I grew up on dystopian cyberpunk and it’s hard to think of it as a retro-future style because, for me, it’s always been a big part of the future. The ideas of human augmentation, cybernetics, biogenetic implants and so on have always had their appeal and while SF has moved heavily into trans or post human tropes – taking the remnants of cyberpunk with them.
As I read in a review elsewhere, things have changed since the dawn of cyberpunk in the 80s and its subsequent flourishing. This isn’t ‘the future’ any more, it’s tomorrow, it’s next week. It’s a near future and while Science Fiction is set in the future, it’s always about the ‘now’ and this is no different. Despite being a franchise that’s now ten years old, the background material and some of the themes have been updated to keep things relevant.
It’s the future and human augmentation has become a reality. Cybernetic limbs, neural rewiring, man-machine interface is all proceeding apace. Some people are behind this movement to improve the human condition, others are against it and in between are those injured in wars or accidents who actually need the technology for a decent life. Humanity being what it is this advanced medical technology has also found its way into military uses as well as even less savoury applications put forth by the criminal underworld.
Sarif Industries is one of the main proponents, advancers and advocates for human advancement through technology and also a target for pro-human protesters. Sarif is on the verge of a breakthrough that will help everyone interface with implants more easily and without the need for suppressants and other drugs when they’re attacked.
You take the part of Adam Jenson, security chief for Sarif’s private security force. Grievously wounded in the attack and forced to accept major augmentation you set about tracking down who attacked Sarif, who killed your scientists and why – uncovering a conspiracy along the way.
Deus Ex is primarily a stealth-em-up in the spirit of Metal Gear Solid or Thief. This is definitely a harking back to the original Deus Ex though Human Revolution is far more forgiving – particularly on the easier difficulty settings, than the original was.
Not that you have to play the game as a stealth-em-up, indeed given the forced boss battles you’d be wise to invest some of your cybernetic boosts and money in some fighting and protection abilities since you can’t entirely rely on being a hacker or a ninja to get yourself through.
It’s a hybrid first/third person sneak and shooter with RPG elements – you gain experience which gives you praxis (levels) which you invest in manifesting and enhancing your cybernetic abilities. This represents you getting acclimatised to your implants and thus unlocking their full potential.
The genius of Deus Ex, as with the original, is that there’s always more than one way around a problem and this allows you to play broadly to your preferred style (save the boss battles) and also gives you a fall back if your preferred route is blocked in some way.
Play it as a charge-and-shoot FPS and you will die, play it more in the form of a 3rd person cover shooter, and you’ll do OK. It’s also worth noting that you don’t really have to kill anyone (save the bosses). You could get through almost the whole game non-violently if you wanted to.
The hacking subgame is simple, a combination of luck and resource management but also a key aspect of the game, especially if you want to maximise your experience and rewards as lots of experience, money, easter eggs and cool background information are only available from hacking.
By and large the controls are good – I played on the PS3 – but the cover system can sometimes be glitchy, meaning you can’t get an angle on an enemy that you should be able to get or that you have to expose yourself from cover – and get shot – to get a line you also should be able to get.
To perform ‘takedown moves’ – which are brilliantly cinematic and don’t lose their lustre – you have to single tap a button to take someone down non-lethally or hold it down to kill them. I found that, occasionally, even when I was trying to take someone down non-lethally I would end up stabbing a bitch, the timings seemed a little sensitive.
The game does a great job of presenting a future that’s Bladerunner with the grunge turned down a couple of notches. The constant news and radio casts, the people talking in the background, the posters, the e-mails, the presentation is all very well done as is the urban decay. The only drawback, for me, was that the city areas all felt so small and caged in, in spite of the various ways to get to any location and that the citizenry felt very static, very placed, the city didn’t ‘come alive’ until a later level, when, ironically, most people were hiding or should have been. This is the only real flaw in an otherwise flawless presentation.
Everything is artfully done though compared to some other titles the characters (other than the main ones) are animated a little woodenly, particularly the facial expressions. The game is quite dingy, quite dark, which is atmospheric and also covers the worst sins but overall the presentation, the graphics, the thought that’s gone into it all is excellent.
All things considered an excellent cyberpunk game with only a very few flaws to marr it from perfection. Great story, great look, great execution.
On the plus side
- Great story.
- Nicely updated to today’s concerns.
- Layered, revelatory plot.
On the minus side
- Occasional game ‘judder’ as it pauses to load.
- Forced violent confrontations (boss fights).
- Full of conspiracy nonsense, which is a massive turn-off for me.
Style: 4 (Just a few niggles).
Substance: 5 (Perhaps not long enough, per se, or deep enough, but the rich background and characterisation compensates).