Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Demonstrating the Power of Individual Choice

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Deus Ex took an eight-year hiatus before returning with Human Revolution. Now controlled by Eidos Montreal, this installment features new locations, factions, and protagonist facing a fresh set of problems plaguing humanity while all are at the mercy of a powerful few hiding in the collective shadow of new industries, political organizations, government agencies and the hubris of despondent geniuses.

Does Human Revolution live up to the legacy set by the original more than a decade beforehand, or is it an attempt to cash in on a license gamers seemed to have forgotten?

Story:

The year is 2027. The struggling city of Detroit is clawing its way back to national relevance. Factories where assembly lines would piece together new automobiles now carefully stitch new limbs and organs, making this the home of American manufacturing once again

Former SWAT specialist for the Detroit Police Department, Adam Jensen, is the head of security for the company responsible for the city’s rejuvenation, Sarif Industries. Adam is responsible for coordinating the security to and from the National Science Board hearing in Washington DC where Megan Reed, a top scientist at Sarif and Adam’s ex-girlfriend, is going to announce to the world an advancement in augmentation science. Through her research at the company, people will now be able to augment themselves without having to rely on Neuropozyne, anti-rejection medication of choice made by Versalife. Though Megan sees their work as admirable, Adam isn’t convinced they’re helping anyone but their top client, the Department of Defense.

As Adam relays the security protocols to CEO and founder David Sarif, the company is attacked by a trio of augmented soldiers known as the Tyrants. They proceed to slaughter personnel and destroy the facility. While trying to rescue Megan in the middle of this chaos, Adam is beaten and left for dead by the Tyrants’ leader Jaron Namir. Unresponsive and barely clinging to life, Adam is rescued by Sarif, and the CEO saves his life by augmenting his body with the company’s technology.

Adam endures six months of rest, recovery and surgery as the world’s opinion on augmentation science changes, and some have turned fanatical. Sarif has been the victim of constant attacks from protestors and terrorists. The streets of Detroit are a stage of mass surveillance and patrolling to keep the peace. When an off-site laboratory at Milwaukee Junction is under attack by Purity First, an anti-augmentation radical group, Sarif calls on Adam to put his new body to work protect the company’s secret weapon, the Typhoon Explosive System. After locating the hacker who had helped Purity First access the plant, Adam notices he’s heavily augmented. But before the hacker can be questioned, he commits suicide. Adam relays this information to Ezekiel “Zeke” (Sandoval) Sanders, a Marine veteran who’d served in 2009, a former “aug,” and the leader of Purity First. Sanders refuses to believe a “body polluter” was on his team, which gives Adam enough of an open to deal with him and resolve the hostage situation to his choosing.

Analyzing the spin after the attack on Milwaukee Junction, Sarif points to a cover-up within the police department since they deny any augmented people were involved with Purity First. To uncover the truth, Adam investigates the hacker’s body at the Detroit PD morgue and is able to retrieve his neural hub. Francis Pritchard, Sarif’s head of technology, finds evidence linking Joseph Manderley, a government official, to several Purity First attacks. The hacker, it turns out, was nothing more than a proxy for someone else. Tracing the signal leads Adam to a FEMA detention center where the Tyrants, along with a small army, are evacuating the site. Lawrence Barrett, the lieutenant, left behind battles Adam but ultimately loses. When he tries to question him, Adam learns nothing more than this conspiracy being bigger than a corporate attack against Sarif, and that he should look for his real enemies in Hengsha.

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Faridah Malik, Adam’s friend, and Sarif’s pilot, flies them both to China. Belltower Associates, a private military company (PMC), has been hired as the police force of Hengsha. They, like Adam, are hunting for Arie Van Brugen, a hacker known as Windmill who facilitated the Purity First attack on Milwaukee Junction. Adam’s investigation leads him to a capsule hotel where Bruggen is hiding out thanks to the protection of Tong Si Hung, the local Triad boss. Bruggen’s no true believer and admits that his hack was at the request of his client Zhao Yun Ru, the CEO of Tai Yong Medical, Sarif’s main competitor. Since Adam botched the Purity First attack and killed Barret, Zhao is cleaning house and hired Belltower to get rid of Bruggen. Having never trusted Zhao, Bruggen secretly recorded her during a compromising meeting and tells Adam it’s all he needs to expose her. When Adam looks, he finds a recording of Zhao and Namir coordinating efforts to kidnap Sarif’s scientists and disabling their locating chips to complete the illusion of their deaths. Eliza Cassan, the celebrity reporter for Picus TV, is also revealed to be a collaborator that’s spreading disinformation concerning the Sarif attacks. Adam attempts to confront Zhao, but her security forces close in and force him to flee.

Following his only lead, Adam heads to Montreal where he finds Eliza and learns that she isn’t a woman but a sophisticated AI. Though showing signs of self-awareness and able to communicate by her own choosing, Eliza’s bound by her programming to lie on the behalf of her controllers. All this talking allows Yelena Fedorova, second-in-command of the Tyrants, to sneak in. When the fight is over, Eliza informs Adam that the doctor who removed the scientists’ implants was Dr. Isaias Sandoval (brother to Sanders). Dr. Sandoval is also the personal aide of William Taggart, a political and social leader behind Humanity Front, a seemingly peaceful organization trying to outlaw human augmentation.

Back in Detroit, Taggart is addressing the public on the increasing threat from augmented people and how the companies that facilitate augments are to blame. Sarif tells Adam that he suspects Taggart of being part of the Illuminati and involved in the attacks somehow. When confronted, Taggart denies any involvement with Zhao or any of the recent attacks. As a sign of good faith, he tells Adam where to find Sandoval, in an apartment building that happens to be under the protection of Purity First. By the time Adam reaches Sandoval, Taggart hits the news circuit and denies any connection to Sandoval, making the doctor the prime suspect in the recent attacks. With no options left, Sandoval reveals that he couldn’t remove the implants, so they changed their frequencies instead. Pritchard is then able to track down the implant belonging to Vasili Sevchenko, one of Sarif’s scientists.

Back to Hengsha. Adam is public enemy number one, restricting his movements as he tries to dodge Belltower officers. There’s also a public health announcement being pushed by Eliza, calling all people to LIMB clinics to replace faulty chips. Sevchenko’s signal leads Adam to the Harvesters, a Triad gang that strips augmentations from unsuspecting victims. Tong Si Hun, the leader of the gang, has been outfitted with the scientist’s arm after Belltower hocked it to some gang members. Wanting Belltower off his streets, Tong agrees to help Adam find what he needs and sends him to shipyard controlled by Belltower that will lead him to where Sevchenko was taken but Adam realizes his presence on the shipping yard is to set off a bomb, so Tong’s son can escape Hengsha. While Belltower responds to the explosion, Adam is able to slip into a cryo chamber in a shipping container and enter suspended animation.

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When Adam comes to, he’s being tortured by Netanya Keitner, who believes her stowaway is a spy investigating Belltower. Though his augments are disabled, Adam manages to free himself and travel deeper into the ship in search of an exit. A mysterious figure contacts him via radio and guides him to some of his equipment, which comes in handy when the ship docks and Adam escapes only to find himself on an oil rig controlled by Belltower.

Knowing that he doesn’t belong there, Adam’s friend on the radio unites him with Keitner, who is an Interpol agent working undercover to investigate the PMC. Now that her investigation is compromised, Adam decides to help Keitner by collecting evidence on Belltower’s detention blocks on the oil rig with the help of Garvin Quinn, a turncoat employee. This leads him to over hear Pieter Burke, tell Gary Savage, one of his scientists to continue his research in a hidden lab. Using a prosthetic eye Burke left behind, Adam gains access and gets Tiffany Kavanagh, another scientist, to agree to testify against the PMC.

Though their evidence is collected, Burke has found out about the spies aboard his rig and surrounds Adam. Before Adam can come out the other side, Burke kills Keitner, then proceeds to flood the detention cells with poison gas, targeting all the prisoners and Kavanagh (depending on his choice Adam can save either group or both). After handling the gas, Adam confronts Burke and has to decide whether to kill him or spare him.

Adam’s friend on the radio chimes in one last time to tell him where he can reenter cryosleep and proceed to where Megan is being held. When Adam reaches his capsule, his friend reveals himself to be Quinn. He pretended to be part of Interpol to lure Keitner there and used Adam as well. Quinn wanted to ruin Belltower as a way of wounding the plans of the Illuminati. But before Adam can react in any way, cryosleep is triggered and he is forced in an unresponsive state.

Adam comes to in Singapore. The Omega Ranch is a biotech research complex housing Sarif’s scientists. After convincing them, Adam gets them to stage a distraction that will allow him to reach the building where Megan is behind held. After disabling the security measures in place, the scientists escape, and Adam is confronted by Zhao. After revealing what he learned from the scientists, that the Illuminati have programmed killswitches into new augmentations to keep them in control, Zhao attempts to trigger Adam’s switch with a remote (if the player has been to a LIMB clinic after returning to Hengsha, Adam will lose all his augments; if no upgrade was accepted the remote has no effect). As Zhao flees, Namir steps up to fight Adam but ultimately loses. Adam is reunited with Megan, who’s living comfortably in captivity. She reveals that Hugh Darrow, a close friend of David Sarif and the father of modern augmentation technology, owns the facility where she’s been kept. Determined to confront him, Adam leaves for Panchea, a facility in the Arctic Ocean that Darrow built to combat climate change. As Adam prepares to leave, Megan reveals that her research is based on his DNA.

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Darrow, addressing the world from Panchea on his efforts to change the world for the better, activates a signal that causes every augmented person in the world with a modified chip to turn violent (in the case of a modified Adam, Megan inoculates him from the signal). When Adam reaches Darrow, the philanthropist claimed that he intended his research to better the world, but the Illuminati outsmarted him and used it for control. But Darrow is most saddened as he watched his technology change the world into an immoral place. With augmented people wreaking havok in the world, Darrow hopes the United Nations would make the technology illegal everywhere.

After deciding how to handle Darrow (Adam may convince him he was wrong, fail to do so, or kill him) Adam heads to the core of Panchea. On his way he encounters Taggart and Sarif who are in hiding. Each propose Adam with an option of how to inform the public about the global attacks that will support their faction and influence the future of augmentation.

When he reaches the core, Adam discovers Zhao merging herself with the Hyron Core, a quantum computer that is partially powered by three young women. After destroying the computer and killing Zhao, Eliza directs Adam to the broadcast center where he can select one of three options: Adam can broadcast Darrow’s confession, exposing the Illuminati and banning augmentation technology; Siding with Sarif means blaming Taggart and Humanity Front, putting the blame on “body purists” and allowing augmentation technology to develop further; or Adam can choose to lie and say the violent outbursts augmented people are experiencing is the result of Neuropozyne, pushing Taggart’s hope for increased regulation of augmentation technology. Or, if Adam chooses, he can decide to no longer be led by men of power and set Panchea to self-destruct, allowing humanity to choose its own future.

Post credits, Bob Page, who’d organized all this from the shadows, meets with Morgan Everett, CEO of Picus TV, to discuss their new plans for the Morpheus project now that Megan Reed is now on board with their ambitions.

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While it may seem against all the rules of being a fan of this series, Human Revolution easily has the best plot of the entire series to date at the time of me writing this review. The way corporate order looms high over government power, or how social causes can easily be perverted to further personal gain, mirroring current situations in a way that you almost forget Human Revolution is set eleven years in the future.

Conspiracy theories, as they’re thought of by many people, simply don’t fit as the definition for what’s going on in Human Revolution. It’s something ripped from the headlines and connected in a way still merits the label of fiction while feeling uncomfortably familiar.

Below the surface there are philosophical questions at every turn. Do corporations have the right to embolden individuals to subvert nature? Should governments intervene whenever technology frightens a vocal minority? How do we live together when society is divided again, not by sex, race or orientation, but by degrees of organic matter? Who’s to blame when a culture of fear drives people to paranoia thanks to dishonest media centers who operate with impunity?

Human Revolution has some thoughts on these questions, and they’re presented not-so-subtly in a trailer campaign for the game, where Adam Jensen is an angelic marvel soaring towards the sun, only to be burnt back into his polycarbon body and his humble surroundings. The awe technology can introduce, and the caution it deserves in a world so ugly. Human Revolution communicates this continuously. Why? Because the people who control such things at their source may not always be worthy of trust. They can be melancholic geniuses disenchanted with mankind’s choices, an industrialist who can imagine nothing more than the expansion of his empire, a moral authority who wants to impose his morality on all people because he alone knows better, or a woman who’s achieved all she can on this plane of existence and has finally deemed herself ready to ascend to godhood. Too much power in too few hands–that’s something to be wary about.

But, of course, true to Deus Ex fashion, there’s plenty of red meat for the true believers out there in the form of paranoid ramblings from denizens unsure about the integrity of Taggart and Sarif. A particular radio host (Lazarus, a decaffeinated amalgam of Glenn Beck and Alex Jones) takes to the radio from his rebel outpost to shout at Adam about mass disarmament, REX 84, and FEMA Camps. And if you happen to listen to this DJ (and some of the people about Detroit and Hengsha) players will piece together parts of the conspiracy faster than the plot intends, and even pick up on clues that’ll tell them who they can trust. The world building here simply compliments these themes and story elements in a way that resources didn’t allow for in the original, making it the strongest presentation to date.

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Visuals:

Of all the entries into the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has the most iconic style. Gold on black; minimalist designs and Renaissance-era fashion blends old with new in a future with no fixed destination. It’s a great way of communicating story themes through design. Those with an understanding of art history one can notice a lot of nods to the old-world masters that communicates a lot about the characters, particularly the power players that may see themselves larger than they are. Those who pay close attention will see that those who see the future in augmentation or are the products of it are often depicted in Italian dress of the Renaissance era, embracing the provocative thinking of that time. While Luddites seem like products of the modern age, unable to see beyond the moment. It’s small visual touches like these that communicate what the story is about even when the story pauses and players explore.

Environments are rendered beautifully and whether you’re on console or PC frame rate drops rarely occur if ever. It’s a crisp, neat set of environments that make proper use of light, whether it be from the sun or firing off from accents around rooms. That’s why it’s such a shame that all the characters suffer from janky animations that fight for your attention during cutscenes.

Sound:

NPCs suffer from the diseases of sameness and stereotypes that have plagued the series thus far, but they’re easy to forget when roaming desolate cities that sound as empty and bleak as they look. When police tanks come to life, when trams whoosh overhead, and protests liven up the city just out of view it’s undeniable that there’s a fundamental understanding of sound’s impact on a setting here that rarely gets appreciated.

Micheal McCann scored the future in Human Revolution in a way that outshines the rest of the franchise. There’s diversity in sound from Detroit to Hengsha, from corporate buildings to night clubs, alleyways to sewers–rarely do two standout moments or locations feel the same, and that’s due in large part to the music. Walking on to Detroit streets makes you want to watch your back; the desolation of Adam’s apartment makes one grow despondent as the half-man that haunts the place, and walking into a LIMB clinic is like entering a church to the hum of seraphs somewhere behind the white tiles and accented glass. These are songs you don’t just want in your Deus Ex game; you’ll be listening to them all the time. It’s been years, and many of us still are. Makes you glad McCann came back for Mankind Divided.

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Gameplay:

Though there are many tools at the disposal of players, there is one weapon they will always rely on: choice. Depending on how you select augments, weapons and tactics when approaching enemies and infiltration you can either develop the image and attitude of a ravenous man out for for revenge or a calculating secret agent determined to uncover the truth.

A combination of buildings and wide open spaces encourage the need for exploration, which leads players to uncover hidden messages that range from jokes to exposition about characters, factions and the grand conspiracy at play. And that desire to build knowledge versus developing skill ultimately tailors how you play. Want to uncover the truth about the Illuminati? Augmenting your brain to enhancing conversation options, boost hacking skills, and prolonging the time you cloak can help access secrets and force adversaries to tell you all they know. But perhaps you want to limit recoil with weapons, punch through (some) walls, and leap off buildings to engage enemies with surprise. You’ve got that option as well.

Though the enemy AI here isn’t the best, missions are engaging and make you want to plan accordingly before deciding how to build your Adam Jensen. Human Revolution doesn’t try to punish players for how they choose to play, many will opt for stealth, as shooting mechanics are a bit stiff, and firearms are limited. But that’s to be expected as this is an RPG first and an action game second. However, that action aspect comes to the forefront during boss fights, which force the player to play the game as a shooter. The director’s cut changes that a bit by opening up space where these fights take place, filling it with more weapons, ammo, and obstacles to keep the fight going.

But even with that in mind, players will want to watch every action taken and word uttered in this game. There’s no telling when a decision made will come back to haunt them. Pissing off a desk sergeant in the beginning of Human Revolution can come back to haunt you on your way out of your apartment after several big missions. Everything you do is scored, not on a meter of morality but by consequence, and that’s as close as any game has ever come to mirroring the original.

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Verdict:

Unlike its predecessor Invisible War, Human Revolution manages to capture the essence of Deus Ex by building its game mechanics around the concept of choice and its world around consequence. And regardless of those choices and their consequence the player has the tools at their disposal to adapt and move forward without having to change how they play (mostly). It’s a formula many AAA titles have tried to recreate since 2000, yet none seemed to come as close to getting it right as this.

Beyond the mechanical achievements, Human Revolution manages on average to be top-tier in narrative development and delivery. It isn’t always heady, and many of the side quests don’t offer much, but the philosophical ponderings about where the world is now, where institutions of the past are being erased by the promise of progress; the place of people and faith in a future of guided evolution; and the erosion of trust in individuals as the concept of “self-guided evolution” allows us all to pick and choose our morality is a game that was needed for this decade. After seeing what the team at Eidos Montreal were able to do with this beloved cyberpunk franchise, it should make everyone antsy with anticipation over what they have to offer next in the world of Deus Ex.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – 9/10

5 Responses to “Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Demonstrating the Power of Individual Choice”

    • Isaac Wheeler (Veritas)

      The Deus EX games are some of my favorites as well. They are deep and thought provoking, and you have real choices in how to approach situations that few games have managed to duplicate.

  1. Excellent game. Lots of content, and it does a good job mixing higher technology and social questions with organized crime, prostitution, and other everyday vices. It was interesting to see transplant rejection for augmentations, which often occurs with implanted kidneys, lungs, and other organs in real life. The non-lethal techniques are a nice touch in a shooter game, though a bit unrealistic; after hitting enough people with PCP darts, CN gas grenades, and titanium fists, you’d think Jensen would cause a fatal reaction every now and then.

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