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Altum Videtur avatar 12:12 AM on 12.22.2011  (server time)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - David Sarif

The Destructoid writers' Character of the Year article (specifically, the Adam Jensen entry) got me thinking about my own favorite collection of pixels and polygons in 2011. I then thought, "oh wait, I could turn this into words!", and thus the piece below was born. I was originally just going to do a bit on DX:HR being my game of the year, but since I have yet to play Skyward Sword (which can potentially capture that throne) and it'd be a horribly generic thing, this seemed to be a much better option. Also, spoilers for the entirety of Human Revolution contained within.

Deus Ex's world is one replete with conspiracies, shady figures holding ulterior motives, plans within plans within plans within plans (within plans), and, to quote one of Human Revolution's trailers, corporations who hold "more power than the government." Who better to exemplify this, thought I as I first begin playing, than David Sarif, founder and CEO of Sarif Industries, one of the world's leaders in human augmentation?

Clearly, I continued to smugly muse to myself, he was a simply a fusion of Joseph Manderly and Bob Page from the first Deus Ex; a power-hungry executive putting on a facade of fatherly warmth, ready and waiting to shank me in my mechanical back as soon as the plot assumes I least expect it. What? That new research could completely change the face of augmentation? Sure, Mr. Sarif, if by "augmentation" you mean "our profit margin." Oh, you're ordering me to prioritize secret company technology over the lives of hostages? How much of an obvious mid-game twist-villain could you be?

My certainty wavered a bit after the first real mission; faced with the prospect of being politely and amicably dismantled and disgraced by anti-augmentation advocates, he complains to a friend and mentor about having to bend over and take it to save face. But that couldn't be right... surely an evil CEO knows how to do these kinds of things better than anyone? He must know I'm eavesdropping and is putting on an act to divert my suspicions. Still, ordering me to break into a police station (and casually mentioning that he controls the cops' retirement funds) assuaged any doubts that I would soon be horribly betrayed.

I would ordinarly make a snarky witticism here but this really is a cool shot

As the story builds and layers of deceit and secrecy peel away, I discover that the terrorists who slaughtered our science team gained access to the building via a hidden security loophole that nobody knew about - except for Sarif himself. Conspiracy! I wonder how he's going to suddenly turn on me once I reveal I know what's going on? Is he going to bring in security and lock the doors? Is he going to be mysteriously missing, leaving a lethal trap in his place?

No, actually. After a drawn-out "social fight," everything I thought I knew about the man was drawn into question. I had assumed his concern about the introductory massacre was related to stolen technology and missed opportunities, but I can just as easily detect an underlying guilt about all the deaths he now knows his security backdoor is partially responsible for. The backdoor itself existed merely to try and dig out my childhood origins, the dark details of which were obscured simply because he didn't think it was his place to inform me that my own childhood memories were essentially a lie.

I continually dug at his actions and characterization, expecting to find a needlessly complex series of plots and machinations, the spiraling lines and twisting convolutions of which would eventually trace back to some stereotypical lust for power, control, wealth, or other villainous desire; instead, I unearthed understandable decisions, relatable concerns, and a huge range of conflicting beliefs and wants.

Pretty swanky office. I wonder what the balls mean

Despite having the necessary shrewdness to survive in the cutthroat corporate world of Deus Ex, Sarif is an idealist, committed to the belief that his company's discoveries will lead to nothing less than a complete rebirth of human society, elevating us to heights and feats we previously could only begin scrape in our very dreams. He's not so humble as to deny the exorbitant wealth that being at the head of this advancement would send his way, but the profit is a bonus, second to his goal of allowing humans to, in his words, "unlock the potential in our own DNA." His commitment to this goal - and belief that Sarif Industries' survival is key to its fulfillment - causes him to keep his eyes firmly planted on the ends, glancing toward the means only when necessary; what are a few hostages or reluctant purists compared to the exponential advancement his discoveries will bring to humanity?

Pride in his work, his company, and in what he could potentially do for society surrounds Sarif. He is a direct man, recoiling at the thought of saving face for PR's sake and perfectly willing to bask in his own importance. It's both a strength, solidifying his unwavering adherence to his ideals, and a weakness, allowing him to internally justify his more immoral actions. It drives him to seek affirmation of his beliefs; to show to the world what he's found, what he can do, what he can provide. It fuels his fight against regulation, blinding him to the possibility that his technology could be misused for ungainly ends.

As the face of the side that's willing to replace our flesh and blood with metal and wiring, it makes him ironically human. Rather than a one-dimensional, moustache-stroking miscreant in search of profit, he's just a guy with a dream - one that's both so incredible and so close to coming true that he's willing to step on a few heads if it means making the world, as he sees it, a better place. Since Human Revolution is a video game, whether or not he succeeds - or, even, whether or not he lives - is up to the player; but any way you look at him, it's impossible to ignore how he stands out in comparison to the game's other, more archetypical characters. In a sense, the simplicity underlying his actions, juxtaposed against the convoluted conspiracy that surrounds the plot, is what makes him so interesting and complex of a figure; whether or not you agree with his conclusions, you can see the reasoning behind them.

No other character this year surprised me and intrigued me to the extent David Sarif did; he's certainly coaxed more full paragraphs out of me than any other game in 2011. I don't know when or if we'll be seeing more of the Deus Ex universe, but if Sarif is any indication of what Human Revolution's writers are capable of creating, it's in good hands, son.


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