Slick action-RPG Horizon: Zero Dawn is Guerrilla Games’ best effort yet, blowing gamers and critics away with its giant, meaningful open world and gripping action. The title is now the crowned jewel of the Dutch video game scene – nay, Dutch media in general. The Amsterdam-based team clearly poured their hearts and souls into Horizon, and it’s paid off big time: the game is currently Sony‘s biggest PlayStation 4 franchise debut ever, selling a whopping 2.6 million units in its initial two weeks. If you look hard enough, you’ll find that the game is peppered with some neat Dutch influences. As a British expat who’s lived in the Netherlands for almost two years, a few of these influences became quickly apparent. Many of them have undeniably improved the game, setting it aside from the crowd.
Dutch directness: a refreshing approach to PR and marketing
Anyone who’s spent a reasonable amount of time in the Netherlands will know about the quintessential Dutch directness; many Dutchies will happily and nonchalantly discuss the elephant in the room in a no-nonsense fashion. Some call it blunt, but I see it as pragmatic, human and down-to-earth. The trait is undoubtedly reflected in Guerrilla‘s treatment of its impressive new IP.
What immediately jumped out at me is that the game cuts out the bullshit that’s typically associated with AAA games; there are no in-game purchases, there were no DLC announcements before release and the studio – like The Witcher dev, CD Projekt Red – is remarkably candid, clear and blunt with its audience. Just check out Guerrilla’s Facebook page if you don’t believe me; you’ll often find transparent posts on patch details and such. It’s damn refreshing and a far cry from the underhand marketing babble we usually get. I wish publishers, and even other developers, would open their eyes to this approach; hell, it’s clearly working out for Guerrilla and CD Projekt Red.
A female lead!? Dun dun dun!
Another thing I’ve noticed during my time in the Netherlands is that there is little-to-no gender bias; Dutch women are generally strong-minded, independent and unfettered, and they’re unequivocally treated as equals – it’s bloody great. This is perhaps why the main protagonist, Aloy, is female. The fiery maverick redhead – voiced by the talented Ashly Birch – is hands-down one of my favourite video game leads in years. Aloy is witty, funny, compassionate and unrelenting, and she’s certainly a welcome change from the cookie-cutter marine grunts and everymen that are usually shoved down our throats.
Historically, publishers have been disgustingly heartless and sexist when it comes to publishing games with female leads; when Dontnod Entertainment pitched Life Is Strange to potential publishers, most suggested they switch the female protagonist to a male lead, as ‘female protagonists don’t sell as well.’ I wonder if those backwards cretins looked at the sales of Life Is Strange, Rise of the Tomb Raider and now Horizon: Zero Dawn. I wish they’d take a leaf from Guerrilla‘s book and cut male gamers some slack; we’re not all like those cavemen in the YouTube comments.
The characters in Horizon have some great names. Most Western audiences would assume that the tribespeople’s funky names are just a reflection of their unique culture. Nope! They’re Dutch as hell: Rost, Bast, Karst, Dran and even Aloy all have names that are either similar to common Dutch names or are phonetically indistinguishable from the Dutch language. There are a bunch of names that begin or end with ‘van’, too: Vanasha, Vandana, Gavan and Ravan. This may just be a coincidence, but the word is a common prefix in Dutch language surnames. Also, Aloy has a Netherlander look to her, particularly with her freckles, which I’ve noticed are more common in Dutch people. This can probably be attributed to the fact that her likeness is portrayed by Dutch actress Hannah Hoekstra.
One thing’s for sure: the topography definitely isn’t Dutch – way too hilly to travel by bike (not to mention those pesky robot dinosaurs that have overrun the place.)
So there you have it, a few instances of Dutchness I noticed in Horizon: Zero Dawn. I’m not a native Netherlander, so a few other things probably went over my head. Notice something I didn’t? Let me know on Twitter! @DragonGamingDG.