By Joseph Frymire
What will the world look like in 16 years? According to the creators of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, in 2027 some of us will be lining up to get our limbs and organs replaced with robotic parts, while others will be protesting against this practice and preaching the importance of human “purity.” It sounds ridiculous, but what was our world like 16 years ago? In 1995 the general populace didn’t own a computer or know what the word “Internet” even meant. Who’s to say in another 16 years we won’t be running down to the limb clinic to get a quick tune up on our robotic legs?
You are Adam Jensen, Head of Security for Serif Industries, a controversial corporation that specializes in the development of cybernetic limb and weapon augmentations. Adam is well known and well respected in his role as security chief for Serif’s main building in Detroit, although one is left to wonder exactly why. Five minutes after you begin the game, mercenaries who murder most of the staff, destroy valuable scientific research and mortally wound Adam to the point that he has to receive extensive cybernetic surgery invade the company. Not exactly a red letter day for Mr. Jensen. However when Adam wakes up, brimming with robotic rage, Serif orders him to hunt down the people responsible for the attack. No one ever mentions or seems overly concerned that they’re sending the same guy who failed so badly last time that his arms fell off.
But Adam has a few new tricks up his sleeve now that he’s more human than human. When the player earns enough “Praxis Points”, they can upgrade Adam’s augmentations in myriad ways. Different augmentation powers are tied to Adam’s various cybernetic limbs such as his eyes, arms, torso, or legs. If you focus primarily on strength augmentations you don’t have to plan ahead much; you can blast your way through a heavily guarded building with nothing but a machine gun and a smile. Alternatively, if you invest in stealth augmentations you can sneak around that same building, silently knocking out all the guards or skewering them with swords that pop out of your cyber-arms.
While pollution may have blocked out the sun in Deus Ex, its world still teems with life. The future noir set pieces are gorgeous and atmospheric, though venturing through countless factories and apartment buildings can get a bit repetitive. Unfortunately people don’t look very human, which is somewhat appropriate admittedly, but lip-syncing is particularly terrible and faces animate poorly overall. In fact augmentations must play hell on the human muscular system in general, as people’s movements are somewhat jerky and floaty when performing even simple tasks.
What really breathes life into the bleak world of Deus Ex is the ambient sound and music. The synth heavy soundtrack is both mysterious and exciting, and reacts to what’s going on at the time. If detected inside the network while hacking, the music will become frantic as the player attempts to finish their intrusion before their position is discovered. While walking down the streets of Detroit, the dull roar of city sounds and the muffled conversations of random passersby work to fully immerse the player in a world that ends up not feeling all that different from our own.
It’s somewhat unlikely that by 2027 we’ll be replacing body parts wholesale for cybernetic ones. But Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn’t trying to accurately predict the future, it just attempts to engross the player in one possible future that’s alien yet familiar at the same time, and it does so admirably.