This post is the last you will hear from me for a few days. For at the moment this post is published, Deus Ex: Human Revolution will have been released, and will have unlocked on my steam account. I hope the ambiguous title will have drawn in the latin-loving non-gamers I know to read this post. For I am going to attempt to explain why I am so excited about a mere game, to the kind of people who when I say ‘game’, think of Angry Birds. (Feel the barely concealed hate in that sentence, like a Godfather fanatic when confronted with someone who has only watched Time Cop.)
Why Human Revolution is a big deal to me is because of its status as a prequel to the original “Deus Ex”. This is a game that received, and still receives, an incredible amount of praise. The sequel has a lot to live up to, and the incredible thing is, from what we have seen, and from what reviewers have said, it could have done it. That is a very big deal, especially considering the company that made the original deus ex (Ion Storm) no longer exist. This is like someone writing a Lord of the Rings Prequel, and the resulting books not being burned on pyres around the country.
Looking at the original now, you may comment on the dated graphics, surpassed by those of the endless Call of Duty sequels.
You may peek at the plot somewhere, and conclude it lacking. You could even have a try at the first level and walk away in disgust, wondering what people are on about. You are all missing something.
Books have to concentrate on story, that’s why you read a book. A film needs to look good and/or tell a good story that is what you watch a film for. But you play a game, it shouldn’t need a good story or incredibly realistic graphics. Deus Ex stands tall because of how brilliant it is to play. I want to tell you here about the level of choice and freedom it gave you. How every level is a brilliantly crafted area, filled with places to explore, with everything in it behaving in a certain way. How you complete your objective by thinking up a plan based on everything you know and what stuff you have. In the strict sense that has explained Deus Ex. But it doesn’t really grasp its essence, so I will give you an example.
Im sneaking around a Research base that has been taken over by the people your fighting at the time. I open a door and look round it, there are 3 enemies there. This is the first moment of genius on Deus Ex’s part, just 3 enemies in your way will force you double back and think of a plan. Walk in there like it is Call of Duty and you will die. Very quickly. Sure a lot of games give you lots of options, but in removing the simplest one, Deus Ex forced you to discover your own.
I see a TNT crate on top of what is effectively a metal box. I could shoot it, but the enemies are too far away, it would just alert then and screw me over. I could lure them closer to it, but I have a better idea. In the world of Deus Ex are augmentations, robotic replacements or enhancements to people’s bodies. You’re augmented and you add new augmentations, like a strength boost, as you play through the game. At this stage, I have a good few augmentations. One of them is cloak, because its a cyberpunk game and it has to let you turn invisible.
So I hit cloak and move to the crate, I know from numerous playthroughs that the AI can still hear you move, so I crouch and move silently to the box. I push it and hear the loud sound of metal scraping across the floor. The AI doesn’t react, it can hear you walk when invisible, and will shoot you dead in seconds if it does see you, but it is still AI from the year 2000, and it is stupid enough to not care when a metal box with a TNT crate on it starts to move towards it. Sneaking back, decloaking and shooting the TNT yields a satisfying explosion that wipes out the three.
And that is why Deus Ex is brilliant, I walked through that corridor with a smile on my face having taken out enemies with wit rather than just by having enough co-ordination to aim a gun at them. The game forced me to act like that, which is why it is so easy to be offputted if you go into it with the wrong expectations. The start of the game places you with no augmentations and little ammo at a pier on liberty island, A headless statue of liberty in the distance., reflecting the world you’re in. You will die a lot trying to progress through this. I know that because I still die a lot there. But I still love it, because as much fun as it is to make a plan, the other half of Deus Ex is your plan failing miserably and you trying to improvise a way out. A chance to do that again, in a new setting, with new things to play around with? Hold my calls.
P.S. Tom Francis wrote this on Deus Ex, which is probably the inspiration for this post. It’s also a lot better than what you just read, because he is an awesome games journalist and has played deus ex “about 20 times”.
P.P.S In trying to take a screenshot of the graphics by loading the first level I accidentally carried on playing. I ended up finishing the level with a carefully thought out mad run past everything. A story for another time.