Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution
Eidos Montreal, PC/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3
Part of what makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution so impressive is that it got made--that this game was pitched to a major publisher, which approved that treatment and budgeted several years and millions of dollars to allow a newly-established team to succeed a game that serves as a poster child for critically acclaimed game design that just isn't cut out for the multiplatform mass market.
The other part of what makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution so impressive is that, given such an opportunity, Eidos Montreal didn't mess it up.
When most games opt for either a sprawling open world or a tightly constrained series of linear corridors, it is rare to see structures in the Deus Ex mold, middle ground that can be the most fertile for player expression: a narratively-defined sequence of missions that take place in contained but complex and highly traversable spaces. We live in an age of risk-management and me-too-ism, and this game is brazen in its willingness to ignore triple-A checkboxes, from theme to structure to systems.
The second time I played thruogh Deus Ex 3, I was an explosives-obsessed maniac. But the first time, I successfully adhered
to a no-kill policy. Not a single NPC died by my hand. Except during the miserable boss battles, the main instances of the game failing to account for distinct player choices.
But nothing is perfect. The ability to play a modern triple-A action game essentially entirely nonlethally is remarkable. Unlike in Ion Storm Austin's original Deus Ex, Eidos Montreal explicitly supported that choice in this game. Steam informed me of my achievement as the credits rolled (something deserving of the term "achievement," if I may say so). That philosophy is apparent throughout--the team took playstyles that emerged in Deus Ex 1 and codified them more concretely in the systems and level design.
It makes for a game that is less truly emergent and revelatory than its predecessor, but also one that feels more solidly built, more playable to more people, without losing the soul of Deus Ex. It understands Deus Ex's philosophy and filters it through a modern lens. That is what makes Human Revolution not just a throwback, but a legitimate accomplishment in its own right.
Have you ever wanted to upgrade a cyborg? Very few video games, or experiences in life, have allowed me to do so. But by god, Deus Ex Human Revolution is just one such experience. And if you're anything like me, that means a lot.
Tuning and tweaking the capabilities of something half-man, half-machine just does something for me. Maybe it's a psychological thing about control and capability. What if your body weren't this juice-filled weird thing you had to exercise and train to kind of vaguely push in the direction you want? What if you could just take it down to the goddamn shop and put some spoilers on it? Or wire up a double-kill with your arm swords by slugging some Praxis Kits? There you are moments later, double-stabbing dudes to your heart's delight. It's a beautiful vision of life.
So I was psyched when I heard the Deus Ex 3 team decided on a prequel. The most interesting characters in Deus Ex 1 were Anna Navarre and Gunther Hermann, the two cyborg agents on their way out in the coming age of nanotechnology. Their dedication to their cause, exhibited by their willingness to mangle their bodies with cybernetics, and--thanks to their obsolescence--their bosses' lack of hesitation to throw them headfirst at a deadly nano-powered superagent, was a multifaceted and human usage of cyberpunk tropes. Human Revolution's Adam Jensen is, logically, headed down the same path. By the time 2052 rolls around, he'll be just another rusted relic. It gives Human Revolution a tragic subtext, a degree of subtlety that's generally missing from the main story except in a few rare, exceptional cases--like the deep unspoken respect shown between Jensen and his pilot Malik, or the complex father/son relationship Jensen and his boss, Sarif.
Give me a game where I can upgrade my cyborg, and I'm onboard. Pair it with a wealth of player-driven gameplay options, exceptionally well designed open-structure levels to explore, and a gorgeous vision of the near-future, and you've got yourself a GOTY.
I recognize that DHR is a game of high quality. I feel it--I sense it from the start screen--but goddamn I don't like this game.
Steve and I will one day battle over his love and my disdain for cyber-punk. And I hate its tired unaware aesthetic even more that this theme is draped over a game--nay, an entire series of games--that I would really enjoy playing. I'm supposed to take this hard-on in a leather coat seriously? Come on. 7:2 odds the guy with the wrap-around sunglasses and the knee high leather boots owns a utili-kilt. I don't want to be that guy--and I'm never going to be able to feel cool as that guy in a video game.
Apologies to all utili-kilt owners.
Never apologize to utili-kilt owners.