So I have a friend. When we play co-op shooters, there is a constant and insurmountable gap between the way we approach games. I lean towards strategic attacks that are usually accomplished through stealth, while he opts for the rampage approach and attacks with wanton glee. It leads to an odd mix, and means our personal tastes in games are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Deus Ex: Human Revolution may be the first game that appeases us both as we each play through separately.
The thing about Deus Ex, beyond the atmospheric setting and unique look, is the flexibility in the way you approach it. While at first glance, it appears to be a first-person shooter, it is more an RPG, but it is also a stealth-based game. Or maybe it is a tactical action game, it is just a matter of preference. Many games have made claims like that before, and more than one gamer has sat down with a hot new title that promised revolutionary ways to approach the game, only to discover that those options usually meant you could approach a mission one way and succeed, or try another way and probably die horribly, but at least you could have the bittersweet experience of doing it. Call it a moral victory.
But with Deus Ex, you really do have multiple ways to approach the gameplay. If you want to play like Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher and sneak past every single enemy, possibly stopping to rob them and hack the odd computer, the choice is yours. You can then pat yourself on the back for being awesome at stealth… after reloading the game ten times in a row until that SOB guard doesn’t turn at the wrong time. If you instead choose to bring down a plague upon the houses of all those who are unlucky to come across you, you can do that too.
Whatever path you choose, you can build up and customize your character to your liking. In that, Deus Ex is incredible. The setting and story also help to create an immersive world that can quickly suck you in as you journey through the world of 2027. There are a few sizeable technical blemishes, but there is so much to like about Deus Ex, that you can expect to tell your friends, spouses and significant others goodbye for a while as you experience a well-formed, and slightly disturbing glimpse at a potential future.
In the future, people will be more careless with their limbs
Deus Ex: Human Revolution continues the franchise that amazed people back in 2000, but it does so with a prequel. For those who played the original game and the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Human Revolution takes place several years before the events of the original game.
The year is 2027, and the single greatest topic dominating the dystopian future is the rise of human augmentation. What began as a means to help those that lost limbs, has spiraled into a global business that creates customizable body parts for anyone looking for an upgrade — but there is a catch. Those with cybernetic limbs are required to take an anti-rejection drug for the rest of their lives, or risk a hellish death.
Naturally, not everyone is ok with humans chopping off limbs and replacing them with cannons, which leads to a violent public backlash.
The game begins as Adam Jensen, a perfectly flesh-covered, normal guy who heads security for Sarif Industries, a global leader in augmentation technology, is left for dead following an attack on Sarif’s headquarters by augmented soldiers. Six months pass, and robo-Jensen returns to work, sporting what is essentially a new (and conveniently upgradable) body.
From there, the plot unfolds like a detective story through a noir-ish series of twists and turns, as you begin to see that there is a global conspiracy, and the future of what it means to be human is on the line.
The game takes place in five locales around the world, and some offer open worlds to explore and hunt for side quests. The more you explore, the more story (and experience) you will learn. There is a distinct story arc, but the details will vary based on how you approach it.
Depending on how you play, the length of the game will also vary. If you choose to explore everywhere and roam the streets of cities like Shanghai or Detroit, the game could last between 30 to 40 hours. If you try to murder your way through the world of tomorrow, you could probably finish in 15 to 20 hours. Once you complete it, you could then replay it using different tactics, and have an almost entirely different experience as you head towards one of the other multiple endings.
The art of the game is a huge part, and it helps to set Deus Ex apart from other titles. The Baroque look is distinctive, and as you explore the world of Deus Ex, even the minor details help to define the world. A random person with a cybernetic set of legs, living on the streets in dire straights can tell a story without saying a single word.
You’ll see this level of detail again and again, and as you move between the dregs of society and the privileged, the tone of the game becomes a character in its own right.
Choose your own adventure
The thing about Deus Ex that can’t be understated is the choice of how you approach the game. That is determined by the upgrades you unlock using “Praxis” kits, which are earned through exploration and experience points. There are dozens of options ranging from increases in stealth abilities to combat abilities, and there are numerous active and passive upgrades. Many will give you the chance to complete side quests later on, or give you a new method to complete a primary mission. Your primary options are combat or stealth. Stealth is a bit easier at first, but as you upgrade, combat may be the way to go. There is no right or wrong, but morality does play a part.
At one point in the game, a scientist in a lab finds himself trapped in a room filling with poison gas, and you have a choice. If you want, you can flip the guy a cybernetic bird and leave him to his fate, perhaps silently cracking a bad joke, like “smoking kills” on the way. But if you choose to help, you need to have the right tools. To enter the room, you need the lung upgrade that allows you to survive poison gas for a short period. Before you can use that, you need to get into the room. If you have a high enough hacking rank, you can open the door that way. If you don’t, you may need to search the area for another way in, or look for the code.
Your choice then has further consequences. If you lend a hand, you can then talk to the next guard and tell him that you saved his BFF’s life, which gets you past. But if you let him die, it’s probably not best to mention that, and instead you can try to bribe him or sweet talk him into letting you by.
Deus Ex also features a way to upgrade your social abilities in order to influence people and learn more from them. It is similar to L.A. Noir in that fashion, and if you ignore it, you may miss side quests and story details because the talker doesn’t like your face.
The way you play also affects the story to a degree. If you kill a major character early on, they won’t appear later to give you hints and start you on new side quests. Because, ya know, they’re dead. The story won’t stop without it though, and no matter how you choose to play, you will miss some options — it’s unavoidable, but it means your actions have real consequences.
The people of the future are ugly, schizophrenic and take a long time to load
While the world of Deus Ex is beautiful — amazing even — the character animations aren’t quite on the same level. The voice acting is quality throughout, and Jensen looks good for the most part, but many of the other characters’ facial animation are very dated and stand out negatively. It is distracting, but can be overlooked.
A bigger issue is the enemy AI. If you are playing with a combat focus, this isn’t a huge deal. The enemies will occasionally run screaming at you, perhaps taken by the bloodlust, and they will ignore the piles of bodies in order to get you. That isn’t really a problem as much as it is just a lack of AI intelligence, but when it comes to stealth, the AI is aggravating. If you are in cover (a specific cover mechanic), you are almost entirely invisible, no matter what. A guy can be looking right at you and not see you. Then, you could release the cover but remain hidden, and a different enemy walking past a doorway, dozens of yards away, while picking his nose, will see you with uncanny accuracy. It can lead to frequent and surprising deaths, which can be frustrating to say the least. And not just frustrating, but “controller throwing” frustrating. It isn’t a constant issue, but it happens enough to be aggravating.
Long loading screens don’t help, either. We’re talking really, really long loading screens that you have to endure each time you die or change areas. If you have the room to install this game, do it immediately, otherwise have a book handy for the loads.
Surprisingly, the boss battles are also limited, as there aren’t many options on how to defeat them other than do unto them before they do unto you. For a game hinging on choices, the boss fights are notably lacking in that.
Deus Ex isn’t perfect, but the annoyances are relatively minor. Expect to hear words like “groundbreaking” and “stunning” bandied about while describing this game, and that’s fair. It isn’t the first game to offer choices on the way you play, but it takes that mechanic to another level and offers you multiple ways to experience it based on how you approach it. Two different people may play this game and each could legitimately come away with two radically different impressions.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is also immersive to a staggering degree. The setting is deeply atmospheric, the world looks amazing and the more choices you are faced with, the more you will become involved the world of the future.
There is so much to like in this game that the flaws are easy to overlook. The replay value is also staggering, and playing through in an entirely different way will be like playing a different game altogether, as new story elements present themselves and fill in blanks. Although the rest of the year is stacked with major titles, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has to be in the conversation for one best games of the year. The flaws will prevent it from winning, but it still deserves the consideration.
Score 8.5 out of 10
(This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 on a copy provided by Square Enix)