REVIEW: “Neutralize the Terrorist”

Today’s playthrough of Human Revolution involves ridding your workplace of peaceful Oregon protesters armed terrorists. In most videogames this would be a banal task, given how often we’re asked to gun down hundreds of belligerents, without choice or repercussion. But what happens when you do have a choice to kill, spare or negotiate?

FEMINIST PLAYTHROUGH

“HUMAN REVOLUTION” (2011)

 

CHAPTER #02

“NEUTRALIZE THE TERRORIST”

Hello, and welcome to the second episode of this miniseries.

Let’s briefly recap the previous episode, namely who your character is.

You play Adam Jensen, security chief at biotech firm Sarif Industries.

Sarif comes under surprise attack by mercenaries, for no apparent reason.

During the attack, your character is mortally wounded.

To save your life, your employer rebuilds you with biotechnology.

Thus, you’re thrust into a world of choices.

Your body may be a walking billboard for the world’s costliest biotech.

But employing this tech for good or bad is up to you.

In “Human Revolution”, you play the way you want.

Whether you kill people or befriend them, the choice is yours.

Choice, free from prejudice or intimidation, is the bedrock of modern feminism.

This chapter of the game is a good example of that.

In this mission, your boss, David Sarif, pulls you out of sick leave.

Armed radicals have taken over one of Sarif’s factories, in protest of biotech.

David wants you to go in and stop the radicals from causing a PR disaster.

But he defers to your judgement in how you should proceed.

In this conversation, you can decide whether to bring guns with you.

For this playthrough, we do take some weapons, just in case.

However, “Human Revolution” lets you decide whether to use them.

Here, you see I’m knocking out these radicals, instead of killing them.

Now, most videogames reward you for killing.

Killing people is how you show you’re a real man, much like James Bond.

But “Human Revolution” is more mature than that.

It actually rewards you for sparing people’s lives.

In a videogame about choice, having nonviolent options is essential.

This freedom to choose influences the entire mission.

Here, you encounter Zeke Sanders, leader of the radicals.

Zeke has taken a manager hostage, to keep the police from attacking him.

You can try killing Zeke yourself, or apprehending him.

But you can also try negotiating with him to free the hostage.

Negotiating reveals a great deal of complexity to Zeke’s character.

Zeke may sound like a stereotypical Latino hoodlum.

But you soon learn he’s a decorated veteran, with a sense of honour.

As your character points out, Zeke isn’t a drive-by gangbanger.

And killing civilians definitely goes against his moral code.

Clearly, the developers put a lot of thought into developing Zeke’s character.

It’s why you’re able to resolve this situation peacefully.

As a player, finding alternatives to killing people is often more rewarding.

So, the mission ends, and you head back to your office.

Before flying off, you have a conversation with your pilot.

Her name is Faridah Malik.

You can discern from her name that she’s Arab-American.

However, nobody looks down on her for being Arab.

In this world, racial prejudice is rarely an issue.

People of different races work and live together, without incident.

Instead, biotech prejudice has become the new racism.

Remember in this world, people can upgrade their bodies with biotech.

These upgrades are known as augmentations.

Pro-human protesters oppose the availability of safe, legal augmentation.

Some protesters even attack augmentation clinics.

Or they take hostages at your workplace, as you saw earlier.

In many ways, augmentation is a metaphor.

Plenty of real-life movements parallel the game’s pro-human movement.

“Human Revolution” doesn’t hide these parallels.

After all, it’s the game’s way of critiquing society, using science fiction.

We’ll analyse this in future episodes.

For now, we’ll end with some footage from our next coming episode.

Thanks for watching.

We hope to see you again soon.

We have little to add to this analysis, except to say the second episode of our video projects is usually better than the first, for good reason. The first episode is where we encounter technical roadblocks and bottlenecks. The second is a chance to eliminate those bottlenecks, so we can focus more on quality of the content instead.

We plan to analyse 4 games this year, 5 episodes per game, for a total of 20. All four games engage with player choice, an essential aspect to feminist gaming. The ones we intend to analyse are…

1: Human Revolution

2: Mass Effect 3

3: Bioshock Infinite

4: Metro: Last Light

In our next episode, we’ll focus on how Human Revolution presents its characters as humanised beings, instead of dehumanised target practice. Of course, if you’d like us to address other topics in future episodes, let us know in the comments!


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12 comments for “REVIEW: “Neutralize the Terrorist”

  1. ludlow22
    February 5, 2016 at 8:07 pm

    Really interesting! One other note that I think is important re: nonlethal incentives is how much effort the game puts into making the generic ‘baddies’ seem ‘real’; just being able to eavesdrop on them discuss prosaic concerns, or their motivations for being there, made me less likely to take the reflexively violent route.

    I’ll also be interested in seeing if your nonlethal approach lasts the whole game; there was moment about halfway through that led to me switching from a pacifist to a lethal playstyle.

    ==Heavy spoilers==

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    When Malik is shot down, I wasn’t fast enough to save her, mostly because I was still trying not to kill anyone. After she was executed, I wiped out most of the mercenaries in Hengsha. Not going to lie, unleashing the full range of offensive augs/weapons after all that self-imposed restraint was awfully satisfying.

    • February 6, 2016 at 3:25 pm

      Believe it or not, we had a harder time with trying to stop the mercenaries by killing them, versus nonlethal methods — shooting them simply took too much time. In the end, we found the fastest way to save Faridah’s life was to run around the courtyard in the circle, hitting everyone from behind with a stun gun. Technically, firing a stun gun once requires less time than firing multiple bullets into an armoured mercenary!

      (Of course, one can argue the fact that non-lethal play is easier than lethal means the game isn’t really about choice, since the developers are basically encouraging non-lethal play. But the fact lethal is an option, regardless if it’s good or not, still makes this a game about choice, I think.)

      That you can eavesdrop on people certainly helps to humanise them, if you’re deciding whether to spare them or shoot them in the face. Painting bad guys in shades of grey is something (good) films have long done, yet game developers seem reluctant to depict morality in anything but black and white, lest it confound the poor, simpleminded gamer into feeling conflicted. We’ll try to discuss this in future episodes.

      • ludlow22
        February 7, 2016 at 9:05 am

        You must have been really hoarding stun gun darts! Which difficult are you on? That makes a big difference to the balance of challenge between nonlethal and lethal, in my experience. Either way, ghosting the levels entirely or never being spotted is quite challenging!

      • February 8, 2016 at 4:01 pm

        Oh, we’ve just been playing on the default difficulty, “Give Me a Challenge”. I’ve tried the highest difficulty, “Give Me Deus Ex”, but the fact you have less energy (for using augmentations) at that difficulty makes playthroughs more time-consuming. And given how we need to replay some levels a dozen times to get good footage, playing at default difficulty is faster, especially when we’re ghosting levels. Then again, I’d argue ghosting is easier than fighting anyway, since fighting a bunch of angry guards who just saw their buddy gunned down could take 2 minutes, whereas sneaking by them would take just 2 seconds!

        Still, foresight always helps. Since we knew we’d eventually need to fight a bunch of angry mercenaries trying to kill Faridah, we stocked up on stun darts in preparation. After seeing your comment, I replayed that section with a silenced pistol instead, shooting mercenaries in the head to avoid firefights. It was doable, but I think zapping people with stun darts takes less time and effort. If you finished the game by killing people, you have skills and patience that I lack!

  2. Pheenobarbidoll
    February 7, 2016 at 2:30 am

    All I can say is that whenever I try to play a game with a controller instead of a joystick, I end up stuck facing a wall, so close I’m practically in the damn thing, as I scream ” where the fuck am I ” at my husband.

    I find these games very stressful.

    And here you guys are, running around killing or not killing people, and eavesdropping. And I’m still stuck in a fucking bush in wow.

    • Pheenobarbidoll
      February 7, 2016 at 2:34 am

      I should add, he finds me playing these games stressful too, as they usually end with me hurling a controller at him and demanding he get the purple thing I was trying to get until a wall or a bush got in the way and when he tries to tell me said purple things is worthless, I weep because it matched my pants and I still want it.

      Knitting makes me lose my shit too though. He threw my needles away lol

    • February 8, 2016 at 1:34 pm

      I’m so glad I’m not alone in this.

      Fun story: a long time ago I went on a date with a dude to a LAN party and we were playing HALO and I was having this same difficulty. My date offered to play around with my controller settings in an effort to help with my trouble.

      While he was setting things up, another player came along and killed me.
      The conversation went like this:

      My date: Okay, who killed Andie while she was in setup?
      Other guy: Me. I didn’t know.
      Date: You couldn’t tell that she was standing in the corner doing nothing?
      Other guy: In my defense she spends a LOT of time in the corner doing nothing.
      Me: He’s not wrong.

      • Pheenobarbidoll
        February 8, 2016 at 4:35 pm

        It’s frustrating as hell. I know it relaxes some people, but it ups my blood pressure like nothing else.

        And if there’s anything you can fall off and die, you can bet I’ll fall off it and die anytime I’m near it.

    • February 8, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      You two play games with… a controller? I feel your pain then. I don’t know how to play games that way, and given how aiming a gun with a controller feels nothing like aiming, well, anything in real life, I have no interest in playing shooters on a videogame console.

      However, if you’d rather play games that don’t force you to aim and shoot at things, Human Revolution and similar titles might be ideal for you. Instead of trying to shoot people in the head with a tiny joystick, you spend most of the game on walking around, hiding from people or talking to them about biotech politics.

      With this year-long series, we’re trying to focus on games that involve more than shooting people, a la Halo. Sure, shooters are fun, and we reviewed a bunch last year, but depth of narrative takes precedence when we choose games. Plus the latest Halo wasn’t exactly known for its sterling narrative

      • Pheenobarbidoll
        February 8, 2016 at 4:42 pm

        I can shoot things in real life. But even if I were interested in shooting things, it’s the whole walking around thing I can manage lol

        I end up pushing something or touching something that zooms the screen in so I cant see shit or tell where I am, or I end up stuck in a wall, corner or bush then zoom the screen in so far I can’t figure out how to get out.

        I need a simple controller that moving the stick up means forward, down means back, and side to side is, side to side. Then A button ( as in singular) to fire. Beyond that and I’m lost. And don’t even get me started on using a keyboard. I end up staring down at it trying to remember what key does what.

        I just don’t play any games. It’s healthier for everyone.

      • February 8, 2016 at 5:11 pm

        Well, if you do choose to take another shot (pun intended) at the gaming realm, perhaps you’d be better off with a game with no z-axis, i.e. a game where you don’t look up or down. So you only need to worry about moving forward, back, left or right — oh, and also a button to shoot.

        If so, you probably won’t believe which free game I recommend you check out, which fulfills all those requirements. (I can hardly believe I’m posting this on Feministe, of all places.) :-p

      • Pheenobarbidoll
        February 8, 2016 at 5:47 pm

        Someone needs to invent a mind control control. Where it reads your mind for the actions you want to perform.

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