Five Things We Learned From Deus Ex: Human Revolution

By Aaron Matteson in Five Things, Humor, Lists!
Tuesday, January 24, 2012 at 4:00 pm
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an exploration of whether someone is still human when they have sunglasses built into their face
As we continue the trend of expanding the "Five Things We Learned" series into this-generation territory, we now come to a game that asks important questions like, "Will Detroit still be a cesspool in 2027?" and "If you could shoot metal planks out of your elbows, would you use this power for good or evil?"

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (shortened to DX:HR because honestly, with an acronym that badass, why not use it) is the prequel to Deus Ex, which presented a vision of the future that tapped into the eerie atmosphere of those early days of the new millennium and is heralded to this day as one of the best video games ever made. I've expressed my love many times for the classic original, but did the prequel live up its roots? Can Adam Jensen adequately fill out the big coat of JC Denton?

Having just played through this game, I learned the answers to the above questions -- and much more. And even though I never asked for this, I ended up learning... a little bit about life.

1.) Slapstick is alive and well.

Adam Jensen is like Moe of the Three Stooges, except with robot arms.
Slapstick has a rich history. It has roots in classical clown training and Commedia del'arte. The joy of seeing a deftly executed physical comedy routine transcends language; it appeals to us at the basic, primal level. The irresistible pleasure of watching a man hammered in the nuts with a see-saw or whatever has surely been with us since the beginning of humanity.

But sometimes, it seems as though good, old-fashioned physical comedy is on the decline. When it is done, it's done poorly or halfheartedly, and generally this form of humor is looked down upon as less worthy of consideration than more "legitimate" comedy.

Well, good news! Adam Jensen, the cyborg protagonist of DX:HR is bringing back slapstick! Just watch any one of a billion videos on YouTube featuring our noble, stoic hero Jensen cold-cocking hookers, gangsters, break-dancers and old ladies. His swift, usually unprovoked beatings are hilarious, proving that there's still room in the dystopian future for some goofball laughs.

2.) In fiction, good presentation creates the illusion of authenticity.

So, even though I love video games and have some legendary Outlook skills, I know very little about computers. The idea of hacking is an exotic one to me, and I am the first to admit that I wouldn't be able to hack into a five-year-old's Club Penguin account, much less professional security systems.

But I'm not an idiot. I'm not, okay? I know that hacking isn't just like playing Pipe Dream (YEAH, Bioshock), and I know it isn't like whatever these fucking kids are doing. I realize that real hacking is probably very hard and wouldn't make a good mini-game, but at least add some believable computer-y stuff in there so I feel a little like I'm doing something impressive.

DX:HR does this absolutely right. I'll bet it's nothing like actual hacking, but it sure feels like it  is to a layman. It's just complex enough, there are nodes and traces and security routines and all kinds of tech-sounding stuff. It's very well done; after several marathon sessions I was briefly convinced that I was Anonymous.

3.) Don't put all your eggs in one basket.

This may look cool, but it takes about 400 AA batteries to do.
Some of the biggest things in the first Deus Ex that are notably absent from DX:HR are the variety of melee weapons. Now, there's a perfectly good explanation -- since Adam Jensen has metal slabs that shoot out of his arms and impale people, there's really no good reason for him to carry, say, a combat knife.

Except that his super-cool melee takedowns can only occur with at least some batteries left in his bio-electric energy reserve, which means that if you're fighting off more than two bad guys, you may need to bide your time before your impalers are charged up again (it's like waiting for your iPod to charge, but guys are shooting at you). At these times you really wish that Adam Jensen had the foresight to get a crowbar somewhere along the way.

4.) Debating can be fun.

Is Jensen a nice guy, a little baby girlie man, or a monster asshole? You decide!
In DX:HR there are several long conversations you will enter into that determine whether Jensen can talk his way to his objective or if he'll have to crawl through an air duct instead. These set pieces involve Jensen making use of one of three emotional tactics in order to get what he wants.

If you want to make these sections easier, the game offers a "social augmentation" that uses pheromones to make people more amenable to Jensen's suggestions. I don't know how this works exactly. The augmentation allows Jensen to shoot Brut from his nipples or something.

I don't know how it works, because I refused to get it during my play-through. Why? Because it was too enjoyable to have to read people, debate people, to have to play on their insecurities and desires without any easy way out. The stakes are always high in these conversations, and the resulting gameplay is just as tense as when you're... well, crawling around in air ducts.

5.) Sometimes a person just has "one of those faces."

Do I know you from somewhere?
In this game, your helicopter pilot is Hilary Swank.

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