It’s been a long time coming, with more than ten years passing since the original Deus Ex. Finally, the sequel (or should that be prequel) to one of the greatest games ever made is here. Granted there was Invisible War, but no sane person counts that.
Play as Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT officer wrongly accused of unlawfully killing a 15-year-old boy, you’re brought back from the dead to find the men who attacked you and killed your girlfriend. Oh, and you also have robo-arms no as well.
Although comparisons to the original Deus Ex are impossible to avoid, it’s important to note they’re substantially different games. The original was really a game of Illuminati conspiracy and global domination, with some transhumanism thrown in for flavour. Human Revolution, is a game of transhumanism, with a bit of conspiracy theory thrown in for flavour. As such it didn’t feel all that “Deus Ex-y” to me, instead feeling more like a police or detective game where you happen to murder a whole lot of people.
On that topic, combat is solid and enjoyable, though if you’re not a fan of cover-based shooters you may find Deus Ex really tests your patience. Enemy AI is generally quite competent (unless you hide in an air-conditioning shaft) using cover and occasionally flushing the player out with grenades. Guns have a nice meaty feel to them and Jensen’s ability to neutralise any enemy instantly in hand-to-hand combat does impart a feeling of power. There are some issues with hitbox recognition and occasionally shots will pass through an enemy harmlessly, but this is a fairly rare occurrence.
The stealth system is where Human Revolution really shines, though. Silent weapons – both lethal and non-lethal – allow Jensen to drop enemies who can then be quietly dragged away from patrol routes. There’s a real thrill in picking off a group of guards one by one without anybody noticing. It’s here that 90% of the game’s strategy and focus lies; observing patrol routes, getting into position for a silent takedown, remaining in the shadows as an unseen predator… Eidos pulls it off almost flawlessly.
Human Revolution also gives you the option to go in guns blazing; a good decision that means the more gung-ho players aren’t left out. There are enough weapons and lethal finishing moves to keep almost anybody happy. Overall, it’s a great implementation of combat which appeals to a broad audience, and it doesn’t detract from strategy; it actually improves it. Much of the reason for this is that it’s equally possible to complete Human Revolution without firing a single bullet – save for the few uninspiring boss battles – and the feeling of power over human life it gives you is disturbingly exhilarating.
Weapon customisation is adequate but uninspiring. Almost all weapons can be upgraded, but as modifications can only improve your weapons there are no strategic tradeoffs to be made. For example, usually attaching a silencer to a gun would result in a silent but less powerful weapon, Human Revolution goes out of its way to reassure the player your silenced gun is just as deadly as a noisy one.
Of course, self-modification plays a greater role than weapon modification in Deus Ex, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Augmentations run the gauntlet from the absolutely vital inventory increase and hacking upgrades, to the essentially useless flash-grenade protection and Typhoon weapon system which enables you to kill everybody in a room – as long as they’re standing right next to you. Real handy.
Unfortunately, the augmentation system reveals another stumbling block. Contrary to advice given early in the game, you can upgrade pretty much everything in one play through and there are no strategic trade-offs to be made here either. In the original Deus Ex, JC Denton had to make choices between abilities such as high jumping or silent running. Jensen in comparison can have his cybercake and eat it too, upgrading any augmentation as long as he has the available points. This is one of the many ways in which Human Revolution suffers from noticeable Phantom Menace syndrome, whereby the technology in the prequel appears to be significantly more advanced than that in the original.
While it’s tempting to argue Human Revolution has been dumbed down for the modern, unwashed console generation brought up by Spongebob, Ritalin and overly-protective civil libertarians, it’s better not to mention it at all and instead just assume Eidos simply aimed to make an “accessible” game for a broader audience… one whose parents consider Fruit Loops to be an adequate breakfast and whose attention span is shorter than, oh, what’s the point, you won’t have made it to the end of this sentence anyway.
Voice-acting is, for the most part excellent, with all major characters well cast. Some criticism has been levelled at Elias Toufexis, who provides the voice of Adam Jensen, but I feel this is misguided. Jensen’s gravely voice suits him well, and is a good midpoint between “normal human” and the ultra-deadpan voice of JC Denton. Voices for some of the minor characters however – such as many of the weapon vendors – are horribly hackneyed and detract greatly from an immersive experience.
Graphically the game is… adequate. An unfortunate side-effect of its (dirty heathen) console origins, Human Revolution certainly comes nowhere near realising the power of even semi-modern PCs. Characters look somewhat dated, and painfully bad conversation animations make the Thunderbirds look lifelike. The good news is that Human Revolution doesn’t require much power; it runs fine on my ancient beast with a video card so old you can’t even buy them any more.
There is one major caveat to that criticism however – and I mean major. Throughout the game, Jensen will come across a half dozen or so characters that he can engage in especially deep conversations, trying to convince them to do (or not do) certain things. In these few encounters, the facial animation on the characters is simply stunning. Every emotion and thought flashes across their faces as they consider your arguments, showing everything from doubt and deep emotional pain through to barely contained anger. The meeting with one of Jensen’s ex-SWAT buddies early in the game is probably the best example of it, and worth looking out for. It’s groundbreaking stuff that really displays Eidos’ strengths, and applied more consistently across the game would have really upped the ante against other developers.
Visual design is excellent too. Jensen himself is a pretty cool looking dude, albeit with a dangerously pointy face. People’s augmented limbs look starkly mechanical compared to their flesh, but have clear elements of modern aesthetic design. Colours are used to great effect – especially yellow, believe it or not – drawing the player’s eye to important elements in the game and creating excellent atmospheric depth.
Human Revolution is a great game with a lot of minor problems. There are no deal-breakers here, but small annoyances constantly pop up which detract from the overall experience. While it doesn’t quite match the hype and expectations, it’s still a solid and enjoyable game that should keep you busy for a good 30 hours; there’s enough intrigue to make you want to uncover the next page of the tale, and the well-designed combat system remains enjoyable through to the end. We can only hope Eidos makes a second Deus Ex title, because for their first effort, this is one solid and enjoyable game.
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