Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review
Deus Ex was a legitimate phenomenon when it first released for the PC back in 2000. A fantastic crossbreed that blended the world of role-playing and first-person shooters, the sci-fi adventure became an instant classic. Subsequent entries were solid and entertaining as well, although many will claim that none captured the overwhelming and refreshing quality of the first title. We haven’t seen the series since 2003’s Invisible War but now, nearly 8 years later, it’s back. And you know, while everyone had their expectations and reservations, we’re here to tell you that this new effort is well worth your time.
From a graphics standpoint, Deus Ex: Human Revolution doesn’t represent a new quality bar and doesn’t really give us anything new. In fact, one could argue that the stark environments, mostly devoid of that amazing lushness and richness found in top-notch visual presentations, are underwhelming. The special effects aren’t all that “special,” either. But one must take the entire package into consideration: the world is nicely designed (if a little confusing; I’ll get to that in a minute), animations are nice and relative detail and background construction is borderline fantastic. The main characters are cool, there’s plenty of diversity in this epic quest, and there are no glaring flaws. It won’t blow you away but it’ll suffice.
In terms of sound, we get a great musical score that, while too often absent during our exploration, is beautiful and fitting. The voice acting falls just shy of stellar as many primary characters are excellent; Adam Jensen (the protagonist) is a definite high point, as is the smarmy tech guy, Pritchard, and the likeable helicopter pilot, Faridah Malik. Because the technicals are a touch dated, the effects sometimes have that muted, softened tone, although certain explosions are quite effective. The ambient sound is much appreciated, too, as the dialogue of civilians adds to the immersion. Overall, the audio is well implemented and well balanced.
Straight off, there’s something the uninitiated must understand: Human Revolution is absolutely a role-playing game. It may be an action/RPG and it’s a blend just like the original, but it is best described as an RPG with a first-person viewpoint (although it switches to a third-person camera when in cover). So don’t get confused; don’t think this is just a sci-fi shooter, ‘cuz it ain’t. It’s an in-depth, rewarding, extremely well paced and even addictive RPG. It’s not as open-ended as The Elder Scrolls, but you will have multiple futuristic cities to explore, and how you play…? Yeah, that’s entirely up to you, and that's what makes it so great.
You play as Adam Jensen, the head of security for Sarif Corporation, a company that specializes in augmentation, a form of advanced surgery and implantation. It’s the whole “science will create a better human” argument and unsurprisingly, it’s at the core of this storyline. Thing is, while augmentations can indeed save lives, there are nasty side effects, like post-operation paralysis and an addiction to neuropyzene, which is required for your body to adapt to the new unnatural implants. Ironically, Jensen nearly dies at the start of this story and to save his life, he becomes heavily augmented. So now he’s what people call an “aug,” and he’s a little torn on the issue himself.
It’s an intriguing plot, even if it isn’t entirely new. Fans of the series are quite familiar with the science vs. nature debate as it typically has a place in all Deus Ex entries. But it’s well told in Human Revolution and there are other subplots as well. As for the setting, you have free reign to explore your environment in between plot-advancing missions; you start in the city of Detroit and will move on to other exotic locations (like China, for example). It’s the year 2048 so things have changed, but not to the point where the world is unrecognizable. As you might expect, wandering around and finding stuff to do is half the fun.
You can accept any number of side missions, which are conveniently shown in blue in your text log and on the map; main missions are highlighted in yellow. Most missions have multiple steps and can take some time, especially if you don’t initially have the necessary skills to complete them. For instance, if your hacking skill hasn’t been raised above 1 and a mission absolutely requires that you hack a Level 2 terminal, you’ll just have to get that Praxis point and upgrade. Praxis points are earned through experience, and you can also buy Praxis kits at LIMB clinics for a hefty price. Praxis points are used for augmentations (manual and automatic skills), and herein lies the meat of the experience.
If you plan to take a mostly stealthy approach, maybe you’ll focus on skills that allow you to run silently, execute a cloaking ability, see through walls, hack higher-level security terminals to bypass tough areas, etc. If you plan to go in guns blazing and don’t care about casualties and all that, you might go for augmentations that enhance your aiming ability, give you more carrying capacity, reduce incurred damage, and even let you break through walls with your enhanced arms. The options are numerous and diverse and trust me, you’ll be debating for a good long time on how to spend your hard-earned Praxis points.
The control is smooth, light and fluid. This feels a little outdated, too, but it works. Collision detection can be an issue at times and the control isn’t always perfect, especially when glancing around in cover, but those are minor flaws. At first, I thought using third-person for cover and first-person for everything else wouldn’t work, but while it can be a little jarring, it functions well. I just don’t like the fact that it seems to be more difficult to execute a takedown when in cover; it’s always better if you’re free to move. Overall, though, the control never really lets you down, and you get used to the few small eccentricities within the first hour or two.
Another element that feels a little outdated is the AI, as alerted guards have difficulty negotiating levels (i.e., going up and down stairs to find you) and of course, their aim is always perfect. But at the very least, it’s familiar and remains a challenge, especially because they’ll hear and see just about every mistake you make. And besides, if you play with the shooter mindset, you won’t really care about their alertness. I’m going full-on stealth and after a very long time playing, I have yet to kill anyone (save the ones that have to die, like bosses). The best part is that this game really does let you play however you see fit. It doesn’t throw barriers in your way.
My only other complaint is the layout of the cities, especially the Chinese districts. They’re just mazes that can make exploration and getting about downright infuriating. The map is helpful, of course, but I hate to keep looking at it, especially when the areas aren’t that big. But I keep playing and playing. Exploring, talking to people, completing side quests, hacking just about anything I see (the hacking mechanic is great, by the way), finding new ways to approach various situations, learning more about the dark mystery behind the story, and executing the perfect assault on an area swarming with guards…it’s just awesome.
I like that exploration and patience is rewarded. I like that I don’t have to bribe someone to get information or hack a tough terminal; if I just look around, maybe I’ll find an air vent or a sewer tunnel that leads me to my goal. I like that my inventory has a limited capacity and what I carry dictates my approach. I like that I have both automatic and manual abilities, all of which I can choose. I like the diversity of my missions and the different obstacles they toss in my path. I like having all the time in the world to complete many of the quests and I’m never pressed for time as I explore. I like the feeling of being both vulnerable and uber-effective at the same time. I like that when I sit down, I play for three hours at a clip ‘cuz I love it to pieces.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an RPG that indulges the hardcore role-player’s desires and whims. If I want to see what’s over there, I’m gonna go see. It’s not a huge world but I can go wherever I wish. The only thing that can stop me is my lack of capability, which I must earn. The camera and control can be a little iffy, the maze-like quality of certain districts can get annoying, and the AI and technical presentation feels somewhat dated. But the gameplay is absolutely stellar. It’s a pleasure to play such a complete experience. The depth is there, the style and atmosphere is there, the action is there, and the story is there.
Oh yes, and this sucker will take a good 30-40 hours if you really get into it. Lastly, this is definitely Deus Ex through and through. If you loved the others, you’ll adore this one.
The Good: Great voice performances. Interesting characters and storyline. Control is fluid and reliable. RPG depth, exploration, and freedom is present and appreciated. Patience and precision is rewarded. Augmentation system is excellent.
The Bad: Visuals seem a little stark; AI also feels dated. Camera when in cover isn’t perfect. City/district design is too maze-like.
The Ugly: “These guards are smart…are stairs their kryptonite?”
8/22/2011 Ben Dutka