Having played the original two Deus Ex games, I kind of knew what to expect from Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Then again, I really had no idea what I was getting into. The game pays homage in a lot of ways to the originals, but creates a world and a gaming style that is uniquely its own. I’ve already had many sleepless nights exploring the countless back alleys, rooftops, air ducts, sewers, apartment buildings, offices and shops the game offers, and that’s just when I’m fooling around ignoring the main quests.
The game is set in 2027, which is 25 years before the original title. Humanity is just beginning to experiment with augmentations, with some people embracing them to the point of amputating perfectly good arms and legs to replace with prosthetics, and some people fighting this new science with an almost religious fury. Those of us who have played the other games know that the augmentation sciences win out, but in 2027, the future is pretty murky.
You play an ex-cop named Adam Jensen. Over time we learn that Jensen was a good cop and a member of the SWAT team, but got kicked off the force because of an incident where an unarmed teen was killed. Jensen finds work with Sarif Industries, a Detroit based technology firm. Detroit is a slum, but David Sarif, your boss, is trying to revitalize it with his biotechnology manufacturing. And you ex-girlfriend, who we find out helped get you the job, may have found the way to make Sarif a success. Until now, everyone with an augmentation had to take an expensive drug for the rest of their lives to avoid rejection. But your girl has found a way for augmentations to function without the host body rejecting them. But before she can present her findings to congress, the lab at Serif is attacked, the work destroyed and many scientists including your girl are killed. In fact, Jensen is nearly slain himself and left for dead.
However, Sarif does not let you die. He replaces your broken parts with augmentations. It’s kind of cool that you don’t actually choose to become augmented. That way you can technically remain neutral in the whole "should humans augment" debate. That said, leveling in the game involves improving your augmentations to be more effective in your chosen disciplines, be that stealth, social interaction, hacking or combat. So on some level, you kind of have to embrace your new powers.
There is so much about this impressive game I want to talk about, but I have to start with the atmosphere. Wow. This game looks absolutely amazing. The world has a style all its own, and a feel as well. The first city you get to explore is Detroit, and it’s kind of run down and, well, it looks like hell. But it’s a realistic-looking hell, a dirty urban landscape where the poor scavenge for food in garbage cans beside fashionable clothing stores catering to the insanely rich. Your apartment is in Detroit, and believe me, the first time your security shutters slowly open automatically and your computer welcomes you home as the cityscape edges into view, you are going to be hooked.
But Detroit is small potatoes compared to the second city you visit, in China. A city built on pillars miles above a second city, this is the full-on Blade Runner experience. Here those with money live in luxury in the upper city while the have-nots live below. However, the below city is also the home to many night clubs, brothels and somewhat descent apartments, and I found that I really loved it here. A lot of the characters even speak Mandarin, but your augmentations let you translate what they say into English, which is a really cool touch. I loved exploring the rooftops and sewers of the lower city, which are home to many side quests if you look around and take the time to find them.
It’s not just the overall panoramic views that are impressive, but the small graphical details as well. The artists have gone out of their way to really immerse you in the game world. Inside, pay attention to the small stuff. The bric-a-brac on someone’s desk may give you a clue as to if they are actually good or evil, or if they have your best interest at heart. These are very easy to miss, but it’s amazing that such minuscule details are included in the overall graphics package. Outside, missing person’s fliers may factor into some of your quests. The graffiti on the wall may not just be for looks and the way a pedestrian shifts nervously may indicate that more is going on in that little corner of the dark city than meets the eye.
Gameplay itself consists of the main quest to find out who is attacking Serif, but you could very easily spend much more time doing side quests. Side quests won’t pop out at you like in most games. You have to dig to find a lot of them, which is fine for a completion-nut like myself. For example, when you first get to China, there is a prostitute that needs your help, but to find her, you have to listen to people taking nearby and decide to follow up on their conversation and explore a certain place. If you dismiss people as simple background NPCs, you are going to be missing out on a lot of content. That means you may not earn valuable experience, and then not have some of the advancements needed to tackle the main quest. So explore the world. Not only is it fun, but you will be rewarded. Easter eggs are plentiful here. Go and find them.
In terms of the missions themselves, there are almost always many different ways to accomplish your goals. Most of the methods break down into four categories: combat, stealth, social and hacking.
Combat is pretty self-explanatory. This is for those who like to go in guns-blazing. For them, there are augmentations like dermal plating armor, recoil compensators and even a missile system that shreds everyone in all directions when it launches from within your own body. Even for those who like the action hot and heavy, combat in Deus Ex is more strategic than most shooters. You need to take cover, plant traps and prioritize enemies, or death will come pretty quickly. There are even upgrades for your weapons that give you crazy abilities, like curving bullets around corners to kill targets hiding in cover. So trick out your body and your gear.
Stealth is the way I built out my Jensen. Augmentations for this type of character include the ability to see through walls, suppress sound and even turn invisible for a time. Weapons of the silent variety abound in the game, from the tranquilizer rifle to the silenced 10 millimeter pistol to the crossbow.
Those who enjoy social interaction can often talk their way past guards, or effortlessly move in and out of trouble with a silver tongue. The social enhancement modification is my favorite power in the entire game. It was the first one I bought and I would highly recommend it for RPGers. It reads people’s body language, heart beat, perspiration and pupil dilation as well as how they dress and uses that data to generate a psych profile on the fly about them. As you continue to chat, your social enhancement augmentation will continue monitoring the other person and will feed you clues as to if you are influencing them or if they are probably telling you a lie. You can even spray a pheromone into the air that will make them like you, but you have to choose the right one to match their personality. An alpha type of person will be turned off if you try to cover them in beta pheromones. Anyway, I loved manipulating people to get what I wanted, and have not really seen this type of social interface in any game before now.
The final pillar of gameplay is hacking, and in a technological society, knowing how to hack computers will let you do everything from open doors to disarm security systems to read interesting e-mails (which could lead to side quests or may simply add more character to an already colorful world). Hacking is done as a mini-game where you try to capture modes before a trace program is able to find and kick you out of a system. Advanced hacking augmentations let your fortify nodes you’ve captured against the trace program, or even make it so it’s pretty unlikely the security will trip at all. The best hackers can tear through systems and nobody even knows they are there.
There are also augmentations that work well for anyone. Case in point: one of the best gaming moments I had with Deus Ex so far happened when a bunch of heavily armed guards spotted me on a rooftop where I should not have been. I was trapped and way outgunned. So I ran to the side of the building and jumped off the roof. Suddenly I was in slow motion, bullets flying past me. My slow-fall augmentation kicked in, bathing me in a yellowish glow as machines implanted in my back sent out gravity waves that cushioned my fall. I landed gracefully on the ground, trench coat flapping in the wind, looked back briefly at my dumbfounded pursuers, and disappeared into the nighttime crowd. That’s a movie moment if I’ve ever seen one.
The one gameplay complaint I have is somewhat minor, but involves the fact that boss battles were added into the game. Worse yet, these are often setup where you have no choice but to fight the boss in an arena-style setting. You are moving along sneaking just fine and suddenly a cut-scene will pop up where something happens that is out of your control to put you into the fight. Given that I have a stealth/social/hacker type of build, going toe to toe with a tank-like boss is not what I consider a good time, especially when I am forced into it. The game gives a myriad of choices otherwise, and adding in trite boss battles is disappointing. Thankfully, there are very few of these types of battles, and there are often tricks to help you get past them, like exploding barrels. Certain grenades can also help to alleviate this mildly frustrating situation.
Speaking of frustration, it’s worth noting that I can see Deus Ex: Human Revolution as a challenge for a lot of gamers. This is not Gears of War. If you are looking for a shooter, this is not for you. This is more the type of game where you explore the world for a few hours, find secrets and e-mails and various plots and codes, and then, armed with that information, go into a mission. Some of the main quest missions are very difficult, trying to figure out how peel off one guard from a cluster of several without alerting anyone. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a Splinter Cell title in those moments, where you have to watch the guards walk and find a hole in their coverage. Thankfully, there is almost always a hidden vent behind a box or a rafter overhead or some way to avoid the difficult situation, but that does not mean you can easily find it. I often beat my head against a wall and finally cleared a room, only to discover a hidden path I could have taken after the fact. Personally, I love the challenge. It makes the game seem realistic. But it’s worth mentioning that this is harder than most titles, so everyone knows what they are getting into.
In the end, Deus Ex: Human Revolution provides one heck of an impressive single player game. I’ve not had so much fun immersing myself in such a beautifully detailed, intelligent, living world for a very long time. In fact, this has got my vote right now for Game of the Year. If you like gritty, intelligent, sci-fi gaming, then you can’t go wrong by joining this revolution.
Developers: Eidos Interactive, Eidos Montreal
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360