Developer: Eidos Montreal / Publisher: Square Enix / Played on: 360, PC / Price: $49.99 (PC), $59.99 (360/PS3) / ESRB: Mature [Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol]
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Let me get this out of the way so you won’t dismiss the rest of this review as ignorant gushing; the original 2000 release of Deus Ex is one of my favorite games of all time. I’ve played through it at least five times, and I believe that action RPGs in years since have yet to live up to the standard set by the original game. Okay, now here’s the bomb–Deus Ex: Human Revolution is absolutely fantastic, and manages to live up to the impossibly high prestige set by its title. That may be hard to believe, but it’s true.
From Human Revolution’s main plot to smaller stories on the game’s periphery, you experience thought-provoking issues and memorable moral quandaries. The discovery of mechanical augmentation for human beings has triggered a second renaissance for mankind. Medical researchers and scientists see this technology as the next evolutionary step for the human race, but others believe that augmentations rob humanity of what it is to be human.
The game’s main plot arc follows Adam Jensen, head of security for Sarif Industries (they research and manufacture new augmentation devices). Early in the game, a group of mercenaries breaks into Sarif, kills much of its staff, and wrecks Jensen pretty hard in the process. Six months later, Jensen has been patched up with new mechanical hardware, and sets out to discover the reason for the break in. In the process, he becomes swept up in the greater ideological conflict between both sides of the augmentation issue. And, since this is a Deus Ex game, uncovers some good old fashioned conspiracies.
Side plots are more personal than the main story, generally presenting an episodic story over the span of an optional side quest. Many of these quests end in a morally ambiguous decision that gives you good food for thought. One of my favorites involved an augmented soldier that discovered his memories and actions were being controlled by his implants. Now he’s on a quest for revenge to take down those that used him to kill innocents. Do you let him go, stop him yourself, or rat him out to the police? There’s no right or wrong answer here.
Describing how Deus Ex plays is difficult, simply because there are so many ways to play. Essentially you alternate between open hubs in Detroit and China where you can explore and solve side quests at your own pace, and more linear, enemy-heavy areas. As you earn experience, you spend skill points on abilities that fundamentally alter how you play. You have the common trade-off of stealth and combat, but also more unique abilities such as persuasion, which lets you talk your way into secure areas, and upgraded legs, which let you vault over otherwise impassable barriers.
The real magic is in the level design–whatever goal you need to accomplish, there are always multiple ways to complete it. That means whatever path you take from A to B feels entirely your own. Did you get inside the secured building by climbing through an air vent, jumping on to the roof from a neighboring building, or simply massacring everyone at the entrance? After completing an objective, it’s easy to see all the paths you could’ve taken if you had the requisite skills, and I already can’t wait to start another game with a different spec. I can’t count the number of times I hacked through a door or killed a guard, only to discover a vent or ladder that would’ve given me a more elegant and clean entrance.
Here’s an example of just how varied these quests can go, and how unique your solutions can be. At one point, I had to find the owner of a nightclub to follow a lead. After talking with the bartender a little, I definitely get the feeling that he’s the guy I’m looking for, but I try to pressure him too forcefully and he eventually tells me to piss off. So I messed that up, but another bartender beckons me over and says if I collect a debt for him, he’ll hook me up. I go talk to the debtor, end up punching her out because she gives me lip, and collect the item she was to pay for rather than the money she owed. I take this back to bartender #2, and this pisses him off, so now he won’t talk to me.
At this point I’ve messed up every natural lead I have, and the quest log doesn’t even have any info for me to go on. I just walk around the club and talk to people, and eventually overhear there’s a secret underground area for VIPs. I find the door, but I can’t hack it because my skill is too low. I explore around the club more and find a datapad on the floor in the bathroom that gives me the code, and on I go. That’s the first time in a long time that I’ve felt like an experience in a game was uniquely mine.
Human Revolution has a strong and striking style, which you may translate in your head to “everything’s yellow.” That’s selling the game’s graphics extremely short, as the color palette is just one element to the game’s unique look. Since the world experiencing a neo-Renaissance, the clothes are all fantastically original modernizations of Renaissance-era clothing. You see collared leather coats with flamboyant chest lapels and dresses with high pleated ruffs. The game’s environments are similarly striking; downright awesome architecture makes most of the game’s areas a pleasure to visit.
There are a few aspects that ding the graphics though, which are most visible in conversations with NPCs. Mouth and facial animations are basic, making the characters appear robotic (which may be poetically fitting in some circumstances). Additionally, characters bob and shift in conversation a little too much to be natural. However, these complaints are minuscule next to how much the game does right. Ultimately, Human Revolution isn’t technically brilliant, but it creates a world with all the imagination and clarity of vision of other science fiction greats like Blade Runner or The Fifth Element.
Sound and music act in concert with Human Revolution’s graphics to create a whole new world. The game’s soundtrack echoes the sensibilities of Blade Runner and Mass Effect by using plucky, simple synth in concert with orchestration. It’s dark, moody, and futuristic–a soundtrack to a smoke-covered alleyway where augmented drug dealers peddle future cocaine or whatever people get high on in the future. Sound effects, like the soundtrack, are familiar yet original. I particularly loved the reloading sound effects–all the the clicks and whirs of the machinery make the equipment sound real. Voice acting is serviceable but not as memorable. Adam Jensen has an affected gruff to his voice that is slightly less forced than Bale’s Batman. Most of his delivery is deliberately disaffective, which, if you’re feeling generous, reflects the loss of his humanity due to his augments.
Given how broad your skillset can be, it’s a minor miracle that Human Revolution compresses the Deus Ex control set down to a controller so effectively. The controls require adjustment though, mainly because they deviate from shooter norms in a few areas. Snapping to cover is accomplished with the left trigger, while the iron sights have been moved to clicking the right stick. If you’re coming to this game expecting a Call of Duty experience, changes like this will be surprising. Still, you’ll be snapping to cover far more often than looking down iron sights… and in fact it’s possible to play the whole game without doing that once. The most common actions you take are always the easiest to perform, but it will take an hour or so to re-learn the basics. I particularly liked the radial equipment menu, which makes it a breeze to switch guns, grenade types, and use consumable items all from the same menu.
The PC version of Human Revolution differs in the two ways that a PC version should–graphics and controls. The PC version of Human Revolution looks cleaner–the yellow tint is still present, but the saturation has been dialed down. Textures are much more crisp, which objectively looks better, but also changes the “feel” of the world. The console version has a processed, muddied look that reminds me of watching science fiction movies on VHS. This look fits the grimy world of Human Revolution naturally, so it’s entirely possible that you may prefer the look of the console version, despite the PC cranking out objectively higher resolution visuals.
Controls have been completely rearranged on the PC to more closely resemble the original Deus Ex. You have ten hotbar slots that you can assign to any inventory item, which makes it easy to swap between guns or other items at a single key press. You can access the game’s menus from single keys as well, rather than tab through different screens as in the console version. Thankfully, you can also use the mouse in most menus, which makes inventory management much easier since you can drag around items directly rather than highlight and move them one at a time. It’s clear the developers dedicated time to making the PC version of the game a natural fit, and that’s exactly what it is.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is fan-fucking-tastic. It’s the sort of game you don’t want to stop playing. You can talk about it with a friend, compare notes, and learn all new ways to play. That makes it a true and utterly faithful sequel to Deus Ex, perhaps more so than all the reasons I’ve already listed. If you’ve waited eleven years since the original game for a real sequel, you have no excuse. Play this game and love every second of it.