On the other hand, you move outside the experience, hyper-aware that without you realizing it this game has given you one of the most interactive characters yet seen. For a robot, Floyd is awfully human, and he isn't there just as a tool to be used. He wants to play. He cries oil when you tickle him. He seems purposeless and irritating, but then not only does he become necessary, he becomes endearing.
Fact: Floyd is the first and greatest sidekick in videogame history.
We should sing hymns in his honor, and paeans to his sweetness.
It's surprising, given that Floyd appears halfway through the game and dies long before its conclusion. His brief appearance in Planetfall does not change his vaunted status.
A sidekick feels purposeless, but the hero is nothing without him. A great sidekick is not only necessary for the hero to complete his quest but humanizes the hero, too. Batman seems the perfect warrior, so why does he need Robin? Because Robin will save his life. And more importantly, Robin will anchor the Bat to Bruce Wayne, keeping the hero grounded, keeping him human.
Floyd does that: not only is Floyd critical in your quest, but above all else Floyd takes a faceless, character-free character on a ruined planet and gives him (you) purpose and humanity. You are forced to care one way or the other about Floyd: by forcing you to form an opinion - and further, experience an emotion - the game moves beyond one of systems and brain-teasers.
In Floyd is the DNA of Halo's Cortana, Clank of Ratchet and Clank, the dog in Fable 2, or even the pink-hearted Weighted Companion Cube in Portal - all human-seeming non-humans, sidekicks that teach us to not only care about our own survival, but the survival of others. These are sidekicks that help us, that challenge us, that irritate the shit out of us, and that, ultimately, redeem us.
Floyd was the first to bring humanity to video games. Your humanity.
You cry like a slapped Girl Scout when he dies.
I mean, I didn't cry.
*nudges snotty, tear-soaked tissues under the desk*
For the record, Floyd was almost right - nothing can hurt robots. At the very end of the game, the last thing you see is Floyd bounding toward you. He tells you that he's feeling better now, and then hands you a helicopter key, a reactor elevator card, and a paddleball set, and he says, "Maybe we can use these in the sequel."
And there again, an otherwise sterile journey is punctuated by a spike of joy mirroring the grief that struck us earlier.
We are sad to lose our sidekick, but at the end, so happy to see him once again.
Chuck Wendig wrote this article after completing a fresh play-through of Planetfall, which can be found online here. And yes, he thought about tag-teaming it with Stationfall, but it's best we just don't talk about that...