However, the menus and UI, where you do spend a fair amount of time managing inventories, reading text logs, tracking quests or buying and selling items were not narrated at all, meaning that you needed sighted assistance to get through those, or even to progress from the starting area as there were no navigation and traversal assistance features either.
That being said, I did very much enjoy what I played, so much so that I went on to collaborate with DB (an experienced HZD player), who was kind enough to be my CoPilot and work with me to complete the game's platinum trophy. Though it was tough, it was also highly rewarding, as we adjusted to how best to play our first game together via Parsec and put together a string of interesting highlights showing our progression as a YouTube playlist.
With the announcement of Horizon: Forbidden West (HFW) as part of a PlayStation showcase coming around the time the release of Naughty Dog's acclaimed The Last Of us Part II shook up conversations around accessibility, I was really interested to see just how playable this new entry might be without sight, especially with the potential of the DualSense and 3d audio as well.
Not being entirely sure what to expect, I dived right in with the PS5 version as I wanted the best experience possible with the hardware I had available.
There was also a recap video going through the events of the first game in an epic and cinematic fashion, but there was no audio description for it, unfortunately. Admittedly it could be argued it would've been difficult to audio describe it as there was a large amount of dialogue, but even having a transcript in text format would've been useful for those who want to know what's going on in greater detail, including what particular moments are referenced from Horizon: Zero Dawn.
With this beginning to my experience unfortunately not coming as too much of a surprise with the way recent releases have been in general, I resolved to get sighted assistance to see what accessibility options were present that I might have missed, which revealed at least one great feature.
That being said, there appears to be nothing in the way of traversal assistance (save for mounts being able to follow roads without guidance) or any additional audio cues that could be enabled or disabled for accessibility purposes.
There are aim assist options, which could certainly help in combat, though I haven't yet been able to fully test how well those might work in terms of snapping to targets for example. Additionally, you have the ability to adjust durations of elements such as concentration (a time slow that can allow you to hit shots more effectively) or the amount of slowdown that occurs when the weapon wheel is activated, which could be potentially useful for making combat a little less stressful. Some of these options were detailed in an official blog post released around a week before the game's launch and I will update my review as I get to test the intricacies of these options first-hand.
One thing that did surprise me though was relatively near the bottom of this extensive menu in the form of a CoPilot feature. For those unfamiliar with CoPilot as a concept, it is where two controllers (usually locally, on the same console) are simultaneously seen as one controller by the host system. Xbox brought this feature to bear at a system level a number of years ago, allowing people to play whatever game they wanted (be they backwards compatible or the hottest next-generation title) with, for instance, two separate people having a controller each working with differing gameplay mechanics, allowing for increased fluidity and agency when getting sighted assistance.
Up until now, the PlayStation ecosystem has had nothing native to match it, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a studio taking it into their own hands to provide a feature that has already allowed me to complete so many games, even if it is just in this individual title.
Even though this version of the feature is not at a system level but solely in this game, I simply had to test this out for myself. As it happened, I had two DualSense's on-hand to do just that.
Given the platform doesn't natively support having two controllers on the same profile unlike its namesake feature on Xbox, you have to sign into a separate profile to begin using this feature. Given I'm the sole user of this console, this led me to another question.
On this next screen, press right then down to get to quick play and you'll have a temporary guest controller signed in instead of having to go through the process of signing in another account. Pressing X on quickplay will kick you back to the screen you were on when you pressed the PS button, so you don't have to worry about pressing back any number of times, which is somewhat helpful.
It turns out that, though the "host" controller in HFW does receive haptic feedback (including when going through menus), as of the time of writing the secondary controller does not, meaning it is not an identical experience on both sides in terms of how the game feels or plays (given the usage of the aforementioned adaptive triggers).
The flipside is that at least the host player who would stereotypically need assistance in the first place does receive these important features, but hopefully whatever blockers are in the way of making this happen for both players at once can be surpassed in short order to give everyone the same tactile information.
It is likely that you could do the reverse with a PS4 version of the game running on a PS5 (using both a PS4 and DualSense in combination), but for anyone wanting the optimal experience in terms of loading times, controller features or anything else, it looks like you'd have to get a second DualSense to access those elements with CoPilot enabled, at least at present.
With CoPilot enabled and sighted assistance clearly on hand as well, just what is the game actually like as a gamer without sight?
The new machines all sound just as menacing as the old foes that we're used to, though the tutorials that educate you on Stealth and the like sometimes felt rather less forgiving in terms of actually showing you how things work, even when playing on easier difficulties.
For instance, in a standard battle outside of these tutorials, you could get spotted and still fight the battle on your own terms. However, with a pre-determined tutorial on stealth mechanics, the game forces you to get a kill without being spotted, which proved rather complicated due to the lack of pausing to allow you to fully take in the mechanics you're working with and how they fit together. It's kind of like being given an instruction booklet for flatpack furniture but having the pages turn at a pre-determined rate by someone else who you are unable to communicate with to tell them to slow down.
As much as the mechanics might be thrown at you rather quickly, even as a comparatively experienced HZD player thanks to my work with DB on the platinum for the first game, what I played was enjoyable and narratively intriguing. Unfortunately though, a fair amount of time was spent looking around trying to figure out where to go, even with the various marker settings on. This might also be down to settings apparently only being available at certain difficulty levels as detailed in the above blog post, or my CoPilot's relative lack of experience with Horizon as a series, which is exactly what these features should be assisting with - orienting players when they need it most and want to feel like they're progressing.
The fact that we both had our own controllers was definitely a game changer though (pun most certainly intended), as it enabled us to easily reach what buttons we needed and change tactics on the fly, instead of being squashed together trying to work with a controller only designed for a single person as a team of two utilising separate functions. A massive number of games even if they're not on PlayStation 5 could learn from the introduction of this feature on platforms that do not natively include it and, with a game like HFW having so many systems woven together, it can make for a fun and simultaneously satisfying experience when everything works as it should.
With a lack of interactivity prompts of any kind, it was down to my CoPilot to provide callouts as to picking up items, looting corpses etc, but it's nothing we're not used to and once we got into the flow of things, even taking down a few machines with arrows and some Silent Strike takedowns, it felt as fluid as you'd expect form a refined version of how Aloy plays at the end of the original game.
However, though accessibility has advanced significantly since the first game's release, I can safely say that you will still need constant assistance to get anywhere in this expansive title, which is, in three words, a real shame.
Admittedly though, this game's CoPilot feature did allow progression on a PlayStation 5 title that requires a DualSense controller, something that other games like Ratchet And Clank: Rift Apart, Spider-Man Remastered and Returnal did not, so it shows things progressing, to a fashion.
I appreciate that games take multiple years to develop and that accessibility, in that time, has advanced in some great strides. I also very much enjoy experiencing the hard work that everyone who has helped craft this title has put in. I just wish I could experience more of it, on my own terms, without needing any assistance. That's always been an end goal for me, I just wonder how long it'll take to come to pass with more games.
Nevertheless, I am looking forward to playing through this sequel and hopefully getting the platinum at some point in the future, utilising what is for a PlayStation exclusive title a revolutionary feature in CoPilot and seeing where this game and Guerrilla go from here.
This game proves that the studio is listening to their community and, if they keep this up, we may yet see a fully accessible title from them as a gamer without sight. Though I can't recommend this game to gamers without sight unless they have assistance and the correct controllers, I can definitely say keep an eye on what Guerrilla do as who knows where their already in progress accessibility journey will take them.
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