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I didn't own a PC in the late 90s, so I was never able to experience the original Deus Ex which I still only have a vague understanding of its significance. I did have enough knowledge to know that Deus Ex: HR had some very big shoes to fill. When the Game of the Year Awards came around at the end of 2011, Deus Ex was pretty absent. But when I think back to Deus Ex I realize that despite some questionable design choices here and there and a bit of technical jank the game is really a lot of fun.
The original game was famous for its absurdly flexible system by which game scenarios could be beat. Did you want to go in guns blazing? Did you want to sneak? Did you want to hack? Any of those you could do if that's how you chose to do it. Human Revolution I understand is not nearly as ambitious, but there is still a very nice variety to it which encourages multiple play throughs.
The game is set in a not too distant future where humans are enhancing their physical and mental capabilities via "augments" which usually come in the form of cybernetic prostheses. You play Adam Jensen, a private security enforcer hired to protect some important people from reaching Washington D.C. There are many people out there who are completely destitute because their body is rejecting their augments which forces them to be slaves to an anti-rejection drug that is very expensive. The people you're escorting have found the solution and certain interests don't want that information to get out.
During the introduction you're ambushed and cybernetic mercenaries are killing everyone in site and you're critically injured. When you wake up you find that your previously all natural body now has just about every augmentation known to man, plus some sweet ass sunglasses built into your face and make you look came straight out of The Matrix.
There's a lot going on in the world of Human Revolution. Evil corporations, corrupt governments, rebels, gangs and private militaries. The more you talk to people and do sidequests the more that you'll learn about it. If you're the type of person who doesn't balk at the idea of reading emails and articles while playing a game then this is the game for you. There're a lot of characters and a lot of twists and turns that you can influence depending on how you play the game. What's fun and intriguing about the game is that it doesn't usually come down to a black or white situation where one is 100% evil and other 100% good. Sometimes there's a third option and sometimes it's not through dialogue choices but gameplay that you affect the narrative.
The gameplay of Human Revolution is where it's at. For my first play through I chose the pacifist route which meant tranquilizing and stunning a lot of people. This involved a lot of sneaking through air ducts, peeking around corners, and observing guard routes. Also hacking security doors helped a great deal too. No one method of playing is the right or wrong way to go and the game always ensures that you can proceed.
For example, in one scenario I might have to get past a security door with a keypad password. If I have strong hacking skills I can break into it. Or if I have strength augments I could lift a bunch of dumpsters, climb onto them and make my way up to an otherwise out of reach fire escape. Or maybe I could shoot a guard who is carrying the passcode. The game has tons of these scenarios and it's awesome.
The only place where the game breaks down is in its boss battles. If you haven't been getting weapon upgrades or combat upgrades you're going to find yourself in a difficult position when you get to the first boss who has to be defeated by brute force. There's enough weapon variety that you might be able to take him down differently than how someone else did it, but it's still going to come down to shooting him or exploding barrels he walks near. Some of the later boss battles have more flexibility in how you approach them, but if you've been playing slowly and methodically you'll find the experience change drastically in these encounters. It was later revealed that the boss battles were farmed out to another developer than the core Deus Ex team which could be part of the explanation for their shift in style.
The game is mostly a first person shooter, but it smoothly transitions to 3rd person when taking cover which is a welcome feature because stealth in first person is not always the easiest to do when you have no idea if any of your limbs are peeking around corners. You gain experience for just about every action like killing enemies, stealth takedowns and hacking. The game has a bias towards stealth as those yield the greatest experience points. Every 5000 XP gained you're given a "Praxis point" which can be used to enhance your augmentations. Praxis points can also be bought and discovered as hidden items in the world.
In the average run it's very unlikely that you'll be able to upgrade everything so choose your skills wisely. The various upgrades you have can also affect your options when trying to enter a certain region. There are upgrades that allow you to breathe poisonous air, not get electrocuted, punch through solid walls or fall from great heights. These are other ways the game makes each experience unique.
The game is fully voice acted and there are dialogue choices similar to a Bioware dialogue wheel where you have the choice between being a nice guy, neutral or a total dick. Also there's an augment that you can use to read what a character's personality type is and often talk your way past a situation if you've read them correctly.
Deus Ex is great looking game. It might not be the most technically detailed game, but it has a total old school cyberpunk aesthetic complete with Ghost in the Shell orange glow. Some character models received a lot more attention than others so sometimes side characters can look a little janky especially when they don't match their voice acting well. Voice acting is good all around with a few outliers of which were executed with at best questionable racial sensitivity. Adam himself sounds totally ridiculous with his gruff trying to sound cool attitude. It's hard not to imitate him as you play the game because it's just... yeah.
The sound effects are also top notch. The guns have all the nice clicks, snaps and locking sounds you'd want and have nice power behind them. Walls break with appropriate rocky crumbling sounds, dumpsters have a nice weight to them and god damn is it fun to cold cock a guy in the face with that really satisfying cybernetic punch sound. Seriously, punching dudes in the face has never been this much fun.
I've wanted the music ever since I saw the first trailers and they really sell the epic yet somber nature of the world of Deus Ex. Take some Vangelis Blade Runner, Gladiator-like vocals, Ghost in the Shell ambience and it comes out with something truly awesome. This is the stuff that trailer music is made from and it's totally sweet. This music could make a video about anything seem like the most epic thing you ever saw. In the context of something that's actually epic it heightens it that much. I love this soundtrack.
It's been several months since I played Deus Ex but after reviewing all the elements of the game (sans the boss battles) it just makes me want to play it again. The characters aren't necessarily terribly memorable and it's difficult to remember what really happened in the story, but the game itself is just so much fun to play. The world is fun to walk around and the "what if" science-fiction environment feels great to be in. If you like freedom of choice in your games, cyberpunk visuals, lots of guns and stealth then play this game already!