This is part five of a six-piece blog series that shows my in-depth impressions of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I'll publish one post on a different topic about the game every day this week through Saturday.
Eidos Montréal definitely throws one concept in your face during most of Human Revolution — the semi-racial (if I can call it that) divide between pro-augmentation and anti-augmentation groups. Nearly the entire crux of the game is built around this divide. Adam Jensen is an interesting piece of the puzzle because most of his body is made of augmentations (his arms, legs and a chest cavity), but he didn't request them. They were installed as an emergency procedure to save his life after he was attacked.
The game presents you with situations that let you decide whether having augmentations is the right thing or if humans should remain pure without them. There are pros and cons to both sides in the universe, and people on the streets just love shouting their opinions about it out loud. At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong side to the argument. This adds a layer of complexity to a two-sided conflict that some games lack. In Bioshock, for instance, it's pretty easy to gather that, if you harvest young girls, it's bad, and if you save them, it's good. InInFamous, stopping a robbery is good and killing protesters is obviously bad. Human Revolution is not so black and white. The apparent ripples of both arguments' effects can be seen more fully as you explore the game territory, but for the sake of keeping this light on story content, I'll not divulge any information.
As for the augmentations themselves, or at least the ones available to Jensen, I found them to be serviceable, but not necessarily outstanding. Everything you can buy is pretty standard — dermal armor, cloaking, silent running, see through walls, jump higher, etc… However, some of the upgrades were a little ridiculous. One example is an arm perk that lets Jensen lift heavier objects. The fact that there's a way to wirelessly upgrade the amount of heft Jensen can lift in the game is unreasonable. Another is the punch through walls upgrade, which was shown off in an early trailer for the game. It sounds great in theory until you discover you can destroy the weak walls with explosives or … wait for it … shotgun blasts. So really, the upgrade just lets you see weaker walls easier. There's also an augmentation under the "arm" section (augmentations are divided up by body part) that opens more inventory space. How does Jensen store all of his stuff in his arms, why is his inventory an augmentation (as opposed to a bag or backpack) and how would he wirelessly upgrade how much stuff his arms can carry without changing his character model? I would have welcomed Jensen's mechanical limbs morphing and altering depending on which upgrades you choose — after all — the gun models change when you upgrade them. why not the arms?
Along those lines, another pie-in-the-sky idea I had while playing was to customize what Jensen's augmentations look like. It would have been neat to have an Armored Core-like interface to select different physical augmentations, or at the very least, add different colors/skins for them. The amount of different augs you see in the wild during a playthrough makes it a shame that Eidos Montréal didn't include a way for you to change Jensen's. They could've used a system like Mass Effect 2's, because it left room for customization but was nowhere near being over-the-top.
When I was first acclimating to the augs, I was put off by the battery system that they run on. You start off with two batteries. Some aug abilities drain a full battery immediately, such as melee takedown, while others, such as cloaking, drain the batteries over time. The base battery always recharges (albeit slowly, unless you upgrade how fast it recharges) but none of the others do. After playing Crysis 2, where your suit energy meter takes mere seconds to fully replenish, I found this unacceptable. The feeling was compounded by the fact that one of my favorite aug abilities — stealth takedowns — drained an entire battery instantly. "What the hell?" I originally thought. "How is this game going to not give me a dedicated melee button and then drain my batteries for hand-to-hand takedowns?" I found it unreasonable.
However, after I got deeper into the game, I decided it was actually a really smart system. If Human Revolution had a dedicated melee button that didn't drain energy, it would be super easy to run through the game and punch everyone out. And, considering Jensen uses his mechanical arms for the takedowns, it does make sense that it would drain his energy. Given his battery limitations, I had to use my head during encounters and decide how and when I wanted to split up my takedowns, stun gun and (if I absolutely had to) lethal weapons. Human Revolution makes you use your noggin, and I appreciate that. Some gamers don't. I've seen a handful of tweets that dismissed Human Revolution because it's a "stealth game" instead of an action game. Human Revolution might not have the most responsive gunplay out of any first-person shooter, but it's only a stealth game as much as you want it to be. It's sad that people dismiss it so easily because it's not a beat-you-over-the-head shooter, such as Call of Duty. There are plenty of shooters out there like Call of Duty, why not try something new? It's unfortunate that gamers dismiss one game because it makes you think and plan encounters instead of completely running and gunning (which you can still do, if you like.)
Upon finishing the game, I thought back to the package as a whole with its slight disconnections between themes in early trailers and how they present (and don't present) themselves in the game.
Trailers for Deus Ex: Human Revolution are largely punctuated around Adam Jensen receiving his augmented upgrades and they show him having an issue with them. It's almost like they're haunting him. In the launch trailer, he mentions to himself that he isn't sure if the mechanical limbs make him unleash his body's potential or if they make him less human. Do they only exist to make it easier for him to kill? How easily can he misuse them for the wrong reasons?
When it comes to playing the game, Jensen never seems to have these issues. There is one, single moment after a mission when his pilot, Faridah Malik, asks him how he feels upon completion. He has dialogue options to play it cool and act as if he had to do what he was assigned no matter what, act as if he's not sure about the augs or he can acclimate to them and tell her the missions went surprisingly well with his new limbs. Aside from that, there is no question in the game about how Adam personally feels about it. It's up to the player to decide how he or she feels about using the augmentations.
My friend Parker said he thought the augmentation upgrade system as a whole represents a moral dilemma. Do you buy and use upgrades that only make it easier to kill people? Or do you buy ones that make you stealthier to avoid casualties? Which one works to better humanity and which one fuels anti-augmentation activists arguments for pro-humanity?
In a way, the trailers present themselves as a thesis for how you can view the moral landscape of Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a whole without the game forcing it down your throat. I suppose the drawbacks here are Eidos Montréal expecting people to watch all the trailers with open minds and assuming that they'll pay enough attention to the game to birth ideas about what it all represents. The game world becomes more cohesive if you see the trailers before playing because they paint the moral package even broader without including the good vs evil decisions that drag good games down.
Photo from DeusEx.com