Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an interesting game to quantify, because it represents something different to you, depending on your perspective as a player. If you’ve never played or even heard of the series prior to this installment, you’ll find that it offers a thoughtful, intelligent type of gameplay that allows you to make your own decisions about how you’ll handle situations. It allows for the slow, stealthy approach, wherein you can slip in and out undetected and leave your foes none the wiser. It allows you to eschew the shadows, draw your weapon, and take out your foes, leaving nothing but wholesale destruction in your wake. It allows you to talk your way past a situation, if sneaking in through the sewers below isn’t an option. You can hunt down the password to that security system, or you can hack right through it. It allows you to determine if you will be the judge and executioner of your foes, or if you’ll simply leave them incapacitated for someone else to take care of. In short, it allows you to play your way.
On the other hand, if you’re a lover of this series, specifically of the original, which is often cited as one of the greatest games ever, you know all that. What you want to know is “is this truly Deus Ex? Can it possibly be as good as the first?” Rest assured, this game will not disappoint you. The developers at Eidos Montreal have fixed what was broken and sharpened what wasn’t to a razor’s edge. Is this a perfect game? No, but neither was the original. What Deus Ex and its new prequel have in common is a cohesive vision, a commitment to player choice, and, above all else, ambition that occasionally trumps the technology on which the game is built.
Human Revolution opens with the protagonist, Adam Jensen, being brutally attacked and nearly killed as mercenaries invade the headquarters of his employer, Sarif Industries. In true Robocop fashion, Jensen is rebuilt and augmented with the latest in biomechanical technology. Jensen doesn’t get long to recuperate though, because six months later, another attack is made on Sarif and he is sent in to handle the situation. In true series fashion, what starts out as a local terrorist attack spirals wildly into a globetrotting adventure as Jensen uncovers the pieces of a global conspiracy to influence the future of humanity.
The story features a number of parallels to the first game, and is totally solid in its own right. Unfortunately, much like the first game, the story also barrels towards the finish line in something of a rushed fashion and your ending is influenced solely by an eleventh-hour decision. This shouldn’t hinder your enjoyment of the game in any way though, because what is here is engaging and will keep you interested as you travel to a number of locations all over the world, digging away at the mystery.
The graphics in the game have been discussed to death in numerous previews and pre-release features, and this is for good reason–the art style on display here is distinctive and utterly unique. While there are number of technical rough edges (aliasing, occasional slowdown, ugly character models), they can’t truly blemish the incredible design and unique vision of the world. Sci-fi aficionados will find themselves in heaven, from the orange fog of The Hive nightclub in Hengsha to the “ripped-straight-out-of-Blade-Runner” clutter and sun-drenched walls of Jensen’s apartment. The environments are huge, detailed, and full of secrets. The developers sought to “tell a story” with the environmental details, and they have utterly succeeded. Looking around in an apartment can tell you an entire story of its occupant without ever hearing a single line of dialogue, and in today’s “in-your-face-obvious” world of game storytelling, I can’t commend Eidos Montreal enough for this.
The audio fares equally well, combining an absolutely stellar sci-fi score from Michael McCann with immersive environmental ambience and punchy sound effects that truly draw you into the world. Combined with the huge amount of detail in the graphics, you have a game that truly creates a vivid place for you to get lost in. The voice acting is largely solid, though the Asian accents are goofy and border on offensive at times (though not nearly so much as the classic Deus Ex). Adam Jensen is expertly cast, offering a gritty performance that is equal parts JC Denton and Chris Nolan’s Batman. Where actor Elias Toufexis truly succeeds, however, is in showcasing that Adam isn’t a one-note wonder. He does sarcasm, light humor, and compassion equally well, which is something I personally was worried about before I played the game in its entirety.
However, there are a few rough spots in the presentation. Most egregious: the ridiculous character animation during conversations. Simply put, it looks absurd. Characters move erratically and animate awkwardly during casual conversations, and it really takes you out of the game. They look like bobble-headed dolls in a bumpy car ride, and rarely does their body language match the tone of their voice. This is fortunately not a problem with the conversation boss fights, which are uniformly excellent, tense, and well-executed. It’s also worth mentioning that the cutscenes, for some odd reason, are prerendered, and poorly at that. They are significantly blurrier than the in-game graphics, and the lighting effects are often different, leading to a jarring feeling that takes you out of the world.
The gameplay fares exceptionally well. The vaunted “player choice” has been done justice; this a game that can truly be played any way you want to. What the development team has done here is ensure that the core mechanics are not only functional, but fun in their own right, even before you pursue any particular path of augmentation. Both the combat-focused and stealth-focused approaches are fun and rewarding in their own ways.
Stealth works much like it does in the Metal Gear Solid series: by staying out of the enemies’ line of sight and not making too much noise, you can completely evade detection. Getting close to a foe gives you the option of either instantly knocking them out, or instantly killing them with a stylish takedown attack, and these factor heavily into the stealth approach. What’s more, augmentations allow you to expand your abilities to include silenced running and jumping, invisibility, target tracking, audiovisual sensors, and a few others. The game even rewards you with bonus experience points for successfully navigating areas without ever being spotted or tripping any alarms, so there’s a lot of incentive to play stealthy.
For players that opt to take the direct approach, combat is equally rewarding. The guns feel punchy and satisfying to shoot–and there’s a nice selection, too. There are a number of options in both lethal and nonlethal varieties, and all are equally viable; t’s simply a matter of what you, the player, prefer to use. There are a fairly large number of fun weapon upgrades too, like laser sighting for your pistol, automatic targeting systems for the tranquilizer gun, and exploding rounds for the magnum. Additionally, there are a couple of great combat-oriented augmentations, like the ability to blast through walls, precision aiming, and enhanced armor. The stealth system in the game doubles as an excellent cover system, which makes moving, hiding, and shooting a breeze.
The game’s level design lends itself well to the “choose your own adventure” style, and every area features countless entrances and ways to go about your task. For those that choose to branch out, the social and hacking augmentations are invaluable and will allow you access to a number of extra areas. Hacking in particular is exceptionally useful for the extra credits, experience, and control over security systems and doors that it gives you.
Unfortunately, another area where the game falters in is its implementation of boss battles. This isn’t to say that they are outright bad, but rather, they force you into an enclosed space where direct conflict is essentially the only true way to win. This can prove difficult for those nonlethal players carrying a full inventory of tranquilizer rounds, stun gun charges, and other nonlethal implements; they’ll be forced to run about the battlefield, shuffling their inventory around to make room for the numerous scattered weapons with which to take out a boss.
In the end, however, what you have is a game full of ambition and beauty; one that can draw you in for hours as you plumb the depths of the world searching for clues and your own solutions to problems. It’s not without some technical issues, and it’s pretty clear that there were some areas of the game that were glossed over in order to make the release date. However, that can all be set aside for the excellent, engrossing narrative, stellar gameplay, and utter style that oozes from every inch of the game. What’s more, this is a sequel that manages to get everything right that the original game did, while still managing to have an identity of its own so that newcomers aren’t left scratching their heads.
Of course, if the phrase “Laputan Machine” means anything to you, then welcome home. This is the Deus Ex you remember.