Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Taking over a franchise is always a gamble. Though Eidos published the earlier Deus Ex games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the first new release in the series since the collapse of Ion Storm. Sometimes, handing the keys to a new developers kills great franchises, as the fates of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon have shown. But some developers have done very well, as Red Dead Redemption demonstrated. There’s a balancing act the developers must consider at almost every moment; some can cut it and some can’t. They must balance their desires to make the product their own with the direction the previous team took and also fan expectations. Go too far in any direction and the game could potentially be met with hate and scorn, regardless of the quality of the release.
Eidos Montreal wasn’t in an enviable position taking on Deus Ex, a franchise that is near-and-dear to the hearts of gamers. The first release was considered a masterpiece and, though it hasn’t aged very well, the world that it lays out for players is still intriguing and captivating. But for all the difficulties that they faced in taking on the franchise, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is easily the best game I have played in 2011 (and I’ve played a lot of them). Eidos Montreal deftly updated the game to give it more modern sensibilities while retaining the core of what captivated us with the original. I’d even go as far as arguing that this is the very best entry in the series, though some may disagree.
A prequel to the previous Deus Ex releases, players take control of Adam Jensen, head of security for Sarif Industries, a company that produces augmentations that allow humans to modify their minds and bodies as they see fit. The situation at Sarif Headquarters is tense – the company is on the verge of a major announcement set to make augmentation technology more affordable and safer for the masses. On the eve of a Congressional hearing to discuss their breakthrough, Sarif’s facility is attacked by a group of augmented mercenaries. The scientists behind the breakthrough are murdered, including Jensen’s former girlfriend, and Jensen is left for dead in a heap of rubble.
But his story doesn’t end there. Jensen is brought back from the abyss and saved by Sarif’s augmentation technology. After six months of having most of his body replaced by machines, from his legs to his eyes, Jensen is put back to work, but no longer just protecting Sarif’s assets. Jensen is unleashed and sent out to discover who was behind the attack and, more importantly, why. Of course, this is accompanied by the usual levels of intrigue and double-crossing that you expect from a release in the franchise. The ground the story follows was paved by previous entries, but the story told here is wholly unique and engaging. Players will be hooked from start to finish.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is built around four pillars of gameplay: lethal, non-lethal, stealth and diplomacy. Players can choose the style that suits them best or they can fuse them to develop your own style. I chose to focus on lethal stealth, skipping over all of the non-lethal options in favor of something a little more brutal and permanent. But players looking to be sneaky and diplomatic will find no problem suiting the game to their tastes. There’s an achievement for going through the game without killing anyone (save three bosses), but I had a hard time resisting the urge to put some of the truly deplorable characters that I met out of their (virtual) existence.
As a shooter, Deus Ex: Human Revolution embraces a lot of modern innovations, including a third-person cover system employed by many of the genre’s best. This is a great addition that not only improves the game’s combat, but also makes sneaking a whole lot easier than in previous games. The system has strengths and weaknesses – on a whole, sneaking is easier to perform since you have a better field of view than first-person allows, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but notice the paths that seemed intended to be followed. In many areas, it almost felt like I was on-rails as I moved from a piece of cover to another cover. There’s a general lack of exposure to the stealth and you rarely face potential detection from more than one foe at a time.
Of course, it’s always a difficult balancing act – putting in more enemies to make stealth harder might tip the scales against players choosing to go a more violent route. It’s a noticeable trade-off, but the game doesn’t suffer very much. Really, my only gripe with the game is the presentation of the story elements. Deus Ex: Human Revolution makes frequent use of cutscenes and while they are all very well done, I couldn’t help but be drawn out of the experience. One of the first things I noticed was how the game’s cutscenes didn’t match up, brightness-wise, to how the game world looks when we see it through Jensen’s eyes. Presumably because of his augmented vision, Jensen’s view is much brighter than the dark, smoky cutscenes.
The game works best when Jensen interacts with characters in first-person and is given choice over his dialogue. This, the “diplomacy” pillar of the game, is where the experience is most impressive. Each conversation has very real consequences – they can result in characters attacking you or assisting you, giving or denying you important, revelatory information. They are presented as a game within the game, with outcomes varying on how you choose to handle each encounter. Everyone has their own personality and you must handle each person differently. The grieving police officer needs to be treated differently than the cocky officer; saying the wrong thing can make the next section of gameplay extremely difficult. The dialogue trees are presented extremely well, revealing enough to the players about which way the conversation will go without spoiling too much. Other games would be well-served to use Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s dialogue system as their framework.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution gives series fans everything else that they expect. You can customize Jensen to your heart’s content. If you want your Jensen to be a fast and silent killing machine, you’ve got it. If you want to make him a computer nerd, you can upgrade your hacking until you can bust open any locked door or computer without being caught. But best of all, the balancing in the game is superb and there were only a few situations where I felt at a disadvantage because of my chosen play style. The only time I had issue with my chosen augmentation path not meshing well with the game was during one of the game’s boss fights, which are the game’s weakest sections. These scripted fights remove all elements of choice in favor of a true first-person shooter experience which pits bullets vs. bullets. I won’t spoil anything, but I wish that there were more creative solutions to the boss battles than just brute strength. Worse, none of the bosses that I fought really interacted with me in any way. Just one fight where players could talk to their opponent and potentially change the impending interaction would have added some needed variety.
But finding fault with Deus Ex: Human Revolution is nit-picking. Even the few glitches I encountered can easily be shrugged off. This is a superb game, one of the finest games that I’ve personally played in years. It is everything that fans of the series could ask for and newcomers will feel welcomed into the experience. It is one of the first games that I’ve immediately wanted to restart as soon as I’d finished it in a long time, simply to see how I could have done things differently. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a memorable, unique and original experience that cannot be missed.