You got anime in my Deus Ex
I loved Deus Ex, and for some odd reason I rather disliked the sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War. There was a certain something missing from the second game. Maybe it was how they had cut out large chunks of the RPG aspect of the game, instead focusing more on the action side of it. Or maybe it was in how the game was advanced far enough in the future that it had lost all connection to the intricacies and oddities of the conspiracies that formed the core of Deus Ex. Actually, it was probably in how all the complex character development and shifting plots were dumbed down from X-Files complexity to Stargate complexity.
So given what happened with the last game, I’m not too excited about the Deus Ex’s upcoming prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I figured that with studio Ion Storm Inc, and designers Warren Spector and Harvey Smith having jack to do with this new game, it isn’t really worth getting excited about. It doesn’t hurt that with the last game sucking like it did; my expectations were lowered a bit. Then, last week, I saw the new trailer and my expectations fell even farther.
So why did this trailer below turn my stomach so?
1. Square Enix:
Much like Pavlov’s pooch, through conditioning I’ve learned to associate this name with pain. Unless I was planning on playing a JRPG, I’ve learned to associate this brand with, well, crap. I will admit that this has more to do with Eidos being absorbed into the company than anything else. It’s probably because the last non JRPG I played that started off with the Square Enix logo was Supreme Commander 2 which was bad enough that it game me Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Either way, this does not fill me with optimistic hope. Also, wtf?!? At 1:16 in the trailer, is that Midgar?
2. You got anime in my cyberpunk:
The Japanese do cyberpunk very well, and when William Gibson helped define the genre, the misc Asian themes he included in his works became a core part of it. Hell, Masamune Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell series is one of the best examples of the genre we’ve seen in recent years. And that’s a fact I was reminded of as I watched the Deus Ex: Human Revolution trailer. Though they’re only cutscenes, in the trailer the cybernetic protagonist moves fluidly and fights with a cinematic, Jedi-like prescience, dodging bullets, falling great heights, and killing people behind him without looking at them.
In Deus Ex the advancement of cybernetics were partially responsible for the growing conflict between those who were cybernetically augmented (mostly military) and those who remained normal (everyone else). The result is a society in which the poor and powerless have a deep distrust of corporations and governments. The game’s protagonist JC Denton is one of the first nanotech augmented agents and is immediately distrusted by his cybernetic predecessors, all of whom are clumsy, slow mechanical monstrosities. And this is supposed to be at the height of traditional cybernetics as a science! That’s a bit of a stretch from the swift, lithe figures seen in Human Revolution’s trailer. So, in 25 years, cybernetic augmentation becomes even more primitive?
What we see in this trailer is a dramatic change in how the technology is approached and it’s a bit of a culturally oriented shift. Rather than focus on cybernetics from a quasi-western viewpoint where they’re strong, slow, and there’s a cost for the benefit, there would seem to be a shift over to a more quasi-eastern view of cybernetics being strong, swift, and generally an improvement over nature. What’s lost is the sense of conflict that these technologies present as the drawbacks become less physical and more aesthetic. The chaos and prejudice becomes less about the inhuman nature of augmentation and its high cost, and more about a simple fear of change.
3. What the hell does this have to do with Deus Ex???
Human Revolution is a prequel, taking place in 2027, about 25 years prior to the events in Deus Ex. However, the heavy anime-esk themes visible in Human Revolution are a far cry from the harsh, nihilistic themes of the first game. In it, New York was a squalid hell hole and things were not too different then they are today. Aside from minor changes brought on by the advance of technology (mainly cybernetics) the world was quite familiar. In Human Revolution we see a society where technology has taken over and spawned the birth of multi-leveled sci-fi cities and giant robots. In general, the world in the new game is too damned shiny. This is supposed to be 17 years in the future, rather than the 50 year leap the first game took. Not a whole lot of time for the world to change that much.
Also, the themes don’t really line up. One of the main themes in Deus Ex was in the growing conflict and cultural stress brought on by the presence of cybernetics. This was compounded by the fear of a mysterious and deadly new plague that was killing millions as well as a loss of control over their lives as governments became more controlling. So in this chaos cybernetics became a symbol of the growing gap between the classes. So what the hell does any of this have to do with Deus Ex: Human Revolution? Not a damn thing really. A prequel game is often used to explain parts that were missing from the story in earlier games. Resident Evil 0 was used to explain where the T-Virus had come from and how the mansion had become infected. Human Revolution can try to achieve this as well, explaining how the conspiracies from the first game were started and covering the development of the new plague. Except they already did that in the first game. So what the hell is Deus Ex: Human Revolution supposed to cover? The same cybernetics vs. normal people conflict that the first game centered on, just without all of the major sociological aspects that made it work? Or maybe it’s just another attempt to cash in on an older franchise without actually examining what it was that made the original games stand out.
Either way I’m not exactly thrilled at the prospect.