Posted by: Ben | October 24, 2012

Case Of The Ex: Battery Park

If you shut up truth, and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.
Émile Zola

“I thought I saw something… A guy in a coat.”
NSF Terrorist

New York City, Battery Park

It’s the kind of conflict that both sides deserve to lose. The racist, anti-semitic US militias of the NSF have stolen a cannister of the rare Ambrosia vaccine that the evil, repressive One World Government was planning to distribute to VIPs and their families. UNATCO agents JC Denton and Anna Navarre have been dispatched to get it back. The militias are holed up in the Castle Clinton fortification in Battery Park, the former tourist destination repurposed in the world of Deus Ex as the site of a shanty town. As with Fort Wood / the Statue of Liberty, the NSF are consciously appropriating sites associated with the defence of the United States from foreign invaders, and with the War of 1812 in particular.

Deus Ex’s version of Battery Park is a miniature open area, a taster for the broader urban regions that will become the norm later in the game. It contains two missions, to be played in sequence.

There are two ways into Castle Clinton. Anna Navarre has an army of blue helmets ready to storm the front door of the building, and you could join them. It’ll give you a nice easy route to the Ambrosia cannister, paved with bodies. Alternatively, a small child on the dock will show you the location of the back entrance if bribed with food. I go in the back way. I always go in the back way. It’s a tense stealth mission through a small but well-defended location that’s bristling with security cameras and turrets. Some of the guards are armed with flamethrowers, always the sensible choice when defending a confined space with metal flooring.

I slip through like an invisible badass. The cannister is retrieved, to the amusing discomfort of Anna who is forced to postpone her full-frontal assault. Next, I’m tasked with rescuing some hostages from a heavily barricaded subway station.

In one of the game’s more bizarre moments, the shanty town that has grown up around the subway entrance is occupied by unarmed NSF militiamen. If you draw attention to yourself they run panicking out of their huts and are promptly chased and murdered by knifewielding UNATCO troops. If you’re not disturbed by this scene, imagine if it happened in Far Cry 2.

“Got everything you need for this assault on a compound of armed extremists, Johnson?”

There’s actually a very strict time limit operating throughout this level. The soldiers are waiting behind concrete barricades at the front entrances to Castle Clinton and the shanty town, and will only attack if you keep them waiting too long.

My initial bright idea of hiding in the ventilation ducts and shooting a box of TNT as a terrorist walked past it resulted in the single-shot massacre of every living thing on the platform. A lesser game would force you to replay the mission. Here, your handler Alex Jacobson expresses his moral outrage at your murderous behaviour and the game plays on. Still, I know I can do better than that. Let’s reload and try again.

This section is more limited than the two scenarios we’ve encountered in the game so far, since the disposition of the forces in the underground station simply does not permit the classic Bruce Willis stealth technique of knocking the men out one at a time and hiding their bodies in ventilation ducts. It is possible to ghost through and simply catch the tube train without being seen (it’s never explained why the hostages don’t simply get on the train) although when JC arrives at the next station he gets told off for leaving the siege for Anna to turn into a bloodbath. An open assault is possible, but hardly in the spirit of Deus Ex. I preferred the option of going down through the ventilation ducts and sniping at the NSF with tranquillizer darts, with the always-hilarious result that they run around angry and confused for a few seconds before falling over.

Weirdly, some of the guys have flamethrowers again. Filling an underground train station with volatile explosives and then letting off flamethrowers is precisely the sort of behaviour that makes people think the average terrorist is a blithering idiot.

Still, the NSF have been wholly incapable of even the most basic resistance against the state so far. Their Castle Clinton base is woefully ill-equiped to stand up to an assault from three men and a Cyberwoman, and even when they see the troops massing outside the door they prefer to patrol pre-set routes around their headquarters rather than, say, guarding the entrances. They appear to be unaware of the psychological deterrent to invasion provided by the presence of an armed man whose job is to watch for intruders with the intention of shooting them in the head.

To their credit, their colleagues at the subway station have prepared themselves for just such a possibility and have made sure the entrance is properly guarded (we must be charitable and assume that the station’s man-size ventilation ducts are merely an artistic representation of something only a hyper-perceptive superagent powered by nanotechnology would think of trying to squeeze into). But they’re holding hostages on the platform of an open subway station. There’s literally nothing to stop the hostages deciding to get on a train and leave, or to stop a trainload of UNATCO troops from Hell’s Kitchen arriving on the platform and starting a gunfight.

Clearly the NSF are desperate. Presumably the Ambrosia cannister has just arrived at the Castle Clinton base via the harbour, and they can’t remove it the same way because of patrolling police boats. (UNATCO don’t appear to have any boats of their own, which for an organisation headquartered on an island must be counted as an oversight.) Once it reaches the subway it can disappear into the city and be distributed before the authorities have any chance of tracking it down again. Hence the NSF occupation of the shanty town and subway station. But now that UNATCO have occupied the park, how do the NSF get the Ambrosia to the subway?

Luckily for them, they have a small child in Castle Clinton, who apparently got caught up in the siege. He ‘ll do anything for a chocolate bar, and he probably shares JC Denton’s uncommon talent for hiding in ducts. All they need to do is send him on the train to Hell’s Kitchen with the Ambrosia. If the container is too big for him to carry, just take the stuff out and put it in jam jars. Problem solved.

But they don’t think of it that way. Probably because, like most real-world terrorists, the NSF are idiots. Although not sufficiently idiotic that you don’t feel clever when you outwit them.

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