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Horizon Forbidden West: Burning Shores adds familiar beauty and some fresh flaws

To live and dinosaur in LA.

Like the streets of New York, Los Angeles is one of those cities that even if you've never stepped foot in the place, you still instantly recognise its landmarks. We visit LA an awful lot in games, too - as recently as last week, I was battering the brains of the undead cops that patrol up and down Venice Beach in Dead Island 2 - but I've never seen LA like this. A luscious, leafy paradise where the palm trees sway and the turquoise waters glisten and molten lava dribbles down the hillside beneath that iconic sign. Though known now as Burning Shores, ghosts of the LA we know so well still remain if you know where to look.

I've always been mesmerised by Horizon's world, a peculiar place that's simultaneously familiar and foreign, old and new, and Horizon Forbidden West's long-anticipated DLC, Burning Shores, does nothing to change this. How strange it is, even now, to watch a mechanical animal pounce and pirouette as it chases its prey, moving as if it's made of meat and muscle and not scrap and steel. Yes, they still terrify me.

Burning Shores extends Horizon Forbidden West's original storyline, which means you'll have to have completed the main campaign before Sylens summons you for this additional one, taking you to the all-new Burning Shores location. There, we'll not only encounter a new locale to explore, but a fresh selection of menacing machines and BFFs-in-waiting, too. I can't say I was particularly enamoured by the story; Horizon's lore is complex and multi-layered, and takes a little time to familiarise yourself with, which is possibly why Burning Shore's pedestrian tale of greed and corruption falls oddly flat - not least because I saw the main story beats coming a mile off. Not a huge issue, but it's a shame that the story never quite got going for me, despite the talented cast's efforts.

Here's a launch trailer for Horizon Forbideen West's Burning Shores DLCWatch on YouTube

There's not even time to reacquaint yourself with the control scheme, either. It's been over a year since some of us last teamed up with Aloy, but Guerrilla has no time for easing you back in. Instead, we're instantly thrown into the fray. I think I'd forgotten just how complex Horizon Forbidden West's bells and whistles were; most of my opening hour was spent scrolling through the menus and trying to reacquaint myself with Aloy's arsenal of tools and weapons as much as it was familiarising myself with the story.

But when a game looks like Burning Shores does – when it takes a setting like modern-day Los Angeles and transforms it into a peaceful sun-soaked oasis – the last thing you want to do is keep returning to the menus. Yes, Aloy's follow-up adventure really is as stunning as it seems at first blush, offering endless opportunities to abuse your screenshot button; in fact, I think I took more screenshots of this DLC than I did the entire main campaign.

The problem with Aloy's new adventure, however, is that she hasn't learned from the last. All the things that irked me about Horizon Forbidden West remain – say, the clumsy platforming, or the endless villain monologuing (maybe if these guys didn't keep leaving sinister voice memos lying around the place, people wouldn't cotton on to their nefarious ways?) – but now they feel omnipresent, thanks to the truncated runtime. Even Seyka – as adorable as she is – starts to grate towards the climax; one minute, she's too scared to fly, and the next, she's wisecracking and one-lining as she sweeps across the sky. Even the final decision you take makes no meaningful bearing on the story; do or don't, it doesn't matter. It all ends in the same way, which makes me wonder why we're given an empty choice at all. How strange it is that Guerrilla made such poignant character development entirely optional.

It's not that I begrudge Aloy's conversations and combat downtime because I really don't, and I'm still curiously hypnotised by that tested, if now a little aged, open-world formula of fight-loot-explore. I just wish that, given that we're endlessly ascending clifftops and the walls of derelict buildings, Aloy would respond a little less stickily to what I'm asking her to do. Because honestly, dear Aloy, I don't know why you think I want you to leap off the side of this huge cliff when there's clearly a ledge I'm trying to reach six inches above those auburn locks of yours (still endlessly moving: it's like her hair is possessed).

It doesn't matter how much I level up Aloy's combat prowess, either. It doesn't matter how often I try to take the stealthy way out and creep around the perimeter, murdering things on the QT as I go; I always feel on the wrong side of victory, whether I'm tackling a boss or taking a chance on a couple of unsuspecting machines by the waterside. That's always been part of Horizon's charm, though; taking on the machines – any machine – may not be worth the risk, and it's what elevates Guerilla's combat from its peers. What a shame it is, then, that given Horizon Forbidden West's otherwise tourniquet-tight combat, it ends with such a damp squib of a boss fight in which our antagonist will not shut up. All our villain needed was a leery moustache twirl, and we'd have completed the set of Stupid Stuff Bad Guys Do.

Admittedly, I've never been a fan of the humble boss fight (I know, I know; not a popular opinion) but I feel that Burning Shore's final showdown is peculiarly mundane. Given that fighting in the rest of the game typically requires the kind of careful dismemberment that would make Isaac Clarke proud, this final fight lacks the bombasity and flair I'd been expecting. Coupled with a fairly two-dimensional villain who seems evil for evil's sake, Burning Shore doesn't prime us for a third instalment as much as it limps over the line towards one.

That said, if you enjoyed Horizon Forbidden West, there's no reason why you won't enjoy this expansion, too, particularly if you're looking for more of the same: that's exactly what you'll get. And given that the voice work is sublime, the facial expressions striking, and the world around you is absolutely stunning, even in spite of its flaws, Burning Shores is a worthy experience. Add in one of Lance Reddick's final performances – wherein Sylens thanks us for our extraordinary contribution, which genuinely brought a tear to my eye – and you'll be glad you gave it the time.

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