Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Deus Ex Effect

This post is going to be twofold.  First, it's going to be an in-progress review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Following that, it's going to be a small expansion on one of the main themes in the game.

First off, I'm going to say that I'm a huge fan of the Deus Ex games I've played, those being the original, and now Human Revolution.

"What about..."  No.

Smarmy jabs at Invisible War aside, the series has always been great at a few things: Alternative paths through levels, options to fit a vast array of play styles, and absolutely nailing their setting.  

So, for the uninformed, the Deus Ex series is a hybrid First Person Shooter Role Playing Game.  The original released in 2000, and is a graphical mess by today's standards, but it was an ambitious game at the time.  When I play Deus Ex games, my first playthrough is always as a hacker who opts for non-lethal takedowns, and tries to stay out of view.  Granted, sometimes I fall on my face in the attempt, but you get the drift.  The main setting of the series is a dystopian future, where cybernetic augmentations are all the rage, and conspiracies are abound.  

The timeline goes Human Revolution > Deus Ex > Invisible War, so the prequel is what I'm in the midst of playing now.  

So far, what I like about the game is a few simple nods to how the technology will advance in the series.  In Deus Ex, all grenades can be tossed or thrown as normal, or they could be affixed to walls or floors and become mines.  In Human Revolution, the grenades have to be combined with a mine template in order to be used as a mine.  Second, we get to see the rise of augmentation in the series, as it played a plot point in the original.  In the original, you play a new type of Augmented soldier.  You are more biomechanical then mechanical.  By that I mean, you don't have gaudy metal limbs, and you look more human than machine.  Because of this, other members of the military organization, UNATCO, despise you because of it.  In fact, when you fight those two older edition cyborgs, you can defeat them using their deficiencies instead of in straight combat.  

The augmentations in Human Revolution are very obvious, yet they are extremely practical.  I don't the augments in Human Revolution are more advanced than the ones in Deus Ex, but I suppose some continuity issues must be accepted for gamplay changes over ten years.  

The biggest hiccup I've come across in this game has been the boss fights.  Now, in the original Deus Ex, there were usually some alternatives to figuring out how to beat the bosses, but in Human Revolution, the first Boss Fight I've come across was purely a single's combat with a huge mercenary with a giant assault rifle.  This forced me to do more cover shooting that normal, but this guy wasn't completely stupid.  He could throw 1, two, or even 3 grenades at once from his apparently inexhaustible supply of them.  Because of my habit for playing shadow-lurky, hacky, non-lethal takedowny character, I had some issue here.  It took me about 10 attempts to finally get a plan that worked (which was exploding gas barrel followed up by a few grenades), but getting around the room to get all that stuff was really difficult with his eagle eye.

Apart from that gripe, the game is absolutely absorbing.  I find myself reading emails that have no bearing on anything, I read some of the materials that are just lying around, like the newspapers and eBooks.  This does a great job of making the world feel lived in.  You see emails for maintenance work, or ones about inboxes being full.  You see actual employees wandering a building and carrying on work, and personal conversations.  It doesn't feel like people are spouting the same two lines over and over automatically.  

So that's the review portion of the game.  You should play it, if you're a fan of engrossing worlds and a fairly fun plot.

I really want to talk about human augmentation though.  Throughout the course of the game, you'll find people are split on the issue if human augmentation is either the next step of human evolution, or that it's an abomination to the natural order of things.  You can kind of see that happening in reality too, if augmentation technology advanced.  You can even see this a little bit today.

For example, in the last Summer Olympics, there was a sprinter who had prosthetic legs.  Oscar Pistorius had both of his legs amputated below the knees when he was a child.  The issue with him running with people who have natural legs, is that studies showed that his prosthetic legs provided an advantage to him over other runners.  His legs used less energy than a meaty limb would use, and part of that was attributed to less vertical movement when he ran.  You know when you run, your body bobs up and down a little, with the lifting and falling of your legs.  With his legs, he didn't have to use that extra energy, so his endurance went further.  

Now, some people supported him because he was this inspirational story that someone disabled and who suffered a tragedy when he was young is beating able bodied people.  Others feel like his running with other people isn't as impressive, because his limbs give an advantage.  Some people might even be worried that if people with prosthetic are allowed to use these technologies with non-augmented people, that it could lead to a slippery slope where people are cutting off their own limbs to get more efficient limbs for athletic competition.  

It's a fine line to draw, between how much of your performance is due to the person's skill, and how much is due to the technology.  This is a predominant issue in sports, but imagine it like this.  Imagine if you're working a data entry job, and you can type about 40 words per minute.  Somebody gets hired with a prosthetic hands that can type 90 words per minute.  If your typing speed is the sole basis for your performance, then you would be obsolete.  

I really can't say which is the right answer, because there's merits in both.  Do we make separate leagues for augmented athletes?  Do we prevent people with them from working certain jobs?  If we do that, will they be able to press discrimination issues?  if the augs aren't affordable enough many people to get them, then it just becomes another way for the rich to become more powerful, in a sense, than the poorer.  I'd like to hear some more opinions on this interesting topic, if anyone is willing to share.   

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