I don’t care whether your game stars a lady or a Lombax: I just love good characters. It just so happens that two of my favourite characters in 2017 have been females – and they’ve both been at the beating heart of two of the PlayStation 4’s biggest exclusives. I’m, of course, referring to Aloy from Horizon: Zero Dawn and Chloe from Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. But what is it that makes these two distinct heroes so compelling?
Look, I don’t want to get too political in this article – there are other venues for that. But I do think this is a topic worth discussing, especially in an industry replete with male leads. The success of movies like Wonder Woman have proven that there’s a space for strong female protagonists in categories that are generally fronted by men – and I think Sony’s showing this year that the same is true of video games.
But I think what’s important about Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is that gender doesn’t define either game – it’s all just a part of the story that the developers want to tell. That, to me, shows that this industry is maturing – and while I know it’s taken far too long for us to reach this point, I’m the kind of person that’s willing to celebrate the progress rather than criticise the time it’s taken to achieve it.
The thing is, I think Aloy and Chloe are equally successful because they’re believable. Don’t get me wrong, whether it’s sliding beneath a Thunderjaw or climbing up an elephant-shaped edifice, they’re both capable of performing superhuman feats. But neither character is an empty shell: they both have personality, opinion, and human traits – and I genuinely believe that’s what makes them compelling as characters.
I read an article last night that compared Chloe to the rebooted Lara Croft, and it made me realise how similar their origin stories are. But where Crystal Dynamics fail, I think Naughty Dog has succeeded. Chloe is human: there are times during The Lost Legacy where she’s frightened and upset, but she’s never reduced to a whimpering doll like Ms Croft. Instead, she uses humour and courage to work through her insecurities – like many of us do in real-life.
It’s this subtlety that made me really appreciate the new Uncharted game – and emphasised how much better Naughty Dog is at character development compared to everyone else. It’s the little things, too: the way the game shows the character sweat, the perspiration gluing loose strands of hair to her neck. To stick with the Lara comparison, she may get muddy and bloody – but her skin and hair remains supermodel-esque throughout.
To be fair, this is also true of Aloy, but I think her success as a character stems almost entirely from her personality. I like the way she’s unwaveringly committed to a single goal, but still has a strong moral compass. One thing I noticed while playing Horizon: Zero Dawn is that she’ll generally respond kindly to people who treat her with respect – but she’ll almost always become prickly with those who rub her the wrong way.
I like the way Guerrilla Games acknowledges that she’s an attractive character, which is totally fine – but does so in the right way. There are NPCs that you’ll encounter who’ll try to hit on her, but her obsession with learning about her origins means that she always shuts these advances down. This doesn’t mean that there’s no room for romance in Horizon’s world, but it wouldn’t have made sense in the context of the story for Aloy to become distracted, and I appreciate that.
There are other great female leads outside of these two, of course – I don’t want to pretend that Aloy and Chloe are the industry’s only successes. I mean, Ellie is arguably the greatest female character ever to grace a video game – I think I speak for all of us when I say I can’t wait to see how her story continues in The Last of Us: Part II. And there are many other great examples who spring to mind – Chloe from Life Is Strange, for instance.
But I wanted to give props to Horizon: Zero Dawn and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy specifically, because both games lead with ladies in the right way. And while I personally don’t care whether a character’s a man or a woman as long as they’re good, I do think it’s refreshing to see Sony’s biggest games in 2017 lead with two very real, very relatable female characters. Like I said earlier in the article, I think this demonstrates a degree of maturity in an industry that’s, if we’re honest, taken quite a long time to grow up.
Do you agree that Aloy and Chloe are great characters, or is Sammy giving them too much credit? Do you think it’s refreshing to see some realistic female leads in major games, or couldn’t you care less? Celebrate girl power in the comments section below.