Reviewed: August 22, 2011
Released: August 23, 2011
Itís been 11 years since the original Deus Ex game debuted on the PC, but I still remember it like it was yesterday; perhaps because I played through the game no less than six times and wrote the strategy guide, but more likely since this was the first game to successfully blend FPS and RPG elements into an entirely new hybrid genre. Over the past decade many games have strived to achieve that perfect harmony; some have come close and others have failed, but now the day has arrived when the Action-RPG is reborn in Eidos Montrealís stunning new prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolution.|
Human Revolution takes place in the not-so-distance future of 2027, a quarter-century before the events of the original title. By creating a prequel the designers were no longer locked into characters, events, and plots derived from the first two games. Instead, they could basically start from scratch with a complete new vision for visuals, sound, and some revolutionary new gameplay ideas, as well as a fresh batch of deep and engaging characters. But for those looking for a bit of continuity, if you look and listen closely, you will find more than a few references weaved into Human Revolution that are sure to delight fans of the original.
You play Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT officer who is now head of security for Sarif Industries, the leading manufacturer of artificial limbs and other body enhancements known as Augmentations or Augs. In this futuristic society people can get augmented even if they werenít injured. Pilots get Augs to help them fly better, you can get an Aug to help you negotiate with people, and of course, you have all the obvious Augs like arms, legs, and even organs like eyes and lungs. Up until now, people with Augs have been dependent on an anti-rejection drug, but Megan, your girlfriend and leading Sarif scientist, has just discovered the genetic cure that will allow people to accept their Augs, but on the eve of presenting her findings to a panel in Washington D.C., Sarif Industry labs are attacked by terrorists, Megan is killed and AdamÖwell, Adam will never be the same again.
The first 30 minutes of the game is played out in a HUD-free fashion indicating that Adam is still very much human. The game opens with an on-rails tour of the facility as Megan escorts you to the penthouse office of David Sarif. I was very much reminded of the openings to the Half-Life games where your path was on autopilot but you were still free to look around and take in this exciting new world where things are happening even if you arenít looking at them. Shortly after meeting with David an alert sounds and Adam is thrust into combat with an invading force of saboteurs; an encounter that leaves him practically dead.
The stylish opening credit montage gives us brief flashes of the doctors hard at work bringing Adam back to life. When the credits are complete six months have passed and Adam is returning to work a bit earlier than expected and completely enhanced with a vast assortment of Augs. The game starts you off with several pre-selected abilities at various stages of enhancement. Later in the game, as you earn or purchase Praxis points you can purchase new abilities or upgrade existing ones. These abilities will directly influence how you play the game, or rather, how you want to play the game will influence your selection of Augs. There is a unique symbiotic relationship between the gamer and the game.
With the exception of a few boss encounters it is quite possible to play Human Revolution without firing a single shot. It is also possible to play using non-lethal tactics with tranquilizers and stun darts and submission holds versus bullets, frag grenades, and lethal takedowns. Every action you take rewards you with some bit of XP and factors in to your own public image as noted by peopleís reactions and newspaper coverage of your exploits.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is all about freedom of choice, risk vs. reward, actions and consequences, and the designers have clearly given you multiple paths at every possible diverging moment in the game. In one instance you can try to talk your way into the police station by engaging in a bit of verbal sparring (a mini-game of its own), but if you fail that path is blocked off to you and you will now have to find a covert way to get inside. The downside now is that now you must remain unseen for the next 30-60 minutes of gameplay, whereas if you had talked your way in you could have walked around with ease.
This risk vs. reward design comes into play in other situations. I was breaking into a FEMA base and was trying to do the whole thing stealthy, but by avoiding guards I was missing out on important bits of info and even access to certain computer terminals that would have allowed me to shut down security systems making my life a whole lot easier. Computers and security terminals can be hacked, but if you look around you are likely to find a password, either on a sticky note or perhaps on a Personal Secretary (PDA) or even in an email on another computer. You might need to get into an office with a door rated higher than your hacking ability, but if you look around chances are there is another door you can hack and there just might be a connecting air duct between the two offices. Itís almost scary how the designers have been able to anticipate almost every situation that might possibly block your progress, and then give you some slick alternate route, and yet you still feel like you are outsmarting the developers.
So, you are free to Aug your aiming and your Dermal shielding and go in guns blazing, or you can Aug your hacking and stealth skills and be all sneaky. You can upgrade your conversation abilities to sweet-talk your way through some of the most intricately designed dialogue puzzles Iíve ever played that include randomly selected responses with weighted results so conversations never play out the same way twice. You can enhance your strength so you can push that dumpster to reach a fire escape or move a soda machine to reveal an air vent. There are dozens of Augs and most have several layers of enhancements so Adam Jensen is continually evolving throughout the game, effectively changing the way you play and approach each new situation.
Human Revolution takes you to several incredible locations mixing indoor and outdoor environments. You start off in Detroit with numerous primary and secondary missions. These are marked on your HUD with indicators that will help you navigate the maze-like city streets and back alleys, and even the sewers of Detroit (might need a lung Aug down there). Once youíve finished your primary missions and any secondary ones itís time to head to China where things really heat up. Missions are surprisingly deep and often consist of complicated and multi-layered objectives and even a few morality decisions. Do you toss a pimp off his balcony and kill him or merely knock him out and plant some drugs in his apartment then call the cops?
Moral choices like this and even more importantly, the conversation threads in this game gave me greater respect for the designers who have actually crafted a game that had me seriously immersed in these dialogue puzzles. Usually I would be debating and second-guessing myself every step of the way but in the end, the game is most rewarding when you play and answer from the heart. It becomes a much more personal experience, so if you are a dick in real life then pick the dick response in the game Ė it might even be the right one. Donít try to guess or pick the ďexpectedĒ answer. Personally, I didnít even bother with the Conversation Aug, and I won every conversation by being myself.
As far as gameplay, the Xbox 360 handles this massive and impressively complex game well enough. There are some lengthy and frequent bits of loading, usually when moving from indoors to out or between large sections of the city. This can be trimmed slightly by installing the game to your hard drive. Controls are excellent although FPS fans will have to come to terms with pushing down the right stick for iron sights since the LT is now your cover button, but I wouldnít have it any other way.
Human Revolution has the best cover system of any game Iíve played to date. As long as you are squeezing the LT you are snapped to whatever object, wall, or railing you are near. Yes, you can actually go up and down stairs while attached to cover Ė a first in gaming history. Then you can either tap the A button to roll to any adjacent cover or hold A to wrap around the corner of your current cover. You can look over or around cover with the analog stick if you want to aim and fire a weapon. This cover system works flawlessly whether you want to engage in combat or just sneak across a laboratory moving from desk to desk while avoiding the patrolling guards.
Enemy AI is impressive with a line-of-sight awareness system. If they thing they spot or hear something they will go to an Alerted status and change up their patrol routes. If they actually see you all hell breaks loose and you will either be fighting for your life or trying to retreat and hide until things settle down. Youíll eventually have to deal with security cameras and motion-sensing gun turrets, but these can be disabled and even turned on your enemies.
Human Revolution requires a bit of typing, usually 4-digit passcodes for doors and safes and some slightly longer passwords for computers. I did appreciate that if you had previously discovered the code it would be displayed there for you, so you didnít have to write it down or go back through your logs, but you still have to physically type it in. If you have a USB keyboard attached to your Xbox 360 then things will be a lot easier, otherwise youíll have to bring up the virtual keypad and hunt and peck with your controller.
Hacking is a huge part of this game, so unless you plan on finding every last security code and password you better get used to the concepts and nuances of this cleverly designed hacking system. Presented as a flowchart, you start your hack from an initial location and must make your way node by node to the target node. Each time you hack a node there is a percentage chance the system will detect and start a trace. At this point itís a race for you to reach the target before the system kicks you out and sounds an alarm. There are numerous Augs for making this hacking process easier, and when you get really good you can start exploring systems for secret files that reward you with XP, cash, and hacking tools like the Nuke virus and the Stop worm. Believe me, nothing is more exciting than successfully completing a hack with less than a second on the clock.
Expect a solid 25+ hour game and you can easily double that if you complete all the side missions and really explore these massive levels. And then you have untold replay value in the way you can customized Adam and try different tactics in future trips through the game. I was literally haunted by how much of the maps I was NOT seeing by taking the stealth approach. I would crawl through some air vent and miss out on a dozen office cubicles knowing full well there were computers to hack and credit chips to snatch and all sorts of reading material; and yes, this is one game where you will actually want to read all that superfluous text in eBooks, PDAís and newspapers.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks amazing on the 360 with a style and originality all its own. Having played both the PC and the console I can say that the PC is slightly better with an overall enhanced sharpness and better textures and better lighting effects, but the 360 version is still one of the most visually stunning games Iíve played this year. I was walking to the Detroit police station just staring at the skyline like the new kid in town and then this monorail glides by and my jaw hit the floor. Even the elevator ride to David Sarifís office will dazzle you, but nothing can prepare you for the upper and lower city levels when you get to China with its exotic brothel and the techno-thumping Hive club and all these back alley shops and eateries. My only minor quibbles with graphics would be some odd facial animations and a few flailing limbs during conversation, but nothing major.
The overall presentation for Human Revolution is unbelievable, unmatched, and unforgettable. There is a hint of Blade Runner, a dash of Fifth Element, and even a pinch of Judge Dredd in these futuristic city levels complete with dingy back alleys, dizzying rooftops, and more neon that a hundred Vegas strips. Screenshots only hint at the majesty of this game. You really need to see this world in motion for the complete experience. Art Director, Jonathan Jacques-Belletete and his team have really created something special here.
Just as important to the overall presentation package is some great voice acting that is able to carry all of these complex conversations through twisting paths with believable emotion. Supporting that underlying emotion is a stunning sound design crafted by Steve Szczepkowki that brings these intricate cities to life with realistic sounds in a very dynamic 3D mix. And the icing on this audio cake has to be the score created by Michael McCann. I canít imagine any game more deserving of its own soundtrack release. This is the kind of TRON-inspired music you will want to listen to even when you arenít playing the game.
I would have been happy if Deus Ex: Human Revolution had been ďas goodĒ as the original, but thanks to the brilliant designers at Eidos Montreal and their amazing dedication to the franchise and this unique hybrid genre, I am happy to say that Human Revolution surpasses the original in every way possible and redefines the Action-RPG for a new generation of gamers and game designers. Letís just hope we donít have to wait another decade for the next revolution.