Deus Ex: Human Revolution
I loved Deus Ex, but it’s been 11 year since Warren Specter’s epic cyber-punk future thriller hit the PC platform. Deus Ex Invisible War, it’s sequel was a great game in it’s own right but in some ways failed to totally deliver a comparable experience, instead taking a slightly different approach which some ardent fans didn’t take to as well. With nothing on the radar since 2003 and rumours of a third title coming and going with the wind ever since, I was overjoyed to finally hear solid confirmation of a new game in the series a couple of years ago, coming as a joint effort between Square Enix and industry newcomer EIDOS Montreal. As 2010 rolled by, trailers expertly animated and produced at Square Enix, famous for their work on the Final Fantasy series, really had people thinking and buzzing over what the game would be like, but so many games have great trailers and are let down on actual gameplay so when gameplay details started to appear I was relieved to see some innovative ideas and interesting twists. Still, when release day finally game around I was excited but part of me was also part of felt great trepidation in case the game didn’t live up to it’s hype or it’s progenitors.
Story & Characters
The story is set 25 years prior to the original Deus Ex, in a near future world where humans have developed mechanical and electronic augmentations to ‘improve’ people’s lives. However the surgery is expensive and the augmented patient is tied to a life taking the drug neuroprozyne to prevent the limbs and implants being rejected, a painful and debilitating condition. Along with the rush of new technology, society becomes divided about wether or not human augmentation is ethical or necessary, and conspiracy and counter-conspiracy rage. Leading company in the world of human augmentation, Sarif Industries, lies on the brink of going public with a breakthrough discovery that could change the face of humanity when a mysterious force of augmented super-soldiers breaks into their Detroit HQ, laying waste to the labs and apparently murdering the scientists responsible. Physical Security chief Adam Jensen attempts to stop the marauding force but is mortally wounded. Sarif are forced to heavily augment Jensen to save his life.
As a story experience it’s brilliant, thought provoking and challenges your perceptions and your trust at every turn. The context of it as a near-future prequel too helps it’s cause somewhat, the technology involved is only a few steps away from our own and that itself touches a few raw nerves, especially for tech gear-heads like me. The spoken dialog is rich and varied with a lot of options and outcomes. While not as polished as Bioware’s recent efforts, it’s not by any means bad or poorly produced and most of the voice actors are both convincing and compelling. I don’t want to go into too much detail and spoil it, but if you love a good cyberpunk storyline, and/or fondly remember the original Deus Ex, or enjoy other works like Ghost in the Shell/Stand Alone Complex or The Matrix, you’ll love it, even if you are new to the story.
As I mentioned, the dialogs with characters are well scripted and well voiced, and you are often offered a range of responses that affect outcomes. Adam Jensen as a character is a real bad ass in looks and moves but you get to decide how he reacts to situations, there is not a sense of having a character forced on you which is nice, because you can opt to react to a lot of situations and dialogs in very different ways.
The story characters are mostly well thought out and played. They try to gain your trust and understanding and their individual interactions with the player focus a lot on their own personal agendas and trying to get you to go along with it. Ultimately your experiences boil up to a tough decision based around what the key characters have tried to make you believe, it’s up to you to make up your mind.
My only criticism, having read the companion ‘Icarus Effect’ book that played out alongside the early events in the game, that the appearance and personality of the key adversaries that make up all but one of the boss fights in the game are very short of background or explanation. I suppose the game is from Jensen’s POV and he knows nothing about them to start with and only runs into them a few times across the arc of the game but I’d have liked a little more back story for them, maybe by way of a few cut scenes etc. just to demonstrate their character and their relation to the forces at play in the game. Again, it didn’t ruin the game but having read the Icarus Effect book a lot earlier I felt a lot more feelings towards those particular characters that I think I would have done otherwise. If some of that back-story and character had been included in the final game it might have enhanced your perspective of them. You can always read the book, I suppose! I wonder if some DLC will crop up as a result of the events in that book too… not gonna say any more.
Like previous games in the series the overall game I found the game somewhat cold as a player. Although Adam clearly has a lot of feelings for his partner, Megan Reed, the feelings are already developed prior to the gamer stepping into Adam’s shoes. I have taken in-game relationships very seriously in Bioware’s games because of the way they develop as the player progresses and make you feel the bond develop between you and another person, but that wasn’t the case here. There’s also non of the side-quest horse-play you get in Bioware games either which I think was a slight missed opportunity (the situations are there where it could have been, but I won’t elaborate too much). There was one part where I did feel kinda sad at losing someone but I’ll also not elaborate there too much.
As a gameplay experience the game is challenging. A large variety of weapons from a simple 10mm handgun, SMGs, combat rifle, sniper rifles and right up to grenade launchers and plasma rifles enable you to deal a wide variety and scale of damage. Some of the weapon upgrades also turn dime-a-dozen weapons into high-powered and trusty arms you’ll want to hold onto, one of the best examples being the Revolver handgun, which alone is powerful and deadly, but combined with a Explosive Ammo package can be devastating, resulting in multi-enemy knock-downs and even useful in a tight spot for taking out light automated defences.
Augmentations, earned via Experience and Praxis points through the game, truly do add some wide scope to supplement and enhance your chosen tactics. From becoming practically invisible (for short periods), to devastating multiple targets as they converge on your position, to falling from a high building and landing with the grace of a butterfly. The variety of augmentations really adds a novel and interesting scope to the game.
A third weapon in your arsenal is the ‘take-down’ which uses your augmentations to speed up your reactions and strength to allow you to either knock-out (non lethal) or kill an enemy (usually bloody and with large knives that Adam has in his augmented arms). While this is not usually effective in open combat where firearms are in hand, the stealth abilities or ability to spring one on unsuspecting enemies give you many golden opportunities to utilise the feature to take-down a enemy or two (the double-take-downs are especially fun). The camera zooms out to 3rd person and shows the moves in a Matrix-style bullet-time moving slow-mo showing your high speed parries, swings and blade-work in full glory. That brings me to points at which you switch from 1st person to 3rd person views. I watched the Developer expose while I was waiting for the release date to roll up and they mentioned this and I thought it would be really disconcerting, but actually it works seamlessly and very well *most* of the time. You go into 3rd person while in cover (see below) and also when doing take-downs and some augmentation actions. It’s seamless and automatic and looks fantastic. My only criticism is that when it zooms back to FSP mode it sometimes leaves you a little unsure which way you are facing, which can be an issue sometimes using one ability, the Typhoon, in a crowded room of enemies.
The cover system is in my opinion the best I’ve every played with. It’s assigned to the right mouse button (on PC) so it’s easily accessible, which is good because you use it all the time as was the case in Mass Effect 2. It works very well, allowing you not only to take cover behind pretty-much any flat surface, but also dive between objects and round corners, with clear onscreen prompts showing when it is possible. Again, I only have one bug-bear with the cover system, and that’s if you want to use a scope or your gun’s iron-sight you have to pop out, then sight the gun, which with the scoped rifles can take practice so that you don’t spend too long looking for the target and get spotted. It’s realistic though, I suppose, so it’s not something I’m going to mark the game down on.
Overall the game plays very much like a cross-over between FPS and a Mass Effect-style action RPG very much as the original Deus Ex did. If I’m 100% honest, I’d have preferred the whole game be in 3rd person perspective like the Mass Effect titles, as it helps connection to your character, but I don’t think the FPS/3rd Person approach was badly worked and it was effective in giving you glimpses of Adam Jensen in action. Also you got some good shots of your character in cut-scenes and spoken dialogs which really helped you connect with him.
Simply put, Deus Ex: Human Revolution did it for me. It created a successor to one of my favourite game series of all time that not only evoked the feelings that the original Warren Specter title did in 2000 but also created a new chapter and a new part of the world that is equally deserving of fans’ and game players’ attention. The game oozes the same thought provoking, multi-dimensional gameplay that propelled the original game to the top of the gaming scene 11 years ago with some excellent modern touches, beautifully styled modern graphics and really challenging gameplay. The story ducks, dives and double-crosses like the original but brings new and original material and characters to the table in an enthralling and very much self-supporting storyline. It’s an excellent game and I urge anyone, Deus Ex fans or not, to give it a shot, it deserves your attention!