Hu­mans vs. ro­bots in this Eden of the fu­ture

The Washington Post Sunday - - DIVERSIONS - BY CHRISTOPHER BYRD style@wash­post.com

Has a cul­ture other than ours ever pro­duced such a wealth of apoc­a­lyp­tic nar­ra­tives? Will we ever grow bored with these sto­ries? Ques­tions like these buzzed in my head dur­ing my 70-hour playthrough of “Hori­zon Zero Dawn” — the open-world role­play­ing game that fuses the al­lure of prim­i­tivism with that of futuristic tech­nol­ogy. It is wish ful­fill­ment of a high or­der: Eden 2.0 with gad­gets.

De­vel­oped over five years by Guer­rilla Games, Sony’s Am­s­ter­dam-based in­ter­nal stu­dio best known for their “Kil­l­zone” first-per­son-shooter se­ries, “Hori­zon” is a pol­ished piece of en­ter­tain­ment that I found easy to lose my­self in. The game — a sort of hy­brid of “Far Cry” and “Mass Ef­fect” — fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of Aloy, a young woman who comes of age in the dis­tant fu­ture. Aloy is born into a prim­i­tive so­ci­ety that de­vel­oped long af­ter a cat­a­clysmic event re­duced mankind’s habi­tats to ru­ins. In the new world, flora and fauna flour­ish, and the rivers run clean. Mean­while ro­bots, which have been cre­ated in the like­nesses of hawks, tigers, crabs, bulls and di­nosaurs, roam the Earth shar­ing the land with wild an­i­mals. In the years be­fore Aloy was born, the ma­chines didn’t pose a threat to hu­mans, but such is not the case when the game starts.

Aloy’s story traces the clas­sic arc from out­sider to supreme in­sider. The ma­tri­arch-led commu- nity of which she is nom­i­nally a part, the Nora, deem her an “out­cast.” From the age of a young child, she is made to feel the sting of be­ing ac­tively shunned by those around her — par­ents teach their chil­dren not to speak with her. So when she learns from Rost, her des­ig­nated guardian and fel­low out­cast, about a tribal ini­ti­a­tion con­test for war­riors that, were she to win, would nul­lify her out­cast sta­tus, she com­mits to train­ing for it. Af­ter years of prepa­ra­tion, she en­ters the Prov­ing, but her tri­umph is cut short by an am­bush from a war­mon­ger­ing tribe that tar­gets her specif­i­cally. She is in­jured in the as­sault but nursed back to health. Des­per­ate to iden­tify her at­tack­ers, she is anointed a “seeker” by the tribe’s ma­tri­archs. The honor al­lows her, for the first time, to wan­der be­yond the perime­ter of the Nora’s sa­cred home­land.

Aloy’s jour­ney from the lands of the Nora is also one away from its re­li­gion. The Nora faith­ful hold tech­nol­ogy in con­tempt. For them, the com­plex in­ven­tions of the past as well as the in­dus­tri­ally made cities of men were out­ward man­i­fes­ta­tions of human ar­ro­gance that irked the god­dess they wor­ship. As Aloy makes her way through foreign lands, she comes to see the Nora’s con­dem­na­tion of tech­no­log­i­cal ar­ti­facts as ev­i­dence of gross ig­no­rance. The story line is cer­tainly not enamored with re­li­gion, but it dis­plays a re­spect for acts of cel­e­bra­tion and rit­ual. Re­peat­edly through­out the story, knowl­edge iso­lates peo­ple from those around them by plac­ing them on lonely paths bur­dened by un­share­able re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

“Hori­zon” gen­er­ally makes good use of its ac­tors. Ash­ley Burch (who voiced Chloe in “Life is Strange”) lends Aloy an en­dear­ing warmth and skep­ti­cism, while Lance Red­dick (Cedric Daniels in “The Wire”) de­liv­ers a typ­i­cally fine per­for­mance as Sylens, Aloy’s Machi­avel­lian, in­tel­lec­tual com­pan­ion. Though some di­a­logue beats are stronger than oth­ers, I felt com­pelled to see Aloy’s jour­ney through to the cred­its. This was in part due to how well the de­sign­ers bal­ance the story, com­bat and ex­plo­ration sec­tions of the game. I found the game’s en­vi­ron­ments to be no­tice­ably well-de­signed, varied yet har­mo­nious. Learning how best to ad­just my tac­tics to take on the dif­fer­ent robot classes was a rou­tine I read­ily got used to. One of my fa­vorite fights in­volved lur­ing en­e­mies to a river, where I took on as many as I could, for as long as I could. And then jump­ing over a wa­ter­fall, like Daniel Day-Lewis in “The Last of the Mo­hi­cans,” to es­cape and heal up.

“Hori­zon Zero Dawn” re­minded me very much of a deftly en­gi­neered Hol­ly­wood movie. I wasn’t es­pe­cially sur­prised by its plot twists, but that didn’t mean I didn’t gen­er­ally en­joy it. Let’s see if it de­vel­ops into a fran­chise with worth­while stay­ing power.

SONY IN­TER­AC­TIVE EN­TER­TAIN­MENT

Guer­rilla Games, Sony; PlayS­ta­tion 4

HORI­ZON ZERO DAWN The open-world RPG fol­lows the ad­ven­tures of Aloy in the far fu­ture.

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