At the time, I didn’t blog about Human Revolution because I knew I could never give it an unbiased review. Why? Because it is, quite simply, not Deus Ex. It is a lot of things — a well-made immersive sim, possibly even a good game — just not Deus Ex.
Plot and lore mean a lot to me, and the incongruities in the first half hour alone make me want to spew. I played through the whole game and the wrongness never dissipated, so I just moaned a bit offline and let it go.
Alas, the fancy recently took me that I should replay the game now… And I can hold it no longer.
This blog is not about the game on its own merits. This blog is about why Human Revolution is not Deus Ex — in the same way that Unreal II is not very Unreal. This blog is about why the game “not being Deus Ex” is important.
I will understand completely if you think less of me by the end of this post, and there are spoilers for “all three games in the franchise” everywhere.
Yes, most of the reasons for this disconnect are lore-, plot- and art-based. Gameplay wise, I’m not going to call it my favourite style (the 3rd-person bits are questionable), but it’s got far more going for it that way than, say, Invisible War. That’s my prefix — Human Revolution is not a bad game…
… but moments into the intro cinematic, the plot-rot is already inescapable.
We see Bob Page using a holographic computer keyboard that doesn’t exist 20 years later, for example. Holographic projectors exist in Deus Ex, yes, but not holographic keyboards. The thing about the real Deus Ex is that, barring a few technological “spikes”, it does still look like the world we live in now — which makes sense, because it’s only fifty-odd years in the future.
Human Revolution already looks way further ahead than that. All the cars, the new buildings slotted in amongst the old brickwork, the furniture in all the apartments, even the rubbish bins and the crates, they already jar with that established fiction before anyone has started speaking. Deus Ex painted a picture of our world, all worn brick, shabby concrete buildings and clean but utilitarian labs. Human Revolution paints a picture of a very stylised place obsessed with art and architecture even in its functional spaces.
It still paints an extrapolation, a future that might come from our present, but a different one.
It’s the perennial problem of writing against existing fiction. Human Revolution should have stood alone, because it’s clear the designers had no intention of truly building on the established canon — they had their own world they wanted to create…
… and that’s absolutely fine. In fact, that’s better than fine: that’s awesome!
We need more new things. The problem here has only arisen when trying to shoehorn this new vision, this vision of something else, into an older, existing vision. A vision that was, at the time, perfectly complete and demanded no further development.
I’ve come to grudgingly admit that, for all its faults, Invisible War at least provides natural, logical extrapolations from Deus Ex‘s finale in its own four endings.
They’re ugly conclusions, the thoughts of which make me feel slightly quesy, but they do fit in the sense of the relentless march of technology leading us to these ends. Either it’s enforced homogenisation of the human race so everyone has all the augs, or it’s the poor unaugmented people rioting and destroying the privileged augmented, or it’s nuclear holocaust or… whatever the last one is.
These are all bad outcomes, to my mind, but… they do follow on from what came before. They fit. Here, that is the key.
Human Revolution made the fatal mistake of coming in as a prequel.
Gunther complains through the entire Deus Ex that he wants a skull-gun, something we are lead to believe is quite rare and expensive. Contrast this with every mech-aug and their aunty in Human Revolution having guns unfolding from every orifice. Technology like the adaptive camouflage that was only possible by carpeting everything in nanites somehow “just works” on these mechs that still have unaugmented skin and sheer metal on show (and let’s skip over that bit where a young Tracer Tong takes the invisibility box in his hand and it Just Works).
When you’re a game developer, Rule of Cool comes in all too often. You need things to justify interesting mechanics that, you know, make the game good. Then before you know it, you’ve built a game where half the in-world technology was stated as being brand new twenty years after it’s apparently everywhere in the prequel.
Okay, I’m somebody that knows the original Deus Ex fairly intimitely, so maybe I focus on too many incidental details.
But to me, those details are very hard to ignore — and it only takes one wobble to bring the suspension of disbelief crashing down. Deus Ex got away with the hand-waving because it stood alone and any wave was therefore safely waving into empty air. Human Revolution cannot wave so freely because there is already stuff in the way… But it waves anyway.
This annoys me, because it’s not a bad game. Had it stood alone, had it been about human augmentation and conspiracies and all these things just the same but not been Deus Ex, it would have worked.