"Don't worry, fans – they didn't F it up!"
Adam Jensen is a smooth talker who uses a combination of intuition and cybernetic augmentations to suss out information and clearance from his enemies. When harsh words or a kind tone prove ineffective, he relies on computer hacking skills that would put Henry Dorsett Case to shame. Adam's stealthy approach may be old school, but that's the way he likes it. The best part about Adam Jensen, though, is that he's my interpretation of the character. I'm sure you will have a very different Adam Jensen, but that's what makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution so special. The third entry in the franchise, HR has the difficult task of pleasing fans of the Warren Spector epic, fixing the problems of the ill-received Invisible War, and also bringing new fans to the fold. But Eidos Montreal succeeded in almost every way, stumbling in only a few areas while crafting one of the most satisfying games of the year.
The year is 2027, and humanity faces an uncertain future as human augmentation offers the chance to transcend our own condition. Scientists push the boundaries while conservative voices attempt to stymie the tidal wave of change. Adam Jensen works as head of security at Sarif Industries, a leading developer of human augmentations. A bloody attack leaves Adam crippled, forcing him to adopt the new technology to survive. Now consumed with a desire to learn the truth behind the attack, Adam steps into a world brimming with conspiracy and intrigue in search of answers. The story maintains a good level of focus and asks thought-provoking questions about change (just look at the delta sign so carefully hidden in the game's logo). The game doesn't tell you the right answer to these questions, however, allowing you to draw your own conclusions as to what should be done with this new technology. The finale is unfortunately abrupt, leaving a sense that the developers either ran out of time or are holding things back for a potential sequel. The multiple endings amount to little more than a very literal button press, and only hint at a greater plan that was never fully implemented.
This hint of forced time constraints extends to the game's presentation. Stunningly dense environments feature fantastic art direction and scope. You can't help but feel like Deckard walking the beat in Blade Runner while playing Human Revolution. Everything feels lived in and alive – everything except the actual humans, strangely enough. The character models are borderline ugly, with low polygon counts and mannequin-like mannerisms breaking all believability and immersion. Everyone fidgets with pre-scripted movements, making conversations almost painful to watch. Perhaps there's an allegory to be found with the disparity between inanimate environments and their human denizens, but it doesn't make for an immersive experience. The low quality cutscenes are even more distracting, as they seem to feature an earlier version of the game's visuals and radically different lighting schemes. It's odd to see a heated debate bathed in barroom-style gloom magically switch to a fluorescent wonderland once the engine kicks in. Thankfully, the "social boss fights" – which play out like LA Noire's interrogations, only they're, ya know, fun – feature more detailed characters and were obviously modeled by real actors. The musical score makes up for the subdued voice acting. Its moody and atmospheric music helps to bring Human Revolution into a very real future setting.
The original Deus Ex wasn't exactly a looker back in 2000, but it made up for that with memorable and inventive gameplay, and the same can be said of Human Revolution in 2011. Following a short tutorial outlining the most basic mechanics (and providing an ingenious reasoning behind your hub and in-game menus), you're thrown into a hostage situation at a Milwaukee-based industrial plant. David Sarif, Adam's boss and augmentation mentor, offers you a choice of approach and weaponry and then leaves you to solve the problem. This is where HR succeeds and even surpasses the original game. Careful inspection of the environment allows for lateral thinking and problem solving. This game rewards a thoughtful approach and careful execution. You might find a vent that leads around a particularly tough group of enemies, or hacking a computer may turn off the security camera preventing access through a side door. Everything feels organic, and you rarely feel railroaded into a specific solution. HR creates a wonderful illusion that you are solving problems rather than just finding different paths and approaches. Taking your time and planning is essential to long-term survival, though a quick shotgun blast will generally solve a more immediate threat.
Adam may be a modern day Robocop (be on the lookout for an awesome Easter Egg in the police station), but he can't take on most situations guns blazing; at least not early on. Everyone remembers the augmentations and powers available in the original game, and Human Revolution features a similar but more realized system. Adam can buy or earn Praxis Points, software that enhances his currently dormant augmentation potential. You can level up his stealth capabilities, allowing him to go all Predator-mode for a limited amount of time. Or maybe you prefer your cyberpunks ridiculously strong, throwing refrigerators and copy machines at enemies to knock them out. Better yet, why not go with hacking skills and use an ED-209 lookalike to create a distraction while you slip in unnoticed? Coming to terms with all of the options available can be overwhelming at first. I suggest that you read each description, decide which kind of playstyle appeals to your own gaming tendencies, and go with that.
The best part of Human Revolution is the way the augmentations enhance the game rather than detract from it. The developers told my fellow reviewer Stephen Meyerink that all of the levels in HR can be completed without augmentations, and I can confirm this. This means you cannot break your character. Relying on good ol' stealth tactics or
less elegant ammunition produces results and keeps you from getting stuck. The augmentations allow for even more methods and tactics, but you never reach a point where an obstacle can only be overcome with a single power or approach. I'm sure a community will crop up around beating HR without augmentations, though I doubt I would find that any fun.
I played as a very stealthy character for the most part, though I didn't go for any of the stealth enhancements. I felt comfortable in my own abilities, and used the wonderful cover mechanics to my advantage. The enemy AI plays more like Metal Gear than Splinter Cell, meaning you're better off keeping something between you and the enemy in most situations. The stealthy approach can lead to trial and error gameplay at times, which wouldn't be a problem if the game didn't feature some rather long load times. Enemies may seem unaware at times, but they can turn dangerously aggressive in an instant. Alerted enemies will flank and drive you out of cover using tear gas (countered by a re-breather augmentation, naturally), making combat encounters exciting and challenging. Infrequent AI glitches provide WTF moments, though they rarely force a reload. You're usually given ample warning and the means to deal with almost any situation.
The hacking mini-game deserves high praise for being fun and challenging. Though difficult to describe on paper, hacking involves capturing data points en route to the central CPU. Capturing each point could alert the system, starting a countdown as the system attempts to trace your port and lock you out. Various rewards on the grid tempt skilled hakzors with XP and monetary bonuses. Two software packages help in dangerous situations, though they aren't necessary for cracking even the most difficult protocol. Elements of the story are also hidden away on computer terminals, so you'll want to invest in some hacking skills if you want to know everything.
HR is split between clear missions and hub worlds, allowing for exploration and side quests to compliment the main story. I found the city environments of Detroit and Hengsha Island to be the best parts of the game. The side quests are almost all interesting and offer multiple methods for completion. The ramifications of your actions may not seem readily apparent, but they often come back to bite you. The offsite missions are all good fun, though they typically take place in office environments and industrial facilities. You'll probably grow tired of raiding desks and hacking computers, but new obstacles and enemy types help to keep things fresh.
Unfortunately, the featured boss battles are infuriating and conflict with the Deus Ex formula. These scenes take all player choice away, turning the game into a shooting gallery. While stylistically impressive, these fights involve little more than running around and shooting a particularly strong enemy. Worse, the game gives little feedback to your actions, which left me wondering whether or not I was having any effect on the current threat. The lack of direction in the final boss fight is almost stupefying. Don't bother asking me how to clear this final obstacle, as I have no idea what you're supposed to do. I just fiddled with some computers and shot some stuff and that was it. There is room for improvement here, however, so let's hope that the ingenuity applied to the rest of the game extends to these boss encounters in future titles.
Many, including myself, were concerned with the PC version of Human Revolution coming from Nixxes. I'm happy to report that the PC version plays quite well and looks significantly better than the console versions, running on an ATI 6870 and i7 processor. Using a keyboard to enter codes deepens the immersion level, and the mouse allows for more precise movements. The onscreen hotbar is mostly unnecessary; a conceit by the developers to make the game more like the original without increasing functionality. You can play the game with a pad on PC if you don't like the mouse and keyboard setup, though I see little reason to do so. The PC review build had a glitch with transitioning between running and walking and the inventory management system, but hopefully these problems with either be resolved in the retail edition or with an early patch. I also encountered a few freezing issues and one quest chain completely broke, but Stephen reported similar issues in his PS3 build.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a proper sequel (prequel?) to the original game. The talented crew at Eidos Montreal succeeded in taking the best parts that fans remember and then adapting them so that current audiences can enjoy the title. There are fumbles present which hint at a larger scope that may have been compromised during development, but the core essence of player choice and flexibility stands true. The sense of reward for each thoughtful approach and calculation brought a smile to my face and made me feel like a complete badass. Just like the original, Human Revolution is at its best when it shuts up and lets you decide how to accomplish your goals. Don't worry, fans – they didn't F it up!