(Spoilers) Surprising Narratives: Horizon Zero Dawn

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*Authors Note* The point of this series will be to break down surprising narratives in media, regardless of the platform. These will general see release on the weekends as they will be fairly lengthy.

It is a testament to the writers that this plot worked as well as it did. That in itself of course, is an understatement, the plot and its various twists are fantastic. I honestly expected the reasoning behind the mechanical creatures that populate Horizon’s world to have a half-hearted explanation. I also expected some cliché reasoning behind why the world had practically reverted back to a time where humanity were groups of tribes who lived off the land hunting and gathering.

I am glad to say, that I was dead wrong.

Horizon’s plot unravels through the eyes of protagonist Aloy. A young woman who has been an outcast since birth and is desperate to be accepted into her tribe. She trains to win a competition known as the proving, which allows her to not only become a member of the tribe, but it also allows her to become a Brave, which act as protectors. Although she ends up winning, things go awry and she and her fellow competitors are attacked by cultists. This sparks Aloy’s journey to protect her tribe and to discover the motivations of the cultists and their control over the machines. On her journey, she discovers that a company known as Faro Automated Solutions created and then lost control of their military peacekeeping robots. It turns out that these robots could self-replicate and what made things worse is the fact that used bio-mass for fuel. These robots would end up terraforming the Earth and decimated every organic lifeform in it’s path, it was later recognized as the “Faro Swarm”. To help preserve humanity, note that I said preserve and not save, Project Zero Dawn was being designed by the world’s brightest mind in Dr. Elizabet Sobeck.

Here’s where things get fairly heavy.

Humanity is unaware about just how dire the situation they find themselves in. General Hermes, who serves as the Chairman for the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, crafted Operation: Enduring Victory. On the surface, the plan required all of humanity being conscripted so that the machines could be delayed long enough so that Project Zero Dawn could be deployed and eliminate the Swarm. In reality, humanity was being sacrificed so that the required facilities for cloning and research could be acquired and that the world’s best scientists could be extracted. These scientists weren’t creating a super weapon, they were actually creating a super AI, known as GAIA, along with it’s sub-functions. None of the scientists were going to live long enough to see the terraforming process. One of the sub-functions, Apollo, which was intended to teach humanity about its past was purged by head of Faro Automated Solutions, so while the cloning process was successful, humanity were only given a minimal amount of knowledge (dick move). GAIA controlled the terraforming processes, which involved the creation of the machines that populate the world, and it would also work to deactivate the Swarm. If at any point and time an undesirable outcome came to fruition, the HADES sub-function would active and reset the entire process. After a thousand years, an unknown signal transmitted to GAIA and it ended up separating the sub-functions, making them true independent artificial intelligence.

Even though the restoration of the planet was successful, HADES worked to seize control of the terraforming systems fully aware that humanity had brought about the Earth’s destruction. GAIA initiated two fail-safes, one being a self-destruction protocol to prevent HADES escape, and the second involving the activation of one of the gestation chambers so that clone of Dr. Sobeck can be created. The self-destruction protocol failed and Hades escaped the facility to hide itself away in another facilities computer core. But the activation of the gestation chamber was successful and this is how Aloy came to be and how throughout the game she had complete access to all facilities. Once the food reserves in the facilities were depleted, the humans were released and to survive, they ended up creating their own tribes. HADES would send out signals in hopes of receiving aid and when that aid finally came, the rogue AI would work to reactivate the machines so that they could once again decimate the Earth.

While I expected tight gameplay, as this is an expectation of all Guerilla games, I wasn’t expecting a tightly woven and expertly written story that involved machines who were caricatures of real world animals and dinosaurs. This game could be made into a series of novels and because of my experience with the game, I don’t think I’d hesitate to jump in The game world, which is a spectacle by itself, would feel hollow if the narrative didn’t provide the surroundings context. It really is one of the best overall experiences on any console. Horizon Zero Dawn was my biggest surprise of 2017 because it was unexpected. If you haven’t played the game and experienced Aloy’s story, you owe it to yourself to give a go.

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I guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised.

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