A few months ago I finally got around to reviewing Deus Ex, a RPG-shooter that empowered a player to make choices while being unfortunately hindered by its technology. After a sequel that didn’t go over as well for many reasons, it would be a while before a third installment would come along. With a decade’s worth of improvements under its belt, Deus Ex: Human Revolution arrived last year with promises to deliver an authentic experience for fans of the old game while introducing new players to something with a bit more depth than your usual modern military shooter. These promises, along with the knowledge that this is actually a prequel to the original game, made me a little trepidatious when I first booted it up.
I like how the shades are the projection surface for your HUD.
The year is 2026, and prostheses once limited to medical applications have expanded into the realm of human augmentation, allowing those with the means and a tolerance for constant maintenance and drug intake to do things normal humans could only dream of. At the forefront of this new push in technologies is Sarif Industries, and its security is the responsibility of Adam Jensen. On the eve of a landmark hearing before Congress, Sarif is attacked by augmented mercenaries and Adam is mortally wounded. Saved from the brink of death by the very technology he tried desperately to protect, Adam must undertake the task of tracking down the metallic murderers and uncover their employers.
As it bears the Deus Ex title, you can expect Human Revolution to contain similar conspiracy theories, locations envisioned for a near future and interesting character turns. To its credit, the game does hit all three points, but it doesn’t quite reach the depths of the original. The plans of the opposing forces in Adam’s life can often be discerned relatively quickly. There are not as many locations to visit, and in fact you revisit the two main hubs once apiece rather than going to new places, an unfortunate result of a budget or deadline getting cut during production. I’ll deal with different character points as we go along, as this is likely the place where Human Revolution both shines the brightest and needs the most polish, if that makes any sense.
The good news for fans of Deus Ex, or in fact any stealth-based game, is that you will be rewarded for tactical thinking and moving unseen. With multiple routes to reach an objective and a system that rewards experimentation and improvisation, the core gameplay is incredibly solid, even the cover system and the finishing moves – which can be very satisfying to pull off on an unsuspecting guard that just walked past you reporting everything’s clear. The non-lethal weapons work just as well as their lead-slinging counterparts, making the challenge of completing the game without taking a human life actually seem appealing (at least to me). And the best boss fights happen in the form of conversation trees, where discerning the other person’s emotions and choosing the right response becomes just as arduous and fulfilling as shooting them.
One of the unfortunate concessions that had to be made to new players was a limitation on the number of role-playing game options available. While the augmentation system does allow a measure of customization early on, allowing players to purchase upgrade points as well as giving them as XP rewards yields more than enough elbow room to round Adam out in every area, especially considering some of the upgrades are completely useless. Speaking of Adam, his conversation animation and those of other characters occasionally felt a little jilted or unfocused, a problem that thankfully never occurred during one of the aforementioned talk bosses. The rest of the gameplay is so good, however, that these flaws can be overlooked without too much trouble.
The non-talk boss fights are perhaps the biggest problem I (and many others) have with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. With a game system that offers a plethora of ways to approach an obstacle, limiting one’s choices in a boss fight to “shoot the bastard” feels like a major dumbing-down of the source material. There are a few ways with proper planning beforehand to make these fights less of a chore, but at first blush they really throw the game off of its otherwise excellent pace. The ending of the game, as well, feels watered down. Rather than building up to a climax that empowers the player to make an informed choice through conversation, we are presented with a series of big red buttons. Getting railroaded in this way really undercuts the freedom of choice espoused in the original, to this game’s detriment.
While many of the decisions made in bringing this game to players disappoint or even infuriate, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is enjoyable to play for 90% of the time and does offer real replay value, outside of any DLC. On its own, it’s competent and executed well despite some glaring flaws; when compared to some of the other modern shooters out there, it shines like brushed chrome. It’s a much more worthy addition to the Deus Ex library than Invisible War, and I’m looking forward to playing it again, on the hardest difficulty level, without killing a single human being save for the boss fights.
Stuff I Liked: Adam’s a much more sympathetic protagonist than your run-of-the-mill soldier or space marine. He has support characters that are interesting without being irritants. Stealth gameplay is executed well and I liked getting little XP bonuses for taking the time to explore and taking down enemies quietly. And it’s always fun to move things like vending machines and copiers around in an office building or housing complex just for the heck of it.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The boss fights and ending made me feel railroaded and didn’t quite jive with the Deus Ex vibe. Some of the animations aren’t as smooth as they could have been. A couple stereotypical accents eek through here and there.
Stuff I Loved: A well-balanced main game engine underscored by an excellent soundtrack and beautifully rendered aesthetic. The talking bosses were a great departure for normal shooter gameplay, lending even more concreteness and immersion to the experience. Writing high above average for modern shooters and a definite respect for the original Deus Ex without being pandering or an act of fan service.
Bottom Line: It isn’t perfect, and some of the aforementioned flaws may seem like deal-breakers. But if you go into it with the right mindset, Deus Ex: Human Revolution will definitely scratch the itch that hasn’t really been scratched since 2000. It’s definitely worth your time to check out if you’re a fan of the original or of good RPG-shooters in general, especially if you can pick it up on sale.