JC Denton: Not Just a Tough Guy

By Shamus Posted Monday Apr 14, 2008

Filed under: Game Reviews 35 comments

I regret including JC Denton in the list of wooden heroes in my post on The Tough Guy. Several people chimed in with defense for the character, and they are right: Whatever his faults, Agent Denton doesn’t really deserve to be lumped in with the likes of Hawaiian Shirt Guy and Masterchief. While his “secret agent” persona always held him at arm’s length for me, he was not a terrible character. Jonas Wà¦ver at Narcissism Incorporated sums up my feelings towards JC perfectly. He was a fine character, he just didn’t fit me when I tried him on.

Part of the problem was his outfit. I’d be playing the game, immersed, “in the zone”, or whatever you call it when you’re playing a videogame so hard you forget you’re doing it. Then a conversation would start, causing the view to switch to third person and show me my character. The effect was a sudden rift between myself and my in-game persona. Oh right. I’m that guy.

I felt ridiculous having these philosophical and political conversations while dressed as a Morpheus cosplayer. It always felt like the NPC’s were just humoring me, and the room was going to erupt into derisive laughter the moment my character stepped out the door. The outfit also put a terrible strain on versimilitude; it’s hard to imagine how I was able to sneak up on people and move unseen while wearing that enormous floppy coat. It would be like trying to creep up behind someone while dragging a tarp.

This is not to say Deus Ex was not a tremendous game. It’s a playground of incredible potential, and I returned to it many times before I at last felt I had exhausted its dialogs and and explored the breadth and depth of its countless locales. It had much in common with my beloved Thief and the revered System Shock. Lots of freedom in how to approach obstacles. Interesting choices. RPG character development. Large, branching plot. Hours of fulfilling of gameplay just to get to one of the endings. (I’d gladly trade in one of today’s eight-hour graphics demos for another 30-hour gem like Dues Ex.)

I would have preferred it if Denton was a bit more approachable to the average Joe, and his costume was unintentionally funny, but he wasn’t a cardboard cutout. He was a serviceable character riding atop a stellar game.

LATER: More here. (Don’t miss the Monty Python reference at the end. Heh.)


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35 thoughts on “JC Denton: Not Just a Tough Guy

  1. Eric says:

    I’ll agree to denton guyoughbeing a morpheus cosplayer, and a tough guy. There are only two tough guy heroes that i like kratos, of God of War, And Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid. Everyone else just sucks.

    P.S. First!!!!!!

  2. Hal says:

    I maintain my defense of the tough guy. Who exactly DO you want blasting away at entire armies?

  3. FhnuZoag says:

    JC was a man of vision. Or rather, his vision was augmented.


  4. Lee from Sheboygan says:

    Oh, geez, Zoag. That hurts.

  5. I love how JC Denton has a well-developed personality, intersting conversations, and is much better in this respect than most FPS protagonists. However, when I’m playing an FPS, I _want_ to be the badass. That’s why I play a game where I can run around with a homing rocket launcher, a flamethrower, and a plasma rifle. JC’s voice and trenchcoat make me the badass when I play. Don’t play an FPS looking for a protagonist to be you, play an FPS looking to put yourself into the protagonist. I can’t think of a situation where I’d be shooting up the place in real life anyway. That’s why I have first person shooters.

    In his clothing’s defense, it looks a lot less ridiculous in the context of the game. In that future, most people have those ridiculous stripes on the fronts of their shirts, presumably to represent circuitry. JC also has a good reason to wear the sunglasses, which I won’t spoil here. Anyway, walk into the Lucky Money and look around; I think you will find that JC is not on the top of the flamboyance chain.

  6. JFargo says:

    That was absolutely hilarious. :)

  7. M says:

    That’s exactly why I automatically lean towards any game with a character creator; even just being able to choose your character’s appearance goes a long way towards making me like playing them.

  8. Shadow Wolf says:

    Especially if you can make that appearance “Hot Chick” :-)

  9. Eric says:

    I have to say alex does bring up a good point.

  10. mockware says:

    This comic makes me miss your style of comics with the screen captures.

  11. Phlux says:

    @5: Personally when I play an FPS, it’s not important that I “see myself” in the character, but the main character does need to embody qualities that I WANT to put myself into.

    I also like to slip into the “tough guy” role…but when that tough guy says something stupid every 5 minutes, it just makes me STOP wanting to be him.

    The most recent Penny Arcade podcast gets into this very topic with Army of Two. Now that I’ve played the demo, I understand where they’re coming from. The two main characters are reprehensible douchebags that I want nothing to do with. This is exactly the same reason that Kain and Lynch got panned by critics.

    So I agree with you about assuming the role of the character in FPS games, but in order for me to do it I have to at least find him interesting. Generic toughguys aren’t interesting anymore.

  12. Stu says:

    I always considered Deus Ex quite a wonderful game. However, hours of beautifully branching gameplay seemed to invariably converge on the final decision of ending A, B or C. In this sense I felt that the best part of the game was the beginning…
    (still a good game! :) )

  13. Thomas says:

    The trenchcoat is arguably necessary for believability, though: how else are you going to carry an antitank missile launcher, assault rifle, rotary shotgun, sniper rifle, bag of grenades, lightsaber, and a 40-oz malt liquor without being noticed?

    Heh, just kidding.

    edit: Alex P beat me to it.

  14. Nihil says:

    I liked Deus Ex quite a lot. But at a certain point I instantly uninstalled the game in disgust and never touched it again. I’ll try not to spoil the game any more than Shamus’s comic did: it was when the game FORCED you to choose to side with the good guys, sacrificing your career and risking your very life.

    I had been playing as a mostly evil character – I like to do that when the game allows it – and Deus Ex had actually supported me up until that point, offering appropriate dialogue options and the like. Then I get all of this character history quite literally thrown down the drain for the sake of a disgustingly clichéd plot? Screw that. Screw that to the seven hells.

    I wouldn’t have minded if the game had been devoid of choices from the start, like most FPS. But Deus Ex had been behaving like an RPG, and I held it to the same standards. And if a GM had tried to force me on the rails so suddenly, so brutally, and so contrarily to all the character development work that had been done before, not only would I have quit the game, but I would have warned everyone I knew against playing with that GM again.

  15. DGM says:

    This comic needs one more panel at the end, in which Lebedev calls out to Anna asking her to come in and shoot him now. :P

  16. Stu says:

    -=Spoiler: Splinter Cell double Agent=-

    Nihil: you would enjoy SC:DA – it has one of great moments of freewill. You spend the entire game choosing to be on the side of good or evil, then right when your pistol wielding effort is beginning to pay off: “It turns out you were good all along, welcome home Sam.” (this was enough to have me eject the game disk and place it neatly back in it’s case.)

  17. Kobyov says:

    There are only two tough guy heroes that i like kratos, of God of War, And Solid Snake from Metal Gear Solid.

    I dont think you can include Snake in the “generic tough guy” group. Or at least not the Snake I remember. Yes, he had a lot of cliches, but was fleshed out enough to be a real character. Kinda like Denton.

  18. Rhykker says:

    Love the little comic you made.

  19. Joshua says:

    “I wouldn't have minded if the game had been devoid of choices from the start, like most FPS. But Deus Ex had been behaving like an RPG, and I held it to the same standards. And if a GM had tried to force me on the rails so suddenly, so brutally, and so contrarily to all the character development work that had been done before, not only would I have quit the game, but I would have warned everyone I knew against playing with that GM again.”

    This is a problem with a lot of RPGs that pretend to offer “choice” of good or evil paths, but the story is built around the good path. Big examples are NWN 1 and 2. If you want to make a game around a good plot, great, but the player should be limited to mostly good characters. If you WANT to make a game with real options to choose between good and evil, dark side and light, etc., you need to have a plot that allows for any background. Good examples are the Black Isle games(Baldur’s Gate, Torment, etc.), which used themes of treasure-hunting, avoiding unknown enemies after you, getting back at an enemy who has seriously wronged you, investigating your history, etc. These all allow characters of multiple backgrounds to play the same plotline, although with different stepping stones. As a final note, games that allow “choice” shouldn’t allow characters to be as multiple-personality disorder as they often are, allowing the PC to switch back and forth between great selfless acts and heinous and insidious deeds of misanthropy.

    Yes, a little bit off-topic from the original post, sorry.

  20. IronCastKnight says:

    The JC Denton Defense Force is appeased.

    Yeah, the trench coat and sunglasses always struck me as a little silly, but rarely has there been an action game where the hero or heroine is dressed for the occasion. From Lara Croft being dressed in short shorts and a t-shirt while jumping gorges and being chewed on by velociraptors to the DooM Marine’s short sleeved body armor to JC Denton trying to sneak through a pitch black air vent while wearing sunglasses and a coat big enough to fit Manderly in, I’m just not seeing a whole lot of realism.

    Maybe Denton could actually see in said air vent without using his eyebeams if he just took the damn glasses off? Who knows.

  21. Zaghadka says:

    For me, the worst thing about JC Denton was that he looked exactly like John Travolta. In some of the models, exactly like John Travolta in “Battlefield Earth.”

    After that realization, I had to close my eyes and wince every time the game went third person. ;^)

  22. ArchU says:

    The FPS needs more robot “tough guys”. Just tank it around like a terminator or something decidedly less humanoid, then personality isn’t even required =D

    The application of instant “medkits” becomes more sensible for “healing” that way – repairs can just be bolted on!

  23. Joush says:

    ArchU: JC Denton sort of fills that roll, being built from the ground up as the organic framework for the nanotech bioenchantments. The ability to metabolize the a futuristic first kit or even Soy food or a Malt 40 to repair himself isn’t too jarring.

    Got to love Anna Nevarra’s disapproval if you minimize casualties at Castle Clinton. You can play the Tough Guy if you want, but one of the NPCs will acutely limit your supples if you seem more interested in racking up a body count then being a cop.

  24. Alexis says:

    I loved Deus Ex, but it had one major flaw for me. Some time after I discovered the secret society I was fighting the big bad. Killed him, saved. Hard drive failure. Noooooo!

    A year or so later, I reloaded the game, played it through to a similar point, saved. Drive failure.

    I am not intended to finish that game.

  25. Joush says:

    Damn! Well the game is lots of fun after that point, Alexis, but I don’t think I’d try to finish it after that either. I don’t’ know, maybe in a mirrored, redundant drive array with everything still under warranty. At this point it would be sort of funny to see if you could recreate the problem.

  26. Alexis says:

    Awwww FFS! After reading the Monty Python reference blog, it turns out I was *seconds* away from the ending when my HD died. Double NOOOOOO!

    Maybe I’ll just pick up a cheap PC somewhere.

  27. Phlux says:

    You might not get to replay Deus Ex, but they are working on Deus Ex 3 right now. Sounds like it’s going to kind of suck, though. They’re calling it a “tactical” version of Deus Ex…but story-wise it seems to be some kind of prequel.

    Deus Ex 2 wasn’t bad…but it lacked the depth of the original, and the storyline wasn’t as branching. I don’t recall it being terribly buggy, but it still felt rushed.

    The big problem with both games was that you could choose whatever ending you wanted no matter what choices you had made in the game. I like to have open form play, but it doesn’t seem quite right that if I spend the whole game choosing “evil” actions, that I should be able to change at the last minute and do the super good ending.

  28. Will says:

    The one huge problem I had with Deus Ex was mistakenly maxing out my hard-drive by saving before each little plot decision. Have you ever looked at the size of a Deus Ex save file? They’re ridiculous. Sure it’s cool that everything is just as I left it when I backtrack through a level 2 hours later, but I had a half-gig of saves before I knew what happened.

  29. DGM says:

    I want to thank you for the plug, Shamus. I got a huge spike in traffic; my previous record for unique visitors in a day has been broken by about six-and-a-half times over, and the hits are still coming. I hope you only use this power for worthy causes, such as your own personal amusement. ;)

    If you don’t mind my asking, about how big is your readership?

  30. Viktor says:

    @ Nihil:
    How did you feel about KotOR 1? Whether you play as good or evil, nothing changes at all in the mechanics other than whether or not 3 of your party members survive, but the dialog is all different and there’s an actual in-game justification for why you do the things you do. You didn’t realize just how hard the rails were until you went through a second time and realized you were doing the same thing, only now you aren’t ugly.

  31. Nihil says:


    I fully enjoyed that one; when your choice is presented as “do X or die”, it may still be a rail but it doesn’t hurt because it doesn’t break the fourth wall (and technically, you CAN choose to commit suicide).

    I think the best part was right after the super-revelation, when you get a flashback of all the odd behaviours that a veteran gamer like myself just chalked up as concessions to gameplay… and they are revealed to make perfect sense in context! That was just plain brilliant.

  32. jer says:

    Hey heres a fun fact!! Once I was browsing the Deus Ex page over at IMDB and noticed that JC Denton was voiced by the character “Jake Summers” from the Saved by the Bell rip off California Dreams. You remember, he was the bad ass main character with the chopper and the leather coat.. Lol…


  33. Hardbeat Acolyte says:

    I liked Denton’s coat and shades… :P

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