RPG’s are no strangers to moral choice. Would you abort a puppy, or kill its mum? These are important issues for the educated super-soldier to consider, and they’re given the respectful treatment they deserve: thrown at you in-between killing aliens, and then never mentioned again. But it’s good to know that after the half-minute multiple choice quiz, you’re fully equipped to handle the puppy abortion issue in real life.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution does something different. The entire game is framed around a single moral question: What do you think about Human Augmentation?
Each moral dilemma in the game is asking you to think about this central issue. And as you jet around the world to explore each new exotic locale, you’re also exploring every side of the augmentation debate. You sneak, hack, talk or fight your way through biotech firms, anti-augmentation terrorist cells, the slums and the ivory towers. And the game never stops asking you what you think. What’s the right action in this situation? What about this one? Each quest that ends with a choice acts as a hypothetical question on a certain aspect of augmentation. Each time you make a decision, you’re cementing and refining your own philosophical stance on Human Augmentation.
And so, of course, the game ends with a choice. It’s the culmination of everything the game has asked you so far, and it’s informed by all the information you’ve been given throughout the game. Like the ending choice of Deus Ex, it’s about the world, and what path you think the future should take. It made me stare at my screen for a very, very long time.
I jogged around in circles. I dropped all my weapons and items in the centre of the room. I crouched, and pretended Adam Jensen was meditating.
When I made a decision and saw the end result, I felt like I hadn’t just been educated about Human Augmentation: By playing through this game, I had formed a full opinion on an issue that I had never cared about before. Deus Ex introduced a lot of concepts, and quoted a lot of people, and it was incredible to see that from a game about shooting people. But it never fully filled you in on any of the questions it raised; it introduced you to them, and expected you to educate yourself. Human revolution keeps it low-key, and it’s characters rarely quote anyone. Instead it focuses on this single issue, and tries to show you how it would affect the lives of real people.
Some spoilers about the ending in this paragraph- no specifics, just the way it plays out. The game ends with the best use of the slideshow-with-voiceover ending I can imagine. The voiceover seems to be speaking about the modern day. The cutscene uses real, live-action stock footage; towards the end, it shows some of the cybernetic prosthesis that are in use now. What it’s saying is; this is real. This issue, and the opinions you’ve now formed on it, are real. Our game hasn’t been making you form an opinion on each faction of a fantasy world; it’s been giving you the tools to engage with a real issue that is about to become very important.
And it’s still so great to see that from a game about a rogue super-soldier who punches people in the face.