When Games Matter is a weekly exploration by Drew Dixon of meaningful moments in games. Operating under the assumption that games do in fact matter, Drew seeks to highlight those moments that have much to say about who we are and the world we live in.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game about choices. You choose how to accomplish missions as each provides multiple paths. You choose whether to use lethal or nonlethal force with the enemies you encounter. You choose how to interact with those around you. These choices give the player a sense of ownership of your character. While you play as Adam Jensen, a man who was unwillingly augmented (genetic and mechanical enhancements to one’s limbs and mental capabilities—people who receive such treatment are know as “Augs”), you are confronted with so many choices that Jensen begins morph into whoever you want him to be.
As I was progressing through the first few missions of DX:HR, I noticed a trend of complaints about the game on Twitter. Apparently DX:HR has boss battles and apparently many players felt that these battles contradicted the central design, namely its commitment to choice. I recently defeated the first boss in DX:HR and thought it might be interesting to analyze each battle in turn as I progress through them and discuss whether these battles contradict the game’s design philosophy.
**Minor Spoiler Ahead (discussion of the second core mission of the game)**
The first boss battle is Jensen’s first encounter with an “Aug.” Given the game’s narrative, namely the presence of Augs who have special abilities and enhancements to their bodies, it follows that a battle with an Aug would be more difficult. That said, the first boss is something of a “bullet sponge,” an enemy that soaks up an inordinate amount of punishment from your gun. The first boss, however, went down more quickly than I thought he would and consequently didn’t irritate me as much as it seems to have irritated others.
The real question, however, is do these battles contradict the game’s commitment to choice by forcing the player to take lethal action? I have been playing a stealthy, nonlethal character. I try to avoid enemies altogether when possible and use nonlethal force when confrontation appears inevitable. There appears to be no nonlethal way to approach the first boss battle.
I appreciate DX:HR for making me take lethal action against this Aug. Life does not always present us with multiple choices. Sometimes there is only one real choice–survival. For a game predicated on choice to remind me that choice is a privilege seemed important, necessary even.
Where the first boss battle disappointed me was in the lack of response from Jensen. Given that I had made a commitment to accomplishing missions in a nonlethal manner, I expected Jensen to react more strongly to this turn of events. Perhaps he could have attempted negotiating with the Aug from behind cover. I would have liked to see Jensen, after the fact, at least reflect on being forced to take lethal measures. I realize that these are far-reaching demands but if games are going to feature choice prominently we should expect games’ narratives to reflect our choices more accurately.