Deus Ex Machina (n)- literally, god from the machine.Conflicts always make for the best stories. Whether it's the conflict between countries or lovers or even sporting teams, great stories are almost always the by-products of conflicts that mean something. If the writers of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DXHR) are to be believed, the greatest conflict is between the concept of a man and the potential of what a man could be. Other games have touched on various philosophies and real-world concepts. Bioshock did so with Objectivism and the question- to what extent is the individual more important than the collective? Dragon Age: Origins (and Dragon Age II at a much, much shriekier level) looked at racism within a fantasy setting.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution instead turns the beacon inwards and consequentially, the questions it asks go much deeper. Its main philosophical thread is one of trans-humanism or how man can become more than human through convergence with the machine. There are also multiple themes pertaining to racism, objectivism, and the 'science vs. ethical boundaries' debate which prove that in Deus Ex: Human Revolution we have a rare-species- a thinking man's game, an anti-Call of Duty-Battlefield-Medal of Honor game, which is a refreshing change.
The Story of the Singularity"I have argued that we cannot prevent the Singularity, that its coming is an inevitable consequence of the humans' natural competitiveness and the possibilities inherent in technology"- Vernor VingeSince Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to 2000's Deus Ex, it's still set in a world that's debating the advantages of mechanical augmentations to erase limitations set by the physical body. While Deus Ex's world was arguably post-human (since most NPCs you interacted with looked up to your nano-augmented JC Denton as some kind of a superhuman), Human Revolution's world is struggling to accept augmented humans. While there are massive corporations involved in augmentation technology in DXHR's 2027, it's still being heavily debated in society (similar to the fracas surrounding stem cell research today). You begin the game as a completely human Adam Jensen (apart from an almost impossibly pointy beard) but a grave injury causes you to be augmented, thrusting you right in the middle of the conflict.
This is where the scope of Human Revolution's story differs from the original Deus Ex's. While the 2000 game had a large overarching plot which promised and then revealed multiple conspiracies and characters with different motives, Human Revolution has a more personal story. It's more about you as Adam Jensen, the way you perceive things and the choices you make. There are still a large number of characters you interact with but the story feels somewhat smaller compared to its predecessor. Also, the main motive behind many characters in the original game was the search for the perfect society, or Thomas Aquinas' "City on the Hill", as one character in the game looks at it. The focus on society and the many parties wanting to shape it made Deus Ex a game with a much larger scope than Human Revolution. Human Revolution instead specifically deals with the story of mankind "improving" itself using technology and focuses on that theme by telling one man's story.
Linearity- But The Good Kind
I have a problem with linearity in games, especially after getting used to the freedom offered in titles such as Fallout 3 and Oblivion. While I understand that linearity is useful in telling a story in the way that it's meant to be told, some games (I'm looking at you, Homefront) use linearity to such an extent that it feels like really, really lazy game writing. After all, what would you think if a movie director only focused the camera on the character speaking the dialogues, out of the fear that the viewer may get distracted by the environment, or other characters?
Deus Ex: Human Revolution like the original Deus Ex is ultimately a linear game. You clear a stage and the game opens up the next stage for you. However again, like the original game, DXHR brings a high level of choice and freedom to its linear setting. Even though you may have one starting point and one ending point to get to, the ways to do that are many. You can sneak through all the way, you can go guns blazing all the way, you can search for alternate routes-all the while non-lethally or lethally subduing enemies in stealth, you can hack through computers and security systems turning them against the enemies; Deus Ex: Human Revolution offers more freedom in gameplay than most linear games and even some supposedly open-world games (I'm looking at you, Gothic 4). Even a straight bridge near the end of the game has alternate routes to get around the enemies and except for the boss fights (which I'll get to later), you can complete the entire game without killing a single character. The game also has two free roaming areas to explore with their own alleyways, sewer systems, apartment complexes and people, all of which could have something interesting to offer to you. Unlike other games, DXHR doesn't hold your hand and guide you to quest-givers but it does offer some leeway in allowing objective markers so that you don't lose your way.Where the game fails, almost spectacularly so, is the first boss fight. Irrespective of how you've built your version of Adam Jensen (mine was a hacking specialist who carried a stealth pistol), the first boss fight feels like it was designed for only version- the heavily armored machine-gun toting one. This fight feels so incongruous to the rest of the game that it almost spoilt the entire experience of the game I'd had till then. The later boss fights also pretty much devolve into run-shoot-hide-run-shoot-hide affairs but by the time you come across the second boss, you will probably already have an Adam Jensen that can take and deal some damage. If there is one flaw in the way DXHR has been designed, it will definitely be these boss fights because they feel like they belong in a game that is much more run-of-the-mill.
However, I would like to hope that the way DXHR has been scripted, with freedom and choices all within a linear context, will influence future games that rely on linearity.
Graphics, Sound & Bottomline
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has graphics that are as good as any other modern game. The difference is that there is a specific look to the game's art direction and it makes use of gold and grays as its defining color palette, the same way blacks, blues and grays were liberally used in the original Deus Ex. The design also throws up some cool visuals like a room that is almost entirely white and costumes that look futuristic but also practical. The music score is excellent and hearing various takes on the original synth-heavy Deus Ex theme is a treat in itself.
Elias Toufexis's voice acting as Adam Jensen is unique but strangely familiar. Toufexis plays Jensen as the familiar gruff protagonist of video games but there is a personality to the voice and it works similarly to what someone on the Internet rightfully compared to Christian Bale's Batman voice in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Voice acting in the game is uniformly excellent and so are the sound effects ranging from weapons to footsteps to the soft metallic squeak of an air vent opening.The game also played well on a mid-range machine with slowdowns only when levels were being loaded. Just don't expect to play the game on a laptop unless it's one with a particularly powerful graphics processor.
Every so often there comes a game that not only gets an audience but deserves one as well. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one such game that doesn't insult the intelligence of its audience and doesn't stay content with merely serving them terrorists, zombies and explosions. While playing it I felt equally enthralled as I did when watching a great movie, reading a great book or listening to a great album. If there is one game in 2011 you have to play, make sure it's this one (okay, maybe also Skyrim).Deus Ex: Human Revolution has been launched in India by Express Interactive. It's priced at Rs. 999 for the PC.
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