Over the last year and a half or so, I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Eidos Montréal’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution; along with its progenitor, Deus Ex, it is simply and unequivocally one of the five best games I’ve ever played. The other three games on that list vary from day to day, but generally include System Shock 2, BioShock, and One Random Bethesda Game.
Deus Ex was released in June of 2000, so it might not stand up well today for those who didn’t play it when it was new, but for me it’s like revisiting an old friend. Sure, it’s ugly by today’s standards, but since today’s standards were formulated by a committee of six horny chimpanzees, two blind donkeys, and a sentient tennis racket, I’m perfectly comfortable disregarding today’s standards and thinking for myself. To be honest, Deus Ex was never a pretty game, but for everything that it lacked in looks it compensated with girth; my first playthrough took over 40 hours, which by today’s standards is positively geological. It never got (nor ever really needed) an expansion pack, since at the time Ion Storm Austin was busy repeatedly delaying the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War.
Human Revolution was shorter, clocking in with around twenty hours of gameplay for the earnest completist, and as a result it garnered an expansion pack called The Missing Link in October of 2011. The Missing Link adds a mission that takes place within the story of Human Revolution, so of course a lot of people complained that it was merely an attempt at cashing in on the early success of the game, but whatever; at $14.99 it was somewhat pricey for a five-hour experience, but it was completely autonomous in terms of gameplay and character development — the nature of the mission ensured that players got to develop Adam Jensen’s skills to their liking from the very start, as he begins The Missing Link with his tabula firmly and thoroughly rasa, with nary a bullet nor an augmentation to his name. For an expansion that can be played at one’s discretion, as though it were a new, smaller, standalone game, that kind of character development works perfectly.
Where such character development doesn’t work is the way that it’s integrated into the narrative in Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut. In playing the Wii U version, I’ve discovered that it’s no longer possible to play The Missing Link at my discretion; instead it must be played as simply another milestone on Adam’s road to liberating the world from tyranny, greed, and funky yellow haze. The incorporation of The Missing Link into the main plot of Human Revolution sounds like a great idea, until you experience that particular mission in the context of what it means to the player’s internal narrative.
Plenty of games play the Now-We’re-Gonna-Take-All-Your-Shit-and-Let-You-Figure-Out-Where-To-Find-It card — even BioShock and Deus Ex did it for ten to twenty minutes each — but none of them do it for five mothershitting hours, and none of them also take all of the skills that you’ve chosen over the course of however long you’ve played the game. (Please note the frequency of italics in the preceding passage, which I use here to indicate my intense vexation. That and “mothershitting.”)
I don’t know who first came up with this crap, but it wasn’t someone who valued player autonomy; when I play a game like Human Revolution, it’s my own story that I’m interested in maintaining — that is, the story that I experience in my head as I choose a play style, build up the character in line with my standards, and select and upgrade my weapons accordingly. Sure, I’ll follow the game’s intrinsic story if it’s compelling enough, doesn’t step on my ‘nads, and was written by someone with the aforementioned concupiscent primates’ working knowledge of the English language, but the story that I’m really after is the one that I construct for myself. Forcing The Missing Link to be played within the main plot of Human Revolution completely undermines that fiction (“I am the sniper, the brawler, the ninja-esque assassin-type sneaky guy”) and fundamentally requires the player to begin playing another game, as a completely different character, in the middle of what was a very personal, player-authored experience. How screwed up is that?
Contextually, it’s believable that Adam has lost all of his weapons at the beginning of The Missing Link, but there’s no excuse for setting the player back to zero with his augmentations, which utterly disregards the reason why the original pseudo-standalone version of The Missing Link did this; a blank slate was necessary in order to allow the player to once more experience the pleasure of building a character and upgrading skills to meet a specific situation, but this occurs after the player has presumably finished the original game, when such character-building can be fully appreciated. The first iteration of The Missing Link was a reward, a little more of a very good thing; in Director’s Cut the corresponding mission is like being forced to eat dessert, with no spoon and no napkin, in the middle of a seven-course meal. In other words, it’s a punishment, one that is meted out for no transgression other than buying the game. It essentially says “fuck you, start over,” which is the most abhorrently disrespectful way to ask players to spend their time — given just a modicum of reason and ability, anyone can earn more money, but no one can earn more time, and I resent any game arbitrarily invalidating that which I’ve already spent towards its completion, especially when the span of that invalidation lasts for a full quarter of the total playing time.
At the very least, the Missing Link mission in Director’s Cut should have afforded players the opportunity to keep their augmentations, while making them scrounge through the environment for weapons and consumable resources. As it stands, the blatant disregard for the context of the original expansion pack, and its subsequent out-of-context application to a main-story mission, has — for me — all but ruined an otherwise unparalleled experience.