Deus Ex: The Prequels

FBT’s prequel series playthrough has spoilers - because why should he suffer this alone?

I’ve never played Deus Ex, but I figured playing the prequel series first makes sense; I’m not judging them against the beloved original and presumably they’ll provide background and expand on the revered original ... or it might be that I’m trying to put off playing the original, which for all its influence and adulation, I’ve never been bothered about.

Dealing with the rise of cybernetics, mega-corps overtaking governments, class systems, corruption, control, civil war – basically the world now, rather than the game’s setting of 2027 - I’m about to Revolt, Divide and go Missing.

Human Revolution – We’re what’s left of Adam Jensen, a security specialist protecting brilliant scientist and less brilliant girlfriend Megan. We work for Sarif Industries, a leader in body augmentations; the grafting of cybernetics onto/into humans to become ‘Augs’. Since Augs out-perform regular humans in almost every way, a new class system emerges.

As expected, Sarif is unexpectedly attacked just before Meg can make some big announcement about the future of augmentation. Adam wakes to discover Meg’s dead and Sarif turned him into an Aug to keep him alive. While hunting for Meg’s killers, Adam comes to terms with his new abilities, the growing tensions between humans and Augs and a world-wide conspiracy. All of which Adam handles like he’s got a case of the Mondays.

HR seems confused about whether Adam is a blank canvas or his own man; after one boss battle, the villain lies dying and someone asks if he’s going to help them. He mutters he’ll think about it, which seems like a moral choice in the making; then lets them die. Was that because I’ve been playing Adam as an extremely lethal guy? No, it was scripted, so he has own opinions on how to do things? No, because later I choose if we save the spunky flygirl who ferries Adam about. Who’s the boss here? We can choose to have Adam happy or pissed about his Augs but it doesn’t alter his approach or the narrative. It’s like HR included Renegade / Paragon choices but they got cut and it’s left Adam in Safe Mode.

While we find little hints that he’s struggling with his Augs – the mirror in the bathroom is smashed and his apartment looks like Max Payne crashed over – Adam doesn’t have a single cut-scene that explores what he’s become. He can defy gravity, punch through walls and fire ball-bearings from orifices, yet he has no opinion which just distances us from the story; and the game is filled with choices that have no impact too.

Adam can be non-lethal or be murderous but it doesn’t matter - to the storyline, to Adam or even the levels; if I leave a body lying about, it’ll freak out others for a bit before they go back to placid patrolling. It’s purely a playstyle option and my style becomes ‘sneak until I get spotted, slaughter everyone then hide in a vent until it’s forgotten.’

HR feels like a budget game. Everything dramatic happens off-screen or in a cut-scene and the open world is closed. You can wander around Sarif’s HQ hacking doors and computers but it’s useful only to grind for XP (Adam even has to hack his own PC). The free-roaming that Adam does is purely to reach a mission marker; the world is empty.

I also spend forever attending to Adam’s personal admin. Doesn’t he have an Aug for this? Aside from constantly managing your inventory, if for example you need a code you have to hack a PC, get the code, upload it to your PDA then have to read it in the PDA to get Adam to use it. Why?!

HR seems to be headed for a Rage Quit review, but it is a solid game – it looks great and plays well, but the best thing is the story and we don’t experience it; the megacorps that build this stuff are deciding how advanced we are, does that make it evolution or control … what are they up to? Are the Augs just Replicants? Is Adam a Robocop, deciding if he’s machine or man? The story gets more and more complex and worthy of cyberpunk God Gibson but it all happens in the cut-scenes while Adam just moodily crawls through vents.

Adam’s lack of interest is most frustrating when he practically ignores the reveal that Meg’s not only alive but might be behind all this. What?! Adam, are you paying attention? Can we get a moral choice here please?! FFS Adam get involved!

Turns out Meg discovered his DNA can bond to Augs without drugs – in other words, he is literally the new Adam of creation. And he doesn’t react! We have no impact on this. He doesn’t even take off his sunglasses! What about their relationship? Did she ever love him, can he forgive her, how much of human Adam is lef- oh forget it. At least take the sunglasses off when you’re indoors, you look like a douche.

If Adam is the next evolutionary leap, you’d expect more people to take an interest in him, for him to be literally chasing his own tail as the centre of the conspiracy he’s trying to expose but no, that wasn’t the point of all this. Why reveal that then do nothing with it? It actually comes down to the various shadowy powers vying for control of the Augs. Original.

The guy who invented Augs grew to hate what he created and flips a switch that flips out everyone with Augs and the game seems to think this is the moment we choose which side we’re on. But it’s a huge misstep because we’ve not explored what they did to Adam other than as cool powerups. As a player, I loved the ball-bearing thing, but as a character Adam has no opinion. It has no resonance. It’s just a dialogue boss-battle like a non-comedic version of those putdowns in Monkey Island.

Then the whole thing shifts into a crappy zombie game as we fight off Aug-enraged folks to shut down the signal, then reveal to the world the truth about Augs; of course, choices are bitter-sweet ‘this will happen but that will also happen’ options. I go for the fourth option – kill everyone involved. Finally, a game that has its own rage quit.

zombie-augs or just Thriller fans?

HR squanders so much opportunity. It’s a solid little shooter/sneak game, but it seems cheap, the world is wasted and it doesn’t deliver on its own promise which was so compelling.

Can’t wait to see how Mankind Divided handles that ending.

Not so fast. There was one DLC, The Missing Link which was originally released as a stand-alone, but grafted like an Aug into the main game for the Director’s Cut Edition.

This is one of those DLCs that’s just there because DLCs have to be there. During HR, Adam stowed away on a ship run by mercs (I already forgot why), then we cut to ‘later’ and he gets off. But in ML, he was discovered and got caught up in a power struggle between Burke, the merc’s boss and his second-in-command, Kitner who dropped a dime on Burke and thinks Adam's sent to help her. No, but Adam is indifferently happy to help.

Actually, Missing Link isn’t half bad. It’s what the main game should have been, playstyle-wise. This is basically Die Hard with The Terminator instead of McClane. The Mercs reset Adam to factory settings so he’s lost all his Aug upgrades – couldn’t spring to importing a save file then? – and we’re heavily out-matched to begin, turning it into a tense sneak-n-slaughter experience as Adam makes his way around the close-quarter corridors and rooms of the ship and a reconditioned oil rig, putting a stop to the Merc’s insidious plans.

There’s some solid fights, a redundant moral choice (since it has no impact on the main game, Director’s Cut or not) and some good characters, especially Kitner. At one point, she mentions how blood-thirsty we are, which is more reaction than the entire main game managed, and the final boss is a throwback to early shooters where he constantly taunts us over the radio. We’re supposed to subdue or kill him, but I actually find a third way – I lobbed a gas grenade at a heavy trooper who was patrolling outside Burke’s panic room. It bounced off the heavy and down a vent, killing Burke - and the game saw it as subduing him. Totally meant to do that.

If this had been part of the main game it would have dragged, and a lengthy end cut-scene explains why none of this impacts the main game - it is the definition of filler. But it was also really fun; when your quickie DLC has more interest than the main game, something’s up.

Mankind Divided was remembered mostly for its marketing own goals; a tiered release where the more you paid the more game you got, and if enough of us reached the max, they’d release the game early. What?! Then they released a marketing campaign around “aug lives matter”. Idiots. Not even the old adage all publicity is good publicity worked because MD tanked, putting an end to the Deus Ex prequel series. So, is MD a fitting end to Adam’s journey? And how short is that journey considering I killed him in HR?

Turns out, MD ignores the final decision in HR. Convenient. Not even got past the opening credits and this game has annoyed me. Imagine if Mass Effect 3 completely ignored everything tha – well anyway, turns out the rage quit ending is technically cannon, except everyone was saved. With no explanation as to why Augs freaked out, they’re now feared, segregated and spat on.

As a setup, HD is amazing. The way Augs are treated with suspicion and as second-class citizens, the subtle putdowns Adam endures, the media-driven hate is palatable and recognisable in today’s panic-driven world. But it’s window-dressing, just like HR’s story was. There’s an incredible game in here waiting to get out. And I’m still waiting.

What frustrated me about HR was the emptiness of the world and the complex plot that we didn’t dig into. This time it’s simpler; MD is boring. Eight hours I played this before sacking it off, and nothing happened. Nothing. Eight hours.

While there’s loads to do, it doesn’t mean anything. MD is practically an RPG but while we have tons of side-missions they’re fillers. I’m an Interpol double-agent trying to expose a conspiracy. Aren’t I? No because I’ve got to go over there and get something, then find someone, or a dozen other errands that don’t matter and don’t require any effort. And that’s just the main story.

Set mostly in Prague, it’s beautiful to look at and a lot more open and complex, reminding you of Half-Life 2 with faceless cops hassling you and depression everywhere. What ruins it is all the highlighted elements Adam’s ever-present shades are scanning. Doors, PCs, people, tins, bottles, cans, boxes, rubbish, junk, door knobs, taps, toilets, they’re all catching your eye. Look, a carboard box, pick it up. PICK IT UP! It’s like playing Arkham City in permanent detective mode. When am I going to get to sneak or shoot something?