Deus Ex: Human Revolution

August 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

As it has been documented elsewhere, I was never a big fan of the original Deus Ex. Possibly because I struggle with games that feel like they should be played with a calculator. Or, as others have postulated, I may simply be an idiot.

But, I never back down from a challenge, and decided to give Deus Ex: Human Revolution my full attention. After playing it for the past few days, I feel I’ve made some progress – although I’m fairly certain I am nowhere near the end – and have discovered something… unusual.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn’t exactly a role-playing game.

***Minor spoiler warning, if you haven’t finished the Police Station segment of the game, what follows may spoil a few minor elements – consider yourself warned.***

This is a great game. I want to stress that from the start. The combat is far closer to the FPS game Deus Ex has always felt like – head-shots kill, melee take-downs are brutal and stealth no longer relies on your enemies being myopic and slightly deaf. Each area is tunneled with alternate routes, and each encounter with the baddies a smorgasbord of violence… or not, if that’s your pleasure. You can complete this game without killing a single person (excluding the bosses, which I have yet to encounter) and at no stage did I ever feel this was a fun tactic. Adam Jensen has a gun, he certainly didn’t take a bullet through the head to float past everyone like a fairy…

The conversations you have with various people during the early game help piece together both your own past, and the events that have taken place while you were being put back together again… Oh, yeah, your initiation to the game ends with a brutal assault on your workplace, Sarif Industries, and you getting plugged. Never mind. Six months later, the game begins for real, as you return as the head security chap who also seems to double as a secret agent and a ninja assassin. Or a murderous psychopath hell-bent on killing everyone he meets as violently as possible.

There are an amazing number of options for both the sneaky-approach and the kill-everybody-and-light-them-on-fire methodology, including (as I tend to aim for) plenty of in-between choices. For example, tasked with infiltrating a busy police station to search a bad-guy’s body, I tried the non-lethal approach and went in quiet. I actually found four separate ways to get in to the building, one of which brought me out right next to the morgue. Alternatively, I could simply have broken out the big guns and went berserk, but hey – it’s a police station, I don’t want to be a total dick. Whereas while searching a thug gang’s hideout for illegal weapons, I brought a 10mm pistol and a lot of bullets.

You also have just as many options when talking to others in the game, allowing you to play the role you want to the letter. I did what I usually do, optimistic and friendly for the most part – even being sympathetic to the guy on the front desk of the police station (who didn’t like that at all, for some reason). But I felt in charge of my character. Until you get to your apartment…

Earlier on, you meet a lovely old woman outside Sarif’s headquarters. Adam seems to know her, and it turns out to be that lovely scientist from earlier’s mum. She asks, rather furtively, how you feel after being augmented so extensively without your consent.  I thought this was a strange bit of dialogue, I mean, who wouldn’t want to have all this gadgetry sown into their skin? It even gives you a few options to choose as a reply, I choose my own opinion – optimistic, at least I’m alive, yeah? And better than ever.

However, a little later, you get to Adam Jensen’s apartment – it looks fairly normal, a bit dark for sun-glasses, but nice. A lot of boxes strewn about, but it makes sense given what you know of the past six months. As I look a bit closer, I see a few strange things – an obsession with clock-building, along with diagrams, how-to guides and even a few cogs and brackets sprinkle a workbench at one side. A flock of post-it notes covering a wall nearby – a driven mind, perhaps? And you walk into the bathroom… to find a mirror, quite clearly broken by a punch.

Now this made me stop for a second. It would seem Adam Jensen is most certainly not optimistic about his augmentations. He can’t look at his own reflection without punching it, a small sticky note nearby alludes to this not being the first time either. He is struggling to come to terms with what happened, and possibly harboring some guilt too at not being able to save that pretty scientist/girlfriend from the opening scenes… And after playing the happy, carefree James-Bond-esque hero, it makes everything I’ve done and said in the game nothing but a macho, emotionally-stunted front. It was a strange thing, I honestly can’t remember the last time a game deliberately made me out to be a liar.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution gives you unparalleled freedom to approach problems in whatever way you choose, and it allows you to pick your own way through a spectacularly convoluted plot. But this isn’t an RPG. It doesn’t matter what you do or say during the course of the game, nothing will change who you are.

You are Adam Jensen – the man with the broken mirror.


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§ 4 Responses to Deus Ex: Human Revolution

  • James says:

    I wouldn’t say the game makes you out to be a liar, that’s just how you’ve chosen to interpret it.

    For one, Adam could already have been into clock making. As for the mirror yes he may have broken it due to anger at his augs, or maybe just in anger and grief at the loss of someone he was close to, not to mention dozens of co-workers that he was responsible for the security of.

    Finally, 6 months had passed between the attack and returning to work, it is not a stretch to think he could have come to accept his augs in that time.

    I’ve played through the first two hubs of the game and I can say with confidence it is an RPG. You have dialogue choices that effect the game, a skill unlocking system via XP that not only effects your abilities but how you tackle the game, inventory management, quests, all the tropes of an RPG to my mind. Making it first person no more makes it an FPS than a traditional topdown RPG like Baldurs Gate makes that a point and click adventure.

    I’m hopefully saying this as constructive criticism as I know you wish to be a games journalist, but I just don’t think you made it clear why you don’t think Human Revolution is an RPG. It’s a great premise for an article that grabs your attention but it boils down to you thinking the game makes you out to be a liar. Fair enough it may do, but even if it did, that one incident does not stop the game being an RPG.

    If you re-wrote the article based on a theme like “Does Human Revolution really offer us choice?” you could also mention the boss fights that force you to kill them and the cut scenes that force you into confrontation or conversation (eg eye-patch man) rather than let you use stealth or avoidance as you get to do for the rest of the game.

    Again, hopefully constructive criticism there, hope you enjoy the rest of the game, I’m loving it.

  • Steve Fulton says:

    All very fair points, and I totally agree; it does come down to interpretation. But my point was less about the mechanics of the game, and more about the way it deals with you as a character. Game-play wise, this has enough RPG elements to justify the tag, I was merely trying to emphasize how little choice you have over certain things.

    I mean, it doesn’t even let you pick your name. Although, last night I reached the part where you find out about your parents – I’ll say no more – and that threw me again. Jensen is a surprisingly complicated character, and one who has his own motivations that do not necessarily fit in with our own.

    Cheers for the critique,next time I try something like this, I’ll try to be a bit less vague. I just thought it was a snappy title. 😀

  • Maxim says:

    This game has really peaked my interest. Though, like you, I’m constantly afraid of making the wrong choices when it comes to my character. It’s so frustrating!

  • Steve Fulton says:

    Welcome back Max! 😀

    Yeah, it is a bit daunting. In the hostage rescue mission, I ended up getting everyone killed, first by my insistence of breaking into everyone’s office before I went (time, it seems, was a factor), and second, by pissing off that eye-patch dude.

    I was so close to reloading, but I figured the choices I make might end up being significant. After all, I can always play through it again. Quite glad I did now.

    Awesome game.

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