The Tallnecks of Horizon Forbidden West have no business being as awesome as they are. They are, after all, glorified radar towers that you climb to reveal areas of interest, and as anyone who’s played an Ubisoft game knows, that’s the last thing an open-world game needs.
In fact, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that someone from Ubisoft stealthed their way, Sam Fisher-style, into a Guerrilla Games design meeting, voiced their suggestion, and sneaked out again before anyone could ask who the hell they were. But roaming Horizon Forbidden West’s world, it’s impossible not to be impressed by these bizarre, colossal mecha-beasts.
It’s not just that the Tallnecks rise far above the rest of the machines of Horizon Forbidden West, though their size is a factor. Rather, it’s their appearance. Tallnecks are towering, long-necked mechanical quadrupeds with a flat “dish” atop their neck stumps, though no description can really do them justice. Remember that bit in Jurassic Park where Laura Dern gawps open-mouthed at a Brontosaurus? Take that experience and dial it up to eleven – that’s your first time seeing a Tallneck.
What truly makes them spectacular, to the point that you never get over seeing them, is that they’re so amazingly alien. Virtually every other machine in the game resembles some real-world beast, living or dead, and no matter what the game calls them, your brain will assign them some other title. Chargers? Robo-horses. Glinthawks? Mecha-eagles.
Tallnecks, on the other hand, aren’t so easily pigeonholed. Your mind might try to label them as giraffes, but the moment you think about that saucer where, by rights, there should be a head, that comparison goes out the window. Of all Horizon Forbidden West’s many, many wonders, magic glider included, they’re by far the strangest.
Tallnecks are also oddly inscrutable, which adds to their otherworldly air. They’re all but indifferent to your presence and, cut scenes excepted, roam Horizon Forbidden West’s world alone. Their purpose is apparently to pass information to other machines, though there’s little indication the “lesser” machines are acting on this information.
The creatures don’t roam far and instead follow a set path, not least because if you were able to control them as you could the chargers, no obstacle could stand in your way. But just looking down, you feel like nothing can touch you, as if the world is ticking away far below.
In fact, there’s a certain degree of kinship here. Like the Tallnecks, Aloy chooses to travel alone. And standing on the saucer, I couldn’t shake the feeling that, no matter how many Horizon games there are, she’s never going to get her happy ending. You can just imagine a future title having you track her down, only to discover she’s living a solitary life in some remote cottage.
But the view from a Tallneck is absolutely spectacular, easily worth an unsettling moment of introspection, and there’s nothing quite like snapping away in the photo mode atop a Tallneck. It does undermine the urgency of Aloy’s quest a little, but there’s nothing wrong with making time to pull ridiculous faces across a colossal robotic beast.
And if you were playing Horizon Zero Dawn, that’d be enough, but Horizon Forbidden West goes that extra mile to make your Tallneck-climbing antics feel worthwhile. Climbing a Tallneck was, originally, just a matter of jumping off a cliff when one of the beasts lumbered past. But Forbidden West takes a cue from the original’s Frozen Wilds expansion and makes you work for your Tallneck.
The first Tallneck, for example, is roaming near a massive satellite array, so you have to find a way to the top of the dish. That, in turn, requires you to drag a battery around and power up a dish, at which point you can leap onto the Tallneck. Of course, this does raise a question or two, such as, “Why does a towering, mechanical beast have ledges that, while helpfully colored yellow, can only be accessed by jumping at them?”
But this new addition makes you feel as if you’ve earned the right to ride atop the Tallneck. You’re not just some annoyance running around atop its flat head and then gurning as you grapple down, even though it may well see you as that. That said, it’s a little disturbing that, should you choose to tap it for its geographical knowledge, the saucer becomes covered in wires, as if you’re forcing the Tallneck’s mechanical brain matter out of its skull.
The Tallnecks might not be critical to your progress through Horizon Forbidden West, but they’re an essential part of establishing its post-apocalyptic world. Just the merest sight of a Tallneck towering above the trees is enough to make it clear you’re not in Kansas anymore.
You might even start to wonder how much trouble you’d be in if one abandoned its indifference and started crashing through the trees with murder on its mind, like some colossal, rabid Brontosaurus – maybe that’s one for Horizon 3.