Deus Ex: Human Revolution is, without doubt, one of the best games ever made.
When I played the first Deus Ex, I was enamoured with the world. There was so much history to the setting, so much thought had gone into the political climate and the state of society. It could be a little heavy handed at times, but it was a world that felt real, not a façade built around giving your character something to do. It was unfortunate, then, that interacting with this world was more than a little frustrating. But then, some people have said, this is part of the charm of Deus Ex. You get to build JC Denton however you want him to be, from a blank slate. Human Revolution proves, however, that this is wrong. Players of the original may grumble briefly, but by the time the tutorial is over even they will agree that Human Revolution isn’t just a sequel, it’s an improvement.
Where so many RPGs go wrong, in my opinion is in trying to be too much like their pen and paper cousins. From the start of the game your character must be a blank slate, so that you can level him up how you want him to be. He is not, in fact, a character, just an avatar for you to inhabit. Adam Jensen, however, is a character in every sense of the world. You may control his actions, but he has had a life before you hijacked his brain.
Let’s begin at the beginning to try and illustrate this. Following a briefly on-rails introduction to the labs in which your girlfriend works, Adam is forced to break out some violence to deal with an armed intrusion by mercenaries. Now, in the first game, to use any weapon effectively required JC to be pumped full of experience points, and he was an enhanced superhuman. At this point in the game, Jensen is just a regular old human, albeit one with a life time of SWAT training. And you know what? He handles weapons just fine. He’s competent even without bio-mechanical engineering, which is both sidestepping an irritating game design trap and nicely framing one of the key points of argument in the plot itself: are augmentations necessary?
There is so much I want to say about the plot, but going too deep would dredge up a mountain of spoilers that you won’t want to hear just yet. Suffice to say, in my play through at least, the story itself was remarkably understated in a way. The majority of the exposition is done through conversations – including the superb argument boss battles that I will talk about shortly – with very little condemned to the pre-rendered cutscenes. For the most part, it’s up to you how well you understand what’s going on. Fail to play an inquisitive or persuasive Jensen, and while you may understand what is going on, you might not quite get why.
Every character you meet has a believable back story and goals, and manage to do so without falling into the good and bad camps. Most of them are merely self interested, as we all are, and are trying to make the best of things from their particular position in society. David Sarif, for example, is Jensen’s boss, which in most games would make him an authoritarian dick and mastermind behind the whole conspiracy. Whether that’s true or not in this game, I won’t say. What I will, however, is that whenever he explains why he wants you to do something, or why he believes what he does, there is an inherent truth to it. Not a single character is evil for evil’s sake – they are all motivated and intelligent characters, acting in accordance with what they believe.
They are, above all else, people.
But there is more to the game than the conversations, of which there are many. You’ve also got the action scenes which, interestingly enough, are how you will define the second part of the game’s genre. Most people will accept that Human Revolution is a something-RPG, but whether it’s stealth or action or whatnot will depend entirely on how you want to play.
Every single scenario can be approached in any way you choose. It is possible to shoot your way through the entire game, for example. Pick your augmentations in a certain way and you’ll have a bullet-proof action-Jensen with reduced recoil and an inventory full of death dealers. Or, if you’re feeling more subtle, you can build superspy-Jensen, quick and quiet but also a little fragile. Or however you want. Human Revolution is key on letting you approach the game however you wish, and it is very rare to find a section of the game where you must act a certain way.
Another example for you. At one point in the game, I was tasked with sneaking into an underground car park to have a word with someone being held inside. The front entrance was littered with angry baddies, wandering around and chatting to each other, but they weren’t immediately a threat. If they saw me inside their territory I would have a moment to withdraw before the guns came out.
I had been playing the game as a sort of sneaky bastard for the most part. I was armed, but only for when things went wrong. I was a ghost the rest of the time, but these guys had pissed me off. I had decided to bring the pain.
On casing the joint – something I recommend you do for most situations like these in the game – I spotted a number of potential entry routes. The sewers were perhaps the most silent, being sparsely guarded and full of handy corners I could lurk behind. The direct approach could have potentially worked too, if I had been better armoured. Five or six men in the courtyard, funnelled into the thin streets nearby, it would be a kill zone.
None of these were suitably vicious enough for me, however. I was out for blood, and a prolonged gun battle, while bloody, just wasn’t going to cut it. Nor was taking the path of the ninja. And then I looked up.
It was relatively easy to scramble to the roof tops, my enhanced jumping ability made the journey considerably quicker than it would have been, although I certainly could have done it without. Within a couple of minutes, I was on the roof of the car park looking down, a plan forming.
I flicked on my enhanced vision mode. Tiny golden triangles swam into vision, highlighting all the men below, even those hidden by the floor upon which I stood. They were perfectly positioned in a circle, with two men further out to keep the civilians from blundering too close.
I slammed into the ground, cushioned by an amber sphere of force. It protected me from any fall damage, redirecting the kinetic energy outwards as a shockwave, knocking down the assorted goons near my landing site. The outliers turned at the noise, but I drew my revolver and put a bullet in each of them, the force lifting them from their feet and sending them flying. Police hear the gunshots and take up a perimeter at the end of the roads, keeping the civilians back. They’re not interested in a gangland scuffle.
I holster my revolver. The gaggle of goons my shockwave had knocked down are getting up, but I have something special for them. I inhale deeply and active my typhoon augment. This is an experimental military augment, something Sarif industries have been working on in secret, and it turns me into a human claymore. Steel ball bearings shoot out of my arms in a 360 degree radius and explode, killing everything around me on contact.
Seven dead in less than fifteen seconds.
The best part is, everyone I’ve talked to did that section differently. I’ve had tales from people who went in through the sewers and how tense the sneaking was. Or people who just walked right in the front door, cloaking augment engaged in tandem with the silent running augment.
This is what makes it Deus Ex. Whenever you are presented with a challenge, you are the one that can find a solution. There’s very little in the way of a designed way through each challenge, if you can conceive of it you can probably do it. And best of all, you will have done it in a completely different way to most of your friends.
Human Revolution is a story that creates stories, and lets you come up with your own way through the narrative, for the most part.
I have hundreds of stories like the one above, moments where every bit of planning came together in a ballet of joy. It is in these moments that the game is at its most fun, which is why the few times it takes that away from you are so painful.
Human Revolution has two types of bosses: arguments and fights. The arguments are superb affairs, a back and forth debate between yourself and another character based entirely on reading their personality and picking the right approach to deal with them. You can get an augmentation to help with these, letting you see their psychological profile and perhaps influencing them with synthetic pheromones, but it is an aid rather than a win button. You still have to read them and pick the right responses to get through to them, and the augmentation isn’t going to do that for you. They are tense affairs, but so worth it, and even in failure does the game adapt and deal with your actions.
Then there are the fights, which are rubbish.
There are four fights, and only one of them allows for any approach other than actually fighting. You can still create your own tactics to one up the bosses, but being forced to fight the bosses at all is irritating, not to mention that they are frustratingly cheap. These are the moments you will want to turn the difficulty down just to make them go away, and I wouldn’t blame you. In fact, all but the very last one (which is the one with a few options) could be removed and you wouldn’t really notice.
But, you’ll beat the bosses and then the game drops you into another three or four hour stint where you don’t have to fight at all unless you want to, and you’ll soon forget about that particular source of frustration. They are minor annoyances in the grand scheme of things.
You can forgive them.
There is so much more I can say, but I fear it would step on your toes when it comes to playing the game for yourself. And you should play it for yourself. This is a game that lets you play how you want, to a degree that so few games allow. My car park storming story is just one such example, I have many more, and so will you.
If you can’t find a way to play Human Revolution that brings you joy, you are looking for love in all the wrong places. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, a worthy successor to its predecessor and, at the same time, so much more.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: PC/ Xbox 360/ PS3 Release Date: 26/08/2011
Disclosure: Community member Steve Peacock bought a copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and reviewed it on a PC. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.