In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Tom can't stop falling off buildings, climbing up and falling off again.
Sometimes an ability feels so good it changes the way I play a game, and the Icarus Landing System from Deux Ex: Human Revolution feels amazing. It's a meagre tool compared to Jensen's arsenal of bionic gadgets. He can spray tiny warheads from his shoulders and brutalise guards with spring-action swords that pop out of his elbows. An ability that reduces falling damage ought not to compare, and yet it is Jensen's most graceful manoeuvre.
Film, comic and game characters who love showing off have been using the three point landing for years. It's visual shorthand that implies a high level of martial skill. It can be quite expressive when used well. Spider-Man slaps against walls in a lithe, springy motion. Pavements everywhere fear Iron Man's crunchy fist-first variation. In Ghost In The Shell Kusanagi's heavy three-point landing shows the surprising weight of her augmented body, reminding us that she's beyond human.
Like Kusanagi, Jensen's landing is obviously augmented, but the characterisation is different: more delicate and controlled. You can upgrade it to deliver a concussive blast with the downward thrust of a palm, but it's an upgrade I never take—the standard animation is too perfect. Ten feet from the floor Jensen summons a gold aura with outstretched hands. As the ground approaches he folds into a crouched pose and the electromagnetic field cushions his landing. His trenchcoat settles around him and he casually stands, as though dropping three storeys from a rooftop is perfectly natural.
It has become completely natural for him. He poise of that landing shows that he's mastered his synthetic body. At two Praxis points, it's a surprisingly expensive upgrade, the sort you're likely to take later in the game when the environments shift to multi-tiered complexes. By fortune or design, acquiring the Icarus Landing some way into the game completes Jensen's traumatic evolution from regular Joe to robo-Joe. It also riffs on Human Revolution's fondness of the Icarus myth, used as an analogy for the perils of transhuman progress. It's a punchline. The modern Icarus' wings can melt away and he'll still come back to earth in a halo of golden light and land unharmed.
For all that, I mainly love the Icarus Landing system as a piece of sensory design. It's a prime example of Human Revolution's vision of an ornate black-and-gold cyberpunk renaissance, complemented by the best noise in the game—a sonorous "fvvvwoooomph" that's both gentle and ominous. The overall effect is one of coiled power, which is fitting for a man who's had every inch of his being weaponised.
Outside of its opening hours, Human Revolution's plot isn't too concerned with issues surrounding human augmentation on an individual body-horror level, spiralling quickly into a tale of conspiracy and corporate espionage. Human Revolution lets you frame Jensen's reaction to his implants—using the famous "I didn't ask for this" line if you wish—and then moves away from the topic. But abilities like the Icarus landing and the Typhoon Explosive System do offer a stance, and the stance is: human augmentation is really fucking cool.
When you activate one of these abilities, the camera pops out of first-person to spin cinematically around Jensen's mo-capped animation. After the Icarus landing he pauses for a moment and looks up before standing—a touch of flair you'll see in any big-screen three-point landing. The artifice of the whole thing is compounded by the total lack of reaction from nearby pedestrians.
This carefully manufactured sense of cool is an essential prerequisite for the player character of a big-budget game, but in Human Revolution it comments directly on one of the central themes. Never mind the immunocompromised early adopters of bionic technology, or issues of identity concerning the replacement of natural limbs with superior robotic versions, look at this man who can shrug bombs and jump off buildings. Look at his retractable sunglasses. Look at his lovely coat.
I wouldn't have it any other way in this instance. Heroes are designed to be aspirational figures, and achieve that in problematic ways in some cases, but I've fallen for Adam Jensen. It's not because of the coat, or the shades, or the beard that could double as a can opener in moments of need. I want to jump off a building and land in a haze of electromagnetic energy, and go "fvvvwoooomph". It's the only reason I bother to navigate the fiddly rooftop walkways of Human Revolution's city environments, climbing up and jumping off repeatedly to the impassive stares of passing citizens. Bring on our augmented future. My body is ready.