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Page 1 of 4It's hard to live up to a legend. Deus Ex is, without a doubt, one of the most treasured and beloved of PC games of all time. Though it's rarely held up as flawless, it is one of those rare games that has never been equaled on its own ground. Others may have done shooting better than Deus Ex's rather poor first-person combat, and stealth was captured far more successfully years earlier in games like Metal Gear Solid and Thief, and, taken strictly as a role-playing game, there are a dozen titles I'd probably recommend above Deus Ex. However, as a complete, unique, and unforgettable package, Deus Ex has come to define the possibilities inherent in PC games - from its genre-bending freeform gameplay, to its deep fiction and memorable characters, to its sharp and surprisingly prescient social commentary, there is little doubt that it is a classic. Indeed, it has come to define an ideal in gaming, one which few games have ever aspired to, much less met.
Deus Ex was, of course, followed up by a sequel that most fans agree didn't do justice to the legacy. Invisible War's console-oriented direction, technological limitations, and attempts to target a wider, more action-oriented audience, were considered failings by most fans, not so much because they resulted in a bad game, but because they strayed from the ideal envisioned by the original Deus Ex... and for years, it seemed as if the series would be laid to rest without a proper swan-song, Invisible War left casually forgotten in the shadow of its predecessor.
When Eidos Montreal and Square-Enix, then, announced that they were planning on reviving Deus Ex, across multiple platforms, with a brand-new team lacking ties to Ion Storm, and working with, of all things, an updated version of the Tomb Raider engine technology, most of Deus Ex's fans were as skeptical as they were excited. Now that the wait is finally over, and the resultant Deus Ex: Human Revolution is available for download and on store shelves, two questions remain - first, is it any good, and second, perhaps more importantly, is it a worthy sequel to Deus Ex, and all it symbolised?
The Rabbit Hole
Human Revolution, rather than attempting to build on the conclusion of Invisible War, instead wisely chooses to set its story before the original Deus Ex's. The year is 2027, decades before the nano-augmentation featured prominently in the original Deus Ex, and as such, the possibilities inherent in the technology, right down to redefining what it means to be human, have the world on edge. Those possibilities, of course, range from everything from improving the lives of the disabled far beyond existing medicine, to mass exploitation, to weaponizing the human body. Out of the debate around the issue, several groups have emerged, led by strong personalities on all sides, each with their own multi-faceted beliefs, hierarchies, and, most importantly, agendas.
It's this world of social tension and political machinations that Adam Jensen, chief of security at Sarif Industries, finds himself thrust into, following a devastating attack on his employer, on the cusp of a revolutionary announcement in augmentation technology. Nearly the entire lab is left in ruins, its personnel slaughtered, and Adam, though doing all humanly possible, finds himself helpless at the hands of augmented agents. Nearly killed, Adam is rescued from death only by the extensive augmentations he is given by Sarif, leaving him not just bearing the scars of his injury, but caught in the middle of the political debate. Six months later and back on duty, Adam finds himself quickly drawn into rescuing Sarif hostages from a pro-human terrorist group, and in true Deus Ex fashion, the rabbit hole, made up of shifting allegiances, media manipulation, and convoluted conspiracies, only ever goes deeper. While Jensen is a more defined character than JC Denton or Alex D, with a troubled past that occasionally comes to the fore during certain quests, he takes it all with a certain degree of skepticism that allows one to easily slip into his shoes, leaving the player to define his beliefs and attitude over the course of the game.
Augmentation is at the forefront of Human Revolution, much more so than it ever featured in Deus Ex. While the original game certainly spent time discussing the moral ramifications of tampering with human genetics and playing god, it was only one piece of its narrative tapestry... and, in Human Revolution that theme of augmentation doesn't just dominate, it defines the entire story and characters. Though I'm hesitant to go into significant details about the plot, it is worth saying that, though at times Human Revolution can seem a little bit single-minded in its focus, unlike most games, it doesn't just create a political and social background and then drape its action on top of it - it effectively weaves the gameplay into the narrative, and brings those elements of the world and story to their very logical and definite conclusions. It might spend a lot of time discussing augmentation, but it does so in a way that fully capitalizes on its themes, and most importantly, lets the player form his or her own opinion, as those different points of view are put to the test throughout the course of the game. If there was ever an example of the good hiring a dedicated writer can do... this is it.
That said, there are a few story elements that don't quite hit their marks. The conspiracies in Deus Ex were grandiose, orchestrated by some of the most intelligent and powerful people in the world - while often you do feel caught up in them, like a fly in a web, that web never feels as extensive as in the other Deus Ex titles, and many of the promises and plot details tempted early on, from familiar names to entire missions, end up going, for the most part, ignored as the game moves towards its conclusion. On top of that, the philosophical side of Human Revolution has been toned down, with the game opting for more of a "man on the street" view of world events rather than one taken from those holding the reigns; while not in itself a bad thing, it can seem a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic at times, not quite as effortless in weaving its conspiracies or the motives of its villains and heroes. Combined with a certain post-credits teaser, frankly, it feels like we're only getting half the story, even if Jensen's arc and the core themes in Human Revolution still reach a very definite and well-realized conclusion. It's a strong story with a strong finish, but it's hard not to want more.
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