It’s eleven years since the release of the original Deus Ex, a game which – while flawed – delivered one of the deepest and most memorable cyberpunk gaming experiences to date. While the sequel was decidedly less satisfying, the forthcoming Deus Ex: Human Revolution (actually a prequel to the original game) looks by all accounts to be incredible. The dense mythos and richly detailed world of Deus Ex, combined with the fact half a generation has passed since the franchise began, means that a prospective writer would have to be exceptionally talented to do justice to the game series’ universe.
Lucky then, that James Swallow falls firmly into the former camp. With a decade’s worth of experience penning franchise tie-in novels, Swallow has everything from Star Trek and Warhammer to 2000AD under his writer’s belt. The prose that brings the dystopian near-future world of Icarus Effect to life is clever and fluid, but lean enough that the story never drags. Swallow treats the source material with respect, offering a few sly nods and even a cameo or two that should keep fans of the rest of the series happy.
The first protagonist is Ben Saxon, an ex-SAS mercenary who is head-hunted to join an elite, secretive special ops group by the name of The Tyrants. His new squad offer him access to unprecedented resources and technology, but the price of admission may just be too high for Saxon to accept. His opposite number is Anna Kelso, whose Secret Service unit is wiped out in an ambush that leaves her physically and mentally broken, but alive.
While initially separated by geography and affiliation, Kelso and Saxon find themselves drawn together by a conspiracy involving the burgeoning bionic augmentation industry. As the story bounds along, the bodies pile up and the list of people either Kelso or Saxon can trust dwindles steadily. This is a compelling blend of intrigue and action, with the large cast and their mercurial loyalties ensuring that plot twists – exciting, without feeling forced – are never far away.
Kelso and Saxon are compelling protagonists, simultaneously formidable and fragile, and each haunted by the loss of compatriots. Their adversaries and supporting cast are well-realised and distinct enough to maintain the reader’s interest; though many of them seem as though they were written with ‘video game bad-guy’ in mind, the book is quite liberal in killing them off, meaning the outcome is never clear-cut.
The main problem I had with this book was its ending. Granted, as a lead-in novel for a forthcoming game, it’s understandable that the author was expected to leave much of the plot unresolved. Unfortunately, the conclusion of this particular story was so underwhelming given its build-up, I couldn’t help but feeling disappointed. An ending like this might have worked better if the story had been shorter, but this criticism aside, Icarus Effect is a rewarding read and excellent companion to the game series, regardless of whether you’re a Deus Ex veteran or not.
MLG Rating: 8/10
Format: Paperback. Release Date: Out now.