Human Stagnation

One of my favourite games of all time is Deus Ex. Ostensibly a first-person shooter, it featured RPG and stealth elements, as well as a multifaceted level design, allowing you to choose your own path and play-style.

You can bust through the front door of the enemy stronghold, painting the walls with their entrails; or you can slip in through the back door, hiding from the patrolling guards and running past while their backs are turned; or you can find a security panel, hack into it, and reprogram their own security measures to attack them; or you can find an air vent, and crawl through without anyone noticing; or you can come up with a different strategy I haven’t even thought of.

It was a unique approach to game design. Because up until then, most games were designed very linearly. You had one path, and one goal, and your only option was choosing which overpowered superweapon you were gonna use to take the enemy’s head off.

But Deus Ex was completely different. In fact, you could go through the entire game with only a single kill, and that one kill you could perform three different ways. Either you could kill them at the very first opportunity, with very little resistance; or you could wait until later in the game, where you can either find the secret kill phrase, or just shoot them with your gun.

There are even several forking paths in the game, where your actions determine whether any of your allies die. Which I think is a nice little touch. Three characters that come to mind are saved by staying and fighting an attacking enemy (in a supposed-to-lose fight), finding and interrogating a generic NPC revealed to be a saboteur, and successfully completing a stealth-based side-mission.

Then there was the plot itself. Loaded to the brim with intrigue and suspense. You start the game by working for the law-enforcement arm of the United Nations, before switching sides, and fighting the multi-national conspiracy that you were an unknowing part of. And while it’s basically the wet-dream of a paranoid schizophrenic, it’s still a story I love, primarily because of how interesting it is. They frame it in a way that can kinda make sense, and it makes you wonder just how deep down the rabbit hole one can go.

Of course, it’s entirely fictional, and anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.

But yes, I love Deus Ex. I love the gameplay, I love the story, I love every little thing about it. What I don’t love is what came after. Because such a great game deserves a great follow-up. And that never happened.

The first thing to note about the Deus Ex follow-ups is that the first game had three different endings, each changing the world in drastically different ways. So writing a sequel to that would be insane, since none of those three endings were inherently better than any other. None of them could be defined as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or ‘proper.’ And I’m not even mentioning those characters who may or may not have died. A sequel would have to nail down precisely what happened, or dance around any of the branching plot points. The latter would be annoying, and the former would be offensive to anyone who played the first game, and didn’t follow those plot points.

Now, I never played Invisible War, the sequel to Deus Ex. Partially because of the problems I mentioned earlier, but also because the general consensus of that game is that it’s shit. So why bother?

But I did play the Deus Ex prequel, Human Revolution. And all I have to say is, if this is considered the better follow-up, that can only mean Invisible War shoots hot lead into your eyes. Because Human Revolution sucks!! Continue reading

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