misterhaan's Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC) review

Lives Up to the Deus Ex Name

I got introduced to the Deus Ex universe through promotional information shortly before the original game came out, but didn’t get a chance to play until Invisible War came out.  I actually ended up playing Invisible War before the original Deus Ex, so Human Revolution as a prequel continued by trend of going back in time.
I was hoping to find my favorite parts from the first two entries in the series present in Human Revolution, and also wondered how they were going to use 10 years newer gaming technology to portray 25 years older technology.  Obviously augmentations were available, as were skill points (called experience points or XP in Human Revolution), multiple options for competing objectives,  nonlethal methods of dealing with enemies, weapon upgrades, and your choice of endings.  That’s all from the original Deus Ex, but my favorite part of Invisible War didn’t make it:  multiple factions you could choose to work with or against.  I understand most people felt Invisible War was a disappointment after the original and Human Revolution was being touted as the “spiritual successor” to the original, which meant Eidos probably didn’t want to draw from Invisible War at all.  While I think allowing you to choose sides while playing the game could have given me more reason to play it again after reaching the endings, my first playthrough was still very enjoyable, and I still ended up wanting to play again not only to get some achievements I didn’t happen upon the first time through but also to try out some alternate approaches to some objectives.
As with the first two Deus Ex games, I decided before i had even bought Human Revolution that I would play it nonlethal.  The odd thing about that is that in the playable prologue (before you get any augmentations), you start out with an assault rifle and seem encouraged to try out the cover system by shooting at the enemies from behind desks, but there’s an achievement included for playing all the way through without killing anyone.  There are no achievements related to shooting whatsoever, so the game seems to be pushing you in two different directions.  Of course I said before that I like how Deus Ex lets you choose between different methods of completing objectives, but considering I came into the game expecting to play nonlethal and then as soon as I get control over my character I feel like my only viable option is to start shooting, which essentially tricked me out of getting the nonlethal achievement.  It would have helped to receive a nonlethal weapon at the same time as the assault rifle to help highlight the fact that you have options.
Besides what felt to me like a push into gunplay at the beginning of the game, the cutscenes seem to portray your character Adam Jensen as a gruff dude with a score to settle.  To me the attitude he showed and the way people often treated him seemed to fit better with a shoot-everybody style than what I was trying to do.  It would have been nice if my more humane approach could have resulted in more suitable dialog.
My first disappointment came before I even started playing though.  I always customize the keyboard controls to use the number pad instead of WASD since that's what I’ve been used to for quite some time (since Wolfenstein 3D).  The number pad enter is always my choice for action key, but somehow Human Revolution wouldn’t let me map that key to anything, so I had to pick something else.  That has since been fixed in a patch, but if you pre-ordered the game like I did you easily could have finished the game without being able to use the enter key for anything, like I did.  I also started out saving by hitting escape to get to the menu and then going to save and choosing a slot, then getting back out of the menu.  The game has a quicksave feature tied to F5, but it’s not configurable so not listed in customize keys and it’s not even pointed out that such a feature even exists, so I didn’t use it until I read about it on a forum.
The augmentations and upgrades are purchased using experience points gained through things like exploring, dealing with enemies, and completing objectives.  This is similar to how the skills worked in the original Deus Ex, used in Human Revolution in place of the augmentation and upgrade canisters from the first two.  There are a few Praxis Kits which gain you one point (called Praxis Points) to use for an augmentation as soon as you pick them up (some can be purchased), but mostly it’s just one point every 5000 XP.  Adam can apply these himself whether unlocking a new augmentation (usually 2 Praxis Points) or upgrading a previously-unlocked augmentation (usually 1 Praxis Point), which simplifies things a little over the original game requiring you to find a medbot to install new augmentations for you.  It also means you can pick anything you want because they all go off the same Praxis system instead of needing a cranial canister to install a cranial augmentation, etc.  I easily managed to collect enough Praxis Points for all the augmentations and upgrades i was interested in my first playthrough well before the end of the game, though I don’t believe there are enough available to be fully upgraded by the end of the game.  I miss the strategy that came with the choice of which augmentation you were going to put in a given slot from the first two games, knowing if I went for silent walking I’d be giving up the possibility of faster running.  The nice thing is you get to try out all the augmentations you’re interested in during your first playthrough.
The takedown mechanism is a new thing to the series and was essentially my primary weapon.  With a certain augmentation unlocked I could even take on two guards at once, which was highly useful in conserving ammunition and also nice when I came up from the side on two guards talking to each other.  Oddly though, if any guards are in a chair the option to do a double takedown goes away, even if the guards are right next to each other.  In some cases you could get them to stand up by opening a drawer within their field of vision while you yourself stayed out, at which point you could actually do the double takedown.  Each takedown (single or double) depletes one cell worth of bioenergy, another concept that was present in the original.  The last cell will regenerate over time (faster with certain upgrades) but the rest only get refilled by consuming proenergy bars.  I’m not sure how this makes sense that your charging system only brings you up to 20% if you’ve upgraded to the maximum of 5 cells, but as a gameplay mechanic it makes sense that you shouldn’t be able to use 5 takedowns in a row essentially for free since they’re always successful against any normal enemy (or even a civilian).  Health similarly regenerates up to 100, but can be boosted with alcohol or pharmaceuticals as high as 200.
Having over 100 health and more than one cell of energy can certainly help in combat situations.  Back to my earlier point of the game letting you take a stealthy, nonlethal approach but then acting as if that’s not how Jensen actually rolls, some cutscenes show Jensen strolling nonchalantly into an obvious trap which then puts you mano-a-mano locked in a small room with a boss who doesn’t care that you’ve been playing nonlethal and might not be carrying any guns.  Thankfully when I encountered the first one, the game had autosaved just before I triggered the cutscene and I could have combed backward through the level to find some firepower, but instead I found that I was dying so fast without doing any noticeable damage to the boss that I just looked up tips on the internet because I simply wanted to get past this ill-fitting thing and get back to playing the game.  There are 4 points in the game in which you are forced to kill someone, but plenty more cutscenes that portray Adam as more of a mindless grunt than the way I played him.  I think the single biggest flaw with the boss battles is that even once you got over the shock of “oh I have to kill this dude now” and started shooting him, the only way to tell if your strategy was effective is that after enough damage he would flinch just a little (which you might not notice), and of course eventually you’d get the cutscene of the boss’s defeat.  While the whole idea of these fights didn’t fit into my gameplay, they could have been vastly improved by a better indication of how effective whatever you were throwing at the boss was.
Besides the cutscenes showing my character behaving in a way that was nowhere near the way he behaved when I controlled them, they are also darker and less detailed than the visuals rendered live by the game engine.  It made more sense to use pre-rendered cutscene movies when they were higher quality than the game engine could manage on the fly, but these lower-quality cutscenes looked different enough to feel like they belonged to a rough draft speed render of the game and I cheered to myself when it would jump out of pre-rendered video back into the game engine and things looked clearer and brighter again.  The world of Deus Ex Human Revolution has a distinct yellow/orange tint (except for in a couple distinct areas) which was a cool effect for the part of the game where you’re playing, but less noticeable in the muddy cutscenes.  The worst part of how the game looks besides the drastic video quality difference in the cutscenes is all the recycled faces.  There are only so many face models in the game which isn’t ideal but also shouldn’t matter much on no-name characters, but when I kept seeing the face of the first gun runner I encountered on various other people throughout the game that was definitely weird.

The Deus Ex series is set in a world that really interests me, so uncovering the details of the conspiracy in the story is one of my favorite parts.  I appreciated hearing or reading names of characters from the original Deus Ex including Joseph Manderley, Tracer Tong, Elizabeth DuClare, and Bob Page.  I also enjoyed the reference to real-life hacker Kevin Mitnick.  A major difference in the Human Revolution conspiracy though is that you were given a sometimes ridiculous amount of clues as to what was going on, allowing me to figure out most of the plot twists long before they were revealed in a cutscene.  I didn’t mind this because it felt good to be pretty sure of what was going on before it got confirmed, and some people may not quite put it together before the reveal so that felt like a bonus for paying attention, even though it wasn’t difficult.  The only problem I had with the story was in Adam’s search to uncover the truth there were some characters (one even moreso than others) whose involvement in the conspiracy was left more unclear than i would have liked.  Hopefully this means there’s a 4th Deus Ex coming to wrap up this story while telling a new one!
As with the other Deus Ex games, Human Revolution offers multiple endings.  Unfortunately it’s implemented as a room with buttons where you simply press the button for the ending you want, and then the game pulls back into a humanity-wide view of the philosophical reasons behind that choice in a somewhat anticlimactic fashion.  At least this means you can save in the button room and then load your game to experience each ending.
Overall I felt that human revolution was a worthy addition to the Deus Ex series.  It wasn’t as ground-breaking as the original, but I don’t think anyone expects a game series to pull something like that off twice.  For the most part it did a good job of telling you what your options were without getting in the way, it told an interesting story, provided challenging obstacles with multiple solutions, and looked pretty good as well.  Despite the few problems I’ve pointed out, the rest of the game is solid enough that it’s easy to enjoy if you’re at all into the kind of first-person game where shooting everyone you see isn’t your only option.

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