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Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Revisited

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a First Person cyberpunk RPG developed by Eidos Montreal and Published by Square Enix. The game follows Adam Jensen, a cybernetically augmented ex-SWAT as he unravels the mystery behind a brutal and deadly attack on his employer and ex-wife. In this article I share my impressions and thoughts on the game’s story, themes, and mechanics.

A New Classic

The Deus Ex series is a legacy, a franchise known for pushing boundaries, deep storytelling, and controversial themes. The Original Deus Ex, published in 1999, is widely regarded as one of the best RPGs ever made. Human Revolution carries on the legacy of the first game but also blazes its own path.

I played Human Revolution shortly after its launch in 2011 with next to no knowledge of the original game. I recall thinking how remarkable the game was at the time, the art style and design was beautiful, the music haunting, and the characters an interesting mystery. Most notable to me was how well the core action RPG blends into the first person perspective of the game. There are plenty of titles that shoehorn RPG elements into other genres with mixed effect but Human Revolution is always at its core and RPG.

The Augment Question

The crux of the game’s story is Augmentation, the enhancement of human beings through bio-mechanical implants and prosthesis, also known as Transhumanism. This subject is a fascinating one that the game explores in detail though the eyes of the game’s protagonist, Adam Jensen. Adam is an ex SWAT officer hired by Sarif industires, a bio-technology corporation, as its head of security. Adam is nearly killed in at attack by a rival corporation and heavily augmented to save his life.

His new capabilities come in handy when Sarif sends him to investigate the attack that nearly killed him and took the live of his ex wife and six others. He faces augmented mercenaries, human purist terrorists, and secret organizations in his investigation. Each group offers a different perspective on the augment question, its implications, its applications, and its abuses.

The most chilling example is a brothel in the tiered city of Hegsha, formerly Shanghai,  China. The demand for augmented escorts dives the owners to impose cosmetic augments on the girls. Those augmented girls will require a drug to to prevent implant rejection and the owners use the drug to leash them to the brothel. For all the benefits of augmentation there are those who will pervert its use for their own benefit.

Its(Not) A Magical Place

The near future world of Deus Ex is familiar yet alien. Though we only see small cross sections of two cities, Detroit Michigan and Hengsha China, both cities are bustling with life. City streets are peppered with people going about their business, carrying on about the mundane inconveniences of their lives. Billboards light up the night with advertisements for augments, plays, movies, and the evening news. Newspapers on digital displays, TVs, and radios give glimpses of the larger world and its troubles.

Contrasts

The brighter the lights and glowing signs, the darker the shadows cast by them. Sarif Industries’ shining tower is contrasted by the armed gangs squatting in the ruins of Derelict row. The shadow hanging over Lower Hangsha is cast Upper City, a massive plate built over the old one. Contrasts like these can be found everywhere in Deus Ex, the gulf between rich and poor, the divide between normal and augmented, the shroud between truth and the propaganda. Nowhere is this more clear than in Elisa Cassan’s tagline “Live” on Picus News.

The Uncanny Valley

Then there is the augmented themselves, they are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes. Most are normal people who lost an arm, leg, or eye and given a second chance via prosthetic replacements. Others posses subtle implants, with little to no visible hallmark, meant to improve their abilities, like pilots and market brokers. But some individuals are so heavily augmented they look more machine than human. They are often soldiers and mercenaries military modifications. They are cybernetic killing machines with so little humanity left they have regressing deep into the uncanny valley. The broad tableau makes this world come to life in a very real way to me.

Key Choices

The greatest feature of Deus Ex, going back to the very first game, is the ability to complete objectives in your own way. Want to charge in, guns blazing? No problem. Want to brutally assassinate every grunt in between you and your goal? Excellent. Want to sneak in and out undetected like a ghost? Go for it! There are multiple paths to every goal, each one with its own rewards and consequences. The option to play the game your way is one of the best aspects of Deus Ex.

I prefer the nonviolent stealth method. The challenge of passing though a dungeon unseen by the many enemies that patrol it is a lot of fun.  If I need to subdue a guard, I use a nonlethal take-down. I prefer grapples but I am not above a short rage stun gun or tranq rifle.

Consequences

Actions, decisions, and words have consequences. This is true in life as well as Deus Ex. The way you complete objectives have marked effects on the world around you. Newspaper headlines will change based on your actions. Saving hostages may gain a vendor discount, sparing an enemy may enlist his help, brutally killing enemy guards will earn the ire of your boss, accidentally punching a rude civilian in the face will cause the police to chase you. The list goes on. All these choices build to the end of the story where the player must make a final decision which will determine the fate of the world(sort of).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an absolute gem. I am thrilled to share this game and my impressions of it with others. Have you played any of the Deus Ex games? What are your thoughts on Human Revolution? Leave a comment and get the conversation rolling!

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