Thursday, March 23, 2017

So Here's The Thing -- Horizon: Zero Dawn

Since this blog is just sitting here anyway, and I play a crapton of videogames, I figure I might as well scream into the void a little about my experiences of playing videogames and what they mean to me. I've decided to call these infrequent and irregular reviews of games "So Here's The Thing", because as a white dude I'm constitutionally allowed to mansplain pretty much everything and I don't think even I could stomach a series called "Well, Actually". Expect these reviews to be highly opinionated and exceptionally biased, as is the custom of my people and by my people I mean Social Justice Warriors (or, in my case, Social Justice Bard).

The first game I'm going to talk about is the relatively-new release, Horizon: Zero Dawn, from Guerrilla Games, published by Sony Entertainment. I played it on the PS4, and put about 40 hours into it during my vacation. I'll warn you before I drop any spoilers.

Things I knew going into this game: it's a post-apocalyptic game with a woman protagonist fucking all the shit up with a bow and arrow. Had it been nothing else, I would have bought it -- as someone who played both of the rebooted Lara Croft games, it's become clear to me that my perfect protagonist is apparently Kate Bishop (written by Matt Fraction) -- but it turns out that this game has a lot more going for it, and by going for it, I mean specifically pandering to me.

Here's the non-spoilery bit: Aloy (our Hero) is an outcast, but no one including her foster father/mentor will tell her why. So she makes it her mission in life to become the premier hunter so she can demand answers from the Matriarchs of the tribe that cast her out as a baby. Did you say Matriarchs? Why yes, it is a culture run and controlled by old women, with no clear gender division for the hunter/gatherer roles versus the caretaking/vendor roles. The culture of the Nora isn't ever explicitly explained, but it's clear from context and random conversations that this cultural makeup is considered "bad" by most of the other locals, but given that the Nora manage to keep their shit together when everyone else fucks shit up, the subtext is pretty clear. Of course, there are Kind Matriarchs and Angry Matriarchs and Antagonistic Matriarchs so it's not like there's this United Front of Women Are Awesome -- instead, the women are portrayed as people, with both good and bad traits and good and bad opinions making good and bad decisions just like people do. For that alone, I would have bought the deluxe edition.

Also, the big villain in the piece turns out to be the most entitled White-Dude-Manbaby in the history of White-Dude-Manbabies, while the populace in general is fantastically diverse (though it would've been nice to see some of the models with more body-types than "sleek, sleek and muscled, square and muscled, boyish" among the mix. Given that one of the main NPCs is a black woman War Chief and another is a black mechanical genius, it's ahead of 90% of the standard games out there.

Aloy, in her journey to find out just what the fuck is going on, wanders around a post-disaster landscape and proceeds to kill and/or co-opt basically everyone she meets, including a couple of Kings, at least one explicitly trans person, more same-sex couples than I can count, and in the process earns a reputation (which can be one of three types, but the gameplay is effectively the same for all of them). In truth, I'm not sure why the "choose your type of reaction" option exists, since it didn't noticeably change anything about the game, but hey, if you're reaching for that Mass Effect effect, then you gotta have an Emotional Wheel Of Decision-Making.

Is the game perfect? By no means. Much of the actual exploration and gameplay turns out to be rather repetitive, and the jumping puzzles are slightly too easy even for me (and I hate jumping puzzles) while the 'figure out how to kill this type of robot' challenges aren't very well laid out and can lead to much head-bashing and frustration until you stumble upon the magic combo of weapons and moves that then turn defeating the mobs into a trivial activity. Also, for an open-world RP game, it's a bit small and short, especially when compared to the Witcher series or Dragon Age: Inquisition. That said, this is the first of a series, not the last of a series (I hope), and even some DLC to open up the world a bit more would be brilliant, not to mention a couple of sequels.

I fully admit to my bias: strong women in both protagonist and antagonist roles, a diverse cast of NPCs, and the Big Bad being an Entitled Dude In IT are all positive things to me, so I was prepped out of the gate to love this game, and I feel like it delivered on almost all of the things it promised me. And it didn't hurt that there were a lot of disaffected pants-crappers who were upset that a game like this made females the main characters while relegating the mens to support or villain roles. Just reading some of the reviews made me smile and think that my pre-ordered Collector's Edition was money well spent.

So Here's the Thing: if you liked the rebooted Tomb Raider games, you're gonna like H:ZD. If you're expecting the epicness of a Mass Effect game, you'll be disappointed. And if you like the standard "shoot the otherguy" games like Battlefield or Call of Duty, you're going to be really unhappy with this game. But I'll be damned if it wasn't nice to see a triumphant woman on the cover of my videogame.