This article may contain spoilers for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has several themes worth examining; one of which is the relationship between power and liberty. It’s explored through both the story and the gameplay.
Adam Jensen, the game’s protagonist, is an ex-S.W.A.T. member and chief of security for Detroit-based Sarif Industries. He is prompted to report to his boss, David Sarif, as soon as the game begins.
Players can interact with the room a little but will eventually be put on rails to see David. The meeting is interrupted when augmented mercenaries attack the building, and Adam is sent to investigate.
The attack on Sarif Headquarters serves as the game’s tutorial. The level design is fairly linear, and players only have a rifle to defend themselves with. At this point, Adam Jensen isn’t augmented. He’s helpless when the enhanced soldiers severely beat him, shoot him in the head, and then kidnap a research team.
Luckily enough, Sarif Industries is a biotechnology company specializing in mechanical augmentation. The company rebuilds Adam with every possible augmentation they could.
After a few months, the new and improved protagonist returns to Sarif HQ.
Adam’s newfound power is immediately apparent the next time players take control of him. The game now has a heads-up display. David calls for Adam to meet him at the helipad, but unlike last time, players aren’t automatically put on rails to speak to him.
A new game mechanic is now introduced: dialogue choices. The once-stoic character can now converse with others freely.
The environment is also less linear than it was during the prologue. Players can take as long as they want to meet with David. Adam isn’t anywhere near his max potential, and the game has already opened up for players.
Adam is presented with two choices regarding the mission once he boards the helicopter: Lethal or non-lethal engagement? A short range or long range weapon?
These options explicitly show the game’s new flexibility. For the most part, players can go through the game however they choose. They’ll never be forced to use a specific weapon, and they rarely have to kill anyone.
As Adam travels around, the world takes on larger entities; the player’s augmentation upgrades give him more freedom.
The Icarus Landing system and stealth cloaking augments allow players to jump from rooftops without receiving damage or briefly become invisible. Players can also invest in their social or hacking skills to clear objectives as they please.
David Sarif typically holds police off from intervening in the Detroit missions. This is another display of how power and freedom are linked in Deus Ex: A large company having some influence over a government agency. Several corporations in the game operate without government interference. When players arrive at Heng Sha, they'll notice that there are no police. Instead, private military contractors (PMCs) maintain order.
Deus Ex also explores the media’s power. After Adam sneaks into the PMC-guarded HQ of Picus TV, he discovers the network’s most popular anchor, Eliza Cassan, is actually an A.I. construct. Eliza is programmed by the Illuminati, a league of multinational corporations, to control and manipulate public information.
The most powerful entities not only possess unlimited freedom but also hold control over everyone else’s.
The Illuminati run the World Health Organization (WHO), which, in turn, has control over augmentees in the form of neuropozyne: A drug that combats side effects associated with augmentation. A drug that augmentees need in order to stay alive.
The syndicate takes their control further when they have the WHO issue a recall on neural implants. All augmentees who get the new implant, including Adam Jensen if the player chooses so, ultimately end up at the mercy of the Illuminati.
The game’s final chapter begins when Hugh Darrow, the Illuminati member behind augmentation, activates a signal that causes all augmentees with the new implant to behave wildly violent. Hugh does this in the hopes that mankind will fear and abandon the technology once they experience how it can be corrupted by those who control it.
Adam will have undergone a transformation by the time he deactivates the signal. Throughout the game he has become more autonomous as players have upgraded him. Eliza then offers him the chance to start his own broadcast and tell the world what happened.
Now, Adam Jensen, the most augmented man in the world, has the power to make a final choice: Lie and sway humanity towards augmentation? Lie to give the government more control over it? Tell the world the truth so they fear it? Or destroy all evidence, and let them make their own decisions?
In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, players go from being guided by rails to determining how the game ends. Through gameplay and story, both the protagonist and the player experience the relationship between power and liberty.