My experience with Deus Ex: Human Revolution disturbs me. Not that it was a terrible game. In fact, it was better than average. For about the first nine-tenths of the game, I enjoyed myself quite a bit; there were very few things about the experience that qualify as “lacking”. Instead, this general feeling of meh is more a testament to how important a game’s ending can be in cementing its overall lasting effect on the player. What I’m saying is that Human Revolution‘s ending, after a fairly thought-provoking plot set in an amazingly detailed world, did not impress in the least. In fact, I’ve already forgotten just how exactly my particular experience culminated.
I first started being hopeful about DE:HR after Starbreeze Studios’ 2012 reboot of Syndicate left me unsatisfied with its sterilized, dead world – a world that’s had all life scrubbed right out of it by some maniacal janitorial crew on steroids. Not that grime necessarily equals life, but where were the signs of active habitation? Why didn’t I ever get the feeling that the shootouts in apartment building hallways were having any effect on its habitants? I wanted Deus Ex, with its similar premise of an augmented, computer-chipped human race, to fill that void.
And fulfill it did! If there was one thing Human Revolution didn’t skimp on, it was providing a physically populated world. It didn’t matter whether I was in the corporate headquarters of a giant technology conglomerate or traversing a busy metropolitan shopping district – I always felt my surroundings appropriately resembled the real deal. At Sarif Industries, one could overhear water cooler conversations from office drones on break, have small talk with the receptionist, join others having lunch and watching the news in the cafeteria, and once even be summoned via P.A. to your office where a coworker wished to speak to you. Meanwhile, in the city of Hengsha (near Shanghai in China), vendors are conducting business as usual in small, cluttered kiosks that form the bottom level of the city’s tenement buildings, while club-goers are queued up outside a popular night spot, awaiting admission from the burly bouncer by the front door, and those who have the means to do so are frequenting the local brothel for a spot of biochip-enhanced relaxation. In Detroit, a couple of neighborhood roughs were shooting hoops in a back alley, while around the corner armored police units were pulling out the big toys to quell a heated riot-in-the-making. Suffice it to say that I never once questioned whether this world had ever been truly “lived in”; in fact, the opposite is true: An overall sense overcrowded squalor was almost palatable!
All of this is not to even mention the life that goes on behind the scenes of Deus Ex: between TV bulletins, digital newspapers, eBooks strewn throughout the world documenting everything from speech excerpts to factual background on the medical science that the game centers on, to the truckload of insider jokes, gripes, and personal messages you find by hacking various computer terminals in the world, a very rich backstory, of sorts, starts to develop. While your purpose for hacking most anything – doors, terminals, security stations, etc – is to obtain an access code or some type of edge in exploration or combat, the side effect is that you constantly stumble across a multitude of messages and information that is in no way related to the gameplay, but pays dividends by giving you threads to hold onto, tying together various minor pieces of flavor info. For example, by following a particular email strand, reading different responses to it by hacking into various desktop computers scattered throughout the game’s final level, Panchaea, you learn about a particular employee that was singled out by some of his coworkers, having some fun at his expense by playing a particularly nauseating prank on him. This doesn’t affect your mission in the slightest, and is never even remotely touched upon in the game’s plot, but adds much-appreciated seasoning to a stew that has been served up entirely too bland by others in the past.
One of Deus Ex‘s main selling features is that it enables a lot of gameplay customization – you evolve your Adam Jensen the way you want, and play according to whichever gameplay style best suits you. Fittingly, there are various augmentations available for purchase whenever you level up, ranging from stealth-based ones that enhance your sneaking ability or even make you temporarily invisible to offensive maneuvers like punching through walls or reducing recoil for more accurate aiming. This was a feature that I really enjoyed in the early stages of the game, when you only had a handful of skill points to allocate, and thus had to look for suitable paths open to you. For example, getting into a fortified police station could be done in various ways, but if you hadn’t boosted your jumping or lifting abilities, then hopping a fence or pushing aside a dumpster were out. Instead, you had to search for another route that your talents were a better fit for.
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