As a franchise, Deus Ex has always explores the future from a variety of perspectives with a somewhat loose focus on the concept of humanity playing God through technological advancement. It’s a solid theme to elaborate on and, in anticipation of the next installment the last game in the franchise, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, in order to intellectually contextualize the upcoming sequel, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. After all, it’s easy to wind up so focused on gameplay that it doesn’t even register that Deus Ex has smart things to say about transhumanism and the trend toward voluntary body modification.
Set in 2027, Human Revolution takes place in a world filled with turmoil as multinational corporations continue to grow past the control of national governments thanks to their advancements in biotechnology. These have allowed corporations to produce augmentations for the human body, usually in the form of limb or organ replacements, that allow augmented humans to perform well beyond their fellow counterparts. It’s a dangerous world where augmentation is the key to further advancement but also one where those very same gadgets are susceptible to control by their creators.
Originally released back in 2011, Human Revolution follows security manager Adam Jensen around the world as he hunts down terrorists who attacked his company, Sarif Industries. Following the attack, Jensen is nearly killed by these augmented terrorists and forced to undergo augmentation himself — during which Sarif Industries rebuilds nearly 90 percent of his body in order to keep him alive. But as someone who isn’t too fond of augmentations, Jensen finds himself caught between two worlds while he seeks answers from everyone he can sneak or beat them out of.
Throughout the game, players explore locations around the world and interact with their various inhabitants in order to uncover the true motivations behind the terrorists, but that’s not what makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution unique. Sure, there’s great gameplay and fantastic role-playing game elements, but the secret lies in the way Human Revolution touches on its themes.
Much like Daedalus and Icarus, many humans with augmentations (including Jensen) tend to pursue the impossible throughout their daily lives, viewing themselves as gods among humanity because of their metallic arms and enhanced capability. Throughout the entire game, players can upgrade Jensen with more dangerous augmentations and military technology that allows him to hack, fight, and kill with pinpoint efficiency. But as they do, players must continuously face the choice of how to use Jensen’s augmentations to achieve their goals.
Lethal combat versus non-lethal combat actions are continuously forced on players, allowing them to make decisions that influence how they would personally pursue their augmented power. These decisions carry into the state of the game world as well, changing how certain NPCs and organizations interact with Jensen throughout his journey. So, while it may be satisfying to slice and shoot your way through enemy combatants, it won’t always work in your favor and the weight of Jensen’s actions will eventually catch up to you. In a way, it’s more moving than decisions like those in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt or Mass Effect — it just all depends on how you approach the game.
Regardless of how players pursue their personal decisions though, Human Revolution plunges them into a bed of chaos and thrives off of the way they work through it. Each encounter can be pursued a variety of different ways by, for example, allowing the player to cloak, shield, or hack their way through the game world around them based on the augmentations the player focuses on. While the differences aren’t marginal enough to justify a second time through the game for most, they do provide an excellent base for an RPG working to explore the cyberpunk theme so rarely seen in the video game industry. Plus, those systems are being drastically improved in Human Revolution’s upcoming sequel Mankind Divided.
So if you’re currently browsing Steam and twiddling your thumbs, explore the world of Deus Ex a little and consider diving into the 2011 masterpiece that so many skipped.