Monday, September 8, 2014

Deus Ex 2's Pequod's and Queequeg's Reveal

Deus Ex 2 has a rather accelerated pace in its storytelling, going from one major event and thematic concept to the next with very little delay, making it a much shorter game than its predecessor. In general, though, the writers handle this pace well enough that, despite its quickness, it doesn’t really come off as rushed, and you still have enough time for your mind to chew on the game’s ideas without being left behind. There is, however, 1 time in DE2 in which the brisk narrative pace has a noticeably detrimental effect: the reveal of Pequod’s and Queequeg’s.

As you progress through the events of Deus Ex 2, one of the subplots you frequently encounter is the bitter corporate rivalry between the global coffeehouse chains, Pequod’s Coffee and Queequeg’s Coffee (both of which are, of course, parodies of Starbucks, also taking their names from Moby Dick). In each city that Alex Denton, the protagonist, visits, the manager of one or both of these competitors will attempt to get Alex to help them to get a leg up on their competition, sometimes legally (getting permission for Queequeg’s to do business in the ritzier part of town, for example), sometimes not so legally (a certain Pequod’s manager subscribes to the same idea as that famous NPC from The Legend of Zelda 2: If all else fails, use fire). It’s a mildly interesting subplot, but doesn’t seem to have any real importance.

Until, that is, you come across some evidence hidden in a police station in Trier, which the local Queequeg’s manager wants Alex to find for him. This evidence reveals that Queequeg’s and Pequod’s coffee chains are, in fact, both owned by the same company. That company set each chain up to appeal to different demographics (Queequeg’s is seen as the everyman’s coffee, while Pequod’s is thought to cater to the more refined, higher class tastes), and then set them to war with one another, with the idea that the competition would cause the customers of each to become all the more loyal supporters of their preferred brand, their devotion solidified by their enmity toward the supposed rival chain. Whether people support Side A or Side B, if you’re running the war, you’re the one winning, right? It also plays on people's tendency to become nervous about monopolies and other such 1-party systems, falsely reassuring them that if either chain begins doing wrong by its customers, there's another chain that the people can flock to.

This revelation is great in 2 ways. The first is that it makes the previously seemingly unimportant coffee sidequest into a genuine, significant part of the Deus Ex theme of exposing and analyzing the ways in which a population is manipulated and controlled, in this case showing us some of the ways that businesses do so. Well-executed twist, makes sense, gives the subplot some significance, very nicely done in general.

The other great thing about this revelation is that it’s clever foreshadowing for a later, much more important plot revelation: the fact that the World Trade Organization and The Order, the 2 major world power groups that have each been vying for Alex’s assistance and attempting to gain the upper hand over the other, are actually both being run by the same people: the Illuminati. Just as with the Pequod’s and Queequeg’s coffee chains, the people on both sides of the famously hostile competition between the WTO and The Order are being manipulated into working against one another, their fervor to seize every bit of control and advantage over the “enemy” only making the puppet masters of the conflict more powerful. Great little parallel they set up here, just connected enough that you can figure out that the WTO and Order will wind up being the same as the coffee chains if you’re clever, but not obvious or anything, so it’s still a neat twist even if you guessed it.

Or at least, that’s how it should work.

But this foreshadowing idea is where the problem is with the coffee chain reveal. In theory, it should work fine, because like I said, it’s clever and it’s written well, connected but still subtle. But the pacing of the game kind of just ruins it. See, after visiting the police station in Trier where you learn the truth of the Pequod’s and Queequeg’s rivalry, the next real mission of the game is to rescue the leader of The Order...and it’s then that you discover that the Illuminati are running both the WTO and The Order.

The plot twist that the coffee subplot was foreshadowing comes right after the coffee subplot reveal! It’s the very next part of the game’s story!

Foreshadowing just doesn’t work when it’s given so little time to work with. The revelation of Pequod’s and Queequeg’s origin isn’t given the time needed to sit in the audience’s head and germinate into a deeper understanding. Done properly, the reveal of the WTO and The Order would make a little light go off in your head, would make you think, “Of course! It’s like the coffee chains from earlier! I should have seen it coming--the truth was staring at me the whole time! The writers really had this theme all worked out!” Instead, coming so soon after the coffee subquest reveal, the impression is just, “Oh, like that other thing that I only just saw like 30 minutes ago. Neat connection.” The effect is still positive, but there’s none of the impact that there might have been if the plot twist had come earlier in the game. If you’d had more time to remember it and consider it, if it had been placed earlier and thus better connected the WTO and Order reveal to the earlier events of the story, making a stronger sense of the answer always having been there...well, it would simply have been a much more effective use of the Queequeg’s and Pequod’s subplot twist. Foreshadowing should be more than just 1 single step ahead of the plot.

Anyway, it’s not a huge deal, I suppose, and overall the twist and its connection to the game’s larger events and theme is still good. It’s just a shame to me that its timing keeps it from being better.


  1. I found yesterday and it reminded me of the tactic used in this subplot. Square Enix could probably market the series as a documentary or something at this point.

    1. Ugh. Yeah, there's more than a little similarity, that's for sure. Sure would be nice if maybe someday the US could stop making things in that region worse.

  2. Who fucking cares about Invisible War?

    1. Well, I do. Just because it doesn't measure up to its predecessor doesn't mean it's not a good RPG on its own terms.