I don’t have any immediate plans to actually make games, but I have had this idea for a game kicking around in my brain for a few years. Equally paying tribute to Metal Gear Solid (borrowing its stealthy elements) and Mass Effect (lifting the choices and consequences), I always hoped a game with these influences would be released, but feared it would never exist outside of my own imagination. I think Eidos Montreal secretly knew this and has finally created Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the newest entry in this long-dormant franchise. It seems like a game that was eerily tailor-made for my personal tastes in almost every way. Strangely, this does Deus Ex: Human Revolution a disservice, because it is so good, it more than likely tickle your fancy as much as it did mine.
In the near future of 2027, prosthetic limbs have become incredibly more advanced to the point where almost anyone can be redeveloped to become more than human. Making the most of its Latin roots within the title, these advancements are called “augmentations” and are robotic appendages that give the crippled a new lease on life, along with the recipe for giving some people some less-needed enhancements. As with any sort of new technology this revolutionary, uproars and debates magnetize to this controversy, creating a hot topic for debate. Should man play God? Is this even safe? Is it ethical? The whole world is a powder keg ready to explode from the tension from each side, shouting their opinion at one another.
With the actual specific narrative elements from this game aside, the premise alone and the themes it presents about ethics are fascinating enough to want to spend time in this universe. While I’m always down for robot humans, the oft-discussed controversy surrounding the debate made it that much better, mostly because I can definitely see our metathesiophobic world reacting like that if such technology even saw the light of day. It grounds the premise in a way to make it relatable even though it hasn’t happened (yet). E-mails, E-books, and the newspapers also do a great job of expanding the fiction and giving meaning to what is happening, along with being interesting. I don’t know if all of this is based on actual research (it can’t be that far off, right?), but the science given to explain everything makes it that much more believable.
In this future world, our hero Adam Jensen is a security officer at Serif Industries, the leading name in augmentation research. One the eve of a groundbreaking discovery regarding augments that could forever change the world, Serif Industries is attacked by terrorists, killing the research team responsible for these discoveries and almost closing the curtain for Adam Jensen in the process. Brought back to life by these augmentations, Adam is now responsible to figure out who attacked Serif and why they attacked.
Even though Deus Ex stretches past the twenty hour mark, it doesn’t become uninteresting or fall into a sleep-inducing lull. It keeps the quality of the story consistently over its playtime, something games much shorter than this almost never do. You’ll always find new characters, new motives, and multiple twists throughout the playtime, keeping you thoroughly engaged at every moment, and is all topped off with a few memorable endings.
With such an interesting world and narrative, the characters do a good job of being equally as entertaining. All the characters yield good performances with emotional voice acting and a good script. Everyone on or against your team has a personality, from your snarky tech support guy to your endearing boss, David Serif. Interaction with these people comes frequently, and I always enjoyed it.
If one complaint had to be aimed at the characters, it would be their animations. Vocal performances consistently remain intriguing, but the animations look a bit stiff and can underwhelm what they are actually saying. It wasn’t nearly as game-breaking enough to pull me out of the experience, but it doesn’t do a great job of keeping up with the astronomically high bar of animation set by other games.
Settling down and actually playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution is where more of the magic shines. Choices were a big part of the marketing behind this game, but I was skeptical on really how much they were really going to allow. Turns out, this promise was delivered on, turning into the game’s biggest positive.
In Human Revolution, levels are laid out as surprisingly-big compounds with multiple ways to breach defenses and break in. Vents, air ducts, hackable locks, the front door, breakable walls, and elevator shafts give you many different routes to reach the objective. Alone, this may not seem like much but the game doesn’t outright point you where to go (even when it does, the objective marker is misleading sometimes), meaning you need to actually think and observe to find which entrance best suits you. It captures a remarkable sense of freedom that I’ve never really had in any other game. Rather than being strictly directed by an obvious path crafted by the developers, I felt like I was finding out what to do and how to do it within the many diverse tools handed to me.
Discovering more hidden paths rewards you with in-game experience, but with something a bit more grand that occurs outside of the game. Every time after finding my own custom way into an area, I would always come across a completely different entrance that would utilize different skills, which was an eye-opening experience every time. Some are even more drastic as some areas can be avoided altogether. For example, instead of covertly breaking into the police station, you can talk to one of your buddies outside and try to get a free pass in, negating any chance to risk being detected while breaking in.
Upgrades make your multiple paths possible and further reinforce how much choices the player has. Since Jensen’s augmentation, certain robotic abilities are unlocked through Praxis points (which are available through leveling up, in stores, or found throughout the world). Every ability requires one or two Praxis points to unlock and the list is varied and expansive. Your unique playstyle dictates which upgrades you walk out with, which in turn opens up different paths for you. You may not have the ability to break certain walls (hence blocking that specific path for you), but your hacking skills might be able to break the locked door open to allow access. Or you you might have the jumping ability to just jump over the locked fence. Early on, you may a bit limited by the upgrades you decided on (which isn’t a knock against the game), but later on when you have most of the upgrades, you are only limited to by what you can find yourself.
As if that wasn’t enough, most missions and story moments give you a choice (there’s that word again!) on the outcome. Along with deciding whether you want certain people to live or not, other choices come into play to give slight differences within the story arc. For example, in a seemingly scripted sequence, something happens to a person you know right in front of you (yes, I know that is extremely vague but it’s for your own good). In any other game, this would have been something etched in stone as a cutscene, so I treated it as such. It wasn’t until a few moments later where it dawned on me: “This is Deus Ex! I bet I could have changed that!” A few Google searches later and I quickly discovered that it was completely possible to intervene and have a completely different outcome. Many different aspects of the story give you alternative conclusions, with even the ending having four different, heavy verdicts to come to.
Although “choice” is the hot button word of this review, Human Revolution shows a bit of favoritism to acting stealthy. Despite his many augmentations, Jensen can’t initially take a lot of hot shrapnel to his robotic torso, paving the way for tactics in your normal routine. It is absolutely possible to build your Jensen into a Rambo-like super soldier, but with stealth this satisfying, it was hard for me to be anything but a ninja.
Having good AI (with the necessary upgrade countermeasures like invisibility) is a principle of stealth games and Human Revolution doesn’t disappoint. Besides the usual reactions to hearing thrown objects or footsteps (both of which they are pretty sensitive to), Deus Ex does a few nifty things with its AI stealth-wise, stuff I took for granted in games like Metal Gear Solid. In the old days, a silencer pretty much let you shoot where you wanted without fear of getting heard. While suppressors do definitely knock the noise down, they don’t make you completely quiet. These guys are also quick to hit the alarm in a moment’s notice once they find a poorly hidden body, meaning they won’t always think “Oh, he must have nodded off.” Small additions like these change how stealth games are traditionally played, giving the game a unique, but familiar satisfying feel.
Boss fights, however, don’t yield as much differentiation in strategy. You can’t even defeat these guys non-lethally and most of your upgrades can be ineffective. Running and gunning is usually the only apparent way to go about things, which is a shame. The last boss fight gives some slightly different paths, but it wasn’t enough to retroactively justify the previous three fights.
Throughout the entire game, the game’s cyberpunk aesthetic is both glaringly obvious and captivating. The visual and audio components both collide and feed off each other to better set the tense mood and near-future atmosphere. This game’s incredibly Pittsburgh black and gold art style evokes the cyberpunk mood well and is helped by the glorious soundtrack. Each track feels like it has time traveled from the future with its different synths and adds to the cyclical symbiotic relationship it has with the visual style. It’s hard to imagine one without the other since each strengthens the other and helps establish the game’s killer setting.
I’m in awe of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It had lofty promises on an almost-forgotten IP, so the fact that it isn’t crap is worth celebrating. However, being as good as it is warrants even more praise than I initially thought. I’ve never been so consistently overwhelmed with choices in almost every facet of a game. From my loadout, method of tackling missions, to my preferred method of infiltration, I always felt like I was in control, a welcome feature within the confines of a game. That’s not to undermine the captivating story and deeply engrossing world, which was a place I wanted to just spend more time in. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was definitely a game I’ve always wanted to make, but with a game this good, I’ll leave it to the professionals at Eidos Montreal.
+Wide, beautifully designed levels that are open for multiple paths and choices
+Upgrade path is deep and highly customizable for unique playstyles
+Deep, engaging, and long story arc with compelling themes and great performances from memorable characters
+Smart enemies make for a hearty, fun challenge
+A one-of-a-kind art style and soundtrack in an incredibly absorbing fictional world
-Slightly wooden animations don’t give the show the actor’s full potential
-Objective marker can be misleading at times
-Boss fights, while not outright bad, take away the blissful sense of choice found in every other aspect of the game
Final Score: 9.5/10
Note: This didn’t affect my review in the slightest, but it is just a warning for select people. Anyone going after the “Pacifist” trophy/achievement might want to be extra careful. I had this glitch out on me where hits with the silenced tranquilizer gun counted as kills, meaning even though I didn’t actually kill anyone, it counted as though I did. Like I said, it didn’t impact my review, I just thought I’d throw that out there.