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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

25 August 2011

Finding a game that does more than one thing really well is a daunting task. Sure, you may get a game featuring a great story but lacking solid controls, or you may get a mindless fighter with dreadful dialogue, but very rarely will you find something that hits nearly every mark. Eidos Montreal attempted to do just that in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It boasts a striking visual presentation, interesting storyline and plot themes, an exciting approach to level progression and design, and a do-it-yourself gameplay system. Human Revolution does all of these things extremely well, and for the vast majority of people, these are the bread and butter of a great game. Yes, there are nuances, like occasional problems with the graphics, subpar voice acting, and boss fights that frankly feel out of place, but these are minor enough to keep even the most jaded gamer engaged throughout the lengthy campaign. It’s the element of choice that places Human Revolution among the ranks of heavy hitters from studios like Bethesda and BioWare, and it’s the frighteningly realistic-feeling glimpse into our civilization’s possible future that adds a certain layer of relevance you just can’t get fighting aliens and dragons.

Human Revolution’s graphics work extremely well, given the plot’s overtones of human manipulation and corruption. The black and golden hues saturate the screen to constantly remind you that this is a glimpse of technology gone wrong. There were several times throughout the lengthy campaign that I was ready for a new visual approach, as I found myself occasionally bored with the grit of city streets and ultra-polish of high-rise apartments and office buildings. But, it works really well through much of the game.

I will freely admit that the opening level of Human Revolution left a bad taste in my mouth. But once I learned the basics of combat, stealth, and hacking, I started to approach each level with an open mind. And that’s just what you need to do with Human Revolution. The game lends itself well to those with an open mind and an open approach to each level, each decision, and each encounter. You are in control of each decision. If a mission sends you into an office building to steal valuable information off a computer, you can take advantage of the game’s impressive first-person shooter controls and go in guns blazing. Or, if you want to feel like Solid Snake, you can sneak into the building through vents and use your stealth augmentations to pass each guard undetected. You can even hack computers and security systems to turn A.I.-controlled robots into your minions, mowing down your enemies as you walk through the halls with a fat cigar in your mouth, sunglasses drawn, and a giant middle-finger pointed at each surveillance camera. If none of that fits your fancy, you can try sweet talking your way through the building, but it’s best to keep a gun handy just in case.

You play as Adam Jensen, who, after a series of not-so-accidental events, requires augmentations to stay alive. His employer is happy to test their latest technology, turning him into a bit of a super security specialist. Your primary goal is to investigate the events that required you to turn from man to machine-man. The quest sends you around the world to different cities, which serve as hubs for side missions and the primary objective. The side missions again put choice in the player’s hands. You are, of course, given objectives, but how you approach each quest is really up to you. Even better, you do not have to do the various tasks in each quest in order. That’s right: nearly every quest allows you to decide how to proceed with each recommended task. Say you need to dig up some information from the local morgue. Your quest log will be filled with different recommended tasks, like talking to cops or snooping through offices. You can do that in any order you want really, putting player choice front and center.

The world in Human Revolution comes alive with characters talking about their anger over human augmentation. Gangsters roam the alleys while police mechs patrol the major roads. Riots break out and the TV broadcasts the latest news. It’s a game that is full of life even in the world where experiments are ripping apart society. You are given the freedom to interpret the world around you. Maybe you think progress is good. Or, maybe you could care less and are only interested in getting answers to what happened that night some six months ago.

The gameplay mixes quality elements from stealth and first-person shooters, along with a healthy dose from the role-playing genre. You’ll stick to cover, upgrade weapons like pistols and shotguns, go through a mini-game to hack computers and security systems, and attempt to manipulate people through dialogue. The controls are responsive and the cover system works as well as any other shooter. If anything, fans of the Metal Gear Solid franchise may feel a bit offended, especially given the main character’s horrendous attempt to mimic a certain stealth master.

While the game never holds your hand, I believe it makes a healthy recommendation towards stealth and hacking. Early on in the game you will benefit from putting Praxis points—which allow for new and improve augmentations—into hacking and stealth. But I can’t say you have to spec a certain way; the decision is really up to the player, but I simply believe there are more benefits to stealth and hacking upgrades earlier in the game rather than later. Praxis points primarily come from experience points. The good news is the game rewards you with experience for doing just about anything, but the bad news is the Praxis points come slowly. You can upgrade almost everything, but it’s also smart to keep your power meter high on your list as most abilities require extra energy, including melee combat.

For all this choice, the game still pushes forward with the plot at a relatively stable and consistent pace. You won’t spend much time outside of the game trying to put the pieces together as Eidos Montreal holds the overarching narrative extremely well. There’s a sense of believability and a great nod to the other games in the franchise; after all, Human Revolution is a prequel, and the world is scattered with hints of things to come.

With this heavy emphasis on player choice and a plot that’s a bleak view of humanity, there are a few things that draw attention away from an otherwise remarkable game. The enemy A.I. is pretty poor, although it’s important to think of your opponents from a stealth-game perspective, not a shooter. If, for example, you start a gun battle and are chased by some baddies, you can generally lose them by running into a room and shutting the door. The notion of player choice completely evaporates in boss battles, too. While other encounters allow you to pick apart how you want to approach your enemies, boss battles—if you can call them that—almost feel tacked on. Defeating your augmented opponent is generally a matter of keeping well stocked with ammo, and learning your foe’s abilities and routine. There are also some occasional visual-related glitches and pop-ins that distract from plot, but it’s not overly glaring.

Human Revolution surprised me. After feeling a bit skeptical with all the hype leading to the release, I found myself enthralled in the story and exciting gameplay. It’s not every day you find a game that gives players as much freewill as Human Revolution, and the good news is that Eidos Montreal handled it extremely well. Those decisions at your fingertips are only occasionally side-tracked by the combat-heavy boss battles and off-putting enemy A.I. But these issues are fairly minor and luckily the good certainly overpowers the bad. With at least 20 hours into the campaign, and the ability to push 30 or 40 hours for those taking their time, this is a game with extremely long legs. The diehard stealth, RPG, and shooter fan needs to own this game, and there is enough depth to likely draw interest from other gamers to boot. With an aesthetic leaning heavily towards cyberpunk and gameplay that allows you to call nearly every shot, Deus Ex: Human Revolution boasts one of the most compelling videogame experiences of recent memory.

-The Final Word-

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the few games that gets player decision-making right. While it's not quite a revolution in gaming, it does provide a fresh experience and an engrossing approach to the sub-genre.
  • Multiple ways to approach gameplay
  • Great story and long narrative
  • Sharp art style
  • Boss battles remove player freedom
  • A.I. detracts from atmosphere
  • Some technical/graphical issues
9.0
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