For the older gamers among us, they will probably remember the PC title Deus Ex, developed by Ion Storm and published in 2000. One of the first “immersive sims” as they are called—combining action and RPG elements with a complex, mature, and historically aware story, it came along during the cyber-punk and conspiratorial phase of entertainment in the early 2000’s (e.g. The Matrix) as it combined elements of The X Files, James Bond and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. It also anticipated the never ending “war on terror” before 9-11 had even occurred.
“We should have brought shotguns for this”
It is not the easiest game to get into—with its unusual mechanics, various ways to achieve objectives and open maps, it creates some frustration until one comes to adjust. For me though, it’s probably the greatest game of all time, but these views are subjective and not the point of this article. What is not subjective is the character archetypes exhibited by JC Denton (and his brother Paul) as timeless, masculine—and dare I say alpha males—in contrast to the degeneration that is Adam Jensen, protagonist of the revived Deus Ex series in Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) from Eidos Montreal studios.
DX: HR was generally thought to do the franchise justice with passionate people developing the game. What I appreciated most was the lead character and the way in which he traversed his world. JC Denton was a man with perspective, someone who could pursue any profession if he put his mind to it and a man who could never be ensnared by a matriarchal society.
Well all that was thrown away in the prequel/sequel/reboot.
The one element which stood out that can’t be overlooked or condoned is the lead character, Adam Jensen, a beta supplicant styled fool that was made all the worse by the developers giving him a Clint Eastwood (gunslinger) sounding vocal style. But don’t let the badass looks, kill animations and whispering scowl fool you. He was no JC—far from it.
The beginning of Human Revolution sets the tone…
Later I will provide some direct comparison material but first, let’s examine the start of Human Revolution and see how it reveals everything pathetic about Adam. It begins with Adam Jensen, head of security at an advanced Bio-tech/mech firm (think Apple with its own version of Steve Jobs). He had been in a relationship with Megan Reed, a super brilliant scientist and visionary researcher at the same company who was way above his pay grade. We don’t know why the relationship ended (one could guess though), but we are treated to an awkward scene in an elevator that is more reminiscent of some soap melodrama.
“My discovery is big Adam. It’s Kepler big, Rosetta Stone big—and you’re just a grunt who doesn’t understand what I’m talking about.”
Anyway, terrorists storms the labs, Megan is kidnapped, and poor Adam now must spend the game finding out what happened and trying to rescue her. He will “never stop searching” he says.
See the first 30 secs for a pitiful display:
Now whilst I appreciate that he got what he deserved, it doesn’t change the fact that gamers are supposed to vicariously live through this “hero” character and believe him to be some sort of masculine role model. This is all the worse when the original protagonist, JC Denton, was the perfect cipher for young males to emulate.
The Illusion of Choice…
They also made the mistake of trying to dictate the players’ emotional state early in the game whereas in the first DX, we see the right way to establish your role-playing character. There, while JC sets up for his first mission, he meets with his brother Paul (another agent). There is some brief background talk on JC’s graduation, how they both grew up with foster parents and how to approach the mission. In this phase, it’s entirely up to you how you feel about your game brother (and family). There’s nothing to suggest they are close or distant or BFF’s. The point being that in these kind of games, it should be up to you in deciding how you “feel” about the people and the world you’re interacting with, especially when we are just beginning the game’s story and don’t actually know the other characters.
Contrast that with DX:HR and in the first 5 minutes of this 007’esque sprawling sci-fi adventure. I’m forced to be distraught over the disappearance of an “ex”-girlfriend that’s clearly married more to her job and our “inspirational” CEO.
Unfortunately, it never recovers, character or narrative wise. What’s sad is that Adam, despite entering the mysterious world of elite conspiracy, is only ever interested in the fate of his ex-girlfriend and never seems to appreciate the gravity of the events transpiring and the mystery he is unraveling. Nor is he aware of his power to shape events.
In many ways, this is exactly what they are trying to make of today’s males—eunuch supplicants of the grand matriarchy, not realizing that we (“you”) are the ones who can define civilization rather than become victims to it.
I’ll leave you with brief rundown on the two divergent characters.
“So what are you, some kind of Assassin?” “When necessary.”
- Ice cold, determined, quick witted, thoughtful, a touch of arrogance with a moral code.
“You mechs may have copper wiring to re-route your fear of pain, but I’ve got nerves of steel”
“What good’s an honest soldier if he can be ordered to behave like a terrorist.”
“Every war is the result of a difference of opinion. Maybe the biggest questions can only be answered by the greatest of conflicts.”
- Is equally adept at scoring with young Aussie backpackers, aspiring authors (and part-time strippers), office sophistos, lonely girls from bad environments; and rich aristocratic princesses who lead revolutions.
- Doesn’t like books and yet, can hold a conversation on metaphysics, political history, governmental abuses and human psychology with ease. He even goes head to head with an advanced AI.
- When he converses with people, he looks straight ahead, keeps still, with a calm and purposeful gaze.
- Shows little excess emotion. Classic Stoic. Even when an old acquaintance is brutally murdered by some thug—the best he can muster is a droll “What a shame”.
- Is made an honorary triad member.
“Me love you long time Adam”
- Emotional, overawed, wishy-washy whiner with no sense of direction.
“I never asked for this.”
“I don’t even know what side I’m on anymore.”
“I came half way around the world to find you”
- Has so little confidence that when an obvious (obnoxious) villain tries to lure him in by whispering sweet nothings in his ear, he falls for the trap like the girl who’s never been kissed.
- Is the dense and dim stereotype. He can probably plan a work roster but ask him what he thinks of the Nietzchean master-slave dynamic and his face will go blank. Most major characters talk down to him and he accepts it.
- Twitches and shakes all over the place and never looks into your eyes, like some crack-addict.
- Has a deep and meaningful talk with his ex-police partner, getting him to pour out his soul like an episode of Oprah that actually ends in tears!
- Is abused and insulted by the office IT guy.
Fortunately, Adam will have a chance to redeem himself as he is expected to feature in further sequels. Let’s hope for a better display since DX: HR was a finely crafted game for the most part.