Like many gamers of my age I’m a big fan of the Deus Ex series, but my experience with it is somewhat backwards to the norm. You see I missed the release of the original Deus Ex, due to me not being involved in the games community very much at the time, but instead my first experience with Deus Ex came from its sequel Invisible War. Now while the sequel was recieved well critically it didn’t fair so well with the rest of the community. Personally I loved it, giving it 2 solid play throughs tackling it a different way each time. I was so hooked by the story that I went ahead and played through the original, clocking up a good 50 hours on it and finally understood what everyone was talking about. I knew a third had been in the works for a while but I hadn’t heard much about it until the start of this year when I first heard about Human Revolution and I pre-ordered my copy as soon as I was able.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the original game, set 25 years prior to it in the year 2027. You play as Adam Jensen, the head of the security for an augmentation company called Sarif Industries. The initial mission sets the scene as you’re walked slowly through the scientist’s labs, show casing all the technology they’ve been able to create in order to enhance the human race. Megan Reed, one of the lead scientists and former love interest, tells you about her latest discovery that could allow artificially controlled evolution. Not long after the building is attacked by an unknown group of assailants and with Jensen mortally wounded he is forced to be augmented extensively to save his life. The game then revolves around finding out who was responsible for the attacks and what their motives are.
The Deus Ex series has been known to push the limits of the technology of the time and Human Revolution is no exception. The entire game is just simply gorgeous with the colour palate that gives the whole world a kind of neon-noir feeling about it. It’s a very cyberpunk setting with technology infiltrating every corner of the world and yet still it feels like some post-apocalyptic world, especially when you take a detour off the beaten track and see that not everywhere is as rosy as it could be.
The initial impression I felt when playing Human Revolution is just how much it felt like the original Deus Ex. Invisible War was definitely not in the same league as either which I feel can be blamed wholly on its heavy ties to the consoles which it was designed for. The others have a certain feel about them, something in the way the game is played that triggered the same feelings for both of them. I’m probably not doing a great job of describing just what that feeling is, but I know a lot of others are experiencing the same thing.
One feeling that I can easily describe is the engrossing cinematic feeling that Human Revolution manages to capture. From the levels in game to the in game clips to the full motion videos everything has an extremely high quality production feel about it. Take for instance the city of Hengsha pictured below, this scene literally sent shivers down my spine at not just how amazing it looked but the sheer concept as well. My inner cyberpunk fan that had laid dormant all those years since finishing Neuromancer back in college was woken up, and boy was he delighted with what he saw.
The game play in Human Revolution is very fluid and nuanced enough that everyone’s initial play through will have some unique aspects to it. I played the majority of the game as a non-lethal stealth operative, favouring the old fashioned air duct escapades that the original Deus Ex was so famous for and taking down my enemies swiftly and silently. However there were several points I find myself bristling with weapons and ammunition so I would instead take the easy way out and blast my way through to the end. Both ways were equally challenging and rewarding when completed and I never once felt shoe horned into a certain way of playing.
Like its predecessors Human Revolution makes heavy use of dialogue between characters in order to move the plot forward. Whilst not all interactions are as deep as they are in say Mass Effect there are several key times when you’ll be deep in conversation with other characters which can alter the course of the game dramatically. In fact if I’m entirely honest the first couple hours of Human Revolution failed to grab me like its predecessors did, right up until the first conversation I had with one of my former colleagues at the police station. The level of emotion in that conversation hooked me immediately and I revelled in the fact that I could talk my way through a situation (for the record I never got the social aug).
The hacking mini-game is an interesting one and is definitely a step up from the old days of progress bar watching or other simple mini-games. Now whilst you will be able to complete the game without spending a single point in hacking (all the story blocking terminals are level 1) it would seem like a good chunk of the game would be unavailable to you. Also apart from the stealth hacking aug, the ability to control turrets/robots and levelling up the terminals you can hack all the other augs seem rather pointless in comparison. The number of attempts left seems rather pointless as well since any long time player will be quick saving like a madman and will simply reload if they can’t hack a specific terminal in the given number of tries. Still it was an interesting distraction, especially when you came up against the terminals littered with rewards.
Combat in Human Revolution is an interesting beast as with the seemingly endless number of options available to you each combat encounter can be tackled in numerous ways. For starters there’s the easy way out by simply finding the nearest vent and high tailing it out of there. Depending on what augs you have this will sometimes be your only option as some enemies are darned near impossible to go toe to toe with and their pathing never quite leads them to a place where you can silently take them down without being spotted by one of their friends.
There’s also a heavy distinction between lethal and non-lethal take downs which and Human Revolution is heavily biased (as in, double the XP) towards taking them down via non-lethal means. At the start this seems like a strange distinction to make since it’s just as easy to take them out either way but as the game progresses the skill required to take down someone non-lethally starts to increase quite dramatically, especially if you’re trying to stay undetected. Still there are times when taking down an enemy lethally is quite difficult and the less than half XP reward feels a little cheap. There might have been lethal kill bonuses and I just never saw them thanks to my “sniper in the trees” style of play however.
It seems that Eidos Montreal has a good sense of humour about them too with the game not always being completely serious. Hacking into computers leads to find little gems like people playing office pranks on each other, 419 scams and good old fashioned spam for various pharmaceuticals. The radio show that plays in the background in various locations is also quite a lark with my favourite line being “that would be like getting the pope to ride a float in the gay pride parade”. There are also some quintessential bits of geek humour in there like this monitor bridge in Frank Pritchard’s room (which begs the question, who still has CRTs in 2027?).
For the most part game play is smooth and bug free, but there are some notable exceptions to this case. I found myself at one point stuck at the other end of a very long hallway with a guard standing at the other end who was refusing to patrol anywhere. Try as I might to find another way around him I couldn’t find one and was thus either doomed to alert him (and possibly trigger an alarm) or find a more creative solution. Thinking I’d be able to skirt around this by some clever line of sighting I picked up a nearby container and walked it up to him. That didn’t work initially but I found that if I instead pushed the crate to him rather than picking it up he didn’t twig that this giant container was screeching its way over to him. In fact he only reacted when I pushed the container into him, but quickly reloading I was able to skirt around the side and promptly take him out.
There are also some combinations of mods/weapons and/or decisions in the game that can make certain encounters completely trivial or damned near impossible. This is not a bug per say, more an aspect of the Human Revolution’s openness. Just like hacking might make your life easier in some aspects the game developers had to put in an out for those who didn’t want to hack everything in sight, so technically the points spent in hacking are a waste from that point of view (negating the massive amount of XP that’s available doing it). There’s also many parts of the game that are only available to those with certain augs (jump height, breaking through walls, etc.) which isn’t a bad thing either, just that Human Revolution really demands multiple play throughs, even if you think you’ve done the majority of it already.
Like all Deus Ex stories the plot of Human Revolution is a deeply engrossing narrative that is the main driver for playing the game, rather than being an aside to the action. Whilst not all the voice actors are as good as the main plot characters are (all Hengsha natives that speak English are bordering on being racist stereotypes) the interactions between Jensen and everyone else feels genuine and there’s all his emotions come across extremely well. It’s extremely satisfying to be deep in conversation with some of the characters and you can see their expression change as you talk to them. Whilst its not on the level of L.A. Noire it’s still enough to know if you’re going down the right path, usually unlocking something valuable at the other end of the conversation.
The ending is a strange beast which Yahtzee Crowshaw summing it up perfectly. Don’t get me wrong the essence of Deus Ex is that you can have a real impact on the world with the choices that you make throughout the game. However, whilst there is a choice as to how Human Revolution wraps that is completely under your control, the choice seems rather arbitrary as the ending is just another version of the same thing. It’s entirely possible that a future sequel will use your choice in this game to influence events (or even possibly the upcoming Missing Link DLC) but that hasn’t been announced anywhere so the ending, whilst a decent way to wrap up the story of Human Revolution, is somewhat confusing in its execution.
However all these quibbles pale in comparison to the magnificence that is Deus Ex Human Revolution. It’s so awesome to see a community that was so burned by the sequel coming back to the sequel with a vengeance and I’m happy that I can count myself amongst them. Still even for people who haven’t played any of the other games in the Deus Ex series Human Revolution still has a lot to offer in the ways of a freeform FPS RPG with gorgeous graphics and a gripping storyline. I really can’t recommend this game enough.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with the difficulty set to “Give Me Deus Ex” (hardest) with around 22 hours of total game time and 67% of the total achievements unlocked.
I guess you could call me a transhumanist as I’ve got a keen interest in any technology that has the ability to augment us humans in some way. For a long time much of the stuff I dreamed or postulated about was firmly fixed in the world of sci-fi and fantasy. However the past couple decades have seen technological changes happening in such a fast pace that, at least in some form, have technologies that boost our attributes beyond what they were capable of naturally. I’d never really thought about it until I started considering how I use technology in my everyday life and just how far technology had advanced some of my abilities.
The best example I can think of this is probably my career. You see whilst I owe much of knowledge in the area of IT to the fact that I’ve been exposed to it for so long the vast majority of my knowledge doesn’t reside in my head, it lies out there in Internet waiting to be called upon. For many of us who’ve reached the upper echelons of the IT world our real ability isn’t the rote memorization of solutions, more it is our ability to search the Internet and the heuristic approach we take to tackling new problems. In that way then the Internet, and really all forms of information storage that preceded it, act as a kind of external memory that we are able to call upon to augment our own when required. In that sense we have already taken the first steps into the world of transhumanism and you’d be surprised at just how far along we are today.
For the everyday person in a developed world I’d say that they’re already augmented in several ways. With Internet penetration exceeding 60%in the developed world there’s a sizable amount of people that have at their beck and call untold seas of information. Additionally many of those same people would cellphones which, in addition to their capability as a memory enhancement device, also vastly increase the ability for someone to communicate with other people. Whilst this isn’t your traditional sci-fi type transhumanist idea it is in fact the beginnings of such a movement. This feeds into the fact that many technologies now seek to integrate more personally with our lives, with some coming to the point of being a necessity.
For all this wishy-washy type transhumanist stuff there is in fact some recent developments that, until quite recently, were completely sci-fi. Take for instance robotic exoskeletons, something which everyone is familiar with since the release of the movie Aliens. At the time it was pure fantasy as such a suit would require an energy source that just couldn’t exist at the time. Whilst we don’t have powerloaders today we do in fact have two devices that are quite closely related to it. The first is the HULC exoskeleton which is capable of carrying itself and an additional 90kgs of equipment, placing no burden on its wearer. The second is the REX robotic exoskeleton which gives back the ability to walk to those who have lost it. Humanity it seems is on the cusp of overcoming nearly all of our limitations, even those that were once in the realm of fantasy.
Take a step back and look at how augmented your life is today. Since you’re reading this blog you’ve already got more information at your finger tips than any of your ancestors had in their entire world. There are more subtle things, like say your dish washer, that enable you to complete many tasks at once. Each one of those is an augmentation to you allowing you to achieve much more than you would’ve been able to in the past. The effects of such augmentations are wide spread and all of them have an accelerating effect. The next decade looks to be bright with innovations that bring human capability to places that are still in the realms of sci-fi and I for one can’t wait to see what it brings.
In many modern democratic countries the choice of leadership often comes down to two parties who hold the majority of power. This is then augmented by having many other less powerful parties who, whilst they don’t hold any significant power by themselves, help to ensure that other less mainstream ideals are still represented in the decision making process of the country. However they still have to choose a preferred side to default to which returns the small amount of power they wield back to one of the two major players.
“Democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.” – Winston Churchill
For the most part this works well. Having two major parties constantly at each other does lend to most policies undergoing a considerable amount of scrutiny and you can be assured that if there’s anything truly damaging in a piece of legislation that the opposition will ridicule the government for it. However the act of voting someone in doesn’t necessarily mean that you agree with all of their policies and directions, as no candidate can accurately represent the individuals desires for the leadership of the country. This is probably my one of my beefs with the two party system, whilst I can vote people in based on a political ideal I can’t vote out legislation that I might oppose. So whilst I do have representation in the form of a candidate that I had a hand in electing once they’re in office I am at their mercy when it comes to creating and voting on legislation.
This came up last night when I was discussing with my parents why I felt giving to charities was ineffective. Whilst the act of giving to charity is an altruistic ideal I feel disconnected from my act of giving and the impact that act will have on someone less fortunate then me. I proposed a system whereby they could track my donation using a unique ID and show me where the money ended up. So if I gave $50 I would love to see where that actually wound up, even if it was just 50 loaves of bread. I then thought that such a system could revolutionise the way the democracy works in Australia.
Let me lay out the specification for such a system for you and how it would be used in Australia. Currently everyone who pays taxes has a Tax File Number (TFN). Using this ID your tax dollars could be flagged and then put into pools of cash broken up into something like postcode or arbitrary number. When the government wants to fund something it draws from one or more of these pools and associates the funds with a project. Then using a web interface any Australian with a tax file number could log in and see where their tax dollars were being spent. You could actually see your tax dollars at work building hospitals or new schools.
A simple augmentation to this system would then be to allow all users to assign preferences for their tax dollars. This then forms the basis of micro-voting with your tax dollars. So say you support increased spending on education and a reduction in defense. You log into this website and select your preference for education as 1 and defense as 10. With enough participation in the system you in essence give the power back to the people and could mandate that the government allocate funding along the public’s lines (within reason of course).
I identify myself as a libertarian without most of the crazy (I don’t think markets are the answer to everything) and as such I see this as a way of giving people the choice to not only vote in the party that they align with but also allow them to have a say in the operations of the government once they’re in power. I’m also partial to the idea of taking some power away from lobbyists who have a considerable amount of power in democracies like the USA.
Of course this idea has its issues, and the majority of it would come down to voter participation. Whilst voting is mandatory in Australia the USA attracts about 50% to 60% of eligible voters to the polling booths. Given the additional option of this system I’m sure less than 100% of those people would want to participate which reduces the value such a system would have as resource for the government. Still even as an opt-in part of voting I still believe that it could prove useful and I believe initial implementations could be used by the government to form policies that the public at large supports, rather than employing political devices such as soft power to make the public believe that they’re getting what they want.
I guess the next question is, would this improve the democratic process?