Despite Some Rough Edges, This Revolution Is Worth Taking Part In
The original Deus Ex, released back in 2000, is considered by some to be one of the best RPG’s of the last generation. It offered a level of choice in how players accomplished their goals that was groundbreaking at the time, which allowed for a lot of flexibility in how it was played. The newly released prequel to the original game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, promises to maintain that level of choice while crafting it’s own identity and updating the gameplay for modern players. While some of its elements don’t pan out as well as one might hope, Human Revolution is an engaging experience that fans old and new to the series will likely enjoy.
Taking place in the near future, but well before the events of the first Deus Ex, players are placed into a world where technology is advancing at a rapid pace. Enhancing humans by adding cybernetic implants known as augmentations is a new and exciting prospect, but public opinion is divided on whether these robotic additions are the next form of evolution, or an unnatural evil. You play as Adam Jensen, the newly appointed head of security for Sarif Industries, one of the major corporations conducting augmentation research. After a mysterious group attacks the labs and massacres everyone they find, Jensen is left clinging to life, only being saved by multiple surgeries that make him more machine than man. With his new abilities, it’s up the Jensen to find out who is responsible for the attack and why.
The story of Human Revolution is one full of conflicting ideologies, corporate sabotage, and government conspiracies. Everyone has secrets and motivations, even Jensen, all of which you’ll uncover during the primary narrative. Some twists are more predictable than others, and most characters are only given enough personality to merely be memorable with only a few you’ll truly like and care about. While these issues may stop the plot from elevating to being as good as it could have been, the narrative is still engaging and will consistently provide you with just enough intrigue to make you want to know what’s going to happen next.
As stated previously, choice in how you approach a situation has always been the main draw of Deus Ex, and this aspect remains true in Human Revolution. Every encounter has a wide variety of ways it can be tackled. You can take the brute force approach, running in guns blazing eliminating all that you see, getting up close and personal with those dumb enough to get near you. Or, you can remain undetected, watching patrol patterns for the perfect time to slip past, possibly heading into an air duct to get by cameras and other security systems. If you come to a locked door, you might be able to hack it and gain entry. Or maybe you smash through the wall next to it and avoid the door altogether. There is no wrong approach, so how each obstacle is handled is up to you.
While you certainly can try to run into every encounter with the intent of shooting up the place, the game does favor a more quiet approach. You not only get more experience points for non-lethal takedowns, but ammunition for your weapons isn’t abundant enough for constant running and gunning. Even with the game pushing you toward stealthy gameplay, there is still plenty of choice to be had with multiple paths to your objective, though players hoping to play Deus Ex strictly as a shooter will probably be turned off by this revelation.
Regardless of how you decide to play most of your time will be spent in cover. Human Revolution is primarily played from the first-person perspective, but switches to a third-person view whenever pushed up against a wall or performing certain tasks like climbing up ladders. The transition between these two different viewpoints is smooth and quickly feels natural. While in cover, you can pop out to take shots at your enemies, or quickly move to another piece of cover to move around them undetected. There is also an option to blind fire, but it’s practically useless, with bullets rarely hitting anything in the direction you’re firing, even when an enemy is at point blank range.
Both the gunplay and stealth mechanics feel solid. Neither system is as polished as it would be in other more single-minded games, but both largely work well. It’s satisfying to take on a room of guards head on and come out alive, though admittedly there is a higher sense of gratification obtained by sneaking through the same room unnoticed, silently knocking out anyone in your path and dragging their bodies out of sight of others. You’ll earn points through leveling up that can be spent on upgrading your augmentations that can make both of styles of play easier. For example, those who favor gunplay might want to buy an augmentation that reduces recoil or one that makes them more resilient to damage, while those focusing on a stealthy approach might want to invest in making their footsteps silent or unlock the ability to become invisible for a short time.
Hacking also plays a prominent role in the world of Deus Ex. While players can choose to just ignore this aspect, it’s a good idea to invest some points into becoming a better hacker. Doors can be unlocked, computers can be broken into, and, if you’re a high enough level, turrets and robotic sentries can even be turned on your enemies. The mini-game that’s associated with breaking into these systems is quick, easy to understand, and engaging, with you jumping from node to node trying to hack the system before the intrusion is traced back to you. It can be surprisingly intense at times, with you managing to accomplish the hack with only milliseconds to spare.
In between primary story missions, you’ll be dropped into an open hub world where you can freely walk around. Where you are will change based on story progression and it’s in these various hub worlds that you can find shopkeepers to buy and sell items with, look for hidden caches of items and weapons, and find side quests. These range from helping an old friend who’s undercover bring down a corrupt cop to extorting a young woman for money on behalf of the Triad. These side quests provide interesting stories of their own that are worth seeing through and reward you with extra experience and money. The number of overall side quests is somewhat low when compared to other RPG’s, but they tend to involve multiple steps that take a good amount of time to complete, so players won’t feel like the game is lacking side content.
There are two primary issues with Human Revolution that are hard to ignore. The lesser of these two evils is the games artificial intelligence. While the patrolling guards typically act how you would expect most of the time, there are occurrences when an enemy will see you even though you are completely hidden or fail to react at all as you stand next to them hacking their personal computer that has valuable information on it. More noticeable is how the enemies react when in a firefight, usually standing still, failing to take cover at all, or charging at you without firing. On a few occasions, friendly A.I. even turned hostile and opened fire for unexplained reasons.
The more glaring issue is the boss fights you’re asked to engage in at certain points in the story. These encounters are flawed for a multitude of reasons. First, it removes the element of choice from the equation, forcing you to engage in a gunfight. Secondly, these fights can become very frustrating. If you have been upgrading your augmentations to make you more proficient with firearms and take more damage, these engagements are tolerable. However, if you have been focusing on making a stealth character, which the game seems to point you toward from the start, these fights are tedious affairs of trail and error, involving more luck then skill. There is also no real warning when you are about to trigger one of these fights, so you may find yourself walking into one without ammunition, and there is little indication if the tactics you’re using to damage a boss are actually doing anything. Thankfully, there are only a handful of these encounters throughout the game, but they definitely stand out as the weakest element of the package.
In the graphics department, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has some great art direction. The cyberpunk world is convincing and fully realized, even coming off as plausible to some degree. The various augmentations characters have, like Jensen’s arms, all have a sleek look to them. The color palette, which often focuses on black and gold, is beautiful and makes everything stand out. Unfortunately, some of the technical aspects don’t hold up as well. While the game looks good overall, some elements heavily detract from the world and pull you out of the experience. Characters models in particular vary wildly from good to ugly, with stiff, unconvincing animation across the board. Jensen’s takedown animations, on the other hand, are very well done with each one looking and feeling brutal, although occasionally these animations can glitch, with Jensen grabbing a character incorrectly. Lip movements rarely match what characters are saying, the frame rate drops frequently, and load times are just load enough and frequent enough to be somewhat annoying. One final issue is that on the Xbox360, the game will freeze completely for a few seconds whenever an achievement is earned. All of this adds up to a good looking package whose technical flaws are made up for by great art direction.
Sound design is also generally well done, with a few evident blemishes. During cut scenes, some sound cues either don’t match up with the action on screen or simply don’t play at all. Voice acting is typically solid, though it doesn’t live up to the high quality of other RPG’s on the market. Most of the actors do a decent enough job, with only some truly bad performances. The actor portraying Jensen in particular seems to be channeling Christian Bale’s Batman, but his delivery will likely grow on you over time. Music, on the other hand, is outstanding throughout, with orchestral scores intermixed with synthesized beats that perfectly fit the serious future the game sets out to create.
The game certainly has some issues, but overall Deus Ex: Human Revolution does justice to the legacy of the franchise. It provides an engaging, well-realized world and a great amount of choice is how to tackle objectives. It rewards various types of play and does a great job of making you feel like a cybernetic badass no matter how you proceed through it’s 20-25 hour adventure. The inconsistent A.I., the questionable inclusion of boss fights, and some noticeable technical issues detract from the package, but despite these flaws, this is certainly a revolution worth taking part in.