Out of all the E3 coverage, Human Revolution definitely had the Sci-Fi category on lock. Say what you want about Rage or Bioshock Infinite, but at least we knew what those games were about. The Deus Ex series on the other hand was all about a twisting plot with heavy philosophical themes and the thought of another installment sent chills up gamers’ spines.
Now I know this game was released a while ago, and I’m usually in the habit of reviewing games moments after they come out. Well the only reason I haven’t reviewed the game yet (apart from a 44 hour work week and a physics final) is that I haven’t been able to stop playing it. Simply put, I believe Deus Ex: Human Revolution is now a contender for game of the year.
The plot of Human Revolution is a prequel to the first game; biotech companies are offering “augments” to human beings either in the form of robotic body parts or mental stimulants that exponentially increase human capabilities. This has the unfortunate effect of dividing society up into the rich who can afford augmentations and the poor who quickly find themselves unable to compete with the super humans. For those who have seen Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman’s film GATTACA, the socio-economic issues are very similar.
The protagonist is Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT officer who bears an uncanny resemblance to Neo from the Matrix and talks like Batman from the Dark Knight. After suffering severe injuries when his employer’s biotech company is attacked, he is rebuilt using various cybernetic augmentations. And thus begins Human Revolution as Jensen tracks unveils a conspiracy that spans across continents as well as experiencing the socioeconomic divide caused by the surge of biotechnology. Deus Ex’s portrayal of this dystopian future is exemplary.
The game takes place in almost total darkness, leaving the only light in the game to come from industrial lighting and garish neon signs which makes the game almost oppressive in a way. This isn’t a horror game meaning that all your enemies are humans and there aren’t any “jump out” scares, but the crumbling civilization that spans in front of you is so unnerving that sometimes going inside a building or talking to an NPC a relief. This brings me to the NPCs.
Conversations in this game are incredible. Even the NPCs who are non-essential to the plot, who may just spout a line or two of dialogue if you choose to interact with them on the street, have superb voice acting that conveys the strain that the urban poor are under. You get implicit cues on which characters you can and can’t trust, which really helps the immersion factor. Many people are going ape s**t over the conversation choices when you DO talk to an NPC vital to the plot, but I wasn’t impressed. Perhaps it’s because I got lucky, but it seemed that I could never miss when it came to conversing. If there are true consequences to the conversations, I have yet to encounter them. Then again, I urge players to find out for themselves.
Where Deus Ex really shines, however, is the gameplay. Many RPG hybrids fall flat because their stat building is inconsequential to the way the game is played. Even great games such as Mass Effect can sometimes fall prey to these kinds of traps. Oh, my pistol can now fire 6% faster? My goodness, there is a god! I shall pray every single day to his glory for providing me with such . . . (yes I’m being sarcastic).
Deus Ex’s stat building literally changes the way the game is played. For a badass cyborg man, Adam Jensen is still only one guy taking on a global conspiracy which is protected by the equivalent of a private army. Each room, even if only filled with 2 or 3 enemies, is an essential deathtrap for the player and creative solutions aren’t just encouraged; they’re necessary. This is where stat building comes in.
Adam is alive only because of his cybernetics after all, so all his abilities consume some of his “energy” which is indicated with batteries. Each ability such as cloaking or using the Typhoon Explosive System utilizes some energy, so maybe you want to upgrade your max level or the way it recharges?
Say you’re not good at isolating the tightly moving guards well enough to pick them off one by one. Well, you could place stat points into the “Reflex Booster” which will allow you to utilize silent takedowns on two guards at once as long as their standing close together meaning clearing out a room can go twice as fast. Frustrated that many hidden paths on the levels are blocked by incredibly heavy objects that Adam can’t lift? One upgrade point and Adam can now lift vending machines to block off doorways, expose hidden vents or crush enemies by throwing them.
Maybe stealth isn’t your forte and you prefer to do your damage from a keyboard? Pour points into computer hacking and you can access heavily fortified computer terminals that can let you turn off security cameras and even reprogram attack turrets and robots. Few things are more satisfying then programming an attack robot to target “enemies” and listening as a room full of 8 heavily armed men get gunned down by a bipolar R2D2.
And if you’re boring, you can put your points into armor and recoil reduction and play a run and gun style of play. The possibilities are endless!
Now the game isn’t perfect, and it pains me to address these flaws when the rest of the game is stellar.
The first issue is with takedowns. Unlike many other games, Adam’s energy doesn’t completely recharge. Let’s use my character as an example, who has 4 batteries of energy. If one of my powers uses only half of a battery, that battery will completely recharge and I will have full energy. If I COMPLETELY use the fourth battery though, it will never recharge on its own and I’ll only have a maximum of three until I find “nutrients” in the environment to recharge it. If you completely deplete your energy, only the 1st battery will recharge. Now this definitely makes the game challenging because it forces players to scrimp on their power usage; a player cannot simply wait for his energy to completely recharge and then cloak his way through every room in a level.
Takedowns, however, use one complete bar . . . no matter what. Now takedowns can be used in ever context; you could be running straight at a guy who has unloaded 4 bullets into your chest and still use a takedown to instantly end the threat. I understand why the makers of Deus Ex wouldn’t want players to use this ability recklessly lest it ruin the challenge of the game. However, there are times when this is inappropriate. For example, I have alarmed the guards; they are aware there is an intruder of some sorts but have yet to spot me. The guards are searching hiding places more thoroughly now, and my only hope is to take down a guard that just passed my hiding place before he doubles back. I crouch and sneak up behind him and . . . nothing happens because I didn’t have enough energy! There were situations that were literally inescapable for me because I didn’t have enough energy. If the player has snuck up behind an enemy undetected, he/she should be allowed to take him down regardless of their energy level.
The other thing that completely irks me is boss fights. In the original Deus Ex, it was possible to sneak or hack your way past even the most critical conflict. Only those who had built the protagonist as a gunman and wanted to confront the bosses had to do so. In Human Revolution however, these battles are mandatory and they are HARD. Without the option to sneak past or hack past a boss fight, players who poured all their points into either of the aforementioned skill trees will find themselves severely disadvantaged to those who specialized in run and gun tactics. Unlike Call of Duty or Battlefield whose entire control scheme revolves around smooth shooting and cover, Deus Ex’s controls were built with a variety of play styles in mind. In comparison to the hyper-accurate and fluid bosses, outright firefights often feel clunky and out of place and it’s not uncommon to find Jensen outgunned even in the most ideal of situations.
Fortunately, the problems I just listed are going to be solved. I’m not going to spoil anything, but there is a cinematic after the ending credits that strongly indicate there will be a sequel. Considering that Human Revolution was damn near perfect for a game whose last entry was almost a decade ago, this can only mean good news.
Go out and buy Deus Ex: Human Revolution. You will NOT regret it.