Adam Jensen v. Corvo Attano: Toe To Toe - LetMeGetToACheckpoint Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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Adam Jensen v. Corvo Attano: Toe To Toe

Recently, I finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution and, disclaimer, I loved the game.  Like many, Deus Ex: HR's fall of 2011 release was eclipsed by Skyrim.  2011's Deus Ex: Human Revolution's Adam "I wear sunglasses indoors" Jensen and 2012's Dishonored's Corvo "My mask has gears is in it" Attano are two video game protagonists who weigh the heavy moral implications of any given decision, except for stealing.  Both may ruminate on whether to stab or strangle the local thugs but neither worries about leaving others destitute or without their worldly possessions.  The mantra for both games is: If the locker opens, take the stuff.  Not surprisingly our two characters share a creator in Harvey Smith.  Granted Mr. Smith was not involved in Deus Ex: HR but as a character creator  Mr. Smith has an affinity for glum heroes who must navigate a political morass that has worldwide implications and each action has unknown and potentially devastating ripple effects but our heroes do nothing without added flair.

Two not so very friendly faces.  

In Adam's cyber punk universe the future includes eye augmentations that are permanent sleek black sunglasses that may be retractable (where the sunglasses retract to is another question) but Adam is not fond of showing off his actual eyeballs.  He is that one person we all know who wears sunglasses even in poorly lit basements.  In Corvo's steam punk world we see that if we only had a tad bit more ingenuity in the 19th century we would have invented terrifying masks with creaking gears that somehow affixes to the face showing at best a disfigurement and at worst a walking nightmare.  Two face hiding heroes who claim a moral high ground (or low ground) while endlessly engaged in breaking and entering as petty thieves.  Are these design choices an evolving social commentary or an excuse to design a brothel level in every game?  Let us look at the facts.         

A Voice Or A Lack Thereof

Pretty difficult to hold a conversation if "that" is looking at you. 

Corvo does not speak for himself and Adam has a monotone.  The winner?  Admittedly, hearing Adam voice his outrage even when his outrage is strangely similar to his voice of mild surprise is a more engaging experience.  The only audio in Corvo's voice is the click of a button selecting his dialogue.  Corvo is commonly critiqued for lacking a personality and having no audible voice contributes to Corvo's emotionless outlook. 

Elias Toufexis, the "real life" Adam Jensen and his photo has a beach in the background.  He is much  more personable already. 

However, the NPC voice acting in Deus Ex: HR is passable at best but at its worst is cringe worthy.  Adam spends time in North America and China.  The North American voices are decent including Adam's complete lack of pitch variance.  In China the Chinese speaking NPCs who are speaking English sound like an embarrassing and inappropriate English speaking person making fun of Chinese accents.  At one point, my girlfriend walked through the living room and upon overhearing the voices she was appalled.  On the other hand, Dishonored's NPCs are wonderfully cast.  Yes, the in game animations have Bethesda's trademark cut scenes of wooden talking heads but listening to the characters talk was a worth the up-close robotic face animations.  Especially, "The Heart," who is an actual heart and who adds optional dialogue about the background of characters and environments, I always wanted more observations. 

The category winner?  I give the voice acting to Deus Ex: HR only because Adam is a much more engaging character, even hidden behind sun glasses, with a voice yelling his disapproval at the world.  But take note Square Enix to never again perpetuate stereotypes with the broken English of the English speaking Chinese NPCs.

More Than The Average Human

Adam is augmented with hardware in order to save his life but without asking him first.  Corvo must accept supernatural powers in order not to only clear his name but to also avenge the Empress' death and to save her kidnapped daughter, Emily, again without seemingly without a choice.  These are two funny beginnings for games that are all about choices. 

The "Social Enhancer" my first augment!  Wait, how does it work again?  

In Adam's futuristic 2027, which was only 16 years away at the date of the game's release, mankind's surgical augmentations have surpassed the prosthetics that we recognize today.  Quick side note, in the reality of 2013 disability based adaptive equipment and medications are to provide the disabled with the same use of their body as the non-disabled not better than.  For example, my hearing aids' goal is to provide me with the same access to sound as those with hearing so that I can hear and interact with the world around me, not to provide me with bionic ears for spy surveillance.  Maybe one day.          

Back to video game reality, in Adam's future surgery has branched into "improving" all aspects of the human body.  The cyber punk theme even offered scientific explanations behind each augment.  Now, I am not scientist and these explanations left me with more questions than answers.  For example, an augment that makes others more susceptible to Adam's persuasive skills is pheromone based.  Yep, whenever this augment is triggered Adam emits a odor that induces others to answer Adam's questions,  a truth scent rather than a truth serum.  What does this pheromone smell like?  Is the augment impacted if Adam does not bathe?  Can Adam smell the scent and not tell a lie?  Does this augment require refillable scent containers like a pluggable air freshener?    

A much more action packed set of powers.  Let's bend time and not worry about the scientific consequences.  

Appropriately, in Corvo's steam punk universe where weapons audibly grind and hiss his powers are supernatural gifts with explanations rooted in religion rather than science.  He has magic powers rather than manmade creations.  Therefore, Corvo can teleport, stop time, and possess humans, rats or fish (there is a choice for you) and we are not awaiting an explanation about how he shifted the space-time continuum.  Still Corvo's powers bring nothing but questions.  Why Corvo?  Does Corvo use stop time to play practical jokes?  Why cannot Corvo possess birds?  Can Corvo possess whales if we ever see a live whale in-game?      

Admittedly, Corvo's powers are cooler.  Teleporting up buildings rather than finding a nearby ladder or vent as Adam must is a lot of fun.  Additionally, Corvo summons rats to devour the bodies of his enemies or those bodies turn to ash at Corvo's touch.  Corvo's powers make him a fluid combatant who does not lose a fight either from the shadows or head on.

This round is Corvo's. 

Killer Look

I stand like this in front of window all of the time just in case a photo will be snapped. 

Both heroes spend most of their time in the first person leaving us to only view their hands holding weapons.  Adam switches to third person when in cover (to best show off his chiseled profile), when climbing ladders (we do see his back a fair amount), and when emitting an electrical cloud to float down from a great height (why does the electrical storm not fry his hair?) but Adam is on display most during cut scenes.  In cut scenes, we can admire his always on sunglasses, the perfectly applied hair gel, and even when awakening after a three day nap his facial hair is still shaved in such a way so as to make his chin look as pointy as possible. 

The unmasked Corvo loves his long locks.  

Corvo however is quite shy.  With in-game cut scenes all we see of Corvo is the putting on and taking off of his mystical mask.  Corvo's mask is truly from a nightmare but the few depictions of Corvo the man on wanted posters shows a man who uses even more hair gel than Adam in order to maintain that windblown, but not messy, look.  Corvo however has a cooler name even if his name is ridiculous but Adam is a heavy handed biblical reference.  At least have consistently silly names but instead Corvo interacts with Emily, Samuel and Morgan.    

Adam has the edgier look if only because Corvo's is nearly nonexistent.   

Sad Sack Story

We have two gloomy loners with terribly depressing backstories who live above and away from others, literally, high in a luxury apartment and in an attic.  Both found meaning to their lives in the bodyguard profession but are thrown into a spiraling despondency when the two fail the women they protected after both men black out while witnessing the demise of their charge.  Boo-hoo.     

Adam spends a surprising amount of time in elevators but not so much time with Dr. Megan Reed. 

To Adam's credit, he does awaken as part Transformer and that does require time alone to process.  His processing leads him to retribution for the death of his maybe girlfriend (he seems more into the relationship than she does) Dr. Megan Reed.  Uncovering Adam's childhood is a fun series of side missions but certainly does not make his story any cheerier.  Adam's doom and gloom outlook is justified given his past and present and side quests that show the depravity humans can be capable of. Anything, even a more lighthearted element to his clothing, some brightly colored socks, would help lift Adam's dour story just a tad.    

Aww a drawing my Emily of the world she sees around her.  This will definitely not trigger a parent/child conference at school. 

Corvo is blamed for the Empress' death, jailed, and the Empress' daughter, Emily, is missing.  A kidnapped kid will tug on the heartstrings.  A child at the center of a search is compelling momentum for a narrative plus Emily is constantly drawing cute pictures with crayons.  Corvo's emotional distance is maintained by a lack of knowledge about Corvo in general and instead the narrative is built more on the atrocities occurring within the city of Dunwall.  Dunwall is incredibly detailed and no matter what small stories Corvo uncovered I always wanted to know more, except if it involved more rats.    

Overall Adam has a more engaging story but Corvo wins with the single minded determination that arises on behalf of child in danger.  Big eyed waifs are an unfair advantage in a narrative competition. 

Indiscriminate Killer Or A Nice Strangler

Morality.  Adam and Corvo may swipe any items that are not nailed down but all other decisions require a consultation with their conscience.  Video games are a great killer of goons but Adam and Corvo refuse to simply indiscriminately kill thugs just because everyone else does.  Yet, no choice is clearly good or bad.

Not easy holding a conversation with one person in sunglasses during the night time but nothing deters Faridah. 

Adam is a complex man.  The black and white choices are colored in with pros and cons for every decision that are neither good nor bad.  For example, Faridah Malik, Adam's pilot, asks for his investigative help as a side quest.  Adam's responses are either "Yes" or "No" but what he actually says is either "Okay, I'll help" or "Malik, I'm sorry, but there's no time for this."  Not "My honor requires that all wrongs are righted" or "I will eat an energy bar in order to break your arm and stomp your face in if you ask me another question."  Or another side quest presents an option to allow an NPC to go about his vengeance filled day or to stop him by fighting.  Setting him free into the world eliminates guards patrolling an area Adam must get into.  Fighting him provides two options, one if he is dead Adam receives the least amount of experience points and two if he is unconscious Adam receives additional experience points.  Plus, whether or not the NPC should resume his lethal activities is not morally clear.  The constant decision making balances two consequence types, in game inventory with the philosophical morality of a decision.  Adam approaches each of these choices with the care he uses to delicately maintain the fade in his facial hair.       

A moral decision will be made and carried out right about...NOW! 

Corvo witnesses increased chaos in Dunwall if he leaves dead guard bodies littered about and must continually decide whether to stab or rock to sleep the guards.  Nonlethal abilities are largely limited to tranqulizer darts or a chokehold.  Adam does have a similar nonlethal arsenal but Adam's death to all weaponry is not the sleek killing machine of Corvo's.  Not using Corvo's "cooler" abilities is missed whereas lethal gameplay for Adam is mostly a swaying gun reticle.  However, Corvo has head scratching "boss battle" decisions.  The nonlethal decisions for the targets are crueler the lethal option such as death or life in the slave mines that funded the target's extravagant lifestyle.  Corvo is truly judge, jury, and sometimes executioner whereas Adam's approach is "Die!."       

This category is so evenly matched that I declare a draw wanting Adam to be more nuanced with boss decisions and for Corvo to squeeze the future of more random NPCs in his hands.   

He may steal money but he is constantly making world changing decisions.  Maybe we should just give him our money when he walks by.  

The winner?  Both are fantastic heroes in great games but, clearly, Adam wins.  Corvo may have more magical combat skills but Adam just needs to get in close enough without being detected and he will punch Corvo in the face with no fear of Corvo's mask.  Adam's background story at least explains his constantly furrowed brow leading to a compelling story on the personal level rather than only as a world changing geopolitical narrative.  Corvo is needs to feel more comfortable expressing his feelings.      

We will likely never have a shortage of lone men standing atop high rises looking upon the city below while the moon rises and the night wind makes their clothes flutter.  Our cities are safe with these living gargoyles forever acting as vigilantes as atonement for the horror living in their heads.  Maybe Harvey Smith's next game will invite one of these men off of a rooftop for some ice cream with sprinkles as a pick me up.  After all these characters must smile sometime, right?

Agree or disagree?  Who is your winner?

Do you enjoy the lone wolf hero?  Who is your favorite?

What augment or power would you want most? (I like Corvo's bend time)

Thank you for the read and may your days ahead be awash with video games as summer begins.  

 

 

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