WARNING: SPOILERS FOR DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION
I am late to the party with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If you want to read a comprehensive review of the game, I suggest this RPS article. I echo most of their sentiments about the game. You should feel safe in their arms. I would rather spend the words that I have here telling you the short of the game, and more importantly, the things that I think it does correctly. Let’s say I have three points, conveniently labeled 1-3.
#1 – DE:HR is a better science fiction story than a game
The narrative of DE:HR is brilliant, and it really forces the player to think through the question of what it means to enter into a posthuman existence. The skill progression allows the player, thorough the avatar of Adam Jensen, to really experience a realistic superhuman existence. It isn’t flying, but it is falling safely; it isn’t leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but it is leaping three meters off the ground in one hop. But at the end of the day, the game portion of DE:HR really only exists so that the player is forced to think through the implications of being superhuman, and that is a problem. For the most part, I figured out puzzles quickly, and I often felt like a rat in a maze. I finished the game in about seven hours, and it would have been much quicker if the game wasn’t so brutally unforgiving to a no-kill playthrough with no fighting stats. My point is, the ludic components really only exist to make the narrative stronger; playing the story is more effective than being told to the story, but I rarely felt rewarded in the gameplay. I would suggest that my experience with DE:HR really looked more like an ethics simulator than a traditional game, and you can take that how you will.
#2 – There is not a single positive or independent woman in the entire game
The game fails the Bechdel test, of course, but it also portrays women in a pretty horrific light. Every female character that begins as an ally becomes evil by the end of the game, the ones who were evil to begin with stay evil, and every other woman that exists needs to be helped out. In fact, there are several side quests that are solely about solving problems for women–getting rid of a pimp, spying on a suspect, and confronting a murderous boyfriend are included in this. The latter mission is particularly insulting; Malik, a character who seems to be a strong woman throughout, abandons her investigation into her best friend’s death because she is “in over her head,” a condition that is never made clear beyond its expedient use in allowing the mission to be handed over to Jensen. In all, this is just another example of casual sexism in video games, but DE:HR is a particularly egregious example.
#3 – The game invests the player in a cybernetic project
I think this might be the most interesting part of the whole thing. DE:HR is a game that has us playing a character who has undergone augmentation, meaning that he has cybernetic implants that alter his physical and mental capabilities. As the opening of the game explains, Jensen doesn’t really have a choice in the matter–augmentation is forced on him to save his life. The rest of the game is played by leveling the character and performing labor to earn money; both of these actions give the player points with which to upgrade Jensen’s augmentations. There is a second layer to this, though, which is the way the player interfaces with this. The game presents a scenario to the player in which the player has perform acts of cognitive labor in order to get points to put into an augmentation system that was foisted on the player by the design of the game. Like Jensen, the player has no choice by to put the time in and play the augmentation game. In a very real way, DE:HR becomes a simulation of what it would be like to live in an augmented society. The player makes the same choices that an augmented person would, and the open nature of the game means that variable play styles are accepted and accounted for in the level design; players are free to make the same kinds of choices they would in real life without fear of the game punishing them for acting on their “real” augmentation desires.
In all, I liked the game, and my biggest complaint is the same one that everyone else had about the game: why are there boss battles?