best before 11.08.2017

by Hartigan Malchop

A Coat of Noir

Hey there folks, it’s your ol’ pal Hartigan Malchop here, hoping those of you living in the northerly piece of this fine old globe we call home have had yourselves a warm and relaxing summer. Ain’t summer just a fine time? We Malchops can effortlessly spend a whole summer lying on some beach and listening sleepily to the back and forth of the sea. Personally, I still always get a kick out of rediscovering that you can live outside when the sun comes out. I can’t tell you folks exactly why food and drink taste better and make you happier when you have it out in the sun with some pals, but it sure does, and I like nothing better than to be sitting outside a bar or a restaurant just appreciating this strange and wondrous effect of sunlight on my meat and drink. It won’t be no surprise to you folks to hear that the Malchop clan are something of a pack of heathen sun-worshippers. My little sister Eulalia, f’r’instance, takes after our dear old ma, and is strictly allergic to the thermometer falling too low. She regularly has to take trips to warmer climes for medicinal doses of sun. Now, I may be a Malchop through and through when it comes to the warmer seasons, but your pal Harty takes a broader view of weather. In fact, I’m the only one of our family who grins in the face of the more gloomy seasons of the year. Falling leaves, crisp cold winds, clouds that look like they’ve been carved out of stone, I love all those dramatic backdrops, and most of all I love a fine sheet of rain, because when it’s cold and raining, that’s when your pal Harty likes to bring out the big coats.

Where’s looking at you, kid?

I fancy I’m a well-dressed enough fellow, folks, but I’ve always had a soft spot for a big overcoat that hangs on your back and all blurs into the night-time downpour. I’m pretty certain that this sort of poetic nonsense comes from Little Harty having watched too many movies about private investigators, detectives, and miscellaneous shamuses, the people in the coats who trudge around city streets to find out what dangers are being hidden in the dark and the rain. So when it came time to play Deus Ex: Human Revolution on my third-hand Xbox, I have to tell you folks, I was plain impressed with the lead character Jensen’s coat. Here was a good solid coat, with silvery curlicue detail to show that this was a futuristic detective coat for a sci-fi detective story. Now, it may come as something of a surprise to you fine folks who know what a plain and simple everyday fellow your pal Harty is, but I’ve got a weakness for cyberpunk video games like Granny Malchop had a weakness for strong cigars that’d make a normal set of lungs give up and cry. Cyberpunk, at least to the best of what little I know, takes the rainy streets from the old noir movies and gives ’em a dirty metal coating of the future. When I take a moment to think on it, I ain’t got the faintest idea why they’re called cyberpunk games, since there ain’t nothing punk in particular about them. They’re cyber-detective games, really, chromium-noir, and I can’t get enough of ’em. The old video game versions of Neuromancer and Circuit’s Edge are two of my all-time favourites. Like a lot of cyberpunk stuff, those two games have got some fighting, but are mostly about puzzle-solving and detecting. Like all good cyberpunk games, you’ve also got to upgrade your everyday human body parts by selling ’em off and swapping them out for colder but more functional bits of machinery. I guess Lil’ Harty thought that if he put on a big coat, he’d somehow turn into a bit of a gumshoe, and it’s that same fantasy of picking and choosing skills and upgrades and chips that is a big part of the appeal of a cyberpunk game for grown-up Harty.

The future is so dark, you might as well wear sunglasses.

This idea of remaking yourself is basically the background story of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, where there’s tension between people who’ve got cybernetic upgrades and people who don’t, and at the back of this is the older question that always needs detecting – what exactly is it that makes a person count for something? What is swell about Deus Ex is not just that the coat and Jensen’s old-bear-growl voice are so noir, but so are the grubby city streets and buildings where he goes about his cases. These here streets seem to only exist at night-time. They’re the sort of places where you definitely need a good coat.

The game starts you off in a conversation with your boss as you’re flying into your first mission, but it’s really about choosing how exactly you are going to play Jensen. Now, folks, you might have already heard that your pal Harty has developed a bad habit of playing games as a cowardly sniper. This time around, I decided to try myself something a little different, and in this chat with Jensen’s boss, I chose a non-lethal weapon that you’ve got to get up good and close to use. And for the rest of the story, that choice defined how I played this game – I decided that my Jensen wouldn’t be a shoot first and ask questions later kind of guy – he’d be someone who would always try to avoid killing wherever possible. Playing like this meant the game had an added difficulty, and I have to admit, if I was forced into killing people in the game, I felt a kind of pang of regret and failure. My Jensen was a hard-boiled guy who relied on his fists, on his ability to talk, and on his skill at breaking into systems. He wasn’t just a tough guy, but also a compassionate one, a knight in tarnished armour, the gumshoe who had been dirtied by the world, but deep-down still wanted to believe there was something decent in people.

Jensen dropped some change.

Folks, while I have to sadly report that Jensen takes the practical (if unstylish) decision to ditch his fine coat in hostile missions, one of the best things about this Deus Ex is that for the most part, the game lets me keep on playing as my version of Jensen, one who was still allowed to try and avoid shooting everybody to little pieces. Now, your pal Harty likes a good shooting game as much as the next person – heck, I enjoyed Borderlands 2, which is almost entirely about trying out different guns – but I sure don’t reckon that almost every game has to be about shooting. In Deus Ex, seeing how I was playing as a private-eye, I kept the guns holstered and tried to talk people into giving me what I needed, and folks, this is a game with a lot of jawing in it, make no mistake. That said, unlike other games that get stuck in long chattering dialogue-wheel scenes that don’t seem to matter worth a damn, Deus Ex mostly kept me engaged in the talking side of things, often because it treated a lot of the talks as having their own game mechanics – where there were better and worse choices for trying to convince people to help you. I figured that my Jensen would be good at sweet-talking info out of people he interviewed, so I upgraded his implants to detect what sorts of silver-tongued lines would be more likely to win people over. At the same, time, like any good sci-fi noir, Deus Ex makes sure that even the morality of relying on talk isn’t shiny and pure – decisions I made to convince people to give me what I needed came back to bite me later in the game and make me feel guilty for not thinking about how pushing other characters to do what I wanted might not serve their best interests.

Excuse me, sir, you are it.

In a game that lets you play Jensen as you like, one of the few things that made me sore in Deus Ex were the boss fights, because they temporarily took away the ability to choose how you play. They’re perfectly well-designed boss fights, but you can only get past them by violently killing your cyborg opponents. In fact, when I came up against these angry fellows, your pal Harty usually got murdered many times and quickly, before accidentally finding someway to blow up the boss while flailing around with some weapons in a panic. I didn’t mind this so much, but the kind of Jensen I played in every other part of the game would never try to use a rocket-launcher to solve a problem.

I also have to admit, folks, that on my ancient monolithic Xbox, the load times of Deus Ex were darn long. Now, I’ve got to own up that I ain’t the most patient guy in the world, so at first these crawling load screens put me into a fuming mood. I also got to thinking that they were maybe a wasted opportunity, because Deus Ex gives you a heck of a lot of background reading in the game if you want it, and slow load screens struck me as an ideal time to give you the chance to catch up on that reading with your feet on your desk. With all that said, folks, as I got further into the game, the slow load times also got to influencing my way of moving through levels, and I started to avoid dying much more carefully because there was a kind of real world cost of being stuck in a boring load screen every time I got killed.

For all that, this Deus Ex felt comfortable to play, and it has got a lot of enticing little details that meant that usually I could grit my teeth through the load screens to get back into Jensen’s coat and cybernetic sunglasses. As I’ve mentioned before, I sure do like it when games give me a kind of free sense of movement. Deus Ex offers you things like bursts of speed while running, but not for free. You get that kind of upgrade to your cyborg parts by using experience points, and the game is pretty tight-fisted with these, so you’ve got to decide what upgrades are most important to your game and character. Naturally, Harty being Harty, I bought an upgrade that lets you fall from great heights without so much as a sprained ankle, because that’s something I get real tickled by in games, and was one of my favourite bits of foolishness in Borderlands 2. In Deus Ex, if you’ve got the Icarus upgrade, when you step off the top of a building, some kind of anti-gravity thingermajig kicks in and you get a little animation as you float down in a crackling ball of light, your coat swooshing in the air. I don’t mind admitting to you folks that I never got tired of this little trick, and spent a whole lot of the game jumping off buildings when I got this upgrade. After all, a fellow might wear a serious-looking detective coat, but that don’t mean that you can’t have some fun too.

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