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Beginning Deus Ex

January 19, 2012

This Christmas was very nice. After moving to Toronto for grad school, it was nice to visit friends and family back in BC. And of course, the Steam Christmas sale is always a joyous time (though I admit that I haven’t yet begun playing many of the games I bought).

Just recently, however, I began playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. My good friend Adam Barker (with whom I began—but haven’t continued—the A Pixel Canvas podcast) gave it to me for Christmas, and although I’ve been eager to play it, I set it aside while I completed Batman: Arkham City and played several hours into Skyrim. Yesterday, though, I finally started it, and I’ll give my spoiler-ridden thoughts below.

So far, I’ve only completed the intro segment, so I have yet to get into the real meat of the game. However, the Extra Credits Deus Ex episode has primed me for it—in fact, it was what made me really interested in the game. I highly recommend watching it, whether you plan to play the game or not.

But being prepped for conversation and thoughts about the game’s setting has made me more conscious of what’s going on, even in my first playthrough. In particular, the first part of the game has the protagonist, Adam Jensen, entirely bereft of augmentations. As such, there’s no HUD, and the only abilities you have are to crouch and shoot: to me, the game felt clean, rather than barren. At the end of the prologue, Adam is thrown through a window and subsequently shot in the head. It’s clear from the glass embedded in his body and the blood staining his entire torso that’s he not doing so well. And this is where things get compelling.

Following all of this are the title card and intro credits, where we see a montage of cybernetic implants, Adam in a hospital bed, and surgeries. Adam’s being rebuilt: he’s an asset to the company, and they don’t want to lose him. So they replace his whole right arm, install (that’s a strange word to use here, but I feel that it’s more accurate than “transplant”) barcode-stamped organs into his body, and equip him with neural implants. We emerge six months later on Adam’s first day back at work, and as the camera swoops into Adam’s point of view, we’re greeted with a HUD.

And it feels strange.

I know that I was prepared to think about these issues by watching the Extra Credits commentary beforehand, but after playing without a health or ammo indicator on-screen, the sudden addition of these elements feels foreign. And in the context of the game, I suspect that there will be some thought-provoking questions raised: here we have a man who was involuntarily (though he doesn’t seem to object thus far) reconstructed with cybernetic limbs and organs that will provide him with extra-human abilities. As I understand it, the game confronts the questions of whether such augmentations to humans is “good”, and the social and moral dilemmas brought about when some people are unable to pay for these enhancements.

I suspect that as the story progresses, we’ll see Adam experience a crisis of faith in the company for whom he works, perhaps hating that he unwillingly joined the side of the “improved” humans. Or maybe something else will transpire. Either way, I’m eager to see what happens.

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