A Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Let’s talk about Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Here’s a nutshell review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is all the good bits of the original Deus Ex without all the tedious and masturbatory pseudo-intellectualism.
But let’s dig deeper.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game by Eidos: Montreal. It’s a modern action role-playing game, very similar to the popular Mass Effect series (which is produced by my former masters). It could be easy to call DE:HR a “Mass Effect” clone, but to do so implies an ignorance as to the title’s history.
So let’s pause and talk about that for a moment.
1999 and 2000 were watershed years for the action RPG genre, giving us first the seminal System Shock 2 (my ten year retrospective) and then Deus Ex itself, designed by Warren Spector (who also gave birth to such gems as the Toon and Spelljammer pen-and-paper RPG games). This is to say nothing of other games that walked in the edge of the genre (such as Half-Life).
The original Deus Ex, set in the year 2052, was a fantabulous game for its time.
To be sure, it had some really hokey shit going on. For instance, the future’s equivalent to Homeland Security was headquartered in a secret bunker beneath Ellis Island. The overall plot (the world is really a crazed knot of intrigue and backstabbing) was told and not shown (via found ebooks that you could read, each holding several thousand words of rather boring text). It gets further confusing because once you get a grasp on the conspiracy (which looks to be a war between various “Illuminati” factions) the introduce some motherfuckin’ aliens up in the mix and everything gets even more confusing.
However, the gameplay was amazing. It centered around stealth and conversations and had an open-world exploration quality that was new and exciting. Further, it had some absolutely excellent mission set pieces (such as the airport and airplane levels, or even the Statue of Liberty).
It spawned a less-than-stellar sequel set in 2072, Deus Ex: Invisible War. Invisible War possessed an even more confusing plot (especially since the end of the first game left the world in fairly dire straits), and even more volumes of text that had to be collected and read just to understand wtf was going on. DE:IW ended with what can only be called an “apocalypse” so there really can’t be further games after that.
Enter our current game, which is actually a prequel, and is set in the year 2027.
I want to step off the game review for a moment and talk about “cyborgization” as a whole in games and in literature. I’ve played various “cyber” games on and off since the 1980s, starting with Cyberpunk 2013 (later Cyberpunk 2020). Even back in 1988, I laughed at the idea that humankind would be able and willing to undergo voluntary limb replacement and cyborgization within twenty years.
It’s 2011 now. While we actually have crude bionic hands that can actually be controlled by thought, this kind of technology is at least twenty years out and will be another twenty before it’s cheap enough to be affordable as “voluntary augmentation.”
It’s like the mythical flying car. Futurists have been saying that we’re only 10 years away from them for over sixty years. So I put this stuff into the same bucket as I do goddamned mecha and consciousness downloads: neat fictions, but entirely implausible.
But let’s just say we eat this Red Pill, accept this fiction, and see how far the rabbit hole goes.*
Human Revolution is a grand-old Deus Ex game. There’s a rich back story filled with intrigue and betrayal told to you via ebooks and hacked email accounts, but the back story never feels overbearing and I was able to follow it without referencing a handwritten notebook. The main plot is relatively simple: avenge and/or find your kidnapped girlfriend.
The interface and gameplay have been polished to a shine. I absolutely love the art direction (which can be summed up as “everything glitters with gold”). The voice talent is strong (though after a while I could only hear Clint Eastwood’s voice when the main character speaks).
One of the things Human Revolution does well are conversations. At many points you will find yourself having to convince someone of something, and the way its handled is well-done. The outcome of conversations will affect everything in the game afterwards, too, which is a nice touch (sometimes people come back to haunt or help you). Cybernetic upgrades can help you read and influence people through subtle application of pheromones. This game mechanic was well-done, too.
The city hub maps are delightfully crafted and full of life and detail. They never feel small, even though my game designer’s mind knows that they actually are. The future vision of Shanghai is absolutely phenomenal (but again, one of those things that certainly can’t happen in sixteen years – you’ll understand when you see it).
However, there aren’t any individual “mission” maps that stand out in my mind as being particularly awesome – there’s nothing that approaches Deus Ex’s “airplane” level, for instance. Most of these maps boil down to a practiced “you’re in a warehouse and need to escape” look-and-feel, which makes me sad because there’s so much that could be done there.
There’s another thing: the names, man. The names. Every name is symbolic in some way. Your character is supposed to be the progenitor of a new kind of augmentation and is named “Adam”. There’s an AI you’ll meet named Eliza. I found emails from a hacker named Kevin Mitnick. There are also names that will be familiar to fans of the original games.
The game ate my brain. If you’re into this kind of thing, it will eat yours, too.
I say check it out because you know there’s going to be another sequel.
(And now I want to figure out how I can play the original again.)
* Yes, there really is a Wikipedia article dedicated simply to the Red and Blue pills.