Friday, 26 August 2016

Videogame Novels - Deus Ex: Icarus Effect

Deus Ex: Icarus Effect by James Swallow reads as well as I'd hoped. It's been on my "to read" list ever since I finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut last year. The game was fantastic, and exceeded my low expectations. So after learning that a prequel novel was written and published before the game's release, and that reviews were, on the whole, favourable, I'd been keeping a look out for a cheap copy to blast through.

It was Emma who gave me the copy of Deus Ex: Icarus Effect I have now. She snapped it up along with The Hellbound Heart (the copy with the ridiculous cover). And what with Deus Ex: Mankind Divided hurtling towards us, I thought now would be a good time to satisfy my golden-hued cyberpunk cravings, because I'm sure not paying £65 for whatever pre-order DLC-laden bullshit deluxe edition of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided Square-Enix have shat out, and I'm sure, sure not paying £40 for the same game with bits-and-bobs stripped out of it.

Anyway, yeah, after a vague and muddled beginning, Deus Ex: Icarus Effect manages to tell an interesting story that doesn't cover the exact same themes of the game it's based on, nor does it rely too heavily on references to the Deus Ex world. It's probably the best videogame novel I've read, although it doesn't have much competition.

The term "videogame novel" shouldn't really carry much weight or meaning, but those who've consumed even a handful of videogame novel tie-ins over the last few decades will probably have learnt that they're books better left unread. Like their cousins, the videogame movies, they're usually rushed cash-ins made with little creativity and an overabundance and overreliance on either copying the related game's plot and themes, or on the appearance of familiar characters, locations, organisations etc.

I do wonder, however, if the low quality of so many of these kinds of novels is a result of their authors being little more than named ghost writers. The copyright of these books are held in their entirety by the videogame publishers, suggesting to me that the writers get paid a flat fee, maybe with bonuses depending on the book's performance. Although that's just speculation on my part.

I also wonder if, because James Swallow also wrote portions of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Deus Ex: Icarus Effect turned out better than expected. Instead of hiring a writer outside of the game's development to write a tie-in novel, Square-Enix gave the job to someone directly involved with the game.

Another Deus Ex novel, Deus Ex: Black Light, has come out as a prequel to Mankind Divided, both of which have been written by James Swallow. I might have to give that a read also. I have a feeling that this new wave of Deus Ex media might be a new benchmark for storytelling in both AAA games, as well as the novels tied to them.


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