The Technology Behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Litter from the city streets shudders and churns to life in the brisk Detroit breeze. Amber floodlights set the eddying debris aglow like ash raining down upon the city. A bouquet of burning tires and mustard gas accompanies the clamor of riots in the distance. Stepping out onto the third floor balcony, you switch on your retinal implants and survey the avenue below, noting temperature differentials and air composition. Infrared ghosts glimmer within the buildings beneath, but a quick spectral analysis reveals no danger. The phone rings, and you answer without moving. The contact’s voice is transmitted directly into your skull, stimulating the tympanum of your inner ear. The voice in your head advises you to keep moving, and the call ends with a click. A gesture to a keypad embedded in your forearm produces a muted flashing as you vanish from sight and step off the balcony, dissolving into the street’s scattered shadows.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is more than just another video game. It’s a meditation on the future of technology and a chilling premonition about the ways emerging industries will affect our world in coming decades. Developer Eidos-Montreal has crafted a gritty science-fiction society to rival the most ambitious William Gibson novel. Distilled into a sleek cyberpunk dystopia, Human Revolution evokes a near-future world in which class tensions have assumed fanatic proportions. To make matters worse, advances in biotechnology and neuroscience have provided wealthier citizens the option of upgrading their bodies and minds, or “augmenting,” in the parlance of the game world. In 2027, unemployment is widespread, and the gulf between the rich and the vast lower class is magnified by selective access to biological implants that bestow their wearers with unique abilities. Friction between pro-humanity activists, biotech corporations, and privatized paramilitary groups imparts Deus Ex: HR with an explosive atmosphere from beginning to end. Security chief for an international biotechnology firm, Adam Jensen stands at the center of the upheaval.
Sometimes the ethical and existential dilemmas in Human Revolution smack of science fiction retreads, but they’re appropriate enough for the genre. The inevitable Bladerunner comparison is valid: sushi shops line the alleyways of lower Hengsha in China beneath the neon glow of ever-present advertisements. Steam ascends from the sewers, and acid rain corrodes the sidewalks. But the game splits from the seminal 1982 cyberpunk film in its pacing and focus, delivering more science with its fiction: a trend in the genre as audiences have become increasingly tech-savvy. Some of the science suggested by Human Revolution is downright disturbing, like secret government-placed kill switches in all augmentation software and corporate offshore data-havens that covertly experiment on unwilling subjects. The race to produce the next super soldier is common science fiction trope that echoes Cold War arms escalation, but excellent script writing and distinct mood prevent the game’s story arcs from colliding with convention. Human Revolution predicts some astonishing technology, but it reminds us that progress always comes at a cost.
From gunpowder to movable print to medical vaccines, humans have continually found ways to exceed our own nature. Today cochlear implants allow the deaf to hear, and pacemakers automatically jump-start abating hearts. Satellites transmit data to dashboard computers that politely tell us precisely where we are. Anyone with a laptop and network connection can instantly become an expert about tomato gardening, nuclear physics, or the gross domestic product of Lichtenstein. What if we removed the need for a laptop and could instead view the Web with visual implants? If augmentation technology ever progresses to the level suggested in Deus Ex, will it be a blessing or a curse? What are the implications of terabyte flash drives for the USB ports in our heads?
Lead writer Mary DeMarle says of Human Revolution, “We wanted to ground it in today and make something where everyone could say, ‘I can see the world going that way.’” It’s certainly not a future bathed in blue where magic terminals and computer voices provide us with everything we need. It’s a time when people undergo painful surgery just to remain viable in an accelerating world.
Thoreau once said, “Men have become the tools of their tools.” It’s a truism the developers at Eidos Montreal know well. Like any sci-fi worth its weight in jetpacks, Deus Ex: Human Revolution offers a coherent warning about an alarmingly plausible future.