Human Revolution isn’t my game of the year anymore.
I gave Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days my game of the year last year since I wanted to be unconventional and re-define what ‘game of the year’ was. Namely, game of the year (in my opinion) is a game that represents that year. Dog Days was the worst game I played of 2011, but more importantly, the only bad game I played last year. I played average ones, yeah, but I didn’t ever play a bad game, hell even Halo Reach surprised me by being ‘not-meh’. It perfectly represented the year, one of the best gaming years in recent memory. In my wrap up of 2010’s awards I actually said a certain block-sandbox based game was automatic game of the year. I think I’ll stick to that.
But even if Minecraft never came out, Human Revolution still wouldn’t be my game of the year. I detailed last week my feelings on its consistency, and this week it’s on its potential, more importantly this week it’s about exactly why it isn’t capable of being game of the year. Not because it doesn’t symbolize the year (it kind of does) nor because it’s a bad game, it’s a terrific game, it is a Deus Ex but it… stays safe. That’s hard to say, when talking about Deus Ex of all things, but Human Revolution plays it safe in one very important aspect; disempowerment and perpetual empowerment.
Many hours before the end of the game you are given the passive choice of going to the LIMB clinic and getting fitted with the biochip upgrade. Adam experiences glitches throughout the section leading up to this, so I was interested as to what they’d play around with. I didn’t go for the upgrade on my first playthrough, but on my second playthrough I did. So a few hours later I’m at another horrible boss battle about to use my Typhoon for the first time in a few hours and suddenly, in cutscene, something finally happens with that biochip upgrade thing.
I’d already seen what happened to the populace after Hugh Darrow pulled a Soulja Boy and “told ’em all” to turn into violent animals, almost slightly Splicer-like, so I was expecting something to happen to Adam. What happened was I was unable to use my augmentations and see my HUD, making the boss battle almost impossible. I eventually did it after finding a rocket launcher in my inventory, but suddenly Adam’s body apparently adapted to the new biochip and everything was cool. I could use my powers, I could see my health and suddenly it kind of felt useless. Even when Hugh Darrow specifically pulled a Soulja Boy… nothing happened.
That struck me as a bit odd. Like I can understand the developers not wanting to ruin the game’s pace, especially at such a crucial moment of the story, but I kind of felt like they were playing patchwork with the plot so that I could go on my empowerment crusade. The problem with most video-games I play nowadays is that they are about empowerment, giving you more and more power as the game progresses, there’s nothing wrong with that per say but when it comes to pacing and ending a game… then it’s a problem. Case in point: BioShock or maybe even Arkham Asylum.
If video-games want to become a well-regarded artistic medium beyond just your Destructoid ChillBro or your Blogossus Reader then they’re going to have to take risks. I am sick of shooters, there I’ve said it, and Human Revolution is (for the most part) a game which ignores most shooter conventions. You can be killed in a few shots, so you have to be smart about the way you play, essentially turning your disempowerment into empowerment/weakness into strength. All that sort of thing. You’re more independent and agile than the guards, so you have to use that against them.
However, there comes a point where you realize the game is rewarded you and suiting you up to the point where you’re finishing sections quicker than you would have. You start devouring ammo, hoarding PRAXIS points and sometimes even completely ignoring hacking because you can throw a vending machine to reveal a vent. I might be niggling here, I probably am, but Human Revolution seems to still be about empowerment. For a story about the human condition, the nature of evolution/augmentation and genetic conditioning… it seems a little weak to still be letting players become superpowered beings.
That’s why when the biochip upgrade came about I was expecting something else. I was expecting to have no access to my powers/HUD for the rest of the game, I would now be put back at square one in terms of my abilities but also square thousand in terms of story progression. The story actually goes into certain places where there aren’t that many guards (Panchea being less about detection really) so it seems a bit odd I wasn’t allowed to be put at square one, I would have relished in it, and it’s something that has been bothering me ever since.
The game had the potential to shoot me in the knees just before the finishing line. Of course it would have killed the pacing quite a bit but handled delicately and you’d have a nice angled swoop into a more thoughtful and fleshed out pacing as I crawled to victory. It would have probably tasted sweeter too, having completed the game (technically) without the use of powers or detection. I would have had to rely on my memory to remember guard placement, frag grenades to clear vents hidden behind vending machines and my ingenuity in this even more disempowered state.
I don’t fault the developers for not taking this route, I can certainly understand why they didn’t want to take this risk, but handled correctly this could have made it my game of the year. A game that dwarfs you in comparison to the challenge, rather than build you up to meet the challenge. It reminds me of Shadow of the Colossus in that every single Colossus has to be defeated using your intelligence and experimentation, and there’s no real empowerment past your stamina bar/health meter which actually evolve through use/experimentation (with edibles) and not through ‘Praxis Points’.
On another note: I’ve heard a lot of people argue the ending was bullshit in the way it put across the question and the resolution the game takes is wrong. In fact some specific complaints I’ve heard are “They didn’t flesh out Jensen as a character.” “I wanted to see what happened with Adam and Megan.” “What happened to Pritchard? I didn’t choose the suicide option.” and to that I say thank fucking god! The relationship of Adam and Megan was forced from the very beginning and I couldn’t believe in a relationship that had years of history. When I was asked to care about Megan, as a player, I couldn’t give two shits quite frankly. I don’t know her, would I like to know her, of course. If Adam and Megan were put in the ‘character development’ room however, they’d be two steps ahead of me, and I’d have to assume all this history and development between them.
Adam wasn’t a blank slate character, there are specific side-missions and emails and one giant spoiler in the after credits sequence (which is delicious) that pretty much puts him as the most important person in the Deus Ex universe. What I liked was my freedom to enjoy the conspiracies and feel as this human dealing with augmentation he didn’t choose to have. For Human Revolution to suddenly make me care about a character that apparently had all this history with me, felt kinda cheap, I don’t want to know it. Maybe people are just thick like that, maybe they’re just used to Red Dead Redemption and pre-determined character relationships. I don’t know about you but the growing relationship with Pritchard was far more interesting because I could see it evolve, and Adam started to evolve with Pritchard at the same time I started playing him. We were on the same emotional page 100% of the time.
As for the end question put across a crude way. Yes, the ‘end game buttonatron 9000’ is a bit tacky, but I’m thankful that the question asked wasn’t a “Derp du u lyk da agumentz!!1” kind of question. It was a difficult question that, I thought, was about whether or not I trusted humanity or whether or not the truth would really set them free. In the end, I did a Dark Knight and chose to take the fall for everything. The same way Alfred hides the truth about Rachael from Bruce by burning the letter, or Batman takes the rap for those killings. No-one should stand in humanity’s way, not even me.