“Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores” Review
As someone who’s lived in Los Angeles since the mid-’90s, I find I’ve been burned by games set in my adoptive hometown more often than not. True Crime: Streets Of LA, for instance, had my street, but not my home, while L.A. Noire‘s open world didn’t even include my neighborhood. So it was a pleasant surprise when playing Burning Shores, the new add-on for Horizon Forbidden West (PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4), that I actually felt like I was in L.A., even if it was so far in the future that all my stuff is gone.
In Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores,
Aloy learns from Sylens there were thirteen people who returned to Earth from the stars, not twelve. While the rest went to San Francisco, aerospace engineer and celebrity CEO Walter Londra went to his company’s offices in L.A. Worried what he might do, Sylens sends Aloy to what’s now called the Burning Shores to stop Londra before he can, I don’t know, buy the fourth most popular social media app and run it into the ground?
Now, if you’ve played any major add-on for a single-player game in the past — y’know, like The Frozen Wilds one for Horizon Zero Dawn — then you know what to expect from Burning Shores: more of the same. There’s a reason they’re called “expansions” or “add-ons.” While this has new robotic animals to fight; new missions to complete, side quests to do, and errands to run; and even new ways to get that stuff done, this is not Horizon 3. Or even Horizon 2.5. It’s more like Horizon Forbidden West +.
Which isn’t a bad thing. Horizon Forbidden West was one of my favorite games last year, and if you liked it even half as much as I did, you’ll like Burning Shores as well.
Heck, it’s worth it just so you can mutter under your breath, “stupid giant acid-spitting frog” like you’ve wanted to do for years (though I’ve never heard of a frog that laid eggs containing dog-sized flying beetle ‘bots before).
New robots aren’t the only things…
Aloy has to look forward to in her L.A. vacation. She also learns some new skills, the most helpful of which is how to use her Pullcaster — i.e., her grappling hook — to latch onto a downed enemy, pull herself towards it, and perform a devastating strike. Which is almost as much fun — and almost as effective — as when Master Chief does something similar in Halo Infinite.
The new location also makes Burning Shores a little different. Though just a little. Sure, there’s sandy beaches, and a lot more sun, and everything has cilantro on it, but giant robot hippos look the same whether they’re in Northern California, Southern California, or New Mexico.
No, what makes the L.A. of Burning Shores feel different than previous places we’ve visited in this series is that much of the city — including everything from about the Sunset Strip down to Santa Monica Boulevard — is now submerged, and requires you to use a skiff to get around. Which means I now own beachfront property. (Woo-hoo!)
This is not to say that Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is a boating simulation. Or even that those parts are as elaborate as the bating bits of God Of War: Ragnarok and the recent Resident Evil 4 remake. Just that sometimes you’ll need to take a skiff to get somewhere you haven’t been before or want to go back to. Because mass transit in L.A. is always terrible, be it 2023 or 3041.
The Los Angeles of Burning Shores…
also has some interesting crystals, some of which explode when you hit them, while others, called Brimstone, smell bad, but are valuable or can be used to upgrade your equipment.
(Oh, and if you’re going to read too much into this game having crystals, or that one is named Brimstone, and that some people think L.A. is a modern day Sodom & Gomorrah, then you’re also going to have to read too much into L.A.’s connection to the porn industry, and the character who shares a name with a famous old porn star.)
The references to Hollywood being Hellish and so on notwithstanding, Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores otherwise does a good job of making you feel like you’re in a post-apocalyptic version of L.A. Largely thanks to how many local landmarks have survived; far more than any in the San Francisco or Vegas parts of the game. When you first arrive in Hollywood, for instance, you land right outside the Chinese Theater — where, fittingly, you’re greeted by someone dressed weird who wants something from you — while you can also see the distinctive Capitol Records building off in the distance.
All of which, as I said before, makes Burning Shores just as much fun as Horizon Forbidden West.
That’s not to say…
it doesn’t have some issues of its own.
For starters, Londra would be a much more imposing villain if he didn’t sound like Bill Hader when he voiced Richard Impossible on The Venture Brothers.
It’s also bittersweet to see the late Lance Reddick as Sylens.
But the only real issue with Burning Shores is that because it’s not a stand-alone game, and is set after the end of Horizon Forbidden West, you first have to finish the main game. But West already had a satisfying conclusion; the addition of Burning makes the new ending of West somewhat anticlimactic. Which isn’t to say Burning Shores has a bad ending, or an anticlimactic one, just that it feels like a side story that would’ve worked much better as a stand-alone add-on, not as the new end of West.
The irony being that you’re actually going to want to play it after you finish Horizon Forbidden West, and not, say, fourteen months later, when you’ve completely forgotten the game’s intricate systems. If I had a dollar for every time I accidentally sent Aloy falling to her death because I was trying to remember what button told her to let go of a ledge, not jump off it backwards, I’d have an even nicer beachfront home.
whether you play it now, after having a long break from the main game, or you go back and replay the main game beforehand (like I wish I had done…and will do some time soon), Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores is as much fun as living in Los Angeles…by the beach.