SPOILER ALERT!: This piece contains story spoilers – from the very first sentence onwards.
My guilty little secret: I reloaded my quicksave about 30 times to try and save Faridah Malik when her helicopter’s shot down and then assaulted by Belltower goons late in the game. Having played a stealthy, non-lethal character throughout the game, I was as much use as an asthmatic kitten in a straight-up firefight, so the rush of robots and heavily-armoured thugs that swarmed the downed bird made mincemeat of me the second I showed my goateed face. Trouble was, I couldn’t sneak about doing careful silent takedowns, because after a few harrowing moments Faridah would be so much augmented toast. And while I did have the option of spamming the whole scene with explosives, I didn’t want to compromise my ‘no fatalities’ ethos. What to do, what to do?
Well, cheat. Cheat within the confines of the game – quicksave, quickload, quicksave, quickload, incrementally creeping closer to an idealised set of circumstances wherein I’d made it to point X without being killed, had non-fatally taken out assault cannon-toting guard Y before he could pepper the chopper, hidden deftly at point Z then dropped an EMP grenade under robot Ω. No-one dead (unless you count robots), Faridah was rescued in time and I came it through it all with nary a scratch. That’s my story. That’s how the game records it. That’s why I’m a bloody hero, right?
Of course, what I’d actually done was quicksave every second step, and quickload the second I was spotted or shot. Faridah died a good dozen times, as did I; the poor first guard to enter the scene, meanwhile, suffered 30 assorted fatalities and knock-outs as I experimented with everything in my arsenal in search of the most effect way to get a few steps closer to my desperate goal. It was shameful, it was pathetic, it was a distortion of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s concept that consequences matter. And I don’t regret it for a second.
Why I don’t regret it is braided in irretrievably in with why I enjoyed DXHR so much. Nominally, Human Revolution is the story of beardy, growly cyborg security guard Adam “I didn’t ask for this” Jensen, but screw that guy, frankly. Screw him and screw his lost love and screw his double-dealing employers. This is about me – because DXHR, with its impressive freedom of action, is a soft, yielding material I wrap around my own brain so that it reflects me. Its reality is the reality I choose to give it – and I choose that Faridah lives, that she’s rescued by me and that I do so without my ever breaking my own rules of engagement.
What my savegame abuse also achieved was to show off the game’s combat flexibility and quite how spectacular a DXHR skirmish can be in the hands of a (cough) skilled player. This Jensen I’d built really could take out everyone in an open space filled with snipers and body-armoured shotgunners and rocket-spewing robots; leaping from cover to cover, a silent throttle here, a tranquiliser dart in that guy up there’s face, a gas grenade at that clutch of thugs as they rush through the door, an EMP mine under that robot and then a stungun blast right to the belly of the last guard. Unconscious bodies and flaming robo-wreckage everywhere, and in the middle of it all lies one still-intact helicopter. I didn’t ask for this, but goddamn if I’m not going to make the best of it.
I was Cyborg Batman, an unstoppable force of black-suited vengeance. I would love to see a recording of my ‘perfect’ playthrough, with the staccato, incremental interruptions of cheaty saving and loading excised. I’d look like a god of war. No wonder DXHR’s populace is so alarmed by the increasing numbers of machine-men wandering the world’s perma-gloomy streets.
For all the conspiracies and the moralising about bio-mechanical augmentation, DXHR is also an excellent combat game with an extensive, player-selected toolbox that’s never guilty of boxing you into specific weapons or specific playstyles. It might not quite be the equal of its revered forebear in terms of emergent possibilities – its AI and physics are perhaps too machine-tight to allow the sort of flexibility and mad experiments that Deus Ex 1 did – but what a superhero simulator it is.
I could, if I’d have so chosen, saved Faridah by hiding behind boxes and methodically sniping everything that moved. If you want to play it like a boring grey-faced man would play a boring grey FPS with a boring grey machinegun, go ahead and be boring and grey. DHXR allows that too. Me, I wanted to be right in there, doing crazy stuff like plummeting off rooftops in slow-motion.
Despite the high-speed, high-gloss violence, Human Revolution achieved something I honestly wasn’t expecting: it made me feel like I was playing Deus Ex again. I was back to 18 years old, the same unblinking, hunched abandonment to this game’s world and the jigsaw pieces it gave me to build my path through it. Just as in 2000, I was consumed by the compulsive need to hack every door and terminal, to read every datapad, to steal every credit; to have a strict code of stealth and non-lethality; to become drawn into the paranoid guessing game about which of my assorted contacts and opponents was the real enemy, the true puppet-master of all this conflict and betrayal.
A world forever on the brink of chaos, but one that I could nonetheless dictate the rules of. That’s why I couldn’t let Faridah Malik die. This was my reality and my story, and I had the tools and the ability to keep it that way. Consequences? Hah. They answer to me.