Not at the same level as the first, but still captures the feel.
Some follow-ups to great games are also great, and some of them are pretty bad. Success or failure often hinges upon whether the developers understand and appreciate what made the original game great, and where it needed to improve. When they do, it results in excellent games like Half-Life 2 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat. When they don't, it results in fiascos like Deus Ex: Invisible War. Invisible War is the "Star Wars Prequel Trilogy" of video games. It was made by people who did not realize that level sizes, skill points, the inventory system, the interface, and different types of ammo were assets to Deus Ex, not burdens. As a result, they made a game with tiny, crappy levels, a terrible interface, universal ammo, and a poorly thought out upgrade system that included no skill points.
Human Revolution, on the other hand, is a really good game. It is a really good game because the guys at Eidos Montreal sought out to replicate what made the original game so enjoyable (as best they could, given the constraints forced on them by outdated console hardware). It has a huge variety of gadgets, sensible inventory and resource management, a lot of exploration, an intelligent story, and a good character development tree. Above all, the game manages to replicate the feel of the original game – the atmosphere, the distrust, the giddiness that you feel whenever you find a cache of goodies, and the sense of excitement that you get when you are sneaking around in an area where you don't belong. It is these intangibles that always keep the game interesting, even though it stumbles every now and then along the way. Breaking into someone's apartment, stealing his energy bars and reading his e-mails is as fun as it has ever been.
At the same time, Human Revolution actually improves upon the original game in one way – meaningful choices and dialog. The game has a unique persuasion system, and it even has a dialog upgrade biomod that allows you to persuade others with pheromones. You don't use it very often, but when you do, the conversations can get very interesting, and you can gain significant information through them. In the original game, saving Paul or your brother didn't have much of an impact later in the game. In this game, you are rewarded for taking some extra effort to save the game's ancillary characters. It may, however, take some sacrifice to do so. In one case, I saved a guy by giving him one of my heavily upgraded weapons. It was a painful choice. As a refreshing change, Human Revolution ditches the lame, binary "good/evil" choices that dominate games today. Instead, the game features organic choices that flow naturally from the events of the game. You get choices when it makes sense.
The folks at Eidos Montreal must also have realized the importance of the soundtrack to the first game, because Human Revolution has a moody, synthesized score. At a time when every game has "Generic Orchestral Soundtrack X", the music in Human Revolution is another refreshing change. It is very similar to the subtle techno tracks in the first Mass Effect.
In the role playing department, Human Revolution accomplishes what Invisible War attempted to do. It streamlines your abilities, but it still gives you lots of choices and manages to reward you for every accomplishment. As you might expect, your upgrades allow you to approach the game's problems in a variety of ways: stealth vs brute force, lethal vs. non-lethal, short range vs. long range, and hacking a door vs crawling through a vent. The role-playing system has been well-designed to make all of your options viable. Stealth, especially, is more useful than in most games (including the original). You use bio energy to cloak, but your last energy bar always regenerates, which means that you can cloak for short periods of time over and over again. You can also use your bio energy for a non-lethal takedown, which gives you some great options if you want to do a no-kill playthrough (a path that I recommend for this somewhat easy game). You can upgrade cloak, run silent, strength, hacking, and a variety of other abilities that come with the cyberpunk territory. The game has too many passive abilities, and it is too stingy with items that replenish your bio energy. For the most part, however, the role playing system is very satisfying.
In your travels, you will also collect a bunch of gadgets – gadgets for hacking, mines, grenades, weapon upgrades, ammunition, and power-ups. The abundance of useful loot will have you snooping through every locker and every desk, hoping to find some treasure to help you through your next encounter. As they should, the more useful weapons take up more space in your inventory, forcing you to make numerous tradeoffs. When you combine all of the goodies with the AI and the role-playing system, it provides for some really fun gameplay. This is where Human Revolution shines like the original Deus Ex. One of my favorite tactics was to throw an object to lure bad guys into a small area, throw a flashbang to stun them, and then sprint in and knock them out with a melee takedown before they knew what hit them. The game has a lot of "oh snap" moments like this where you put your abilities and inventory items to use. Chances are, you will find some favorite tactics of your own if you play this game.
Another major area where the game succeeds – perhaps more than the original, is with its story. Adam Jensen is a very well thought-out main character. His gravelly voice is a bit of a cliché nowadays, but he has lots of really good dialog, and more of a human touch than Paul and Alex Denton of the previous games. Those characters were purposely written to be somewhat bland so that you can imprint your own emotional responses onto them. You can still do this with Adam Jensen, even though he shows more emotion during the game and he has a more interesting back story. The thought-provoking plot is a plausible prequel to the original game. It is also a morally ambigious, intellectually rich one, which demonstrates, once again, that the developers understood the strengths of the first game. In addition to the basic plot, there is a ton of back story that you acquire by reading e-mails and books. By the end of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you should be asking yourself the same ethical questions pondered by the characters in the game.
Human Revolution is not a perfect game. It is, in fact, quite easy to come up with a laundry list of minor problems that it has. Lots of them fall into the category of "jankiness" – little quirks that pop up as a result of the ambition level of the game. Some of them are almost charming in how they match the original game. Remember how in Deus Ex everyone is an idiot who leaves computer passwords and door codes conveniently sitting around on his desk? Remember the horrible Chinese accents? They are all still there.
However, there are some more significant flaws worth noting. For starters, it isn't a very attractive game. It is technologically unimpressive, and the art direction isn't special either. The game is going for a modern "Renaissance" look, which sounds good in theory, but looks kind of ridiculous in the game. Some people are dressed in loud, gaudy outfits that might as well be re-used assets from Assassins Creed 2. In addition, some of the characters sport a Mad Max/punk rock look that also looks pretty silly. One boss, in particular, is a goth chick with one side of her head shaved. Human Revolution tries just a little too hard to be cool. I much prefer the original game's understated look. The game's biggest graphical sin though is that it falls into a very common trap nowadays – lack of color palette. I don't know why this is such a common problem nowadays. Human Revolution's predominant color is not gray or brown, but – orange. Everything is bathed in orange. The interface is orange. Computers are orange. The lighting is orange. The real world is full of vibrant color. Why can't video games reflect that?
The level design in Human Revolution is another area that appears to suffer from the Xbox 360 "lowest common denominator" effect. Levels are larger than they were in Invisible War, but they still lack the sense of space that the original game had. Theoretically, the levels are about the same size, but in reality, each level has a few sublevels, with loading zones that are disguised with elevators and hallways. As a result, they aren't all that open-ended. They are loaded with alternate paths, but those paths are usually pretty close to one another. The secret vent that gets you around a locked door is usually pretty easy to find. Installations generally feel like video game levels, and not actual installations such as with Deus Ex. Overall though, the level design is an asset to the game, because it provides you with so much useful choice.
I had very low expectations for this game, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution does better than split the midpoint between the original Deus Ex and Invisible War. It retains some of the complexity of the original game while improving upon it in a few areas. Nowadays, with just about every genre of gaming having been butchered for consoles, it's impossible not to be cynical about the direction of our favorite hobby. That is why Human Revolution is such a pleasant surprise. It isn't a cheap knock-off, and it is definitely not a quick, easy cash-in on the old name. It is a quality experience, crafted by a team with a passion for the original game and the talent to back it up. If you are a fan of the original game, you owe it to yourself to see that this great franchise is still alive – not quite at its former glory, but still alive and very well.