Deus Ex: Human Revolution – An Advanced Lesson in World Building
September 5, 2011

Hello all. It’s been a while since my last post, forgive me but I don’t have that much time to play games. Still changing my reviewing format, but I guess my style really doesn’t change all that much.

Game: Deus Ex Human Revolution
Genre: Action RPG
Play Time: 25~40 hours


So, obviously, Deus Ex isn’t an Indie Game. But I started playing it after Blocks That Matter and found myself very pleasantly enthralled in the game for the 30 or so hours I’ve played. But beyond the fact that it’s a well made triple-A game, I want to make a note of DXHR for one exemplary reason, the Story.

Regarding Everything Else Except the Story: The Art of Forcing Choice

DXHR is a polished and well made game even without the story. The genre is, like almost every triple-A game ever these days, Action RPG. But, it’s a good ARPG. In fact, it’s a fairly awesome ARPG considering the fact that it’s a triple-A game. The reason behind this is the fact that this game allows for, according to the developers, ‘four pillars of gameplay.’ These ‘pillars’ are Combat, Stealth, Hacking and Exploration and these four styles of gameplay weave in and out of each other fluidly, allowing natural transitions from one to the other.

As such, you have this newfangled aspect of gaming called choice laid in front of you. And this is where DXHR truly embraces the Western RPG format; where you role-play yourself through an avatar in a new world. For example, I’m not much a fan of cover-based shooting, or FPSs in general. As a result, I made a non-lethal melee specialist, going for stealthy approaches and quick, silent takedowns. But on that same vein, you could just as easily make a tank going on a shooting spree. This is where the level design shines through. You’re allowed to progress through the game however you want. If you feel like stealthily climbing vents and ladders through an entire area, you are very welcome to do so without harming a fly. If you feel like sitting on a ledge or behind a box and sniping off everyone, you’re more than welcome to do that as well. The experience gain is adequately balanced based on difficulty of the route you’re taking and understanding which route is more difficult is intuitive.

But, of course, there are problems. The biggest qualm I have about this game is the level of repetitiveness of the progression. Of course, this has some part to do with my completionist nature which forces me to wipe out every room AND explore every tunnel, but it also has to do with the restrictions the game imposes on itself. The challenges in the game progress in a room by room fashion. This is to be expected, there isn’t really any other way to do this type of game, but because of this, things begin to repeat after a while. Ultimately, every difficulty is overcome by a) incapacitating everyone or b) bypassing everyone via some vent or crawling around. And once you’ve knocked out your 100th enemy (there’s an achievement for that) half way through the game, you realize how mechanical the gameplay can be.

What’s worse, is that the upgrades available don’t change your playstyle all too much. Sure, the invisibility upgrade lets you bypass enemies more easily and the parachute upgrade lets you fall from any height, but that’s it. All that the upgrades do is make your life easier, almost as if you’re cheating. It’s interesting really, because throughout the game, almost every upgrade made me feel as if I were cheating. And maybe I’m a sucker for pain, but once you have the ability to turn invisible for half a minute, stealth no longer has the same meaning.

The Icarus Landing Augmentation. Yes, it also makes you look EPIC

And the repetition doesn’t stop at the gameplay, it affects the aesthetic and sound as well. Most notably, and most irritatingly, the character animations during social interaction sequences repeat insufferably. I’ve seen so many characters do, what I call the ‘self throat chop’ so many times, I get angry just thinking about it. I mean, I understand that it’s difficult to animate human motions while talking, but for fucks sake could you animate more than 5 different body gestures? I’m not expecting no LA Noire but seriously, too many people use the self throat chop.

But despite the repetitive nature of the game, the mise en scene was brilliant. The moody, quiet and ambient music melded very well with the dark, gritty, sepia-toned world and characters. As far as ARPGs go, the gameplay is superb and by virtue of the fact that it even offers a stealth or nonlethal option makes the game stand out as far superior to the more or less weak and drab triple-A contenders of this year.

But Now, the Main Course: World Building

On its own, Deus Ex was very good. Now, if you add the story, and the world that DXHR is set in, you get great and amazing. The level of detail that went into building this world that Deus Ex is in is phenomenal and this is where one can notice the differences between good, great, and remarkable stories.

The Deus Ex Icarus Trailer. Really, you should just go watch it.

Before going into DXHR though, lets decipher what these differences really are. First, what makes a good story? A good story is a story that makes effective use of the story structures that everyone knows; namely exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution. This is the standard story structure that everyone knows. Now on this template, you start adding more sub-templates such as genre, setting, conflict, character, etc. etc. These are all the components of a good story. Once you fill in the blanks, with appropriate and attractive answers (like madlibs) you get a good story. And so, look at Deus Ex. You have the story structure, all set and ready to go. You have the genre, Action/Thriller, the setting, Cyberpunk future, the conflict, revenge for killing your people, the character, security guard. Even on its own, without any exposition, this looks like a good story. I could make one up right now. A security guard who lost his parents to a terrorist attack is now seeking revenge by using the cyberpunk tools given to him. Little did he know that as he figured out more about these terrorists, that the terrorist leader was actually his father. Or some such nonsense. You get the point, a good story is just effectively filling in the blanks.

So what makes a great story? The primary difference between a good and great story is creativity and innovation. In part, it’s doing your research. A great story contains depth, underlying forces, aspects that are not immediately obvious from the outset and from the blanks that have been filled. This could take the form of layered plots and overarching conflicts beyond the main character, or it could take the form of character development into unexpected and novel directions. But the difference is in this creativity and this adding upon the blanks that have been filled. DXHR does this, quite simply, with the Purity vs. Augmentation conflict that is going on beyond the scope of the main character.

And then, we have remarkable stories. The primary difference here is effort and the expansiveness of the world that is being created. Up until now, Deus Ex is little different than Ghost in the Shell and GitS did this whole thing 11 years before the first Deus Ex even came out. So really, there’s nothing new to Deus Ex and nothing novel about it. What makes DXHR remarkable is the level of detail that went into creating this entire world.

The world of DXHR is vast and deep. Scattered throughout the game are little eBooks, Newspapers, Personal emails and other tidbits of society that fleshes out the world that Deus Ex is set in. These tidbits of information don’t help in any way towards the game. They’re just there as things to read and use to learn more about the background of the world that DXHR is set in. It’s this level of detail, this amount of effort into making this detail, that sets DXHR apart.

Deus Ex Human Revolution truly is a grand example in world building. Because everything is voiced, you can walk the streets of Detroit to hear the conversations that people are having with their complaints, their worries and their funny stories. It adds a new level of depth not only to the main character, but also the world that this game is set in. Add that to the above standard gameplay and edgy atmosphere presented by the aesthetic and Deus Ex becomes a wonderful example of the realizable potential of a triple-A production.

Gameplay: 4/5
Aesthetic 4/5
Music: 4/5
Story: 5*/5

Synergy: 5/5

Overall: 90/100