Philosophy and Video Games have an on-again, off-again relationship. Philosophy will say, “Hey would you like to explore new and innovative ways for people to interact with an engaging and intelligent story?” To which Video Games say, “Nah! Gimme some of them flashing lights, explosions, gore, and jiggle physics. Do you have a wet nap? My fingers are covered in Cheetos dust.”
But sometimes they will find a middle ground. Philosophy will bring over nachos and guacamole and Video Games will sidle in with something that makes you question the future of evolution for humanity or the value of Objectivism. “Wow, someone has been reading Ayn Rand and William Gibson. What are your thoughts on transhumanism?,” Philosophy might ask. To which Video Games would respond, “This guac is pretty good. Could you pass the hot sauce?”
OK, maybe Video Games still have a ways to go. But brace yourself, pick up the spilled nachos, and prepare for the kinetic blend of intelligence and excitement that is Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Platform: PC, PS3 (Version Played), Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Genre: Cyberpunk FPS RPG
Release Date: August 23, 2011
ESRB Rating: Mature
The year is 2025 and you play as Adam Jensen, head of security for an augmentation company called Sarif Industries. In a raid on Sarif HQ, Adam is horrendously injured while trying to save a team of scientists about to make a breakthrough discovery. The only way to save him is to replace whole parts of his body with a new type of technology called augmentation, which has questionable social implications. People don’t know whether to embrace augmentation as the future, or reject it as a slight against nature.
There are rumors about people who have been augmented against their will, and as with all human implants, the body rejects these new additions. Augs (as they are sometimes called) need a constant supply of anti-rejection medicine that makes them dependent on numerous pharmaceutical companies. The inherent societal distrust of big corporations, and the fanaticism of the masses, causes a rift between these two groups. That space is the perfect breeding ground for conspiracy and terrorism. It is up to you and Adam to discover what is really going on. I will say no more about the story other than it is an intriguing web of mystery, stretching across continents and social strata, from the sewers of Hengsha to the skyscrapers of Montreal and streets of a broken Detroit.
The world of Human Revolution is convoluted. Political interests, the masses’ social consciousness, existentialist philosophy, and even the physical environment itself are mashed up together into a world of choices. No matter where you go in any of the levels, there are at least eight different ways to get there. The game happily rewards you with experience for ducking through a vent or making your own way by punching a hole in the wall. Each level has a well-balanced contrast. Everywhere are splashes of yellow neon and gray concrete. The streets of Detroit are dirty and maze-like, but as soon as you enter Sarif Industries, order and cleanliness prevail. The same effect happens with the filthy lower reaches of Hengsha city and the sterile beauty of the Tai Yong Medical Building later in the game. Multiple layers and sections of Hengsha hold hours of exploration and rewards for the most diligent achievement hunters.
In addition to numerous open worlds full of side missions that help flesh out the characters and their motivations, you are treated to well-crafted linear sections for you to shoot or sneak through. Just because these forays into linearity are smaller doesn’t mean that you are starved of routes from point A to point B. Duck behind a planter to avoid the guard and patrolling robot. Slide the vending machine off to one side. Oh look! A vent! Creep your way through the inside of that silvery snake while taking time to look through the grating at unsuspecting guards. Drop down onto someone’s desk and crouch by an office doorway. Grab that fire extinguisher on the wall and toss it across the room to distract the guard coming around the corner. Run up and make him smell your nano-tech hand while the rotary motor in your wrist snaps his neck. Don’t forget to pile all of the bodies in funny positions in the bathroom. You could do all of that or simply roll in two grenades and let heavy ordinance do all the sneaking you need. Take both approaches and meld them together. The choice is totally up to you.
Dialogue trees allow you to interact with characters in Human Revolution much like you would in a BioWare game. Each choice elicits a different result and can nudge the story in one direction or another. I quite enjoyed making Pritchard, the sardonic techie in Adam’s ear, so annoyed that he would threaten to upload a virus to my vision sensors.
One of the most satisfying aspects of Human Revolution is the augmentation upgrade system. You begin the game while Adam is still recovering so he can absorb about as many bullets as a glass jar. But over the course of the game, you have the chance to upgrade different parts of your body to enhance and complement your gameplay. If you prefer sneaking around and snapping necks, upgrade your legs and eyes so you can walk silently and see through walls. If you want to bust in raining lead on some fools, you can upgrade your arms to absorb recoil and keep your aim steady. Each upgrade can open up even more pathways through the level. Just make sure you buy the the Icarus Landing system or you are going to be seeing a lot of loading screens when you fall off fire escapes every five minutes.
My gripes with this game are few and far between. The story could use a bit more color and variety besides the ominous conspiracy tone. Many of the secondary characters look and sound like they were plucked from a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater game. Some of the graphics are underwhelming and the character animations are also a bit dodgy and dated.
The biggest boil on the otherwise blemish-free face of Human Revolution are the boss battles. Although it is exciting to fight people that are more machine than human, they really have no meaning. It is also frustrating when you unload a drum clip of shotgun shells in their face and they barely stumble. Only a dozen grenades shoved down their pants will complete your mission.
While certainly not perfect, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a compelling mixture of a more focused Fallout 3 with the tight story of a techno-thriller and a sprinkling of Splinter Cell for good measure. Twist that up with a story that really makes you consider the fate of human evolution and the power of big corporations, and you have a recipe for an exciting but reserved title. It shuns grandiose posturing for quiet thought.
As Philosophy packs up for the night, it compliments Video Games on the very intelligent argument they made for the ethics of bioengineering transhumans in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Video Games nods in agreement while also pointing out, “And robot arms are cool.”
On this point, they both can agree. “Yes, robot arms definitely rule.”
Review Disclosure: A review copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was provided by Square Enix for the purposes of this review.