Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review
Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review
By Transient Nova
In the future, floor-level air vent manufacturers will save the world economy.
You wouldn’t want to be the developer who has to create a follow up to the original Deus Ex.
Ion Strom’s 2000 masterpiece is rightfully regarded as one of the most influential video games of all time and constantly ranks on the ‘best game ever’ lists of many a developer and PC gamer. It was well ahead of its time, being as it was an RPG with an intelligent sense of game design that puts the player’s choice and actions at the forefront of the experience and often uses them to shape the its narrative accordingly. It was a magnificent title that in many cases is still quite unlike anything else out there, yet no other developer, regardless of their respect and enthusiasm for it, seems able to match the kind of depth and intricacy it was so renowned for. After all, If Ion Storm couldn’t do it with their own sequel in Invisible War, what hope would any other developer have?
Enter the recently founded Eidos Montreal, the developer tasked with bringing the series into the modern age with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This will undoubtedly be publisher Square Enix’s most important release since their acquisition of Eidos and their IPs (goodness knows they need a significant hit in the west), so there’s a lot riding on this one. They know the brand still has a lot of weight and that the original is still one the most revered games in existence. The big question is: will Eidos Montreal be able to do justice to one of the greatest games of all time?
Join me now as I strap on my crude tinfoil hat and begin incoherent ramblings about how the moon landings were faked, that alien autopsy footage was genuine and that ‘The Man’ will never keep me down.
You play Adam Jensen, a security officer employed by Sarif Industries tasked with providing a sense of peace to the research labs based in their Detroit headquarters. The reason for all the tension in the air is that lead researcher (and Adam’s former fiancé) Megan Reed has made a potentially world changing discovery in the field of human augmentation (the science of improving people’s lives through the use of mechanical parts) and the company would not be surprised if one of their rivals attempted something unscrupulous before she presents her findings to the world. It soon turns out that all of that unease was well placed, as the lab is soon forcefully attacked by a group of mysterious mercenaries, wiping out all researchers and key personnel within eyesight. Despite his efforts, Adam only manages to get so far before one of the said mercenaries decides to put a bullet between his eyes. The end.
Or is it? An incident like this would undoubtedly kill most men, but Adam Jensen has the not undesirable advantage of being in the employ of a large multi-billion dollar corporation, one who sees fit to rebuild him with mechanical parts and upgrades (without his consent of course, because big corporations are like that). Six months later, he is called back into the service of Sarif Industries. He doesn’t even get five minutes to reacquaint himself with the ol’ workplace though before he is given the task of retrieving the confidential Typhoon weapon system and diffusing a hostage situation that has arisen at one of the corporation’s manufacturing plants. Needless to say, what begins as a simple hostage situation soon leads into a web of conspiracies, eventually providing some insight on what actually happened on the night of that attack…
It’s rare that a narrative gives the player the kind of credit that Human Revolution does. Here is a game that has actually been written for the more inquisitive, mature player where strong characters with real presence frequently exchange intelligent dialogue with each other and further the plot in a compelling way. This has all the traits of an engaging cyberpunk drama with plenty of surprising twists and a number of plot points that can be influenced by your very own actions and decisions. It’s an incredibly detailed narrative, further fleshed out with lashings of back-story for those willing to dig though the game’s many documents and emails. These diversions are optional and can be safely ignored if you just want to press on with the already excellent main story though.
Much like the original, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game about choice.
Despite what the first-person viewpoint might suggest, this is not primarily an action game. Well, that’s a bit of a lie actually. It can be an action game if you really want it to be, but really how you’ll approach the game will depend largely on how you play the RPG side. Being as he is part machine now, Adam Jensen will be able to augment himself with new abilities on the fly through the use of ‘Praxis’ points. These can be earned by gathering experience from a variety of outlets (say, taking down opponents or discovering secret paths for example) or found about the field. How you use these abilities in tackling the game’s many challenges is entirely up to you.
Perhaps you’re the kind of person who likes to keep it relatively simple and solve problems with a few buckets of bullets at every opportunity. Combat takes on the guise of your typical first-person shooter, occasionally switching out to a third person perspective while you stick to cover. As Human Revolution is a game that tries to be many things at once, there would inevitably be at least one aspect of it that doesn’t feel quite right. Gunplay, while quite enjoyable, still stands as its weakest pillar with some slightly treacly controls and generally simplistic combat AI. The RPG manages to give it a more appreciable weight though, with customisation options for your potentially large arsenal and a number of augmentations that can improve your proficiency in combat (a few quick points in recoil reduction for example can make some of the more unwieldy heavy weapons eminently more usable).
Or maybe you don’t want to actively kill anyone and everyone who looks at you funny. Maybe you’d rather stick to the shadows and avoid unnecessary bloodshed altogether (impressively in this day and age, it is entirely possible to beat the game without killing anyone with the unfortunate exception of certain boss characters. More on them in a little bit). The game’s stealth mechanics seem to take most of their cues the Metal Gear Solid series, relatively simple on the surface but still possessing considerable amount of depth. Taking this route adds a good sense of tension to proceedings as you observe the patrol routes of your assailants and figure out the best means to worm your way around them without being noticed (air vents are always handy in this instance). You can even give yourself a convenient cloaking system and various sound dampeners to gain a sneakier edge if you’re so inclined.
It may be that you’ll find that there are situations that you feel would be best resolved through good old-fashioned diplomacy. While there are plenty characters you can speak with on simplistic terms (this is a game with RPG elements remember), it isn’t until you start actively pressuring certain key characters in pivotal plot moments that this side of the game really start to shine. At its most basic you’re given a short list of dialogue choices that feel unambiguous in their nature, differing in tone more than anything, but it isn’t until you unlock an augmentation that improves your social reading skills that you begin to see just how forward-thing Human Revolution’s communication system really is. Doing so allows you see a list of personality traits related to the character you’re talking to alongside a gauge that determines how likely he or she is to come around to you way of thinking. What were once rough guesses are now informed responses as you start taking advantage of those behavioural faults or speak in a way that the other person wants to hear. It’s an extremely clever and taught method of character interaction, serving as both a fascinating minigame and an effective means to truly engage players in the conversation, encouraging them to pay attention to and invest themselves in the drama playing out.
Human Revolution’s approach to system hacking is similarly well developed. Cracking into someone’s personal computer or keypad lock without being alerting anyone makes for a surprisingly dramatic experience, as you try to access specific nodes or databases without being traced. It goes without saying that there are plenty of neat practical bonuses to be gleaned in taking the path of a black hat. Why don’t you try picking up a hacked turret and carrying it into the fray, before laughing heartily as fire meant for you pings off it harmlessly as it mows down everyone wherever you carry it to? Fun times.
The game is flexible enough to actively encourage players to explore the numerous options that they’re given. You’re not bound to one particular play style throughout the game, with plenty of opportunities to switch should the mood take you. Whatever you decide to do though, you’ll find that there will be many gameplay consequences and benefits to your actions alongside narrative ones.
This isn’t a game with many problems, but there is still a notable fault with the game that can get in the way of your good time. It’s a complaint you’ve read about in every other review for this game, but it bears repeating simply because of its significance: the boss fights are largely unnecessary, poorly handled and fly in the face of all that Human Revolution strives for. All of the game’s problems have so many solutions that accommodate all kinds of player, yet these fights out-and-out force them all to take the combat option. Granted, you’ve still got a bit of leeway in how you use your skills to take them down, but they still frustrate more often than they should. There are many games that benefit from a good boss fight. This isn’t one of them.
Apart from that, all other issues are negligible and do little to get in the way of the experience. There are few AI, technical and save game related bugs in there (the game crashed on me twice and my editor tells me he lost his HUD while was playing, which is odd), and it’s arguably not as in-depth or as fully featured as the original PC game, but Human Revolution is still one of those rare games this generation that is actively shaped by the player’s contributions and for that it deserves to be lauded.
Like nearly all big budget RPGs released on consoles these days there is no multiplayer or other significant online component to speak of, which is fine in itself. It’s worth mentioning that further downloadable content down the line has been confirmed though, starting with additional singleplayer content in the form of ‘The Missing Link’ due sometime in October.
There’s a very distinct style present throughout Human Revolution. The game is peppered with plenty of eye catching blacks and golds, lending a very rustic look and atmosphere that successfully captures the period of technological and biological advancement that the developers were obviously aiming for. It may come across as a little muted at times, but it’s still a technical tour de force, with many stunning locales to visit and some (usually) good animation work. In fact, I have to say I find it bizarre that the in-game engine looks better than the muddy, low-resolution Full Motion Video cutscenes that intersperse the game. Still, despite all that tech work, Human Revolution is a triumph in complimentary, considered, even meaningful art direction more than anything else here, not just providing a real sense of place to the game but a wholly inviting world that’s begging to be explored and understood.
This is further accomplished by Michael McCann’s frankly stellar soundtrack. It’s a largely sombre number even during the more high-octane moments of the game; low-key electronica sitting alongside quiet, gothic vocal choruses and strings, yet it still manages to be a very dynamic affair with the tempo and backing number changing depending on your current situation. What is impressive here is just how well it can build tension without breaking the atmosphere. It’s a distinct aural identity to be sure and a pleasantly fitting at that, accentuating the dark beauty of the game at the best of times.
Sound work as whole is very good, with the thumpy impact of gunplay and the seedy ambiance of New Detroit and Shanghai all nicely captured. The voice acting is a significant cut above the usual fare as well, with excellent performances from the main cast and not-terrible ones from those in bit parts. In particular, Elias Toufexis brings a cynical, world-weary, occasionally monolithic demeanour to the lead role to great effect.
The flipside of such quality though is that the game’s few off-key performances stand out more as a result. Stephen Shellen as the ambitious CEO David Sarif for example, while generally good, occasionally seems to exaggerate his lines to the point of coming across as a little silly.
I didn’t think games like this could really be made anymore to some extent.
Sure, Human Revolution was never going to be able to live up to the ambitious PC original from which it sprang from, but it still manages the kind of accomplishments that games seldom achieve this generation. It welcomes player choice and often coaxes you into taking different approaches. It possesses a superb script that draws you in with well realised characters and exceptional writing. It boasts the kind of presentation and sound work that makes an effort to draw you into its world as opposed to just being ‘merely’ cinematic.
The overall package is so coherent here that it’s easy to look over the game’s minor faults, ill-considered boss fights aside. Deus Ex: Human Revolution stands as an entertaining, intelligent action-RPG that will enthral you in a way that few games do, and one that that will hold as much relevance to gaming today as its predecessor did generations ago.
Now here’s hoping that we don’t have to wait for another decade before we see another follow up this time.
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Release: 26th August, 2011
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Fallout: New Vegas [Bethesda Softworks] (X360/PS3/PC):
You’re only getting one recommendation today because, in truth, there isn’t really anything quite like the first and third Deus Ex titles on consoles, which makes suggesting any further recommendations very difficult. I’m sure it’s a different matter on PCs though.
I feel that Fallout: New Vegas comes closest to mirroring those games’ strengths of player choice and excellent, often mutli-layered narratives despite being a grandiose and long-term affair when compared to Deus Ex’s more intimate and immediate tone. While nowhere near as dramatic, New Vegas is still capable of throwing challenges and problems at which be solved in a variety of ways depending on your play style and/or your character build, which may in turn effect the kind of name and allegiances you can make as you traverse in the series’ trademark nuclear wasteland. The engine it runs on is as bugged and broken as all get out though, so fair warning on that.
I’ve plumped for this over the earlier Fallout 3 as even though that game is the more technically sound and less shoddy of the two (as of now at any rate), the overall writing just isn’t as strong.