Deus Ex: Human Revolution was one of those games about which I felt completely ambivalent. On the one hand, I did not actually enjoy playing it.
“But Kevin!” you shriek, “What good is a game that you do not enjoy playing?”
Ah, be calm, dear reader. You are correct to make this observation so loudly. After all, playing a game is a component of what makes games so satisfying. On the other hand, gameplay is not the sole characteristic that defines a gaming experience.
I would say that as a game, DE:HR falls short in certain respects. The shooting is not particularly satisfying, the stealth is not ideal and worst of all, the enemy AI is fairly stupid. I could go on, but rather than complain about the game, I would instead like to focus on Deus Ex’s redeeming quality: its narrative.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to what is widely considered to be the best PC game ever made, Deus Ex. The world of Deus Ex is based in conspiracy theories, shadow organizations and humans seeking to transform themselves using technology into higher beings. DE:HR is a game that reflects common themes in science fiction. These themes appeal to people’s imaginations and are therefore reflections of the society in which we live.
Perhaps the most evident theme in Deus Ex is the conflict between people who believe that it is unnatural (and therefore wrong) to “augment” people using high tech implants and advanced prosthetic limbs and those who believe that humanity has a long history of improving its condition through technology and that new augmentations are a natural progression of that history. The conflict reminded me of every social conflict in human history: black vs. white, gay vs. straight, domestic vs. foreign, ect. On one side, you see the representatives of conservative, traditional beliefs. These are the people who prefer the status quo and fear rapid change, because such change could lead to unanticipated consequences. On the other side, you see representatives of liberal, radical beliefs who believe that the current situation should be improved in drastic ways.
The fight between old and new ideas is a compelling one, because most of us at one time or another have been on one side of the debate. Furthermore, when we are audience to such a debate, we often find it easy to take a side. At the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, we are even forced to pick a side in the fight.
By making us pick a side, the game does something that other forms of media cannot. Whereas films and literature may make us consider certain issues, those forms of media cannot actually force us to make a decision. In video games however, the narrative structure occasionally runs into “forks in the road.” In order to continue the narrative, we have to make an important decision. This is a critical point. We go from being an observer of a conflict, to an active participant in one.
Deus Ex succeeds in telling a story that we may genuinely become engaged in. Yes, it is a shame that there were certain gameplay problems that colored my impression of the game, but at the end of the day, DE:HR is still a remarkable game in that it presents an interesting story in spite of technical issues.
My next article will be about World War II and the fine line between a game being fun and a game being an accurate representation of war.