Pretend I’m Harry Tuttle: Splinter Cell and Bureaucratic Stealth

Harry Tuttle from Terry Gilliam's Brazil

First Caption on this new blog - better make it good...

Fisher grabs a helpless guard by the neck.

“Pretend I’m Harry Tuttle” he purrs.

“Who?” croaks the guard, eyes peering towards the knife pressed against his neck.

Fisher’s response is weary, disappointed; “I’m an ill-tempered, heavily armed heating engineer asking about your ventilation system.”

Fisher is, of course, making a reference to the magnificent Terry Gilliam directed film ‘Brazil’. For anyone who’s familiar with the film, the effect is multi-layered; First comes the mental search for the name. Harry Tuttle. The name isn’t unusual enough to jump to mind immediately, and Tuttle isn’t on-screen in Brazil enough to burn the name into anyone’s mind like “Rick Deckard” or “Keyser Soze”… But it comes.

Then comes the memory of the film. That’s pleasurable, it’s a great film and while it’s considered a classic amongst film/science fiction buffs, it has a low enough profile to elicit a proud response in anyone who has had the pleasure of its company. We’re right with Fisher when he’s disappointed with the guard. Anyone who’s ever made a film/TV/Literary reference that’s fallen flat amongst a new acquaintance has felt the gentle pang of disappointment that comes from throwing out the fishing line of pop culture and reeling in the water-logged boot of loneliness. We want to go for a drink with Fisher and see what he thinks of 12 Monkeys.

But then the reference burrows further. Fisher is interested in the air conditioning unit. He is heavily armed. He’s even wearing goggles on his head that have faintly ridiculous lights around the eyes. Most importantly, Fisher is waist deep in the most bureaucratic of Stealth adventures and he’s making a reference to a movie that’s brilliant satire of bureaucracy.

“Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”

Sam Lowry (‘Brazil‘ – 1985)

Splinter Cell is a game about procedures. Opening a door without following the correct procedure (optic cable, cycle through vision modes, Open door stealth, check above for cameras) will lead to alarms, an in-ear scolding from Lambert and ultimately; death. You even need to scroll through a context sensitive drop-down menu to select actions. It’s Microsoft Office Stealth Game ’05.

And the big threat in the game isn’t a ‘nuclear equipped walking battle tank’. It’s an algorithm. A procedure, to put it simply. It leads Fisher on a journey through offices, rooting through cabinets, reading people’s emails, hiding in laundry rooms taking breaks only to watch rolling news-coverage of a war that is apparently happening in a world beyond the email accounts of office drones.

Fisher is, at once a part of this bureaucratic world but also outside of it. It’s sometimes hard to tell if he’s Sam Lowry or Harry Tuttle. He takes pleasure in being efficient, clean and going unnoticed. In Uncharted, Drake expresses an unwillingness to kill, despite the game enforcing the fact that killing is totally awesome – by comparison Splinter Cell’s protagonist and its gameplay see eye-to-eye. Do your job, don’t make a fuss. Learn to take pleasure in this finicky form of espionage. And you do.

Listening to Sam whisper “next” after completing one of his ‘opportunity objectives’ (always a slightly frustrating scavenger hunt) you can almost hear the satisfaction in his voice. Its a satisfaction that’s shared with the player. As the game progresses, pleasure comes not from shooting, but from doing things by the book. Ghosting though levels and imagining the scene when these Koreans finally find out that someone had broken in.

“Listen, this old system of yours could be on fire and I couldn’t even turn on the kitchen tap without filling out a 27b/6… Bloody paperwork.”

Harry Tuttle (‘Brazil’ – 1985)

In the recent sequel Splinter Cell: Conviction – Fisher voices his disappointment with having to resort to an explosive, balletic gunfight with a sigh of “… Messy” And despite having enjoyed the game, it’s easy to see why fans of the Xbox-era games have cried out at Fisher’s bloodthirsty, trigger-happy antics. This isn’t the same guy. He’s smashing people’s faces into sinks and throwing grenades and his gun is always out.

But most disappointing of all, this new X-treme Fisher is breaking necks without stopping to gently taunt his prey. He was a most peculiar video game hero, who’s possibly lost some of his wry, self-deprecating charm in a rush to make a more visceral combat experience, a more cinematic game and a more ‘driven’ character.

Now that Fisher’s entire reason for going rogue has been wiped clean, perhaps he can reset to the guy he used to be, pretending to be Harry Tuttle when he was secretly Sam Lowry.

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