Published on September 16th, 2011 | by Cameron Woolsey, Editor-in-Chief1
Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review
Platform: Xbox 360 [Reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: Aug. 22, 2011
It’s been just over eight years since the words the first time the name Deus Ex grabbed the attention of gamers. The gaming world saw the beginning of what could have been one of the most promising and genre-defining franchises in history. From that time leading up to the present, we saw that young franchise stumble with a sequel too limited to meet with the expectation generated by the grand scope of design the original boasted. Ultimately, the series began to be forgotten and many fans felt that the Deus Ex series would be one that would fade into obscurity. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.
(Enter Age and Refresh to play)
Enter: Eidos-Montreal, a team of dedicated and starry-eyed fanboys and girls who still remember that initial promise that Warren Spector’s team offered so long ago. The team made the right choice in the decision to resurrect Deus Ex with a prequel. Doing so would allow older fans to take part in the origin of one of their favorite games while easing new fans into the Deus Ex canon without forcing them to research or force-feed chunks of history just for the sake of understanding.
This prequel in question, Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place 25 before a man named JC Denton (Deus Ex, 2000) rose up against the shadow governments vying for control. It is 2027, mankind is on the brink of tearing itself apart over the controversy of human augmentation – basically replacing parts of the anatomy with cybernetics – and the companies that create the prosthetics and control the savage market behind it. The star of the game is Adam Jensen, chief of security at Serif Industries, one of the companies in question. Jensen is a man with a mysterious past, but more on that later. At the beginning, he is living the gifted life of being a normal, healthy human. He has a rewarding job, a down-to-earth boss, David Sarif, and is dating the head scientist at the company, Megan Reed. And he has a dog, which the neighbors at his apartment just adore. A seemingly perfect life if he just ignored the noise and tumult outside the doors.
His comfortable world is shattered when a group of mercenaries boasting military grade augmentations bust down Sarif’s door, killing everyone in their wake. Jensen, too soft and fleshy to repel the invaders, is attacked violently and receives nearly-mortal wounds. Oh, and he gets shot in the head. It was not a good day to come to work. The science team, Reed included, is listed as deceased in following police reports.
Jensen would have been dead shortly if it wasn’t for Sarif’s team of doctors who augment him, replacing his arms, legs and installing various cybernetic implants that make him as formidable, if not more so, than the mercenaries that nearly took his life. They also installed a rocking pair of specs. Understandably, Jensen is pissed and needs answers. Using the vast resources of Sarif Industries, he sets out to find those answers and the ones responsible for attacking Sarif and taking his humanity, and Megan, away from him.
Deus Ex was a game about story and with the prequel Eidos-Montreal wanted no different. Much like its 2000 counterpart, Human Revolution begins slow, offering meager hints and clues to push Jensen along the path. As players get deeper into the game, the story begins to open up and a whole world of intrigue and conspiracy unfolds. Questions are answered only by more complicated questions, and it becomes obvious that some persons are guarding a very dark secret.
The story narrates the new-breaking point for human kind. Non-augmented people fight against big corporations they accuse of trying to destroy humanity, or the definition thereof. Jensen stands at the fulcrum; his choices in this story as a person who didn’t ask for augmentations will shape the world and the direction mankind will face. While the story behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution is good, I did find some gripes with it. For the most part, it really isn’t as clever as it makes itself out to be. Some of the developments weren’t entirely surprising, and near the end the betrayals to me came as obvious ones. Make no mistake, the story provided enough twists and turns to keep me interested, but it isn’t the masterpiece of narrative that was promised. The entire campaign itself is quite long. I played the game mostly using stealth and I completed as many side quests as possible to give me a final count of around 40 hours of gameplay, roughly what one would expect out of a modern RPG – which is important for a game lacking any multiplayer components.
I mentioned side quests and there are plenty to be found. Some are simple fetch quests while others require a mix of stealth and social abilities in order to complete. Awards vary from useful items to cash (credits) to experience points. Side missions pop up between campaign missions and are mostly presented as an option. One character presents several missions but first needs to be found and interacted with. It won’t be hard for gamers who keep their ears open to find her.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a hybrid of shooter and RPG. While shooter/RPG games are not that unique anymore, it’s important to note that the game is more than just simply a first-person shooter with experience points. The game mixes stealth, action and dialogue in something that the developers refer to as a “choice system.” To put it simply, the game is designed to support a wide range of play styles depending on the preference of the player. If someone wants to jump in, guns blazing and would rather deliver a broken jaw rather than a convincing statement, the option is there. However, if someone would rather hack security to open doors or shut off cameras, hug corners and low walls, or use complex dialogue to bend someone to the player’s will, that is also available as a choice. It’s also a choice whether or not a player wants to kill the enemies that face Jensen. There is no morality system in place, but there is an option to simply knock out enemies over snuffing them out completely. Some gamers can take it as an extra challenge; taking out an enemy with non-lethal means is far more difficult. If the unconscious enemy is found by one of his/her allies, he/she can be awoken. It is also important to note that lethal melee attacks create more noise than non-lethal, especially if you decide to go the stealth route. I did discover something interesting. I didn’t experiment with it much, but it seemed like using non-lethal methods awarded more experience points in the end. There was a time I messed up on my stealth so I decided “screw it, let’s just kill them all and restart the checkpoint.” I killed every guard nearby for around 20 experience points each. After I restarted, I was able to earn around 60 points with stealth bonus points – just something to think about if you decide to go commando through the game.
Personally I enjoyed taking the stealthy route as it was far more challenging, and satisfying, to sneak by clueless enemies and take out guards from the shadows that hold down the trigger until things stop moving. I went one step further by installing combat augmentations and carrying powerful weapons and grenades just in case things went south. But like I implied, that was the choice I made. The beauty in the system is that each person could end up with a different experience in the end, all because Eidos-Montreal followed the original game’s creed of offering player freedom instead of arrows to follow. The game is designed to support any player’s ideal gameplay scenario. Doors can be hacked open, ventilation can be crawled through, boxes can be stacked and climbed to get over walls, ladders can be climbed, and special augmentations can be installed to support any gameplay style possible.
One mistake someone could make is viewing the choice system the same way one would an upgrade system for an RPG. It’s not possible to only upgrade computer skills in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and still be successful. Combat is still a major part of the game and boss battles won’t let you simply hack at a terminal to win. This is not a full-fledged RPG where upgrading nothing but magic will still win the day. It is possible, however, to beat the game upgrading only combat-based augmentations. Important doors or terminals that must be hacked to progress in a story mission are only level-one locks. But only going this route will only open up half the game. The side missions require that the player put some focus on hacking or dialogue augmentations. Otherwise completing them would be impossible as some are based on not being seen or hacking terminals to discover hidden information. So take this as a warning: don’t just focus on one aspect of gameplay in Deus Ex: Human Revolution or it will just lead to frustration and, at worst, restarts.
Hacking takes a major role in the game. It isn’t too difficult to hack a door but there are only so many times you can fail at it before the console is locked out. The mini-game is like a game of cat and mouse with the security node. Neutral nodes can be captured to unlock the nearby nodes, leading toward the end node which will unlock whatever is being hacked. If detected, a countdown clock appears and the security node will begin a trace in attempt to lock out Jensen from the terminal. Certain software defenses can be used such as the nuke which will capture a node instantly, or the Stop! worm which halts the trace for a few short seconds. Good hackers can hack files that will either help slow down the trace or provide special items such as the nuke or Stop! software or even extra experience points. It takes strategy and sometimes higher level hacking augmentations to defeat more powerful security. Hacking can be used to open doors, safes, or access computers which can yield important information or allow the player to turn off security cameras or bots, or turn said bots against their masters.
Experience points are used to earn Praxis kits, basically discs that unlock Jensen’s augmentations. Jensen is basically introduced like Samus from Metroid: he already has all the augmentations but must unlock them over the course of the game. Praxis kits can be used to unlock or upgrade an augmentation. New augmentations require two Praxis kits, while upgrades only require one. Augmentations can be bought strategically based on play style. There are combat and progress-based augmentations that support stealth, hacking, defense and supportive ones such as dialogue, sprint speed and duration, and inventory size. There are a lot to choose from. There are augmentations that allow Jensen to survive more damage in heavy combat, to a cloak which can render him invisible for a short time. There are also combat-specific ones such as adding the ability to take out two guards at once or the Typhoon, which flings small bombs in a 360 degrees, killing anything in its blast radius. X-Ray vision and the ability to punchy through walls works as partner augmentations that can quickly, but loudly, break down walls to discover hidden goods or passageways, or just snap some poor bastard’s neck while he’s lazily leaning against said wall. Just think of them as the right tool for any job.
To use special augments such as the cloak or melee attack, Jensen must have enough power. The power is displayed on the HUD as a small battery. Jensen only starts with one battery that can recharge slowly after being drained. The limited power to use abilities forces players to use strategy as opposed to hitting melee at every turn. Up to five batteries can be unlocked but I found that for the most part, having more than two is useless. Only the first battery actually recharges, the others can only be filled after eating an “energy bar” (har, har). I ultimately found myself with four empty batteries nearly 90 percent of the time I had them. There were a few moments in which have full batteries helped. Some situations call for using a mix of cloak and melee, but mostly I felt that I wasted some Praxis kits.
Graphically, the game comes in at very high marks and with only a few lows, though the lows are significant. For the most part, the game has a rich, beautiful aesthetic look which borderlines on art. Every area is immaculately detailed and alive with floating particles and incredible lighting effects. This is easily one of the prettiest games of the generation. But beyond that, there is something that bugged me throughout the entire game. With its high-tech look, you would expect that same level of detail for every facet of the graphics. This is simply not the case when dealing with facial animations. The lip syncing for the game is so off that it’s immediately noticeable and always distracting, no matter what. It’s like talking to someone with a giant mole they don’t seem to realize is there. I just wanted to tell the speaker to just “stop that, stop doing that with your face!” The lip-syncing rarely matches spoken dialogue and I even caught mouths flapping while no audio is being made, as if someone told the animator to make mouth movements for a planned dubbing but then forgot. When Jensen is against a wall talking to another person over his intercom, his mouth simply doesn’t move at all. He has a lot of augmentations, but telepathy isn’t one of them. There’s nothing like making a player remember they are playing a game like something that reminds them they’re playing a game. I know that sounds simplistic and obvious, so why didn’t Eidos-Montreal get it?
Audio is pretty solid. Voice acting is decent, not remarkable, and weapon audio is also well done. The game also has very good ambience audio that is hardly noticeable but creates a believeable game world. Papers crinkle while flying through the wind, and fluorescent bulbs buzz and pop. The game soundtrack is the highlight with dramatic techno music that is impressive in scope and scale.
As I mentioned above, not everything about Deus Ex: Human Revolution is perfect. The developers made some great choices in making the game feel like the original Deus Ex. In fact, the feeling of nostalgia during my first couple hours into the game was almost overwhelming. However, not everything from that era should have been resurrected. The lip syncing is one such aspect that could have been left buried. The other, more damning problem lies with the often awful AI. Human Revolution draws some influence from stealth classics such as Splinter Cell. Enemies are set on a path that they would walk for all eternity if not for player intervention. Memorizing guard patterns is key to succeeding with stealth in Deus Ex. However, some issues exist that, to me, are unacceptable. The worst offender: AI telepathy. I ran across many moments in the game where I stepped out to melee a guard, and before he even made the first grunt of surprise every guard in the entire damn level knew exactly where I was. Ridiculous! How is something like that ever possible? This “instalarm” telepathy was the source of many frustrations while playing through the campaign.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution features tons of different weapons that can be upgraded. Starting out with a standard 10 mm pistol, Jensen’s arsenal can grow to include a sniper rifle, rocket launcher, machine-pistol, combat rifle, plasma rifle, multiple grenade types (frag, EMP, gas) and more. Some weapons are designed for stealth players who don’t want to kill the enemy such as the stun gun for close encounters or the dart gun for long range. Others, well, pretty much do the opposite. Upgrade kits can be bought at stores for credits or found hidden around the environment. Upgrades can include upgrades to reload speed, weapon damage, laser sights and more. Most weapons can take more than one of the same upgrade. Examining the weapon in the inventory screen will reveal where it stands with said upgrades.
Even with its shortcomings, I still enjoyed the hell out of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Ignoring the small things Eidos-Montreal got wrong, I can’t deny that the rest of the game is very well-crafted. There are enough twists in the story to keep it interesting and the mission pacing is superb, making the game feel awarding and addicting. The characters are interesting and the story keeps you constantly guessing. It’s fun, addictive and worth of the Deus Ex name. Most of all, though, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a labor of love. From the feeling of nostalgia I got at the beginning to all the small things during the game that connected it with the rest of the canon, it’s obvious, especially after watching the inspiring pictures during the credits, that the developers at Eidos-Montreal are fans. Deus Ex: Human Revolution was created to remind fellow fans why the original was so great and to bring newcomers into the fold, sparking interest in the classic game which still graces many top 10 game lists today. It isn’t a genre-defining game, but it is well worth the time and money to invest in the first blockbuster of the fall 2011 season.
+ Intriguing story of conspiracy
+ Incredible visuals
+ Addictive and rewarding gameplay
+ Nice and lengthy
- What’s with that lip syncing?
- AI is broken