronghold in the back bedroom would have been a major surprise. Instead, it plays out so obviously the intended impact is completely muted.

While the film falters in a few areas, it manages to make up for those gaffes by stepping outside the norm. One thing is does incredibly right is refusing to give the trio of terrorizers any personality or backstory or motivation. Viewers are left just as cold once the credits roll as they were upon being introduced to these faceless miscreants. This feels especially refreshing when watching the movie today because lately it seems so many horror films have been yanking the mystique out of things; between prequels and reboots and lengthy exposition it’s rare when a film chooses to eschew all of that. The film is also dire and dour, leaving little room for hope aside from a tiny tidbit that occurs at the very end. There are no white knights; the cavalry isn’t coming – and when you are staying at a house with weak security, near the woods, with no neighbors close by, don’t expect a deus ex machina to save the day.

Universal previously issued The Strangers on Blu-ray, though it featured both cuts on a single BD-25 and used an outdated codec. This new release from Scream Factory spreads the goods out onto two discs, giving each cut a full BD-50 to maximize bit rate. As a result, the 2.35:1 1080p image looks much more refined, smoothing out past compression issues and tightening up both contrast and definition. The lion’s share of this film was shot at night and black levels maintain a rich consistency throughout, while still allowing for details to remain apparent. Nothing is lost to the shadows, which frequently bathe the actors and environments. Scream Factory touts a new 2K scan of the intermediate and the results are nearly flawless.

As viewers might expect, sound design plays a crucial role in this film and the audio options ensure they’ll be immersed in subtle and not-so-subtle sounds from every direction. Both cuts feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. As expected, the multi-channel track offers a more discreet experience, spreading out the spooky sound design to fully envelope listeners. Thuds, knocks, voices, and footsteps creep from unexpected corners of the room, placing viewers right in the action and heightening the tension. The soundtrack goes a bit overboard on the jump scares stingers but since the whole point of this film is a couple being jolt scared over and over they seem fitting. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

Just as buyers should rightfully expect, Scream Factory has included all of the previous extra features found on Universal’s release and then some.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

“The Element of Terror” – This is a routine EPK, filled with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew.

“Strangers at the Door” – This piece covers the film’s initial concept and shows off some of the cast & crew working on set, with a few being interviewed, too.

A reel of deleted scenes, three TV spots, and a theatrical trailer, which is quite effective, can also be found on this disc.

DISC TWO: Unrated Cut

“Defining Moments – Interview with writer/director Bryan Bertino” – This is a newly recorded chat with the director, who discusses not only the making of the film but its legacy now that so much time has passed since release.

“All the Right Movies – Interview with actor Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask) – Here, the actor discusses how he got the role and what kind of direction was given to him for the character.

“Brains and Brawn – Interview with actress Laura Margolis (Pin-up Girl) – Just as with Kip Weeks, Margolis talks about playing such a quiet character as well as discussing some changes to the trio that were made during production.

“Deep Cuts – Interview with editor Kevin Greutert” – Learn about how the film took shape, the reasoning behind cuts and sequencing, and what changes were made right up until the theatrical release date.

A still gallery is also included.

The cover art is reversible and there is a slipcover included on first pressings featuring newly commissioned artwork.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Theatrical Version of the film
  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Unrated Version of the film
  • NEW Defining Moments – An Interview With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino
  • NEW All The Right Moves – An Interview With Actor Kip Weeks (Man In The Mask)
  • NEW Brains And Brawn – An Interview With Actress Laura Margolis (Pin Up Girl)
  • NEW Deep Cuts – An Interview With Editor Kevin Greutert
  • The Element of Terror – Interviews With The Cast And Crew
  • Strangers At The Door – Interviews With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino And The Cast
  • Deleted Scenes
  • TV Spots
  • The Strangers
  • Special Features
3.8

Summary

Still effective only with only a modicum of true stupidity, “The Strangers” might not be the classic it’s been called in more than a few recent retrospective pieces but it does occupy a cushy spot near the top of the contemporary home invasion film list. Scream Factory’s release offers up excellent A/V quality and all the bonus features anyone could want (barring an audio commentary).

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