This Revolution WILL be Televised
This is not a review I ever expected to be writing. The original Deus Ex was a game far ahead of its time; it still holds up today if you're willing to overlook the graphics and some general awkwardness. I've heard it called the greatest game ever made and, while I wouldn't go that far, I could easily put it in the top three. Which is why its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, was such a disappointment to me and many others. I could spend pages explaining why but I'll limit myself to saying I thought the series was dead and gone after that.
Then Deus Ex: Human Revolution is announced. It's nothing more than a single piece of concept art at this point: a fetus suspended in amber liquid with visible cybernetics. It falls off my radar for awhile, occasionally popping back up only to be forgotten again as I remind myself it probably won't ever see the light of day. I am overjoyed to admit I was wrong.
For those of you who've never played the original, a little bit of explanation is required for you to get why Deus Ex was such a big deal. It offered an unprecedented level of choice that, to my knowledge, has never been repeated so masterfully. It wasn't about what weapon you were going to use, although that was certainly there. No, it was about whether you were going to bother fighting enemies at all. It was one of the few non-stealth games where stealth was a valid, effective option instead of a one-scene forced section. It was one of, if not THE only, games that you could complete without killing a single enemy. It was about the story, with its multi-layer conspiracies, and how your choices actually felt like they had meaning.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, though not as revolutionary as the original was, follows this philosophy admirably. The year is 2027 humanity is on the brink. Technology has advanced to the point where artificial limbs are superior to natural ones in every respect and scientists have moved beyond repairing the body to enhancing its capabilities. Not everyone is happy about this, of course. Many people are not augmented, either because they cannot afford the expensive surgeries and lifetime anti-rejection drugs or they believe tampering with human abilities is morally wrong. You play as Adam Jensen, the chief of security for massive biotech firm Sarif Industries. Dr. Reed, your ex-lover and Sarif's chief researcher, claims to have found a way to make augmentation available to everyone. On the eve of Washington D.C. hearings where she will unveil this research, the laboratories are attacked and everyone killed. Everyone except you, that is. Mortally wounded, David Sarif uses a loophole in your contract to have you brought back from the brink of death and augmented heavily. Six months pass and, returning to work with your new capabilities, you begin tracking down those responsible for the attack.
Human Revolution's story is told very well through a combination of cutscenes, dialogue, books, emails, and "pocket secretaries" found throughout the world. Much of this is unessential backstory that could be safely skipped, but it goes a long way to making the world feel alive. Veterans of the original Deus Ex will recognize many of the names signed on emails or quoted on news broadcasts, but not knowing these won't detract from the experience much. As you slowly unravel the countless layers of the conspiracy you begin to feel paranoid, as if everything is part of The Plan and everyone's out to get you.
As with the original, HOW you choose to progress is the most important decision. You can choose lethal or nonlethal weaponry, stealth or brute force, hacking or social engineering, and everything in between. All of these paths are enhanced by your many augmentation options, which you can improve as you level up in whatever fashion you wish. Put points into your cyberarms to increase your inventory space, let you lift heavier objects, and even punch through walls for surprise attacks or alternate routes. If stealth is more your game invest in upgrading your cloaking device to slip by enemies unnoticed or walk through laser grids without tripping alarms or, if you prefer the old-fashioned way, purchase the ability to see your enemies' fields of vision or dampen your footsteps. You can go guns-blazing with dermal armor and recoil compensation, or turn the security systems against their masters with hacking. A social implant even lets you analyze people in conversations, tracking both their personality and how convincing they consider you and letting you use pheromones to manipulate them. You should have enough experience to acquire all the upgrades you find appealing by the end of the game provided you don't blaze through and skip all the sidequests. Your playstyle can easily evolve as you progress and develop new tactics. For example, I original thought the landing system that lets you fall from any height with no damage would never be useful and the Typhoon (a kind of room-clearing, spinning, multi-grenade launcher) would be too ammo-wasting and unnecessary overkill. However, I discovered many places in the game where immunity to fall damage was incredibly useful or even essential to access alternate routes and secret areas. Even the massively-over-killing Typhoon proved its worth against security bots and the game's bosses.
The bosses are one of the places where the game stumbles. There are several of them and they require you to basically survive a cage match against a foe with MUCH more health and damage than you. There's no option to avoid them or talk through them, and characters who haven't put many points into combat augmentations will NOT have a fun time with them. Even combat-heavy characters will be annoyed by the hide-and-seek nature of the boss fights, all of which basically involve you popping out from around objects, getting a few shots in, then running away before they kill you nearly instantly.
There are other areas where the game could use some improvement, of course. I noticed in my mostly-combat playthrough that I was constantly running out of ammo and had to carry about five different weapons to have enough. The game seems to steer you towards stealth and nonlethal takedowns, as both of these options yield quite a bit more experience than their less-subtle counterparts. Hacking seems a bit overpowered as well considering how many security systems and locked doors there are in the game, and how many areas can only be accessed by either hacking the code or finding it somewhere in the world. The hacking minigame is actually very well done, however, a first as far as I know. It's just the right balance between being challenging and still accessible and fair. The game's grid inventory system, a holdover from the original, makes carrying multiple weapons and the ammunition for each a chore, but at least has the decency to rearrange itself automatically to give you maximum space. Of special (positive) note are the takedowns, both lethal and nonlethal. These are spectacularly painful-looking and extremely effective against most humanoid enemies. The shooting is fairly standard for cover-based shooters, but the enemy intelligence leaves something to be desired. They're not as annoying as they were in the original Deus Ex, magically seeing you from hundreds of yards away whenever you stuck your head out. The problem is they're simply not very bright. Countless times I silently killed an enemy only for their comrades to run up and investigate. This continued until there was a pile of dead guards all stacked on top of each other. Several of the augmentations are clearly less useful than the others; only the first bar of your energy regenerates on its own and any others you acquire require you to eat candy bars, essentially making 1 bar with faster regeneration infinitely more useful than multiple bars.
Although the game has some flaws, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is still superb. All these flaws can easily be overlooked in the face of how amazing and open the rest of the game is and I, for one, am ecstatic to see that games with this kind of depth can still be made today.
Bottom Line: If you are a fan of RPGs, shooters, stealth games, well-done stories, or even just the freedom to do what you want, you owe it to yourself to check out Deus Ex: Human Revolution. We may never have asked for this, but it's easily a worthy sequel to the original and an amazing game in its own right.