Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great game. Maybe not awe-inspiring, as it really doesn’t push the boundaries of what gaming could be, but it does execute extremely well (save some overly-apparent shortcomings). It’s a slow roll uphill, but the momentum Human Revolution gains with its satisfying progression, immerse narrative and challenging stealth mechanics makes for a one of the greatest gaming experiences this year.
The year is 2027, and humanity is on the edge of an evolutionary brink. In this future penned by Eidos Montreal, humans are the masters of their own evolution, via body enhancements called augmentations. These augmentations or enhancements, as they are called, come in many different forms — from making someone more keen to social queues, all the way to being able to punch through a brick wall or military advancements like the ability to shoot lethal energy in a short radius.
The real trouble in this becomes the ethical dilemma: Should the advancement of humans be a natural process, or should we be allowed to manipulate our destiny as a race? The game does a great job at effectively representing both sides of the issue, much to the point where the player is likely to feel conflicted. Sure, these augmentations could mean the saving of lives, but at what point do they start destroying them?
Players take the role of Adam Jensen, the head of security at the World’s pioneering augmentation firm, Sarif Industries in Detroit, Michigan. After a terrorist attack on Jensen’s employer, he is left to die with a body full of bullet holes. David Sarif, the founder and CEO, makes the call to save Adam’s life by augmenting nearly every part of his body.
Six months later, Adam returns to work, determined to find out just exactly what is going on with Sarif Industries. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that larger things are at play, as radical “naturalists” attack Sarif at every point with at-large gangsters and corporations pulling the strings.
Upon entering the streets of Detroit, it’s clear to see that the World is quickly becoming the dystopian setting of a tragic narrative. Beyond the simple failings of the World’s economy, a new, devastating force is separating the haves from the have-nots — those who’ve spent their life savings on enhancements can no longer afford the anti-rejection medication and are forced to live on the streets, impoverished with dysfunctional augments to remind them of the life they once had.
The setting leaves a brooding, ominous feeling in one’s gut, and brings about darker ruminations of Blade Runner and Mass Effect. The tension and despair are palpable, and the characters truly bring that desperation to life with their dialogue. Life as anything but a criminal just doesn’t hold the societal value it used to; military men, cops, families — they merely maintain their existence.
While the game does a great job at setting, it does a poor job at creating characters that feel real. Many of the characters would be more effective if I simply couldn’t see them. It’s tough to truly appreciate the engrossing narrative while character models looked depressingly antiquated, bobbing their heads and hands around like seizure victims, lip syncing amiss.
Even then, many of the characters’ voices drop the ball completely, whether it’s from poor scripting or even poorer direction. The acting is often overdone, the voices are sometimes mismatched to their body, and the dialogue is uncomfortably laughable at times — to the point where even the game makes fun of itself. At what point will game makers understand that irony about a game’s shortcoming isn’t funny, it’s just sad? (I’m looking at you, Duke)
It certainly doesn’t help that the main character is one of the most unlikable voices in the game, if not the most. He’s a combination between Neo of later Matrix movies and Christian Bale’s Batman — yeah, that bad. When I saw how awesome he looked, I was instantly poised to like him, but then he started talking. His voice didn’t match the character at all, and he just sounded like a tool. Though, he becomes more likable over time.
It’s good that the player has choices to make, because for me, it allowed me to better connect to Adam, as I dictated his moral standing. Not so much a matter of “good and evil”, Adam is presented many choices that help shape his greater character; whether or not planting illegal drugs on a crime lord who enslaves women or simply killing him becomes a bit of a grey area.
Another big gripe about the presentation is how jaunting the transitions can be. The movement from in-game to cinematics is often quite abrupt and really shows the shortcomings of the in-game engine. Its 2007 announcement seems to suggest that the framework has been around for quite some time, only to be recently finished.
It is also worth mention that the game’s map leaves much to be desired, too. The towns are confusingly complex, and the waypoints aren’t much help. Allowing the player to set their own waypoint would make the navigation function more smoothly. In all, I’ve come to find that a lot of the issues I hold presentation-wise are the kind of things I would have taken for granted in the PS2 days.
After a while, however, these fumbles became far less noticeable as I found myself deep, deep into the game. The game’s art really saves its poorly-executed presentation with a stark contrast of dark and bright colors and Renaissance stylings (an ode to revolution to come). I even ended up not caring how ridiculous the characters sometimes seemed — and even started liking them — as I became enthralled by the wholly satisfying game mechanics.
The gameplay, like the presentation, is often clumsy, but it’s really satisfying once the game picks up. This is largely due to the abilities that Adam has at his disposal, thanks to his fancy, new augmentations. While many augs — people with enhancements — find that they reject their enhancements, Adam’s DNA incorporates them extremely well, and he may not even need the medication. However, to be safe, the enhancements need to be activated one step at a time.
The augmentations sport a lot of cool and innovative abilities, like being able to jump down from any height unharmed and stunning enemies near the land site, to typical upgrades, like extra armor and sprint duration. The upgrades that the player chooses to get largely account for their playstyle.
While it is possible to treat this game like a typical FPS — shooting every possible enemy with upgraded machine and handguns — the game is more rewarding to those that take the stealth approach. Experience bonuses are given to those who aren’t seen and do not kill, much like Metal Gear Solid games.
The game is made even more satisfying in that there are a few ways to be stealthy. For example, upgrades can be purchased to be able to tell where the enemy’s line of sight is, so that the player can use their silent walking upgrade to sneak around a room full of enemies via the FPS/third-person hybrid stealth and cover mechanics (which work flawlessly, by the way).
If that doesn’t suit the player’s fancy, perhaps they want to have the ability to move large objects — like refrigerators — and stack them up to form a set of stairs, in which the high jump augment can help get Adam up onto the rafters. Then, a vent can be taken to the next room for an added experience boost. The possibilities are very open, and it’s up to the player to carefully craft their abilities; not all upgrades can be purchased in a runthrough and respecing is not an option.
One of the best, albeit simple, aspects to the game is the hacking minigame. Now, more often than not, minigames feel like an excuse for the player to feel as though they earned something when they really just went through the motions — this is not the case here. The hacking minigame is fully fleshed-out and intelligently designed. It’s very hard to explain, and the game doesn’t do so well at that either, but trust me in that it’s very satisfying.
The gunplay is probably the most awkwardly clunky part of the game’s mechanics. This is not too much of a worry, as Adam is very “squishy”; the game edges for a bit of realism, in that Adam can barely take a shot. With the exception of boss fights, it’s not necessary to even kill, but should the player choose to, the usual assortments of weaponry is at Adam’s disposal — 10mm pistol, shotgun, machine pistol, combat rifle, etc.
Guns have terrible aim, and enemies are extremely overwhelming. Simply put, it’s just frustrating. The saving grace in all of this is that take-downs can be done via Adam’s strength upgrade — with the choice to knock-out or kill. If the enemy is not exactly close enough to do so, there are a few fun but cumbersome non-lethal weapons — stun guns, tranq rifles, force guns, etc.
What Edios maintains with Human Revolution are the nuances and the attention to detail that many games once had but lost. For those patient enough to look around, there are many stones to turn over; the game is riddled with secret areas, e-mails full of background development, collectibles and Easter eggs. By taking a look at everything in the first room, the game makes light of the old school of thought with an achievement/trophy.
Despite its frustrating combat and tired presentation, the Deus Ex: Human Revolution is truly an amazing game. Its artstyle and well-developed narrative paints a hauntingly beautiful canvas of dystopian society amidst a revolution in humanity. The nuances of the game largely make up for the game’s many clumsy mistakes that developers should have learned from by now. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is something that both Square Enix — the game’s publisher — and Eidos Montreal can be proud of.
4.5 out of 5