In August of 2011 Eidos Montreal released Deus Ex: Human Revolution and sadly we are just getting around to reviewing a game that helped us get over the sluggish period in gaming that came shortly before the onset of the chaotic holiday season. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third game in a series that hasn’t seen a new release since Invisible War in 2003. Invisible War received good reviews during its time, but fans saw it as a dumbed down version of a game they loved. The original Deus Ex was a cult classic on the PC and later found release on the PS2. It has constantly been labeled as one of the best PC games of all time and won multiple game of the year awards in 2000. Its revolutionary approach to mature story-telling, player choice, and multiple narrative paths helped win it a dedicated following.
Eidos’ 2009 merger with Square Enix brought focus back to the series and work took off on a proper Deus Ex title which had originally been announced on May 17, 2007. With one of the largest publishers and developers of role playing games solely behind the project, life looked good for this beloved series. Deus Ex: Human Revolution left two important questions to the long time fans of the franchise. Is it as good as the first game? And is it better?
The simple answer is yes and no. DE:HR is, however, one of the best games released this year, giving players something palpable to sink their teeth into with one of the most intriguing stories I have seen play out in this medium in a very long time. The year is 2027 and the world is a much different place due to the continued growth of corporate control. Since the invention and implementation of human augmentation, society and the human species has seen a vast change in the way the world functions. Augmentation is used to enhance the lives of the people who go under the knife to receive them, and the possibilities are endless for what can be done with them to further the development of a person’s capabilities, both physically and mentally. The downside is that the human body often rejects the augmentations, making those who take them dependent on an anti-rejection drug.
Not only are the surgeries expensive, but the constant upkeep on the drugs themselves is a constant expense that makes it difficult for the lower and middle-class to grow along with those capable of receiving them legally. This class-separation causes a rise in crime as many have subjected themselves to scavenging for augmentations and receiving surgery and drug supplies through a growing black market. There are even those whose bodies can not take to the augmentations at all and those few often find out the hard way what can happen when their bodies reject them. The privatization of human evolution and the anti-rejection drugs that make them last leads to an outcry for change in the way things are done. It even leads to the inevitable formation of a movement called the Humanity Front that stands against the act of playing god all together, theorizing that this is a path that will lead to humanity’s destruction. Other groups have grown alongside the Humanity Front, preaching their own ideas on how these problems can be addressed, even going as far as to attack and terrorize people to get their point across.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in this world and all of these elements are fleshed out incredibly well. From the NPC’s that exist in this world’s version of Detroit and China to the main characters themselves. There is a constant struggle between deciding what is right as the game toys with the players ideology, morality, and political beliefs. Eidos stated that the player will have control over how they play the game, and while this stands mostly true for the gameplay, it stands very true to how the story progresses.
You play as Adam Jensen, the head of security at the headquarters of Sarif Industries’ in Detroit. Sarif Industries’ is one of the leaders in augmentation technology and a powerful entity within American society. Adam works alongside his ex-girlfriend Megan Reed who is a researcher for the company that has recently come up with a huge breakthrough that will allow augmentations to be done without the dependence on anti-rejection drugs. Just before her press release on the recent discovery, the building is attacked by a group of heavily augmented soldiers. During the attack Jensen is beaten down by one of the attackers and left in critical condition while trying to save Megan and her research team. The entire research team is murdered and burned, leaving only charred remains of the bodies. In an act to save Adam’s life the C.E.O of Sarif industries; David Sarif, decides to put Jensen through some major augmentations. He implants Adam with experimental technology that he appears to take to exceedingly well. While augmentation for Adam was done out of necessity there is still the question as to if this is something he would have wanted. Before he can think on it too much, he is called back to work to continue the investigation on the attack and find out who was behind it. What follows is an ever evolving story that forces the player into scenarios that exceedingly presents them with moral choices that while never good or bad, often rely on the players perception of the situation.
The characters in Deus Ex:HR are all fascinating and evolve just as much as the story. Everyone except for the main character that is. Adam Jensen is sadly one of the few complaints I have with the game, his character design and voice acting are a low point. He might as well be a cyborg version of Neo from The Matrix, and his voice acting is even more stale than Keanu Reeves. Little range is shown with the character, and even though the choices he must make are huge for the world at large, he never seems to change. Jensen acts as the eyes in which the player sees the world through, and is consistently overshadowed by all the side characters he interacts with. While the main character may stay static throughout Human Revolution’s story, many of the other character’s do not. They instead progress and change with every large twist and turn, and in some cases turn out to be something completely different than what had originally been presented. These side-characters are wonderfully voice acted and animated, I learned to care about many of them much more than I ever did about Jensen. Jensen acted as nothing more then a catalyst to the experience. His back story was far more interesting than the character himself. Which is too bad, because the more I discovered about Adam the more interesting the idea of him became.
The world itself is rather large and even though it takes place in two cities that, while not big themselves, are cluttered with important places to go and people to talk to. Deus Ex: Human Revolution can easily take 30+ hours to experience in full, and while not long for an RPG, it is rather long for an action game. There is never a shortage on things to do and the side missions are rather varied, they can go from breaking into fellow co-worker’s offices and hacking into their personal computers to catch someone stealing the anti-rejection drug, to helping Megan’s mother expose the sloppy detective work done on the investigation of her daughters death, to even helping a call girl in China stop her boss from forcefully augmenting one of her fellow workers in a way that would make her easier to control. The side missions help flesh out the underbelly of the world and the corruption present within it and they are often complex and relevant to the overall story.
The small interactions themselves can help breathe life into the world. From the moment the game returns Adam to work after his surgery, he is bombarded by co-workers fearing for their safety, mourning over the loss of Megan Reed and her research team, and even showing concern for Adam returning so soon after the attack that nearly took his life. Even when you first walk out into Detroit there are many who talk down to Adam for being Augmented, showing the support the Humanity Front has with the common folk. Hell, after the first mission you get rewarded with being able to see the results of your actions in the dialog of people on the streets. It is these small touches that help bring an exciting feeling of realism to this grim and indecisive world in which Human Revolution takes place. The only complaint I have is that often the NPC’s will stay static in their designated areas that will eventually take away from the immersion. It is a small complaint, but if large games like Fallout and Oblivion can succeed in making a city seem alive, then Deus Ex should have had no trouble with it.
A game however is nothing without good gameplay, it can only survive so long with a strong story. Deus Ex: Human Revolution delivers with its promise of allowing the player to choose how the game is played in this area, at least for the most part. The ability to upgrade Adam’s augmentation using Praxis Points opens up a wide variety of gameplay choices. You can build a stealthy agent that can put the likes of Solid Snake and Sam Fisher to shame, or build a super soldier who can punch holes in walls, toss vending machines at his enemies, and take on a hail of gunfire. The upgrades can even turn you into a smooth talker that can follow the subtle hints of facial expressions and release a pheromone that can help turn people to your way of thinking. The dialog situations can be just as intense sometimes as a big firefight, with the right upgrades you can make these segments easier by being able to track the effects your replies have on the character you are talking to, as well as look at psychological reports that describe the personality type of the person you are trying to persuade. These add an interesting touch to the dialog trees often found in Bioware games, but even without these upgrades the facial animations are impressive enough to give hints on what effect your words are having. The options are plentiful, and I especially loved that the game awarded players who went a passive route and never killed a single soul in the game outside of the bosses.
Beyond that, the game plays as a mixture of many other great games. With the right stealth upgrades you can make the navigation HUD look like something out of Metal Gear Solid with line of sight, noise display, and a countdown timer that indicates when enemies will stop looking for you. They even mix in a bit of Splinter Cell with an upgrade that puts an indicator on screen of where you were last seen in almost the exact fashion seen in 2010′s Conviction. The shooting and cover system is almost identical to Rainbow Six: Vegas making it work and work well. I quite enjoyed lining up a perfect shot from behind cover and popping up for just a split second to score a precise headshot, and then following it up with another and another until the room was cleared. The fun of these situations is often in getting things done the way you want, by either taking out an entire room the quiet way or laying down hell upon your would be attackers with precisely aimed shots (I say this because ammo is a bit scarce and the inventory system is sort of clunky.)
The strategy behind taking out a room with stealth is, in and of itself, a puzzle that is fun to tackle. Finding a way to take people out quietly, dragging bodies into hidden places, taking air vents into optimal positions behind the enemies, and using the environment to attract the attention of guards towards a trap you laid out is incredibly enjoyable. It is moments like these when all goes well that never stopped giving me a great sense of accomplishment. The way the level design is laid out is also quite impressive, giving the player multiple points of entry and multiple options on how to get through the area. It is even possible to clear an entire objective by talking your way through it without ever having to take out a single individual. The freedom of how to get things done is so impressive that when Deus Ex throws a broken and ill-conceived boss battle at you it is incredibly disappointing.
The biggest complaint I can lobby against DE:HR is that the freedom is immediately sidelined in favor of arena style brawls with bosses that, if not prepared for, can lead to multiple frustrating reloads of your save file. Stealth is not an option during these moments, the game forces the player to take on these threats head on and it is as if you have been thrown into a completely different and less impressive game. The first boss battle comes when it isn’t expected, but after defeating this enemy, most players will build their characters appropriately in order to take care of these threats. This is too bad, since this means that all players will build similar characters in some aspects in order to trump these cheap fights. I even heard from a friend of mine that he was unwilling to continue playing the game because of these boss battles, they really do threaten to break what is an amazing experience with their poor design.
The rest of the game, however, warrants building your character around them so as to traverse and discover the real magic within the game. Human Revolution is one of the most rewarding and mature experiences a gamer can ask for even with all the flaws. The message the game conveys is a heavy one, and one I appreciated in its neutral approach to the issues. Never did I feel forced to take one side of the argument or the other, if I took one, it was because it felt right to me and many players will likely go a different route than I did. While many games give freedom to the player through an open world and the ability to complete the story how they wish, Deus Ex: Human Revolution gives players freedom by choosing how the game is played (for the most part) and the how the story progresses by pressing on some rather mature and potent issues.
With recent political movements as of late protesting against corporate power, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is even more relevant right now than it was back in August. Plus, no matter what side you take, the story never tells you what side is right. It leaves it up to you to decide that. If anyone hasn’t given this game a shot, it comes highly recommended, it is a great game with few low points and a story that is stronger then most everything currently offered in this medium.