Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
It's been more than a decade since the world saw the beginnings of Deus Ex - a title hailed as one of the greatest PC games of all time. It's been a very long wait for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, practically four years since its announcement back in May of 2007. There's big stakes, a strong legacy and high expectations, but now that it's finally here, it's proven that the wait has been completely worth it.
- Worth The Time?Yes, there is absolutely no doubt about that.
- Things LovedThe way the game has stuck to its roots and retained its core identity in our next gen era, the fantastically designed and realised game world, the incredible music, the awesome visual style, the large amount of variety, the encouragement to play the game how you want to and the rewards in doing exactly that, the augmentation system, the deeply compelling narrative, the mission structure, the classic save system, the clever and diverse level design and the number of ways to approach each mission, the challenging nature of the game, the variety in weaponry and upgrades.
- Things HatedNavigating around the city can be a pain in the early stages of the game - frequent scans of the pause menu map is required, holding down the takedown button to perform a lethal takedown can glitch out on you, the surprising lack of incentive to play the game a second time, the loading times on death, the frustration involved in certain boss fights, shaky AI.
- RecommendationIf you're a fan of the classic Deus Ex, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn't have bought this game already. As for newcomers to the series, don't miss the opportunity to play one of this year's best games - and it is a prequel after all, so you won't have a problem engaging with the narrative.
- Name: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
- Genre: Action RPG
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox360
- Developer: Eidos Montreal, Nixxes Software (PC)
- Publisher: Square Enix
- Price: R451-499 (PC), R541-599 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PS3
The first thought that crossed my mind when finishing Deus Ex: Human Revolution was that it would be an injustice to draw up a complete verdict on a game like this in a single review. This is a big game, and it’s one so incredibly exciting that it begs to be experienced by any fan of the genre, purely because of its ambition. But there is a great deal of caution involved with any franchise coming back from the dead, especially more so when there are claims of it returning to its roots and there is lots of hype surrounding it, as was the case with Human Revolution. However, it’s both highly admirable and extremely rare to see a game live up to nearly all its weighted expectations, despite Human Revolution being faced with the daunting challenge of finding a middle ground between classic Deus Ex elements and contemporary styles and mechanics. The result is a game that not only fits effortlessly into current-gen, but also transcends above its genre, delivering one of the best games of the entire year.
This is a prequel to the Deus Ex franchise, taking place in the year 2027 where humans have the power of biomechanical augmentations in their grasp, enabling them to dramatically enhance their physical and cognitive capabilities. While augmentations are seen as the evolution of the human race by many, they have also caused a bipolar split in humanity, dividing the people up into two factions, namely those in favour of augmentations and those who resent it, considering themselves as purists. You take on the role of Adam Jensen, a private security officer with Sarif Industries, which is a large-scale company specialising in human augmentations. Sarif is on the verge of a technological break-through, but before this can be revealed to the world, it’s attacked by what appears to be a terrorist group. Adam is horrifically injured in the firefight, forced to undergo augmentation to remain alive. When he returns six months later, he finds himself caught in the middle of a deadly conspiracy.
From the word go you’ll realise how deeply interesting and compelling the world and story of Human Revolution really is. You’ll get a sense that you’re in the middle of something big, and finding someone you can trust isn’t going to be easy. Tension is on the rise, and order threatens to be lost at every turn, making you cautious of every action you take within the game world. The game expertly captures you with its narrative and dialogue, and it’s paced and presented well enough to keep you in the loop without much of a hassle, telling you a gripping story while at the same time allowing you to somewhat influence it through choice and action. Each new development and change to the game world brings with it new intrigue, and by the time you get to the game’s epic conclusion, you’ll have one hell of an experience in your memory. Many games have great stories, but the mark of any good one is in the storytelling, pacing and presentation, and Human Revolution fast proves to be on top of the charts in all of these areas, compelling the player to such a high degree that you’ll find it hard to leave your seat.
The story is told to you through a cleverly designed mission system, where you’ll take on quests in large, open main city hubs around the world. You’re free to explore the cities as you wish, but each hub has a main story that fits into the grand scheme of things, and these hubs call for exploration, hiding within them items, people of interest, information, secrets and side missions. However, unlike most other games of today, side missions in Deus Ex aren’t points on your map you go to for arbitrary fetch quests to gain extra experience and money. Instead, side missions are discovered through exploring the game world and talking to the right people, if not through story progression, and each of these are deeply layered missions with a variety of choices and impacts in hand. They provide a deeper understanding of the world, and some even affect the main mission itself, showing you results later on in the game, making them seem important and relevant, while at the same time interesting and rewarding.
Also an important part of the story are conversations. What’s interesting in Human Revolution is that dialogue isn’t just a personality choice or option between good, bad and neutral, as is typical of many modern RPGs, but rather dialogue with key characters in important story moments require you to actually analyse the personality of the character you’re addressing and choose a dialogue option accordingly. You can be aided in this with a social augmentation upgrade as well, which automatically creates a psychological profile of the character you’re conversing with and opens up new dialogue options. This aspect often comes into play when you’re trying to persuade a character towards something, and the magnitude of these conversations especially during critical story moments can really make you feel the weight of your words on your shoulders. While it’s certainly not the deepest system for the most part, it definitely is pretty compelling and damn interesting during the main story conversations, and when it comes to side missions your choice of dialogue, particularly with the augmentation upgrade, can often open up new ways to complete missions in addition to direct action.
It’s hard not to love this game from the very first mission. It’s amazing how the game managed to stay true to its roots while still integrating into the current-gen mentality and way of doing things where appropriate. However, make no mistake, this is a very different and unique experience, and it merges classic and modern elements seamlessly together, creating a fantastic blend of action and role-playing. For example, many of today’s games feature prologue levels to get you up to speed on how to play, making you do exactly what the game tells you to do. But in Human Revolution, you’ll be asked if you want a lethal or non-lethal approach, and from there you’re thrown into a completely open ended mission with a variety of ways to progress, and it’s awesome. Sure there are tutorials to teach you how to play, but these are optional video clips that pop up as prompts on screen, so if you’re too cool for school you don’t need to bother with them. It really feels like classic Deus Ex from the beginning, urging you to figure things out for yourself and explore your avenues, giving you a great sense of freedom.
At the heart of gameplay choice is the augmentation system. As you gain experience and level up, you’ll earn Praxis Points which are used to upgrade and unlock new abilities. These abilities are key in crafting your own play style, and they open up new approaches in missions, new places to get to and new styles of play. Whether you want to remain invisible (literally too) and fight from the shadows, go in guns blazing or fight smart and use enemies’ own technology against them, you’ll be uniquely rewarded for your approach. The game makes fantastic use of all of the toys and abilities it offers you in the world, and there are no gimmicky or pointless upgrades. All of them have valuable uses, and they’re both balanced and well designed, requiring you to use them efficiently to achieve the best results. What’s truly admirable is that no matter how you pick your upgrades you’ll still always have diversity and ways to progress forward, as it’s all about making use of what you have and playing smart.
The game is played through a first person perspective, entering third person whenever you take cover or execute certain moves. It takes some time to get used to the controls and style of the game, but once you learn the language of Human Revolution you’ll realise just how cleverly designed it is. Few games manage to make you feel like you’re really playing by your own rules, and the cherry on top is that the game rewards you for doing so. Once you begin to figure out how things work and think for yourself, chances are that what you think up is most likely both doable and rewarding, and will gift you with progress. There are many approaches to each situation and mission in the game, some found through discovery and interacting with the environment, and others that open up as you upgrade your augmentations. The golden cookie here is that even though there are various advantages and disadvantages to your choices in weaponry and abilities, there are always rewards and ways to succeed, and being a badass is not just about big guns, but about thinking, precision and execution.
In Human Revolution you’ll be required to manage your resources very well, and not be wasteful. Ammunition is not in abundant supply, so wasting it is definitely not the smart thing to do, and unless you upgrade your inventory space, you’ll be faced with a dilemma if you’re a gun maniac. You can only visit merchants to offload your unneeded equipment once you return to a city hub, so during a mission you’ll either have to use up what you have or drop it to carry more important items. On the other hand, awesome-looking takedowns and unlocked skills such as invisibility and smart vision drain energy, of which you have a limited number of energy cells. If cells are completely drained, they can’t be recharged without the use of consumable items, but you’ll always be able to recharge one cell even if you’re fully depleted. It’s important not only to manage your resources and inventory well, but also to plan ahead and think clearly on what your next move will be, and there’s lots of reward in this.
This is not an easy game, at least not initially, and by no means can you expect to take on your enemies with suicidal Rambo antics. You’ll die easily and you’ll die a lot, being forced to pay for any mistakes or brainless moves you make. But that really makes it all the more rewarding to plan ahead and use tactics and smart play to beat your enemies. Of course you’re free to go in shooting up the place, but you won’t find the highest reward in turning this game into a cover shooter. It definitely performs solidly in this respect, as it also does excellently with its shooting and stealth mechanics, but it’s just a disservice to play like this in a game that offers so much. There’s an enjoyable sense of challenge here, especially in the beginning, and once you’re far into the game, and pretty strong, it somehow manages to find a middle ground between hard and easy. Although you can alter the difficultly setting if you want more or less hard work, and this can be done at any point in the game.
For a game of such high ambition, there were bound to be a few shortcomings. On the smaller side of things, while exploring the cities and maps is great, navigating can prove to be a pain, especially in the early portions of the game. This is because you’ll frequently need to pause the game to look at the map, and you can’t set waypoints. Missions have on-screen waypoints revealing your distance to them, but places of interest and merchants, both of which you’ll have to find, aren’t labelled on the map even after discovery and you can’t set waypoints on them, meaning you’ll have to remember where they are. Another minor issue comes with takedowns. There are non-lethal and lethal takedowns, where the former is activated at the push of a button and the latter by holding the button down. While you’ll never have a problem with the former, the latter can sometimes bug out on you if you’re in a hurry or don’t get within the correct range of the button prompt before holding it, and it can be both costly and annoying.
Another issue with the game are the loading times. They aren’t painfully long, but are irritating to experience after every time you die. What redeems this a bit is the great, classic save system that allows you to save your game at any time on your exact spot, in addition to it constantly auto saving your progress, which encourages you to experiment with the game and prevents you from suffering huge frustration in replaying sections multiple times if you die. On the notion of irritating loads, they can be really annoying during boss fights, where you can often die in seconds, sometimes even cheaply or instantly. Speaking of, boss fights are a topic of controversy in this game, because while they aren’t really stand out or problematic, and all of them can be beaten with the right tactics, weaponry and skills, it can be argued that they detract from the story because the outcomes of these fights can’t be changed. It’s unlikely that many gamers will care, but it is a little disappointing that there is no choice involved in boss fights, and they almost always end in death and cutscenes despite the fact that you can go through the entire game basically not killing anyone and playing however you want.
While Human Revolution provides phenomenal value for money, giving you well over 20 hours of gameplay time on your first play-through even if you don’t do much, and offering tons more if you want to see and do everything, there is a surprising lack of incentive to play it for a second time — at least, story wise. Sure there are tons of little things in the game you’ll want to see differently, but it’s unlikely they’ll drive you for a second play-through, and there is plenty of freedom on your first time around to try out most of the weapons and abilities. Still, that won’t get in the way of your enjoyment of this game, especially when considering just how many enjoyable and compelling hours you can spend playing it. And it’s honestly hard to pick on this game when you’re so engrossed in the narrative and captured by the game world, having a blast, listening to the incredible music and simply exploring all that the game has to offer. It’s not perfect, it definitely has its flaws, but they’re never enough to bring this game down.
Admittedly, when it comes to graphics this game won’t win any awards, as it doesn’t do anything amazing from a technical perspective. The graphics are undoubtedly good, but they’re not really rising above or testing the standards of today. However, the game has an absolutely awesome visual design, delivering some of the best art direction this entire year has seen. The powerful and brilliant visual design and presentation does extremely well to draw you into the game world, and the black and gold colour scheme is as fantastic in words as it is in execution. There’s just so much effort to be admired that was put into the game’s unique visual direction and feel that it’s actually easy to overlook some of the graphical shortcomings and less refined parts of the game. And when you have a soundtrack that’s this damn good, it’s easy to warm up to the game despite issues it may have. Voice acting for the most part is of a great standard, especially with the main characters, but there are some stumbles in delivery and dialogue with lesser characters that you’ll notice. The only other technical issue with the game really is the occasionally shaky and inconsistent AI, which can cause you a few grievances.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stunning revival of an incredible classic, and it’s undoubtedly one of the best games of the year. It may be argued that it doesn’t rise above the original, but it’s rare to find a game so deeply compelling and immersive, and up to the challenge of meeting its exceptionally high expectations. It’s a game that truly understands the mind of the player and near flawlessly realises its concepts, resulting in a brilliantly designed game that can stand at the top of its genre.