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Horizon: Forbidden West: Accessibility Review


The copy of the game used in this review was provided by PlayStation UK at no cost to the reviewer.


When I went to Guerrilla Games back in 2018, I knew very little about Horizon: Zero Dawn. However, I was definitely intrigued. Spending a little while learning about Aloy, the fact that you use a bow and arrow for some elements of combat, the stealthy playstyle (something I had little experience with at the time) and the amazing sound design really drew me in. As much as I loved what I saw, the machines, the ambient audio, the scoring, the one thing that struck me about Zero Dawn was its lack of accessibility and how many design choices impacted me, both positively and negatively during my experience. From the haptic cues alerting me of Tallnecks nearby or other machines in the vicinity, to the satisfying whoosh-thud of a headshot from long range, or even the subtle change of a machine walking from solid ground into the stealth grass that was my place of residence, all served to enhance my experience.

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.

First Boot

Though large numbers of games still omit menu and UI narration, I was hoping that its presence would be the first improvement I'd notice in HFW. However, in loading up the game I was shocked to find no menu narration, at least as of the time of writing and, during my tests, OCR (Optical Character Recognition), though it worked reasonably well on the language and HDR screens, did not seem to recognise the main menu options at all.

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.

The accessibility Menu

With sighted assistance from here on out, I was able to discover that as well as completely lacking menu and UI narration (which is a huge blow), the game includes a diverse range of accessibility options, including cognitive (tutorials and waypoint markers), motor (toggles VS holds, auto-sprint) and motion sickness (camera shake) to name just a few.

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.


How does this work?

For HFW's CoPilot functionality to work, connect two controllers. In my case, this consisted of 2 DualSense controllers, in an effort to give my CoPilot the full PS5 experience as well as myself.

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.

Do guest profiles work?

If you've never needed to use a guest profile on your PS5, the process is relatively straightforward. Pressing the PS button on your second controller, go left to "assign controller: add user", then press X.

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.

Haptics And Adaptive Triggers

One of the selling points of the DualSense is the adaptive triggers and updated haptic feedback. Though I've personally never found them to be as mind blowing as most would have you believe, I know that both features can at least be crucial in being able to fully experience a game.

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.

Can I Use A PS4 Controller For CoPilot?

I'd hoped that, given the secondary controller was not receiving haptics, I could maybe use a PlayStation 4 controller with it for greater versatility (for example if players don't have an extra DualSense to hand or use PS4 controllers as a part of their specific setup). However, on launching the game having connected one as the theoretical CoPilot (signed into a guest account), I was greeted with the still not narrated message that you cannot use PS4 controllers with PS5 games.

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.

Does this work with Share Play?

Given the way this feature works at present and the similarities to Share Play (in that it can work with games that support two controllers most effectively from my research and limited testing), the only question left to answer is whether HFW will allow gamers to connect over the internet and enjoy this game as a co-op adventure in a single player format. As soon as I have an answer either way, I will update my review, but my hope is that regardless of whether you want to play locally or with someone half-way round the world that you will be able to do so.

With CoPilot enabled and sighted assistance clearly on hand as well, just what is the game actually like as a gamer without sight?


Discounting the lack of menu and UI narration as above, the game has the score, sound design and voice acting to follow up on what was a very well-executed game in Horizon: Zero Dawn, with a cinematic presentation evoking a big budget movie especially when run through a large surround sound system. The haptics mesh well with the footsteps, jumping, climbing and new mechanics like prying open doors, with the adaptive triggers enhancing the feeling of drawing the bow as well.

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.





Horizon: Forbidden West is one of a few PlayStation 5 games I was excited for when it was announced, the others being Uncharted: Legacy Of Thieves Collection and God Of War: Ragnarok. While Legacy Of Thieves I knew probably wouldn't have the accessibility features I needed to get anywhere as it was a remaster, I had hope that Horizon might have enough features to allow me to at least do more than I could in the first 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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