Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Throughout Human Revolution’s twenty hour runtime, protagonist Adam Jensen’s voice barely breaks above a gruff growl. He’s a man, you suspect, who has seen much in his time. Once a member of the SWAT, he now works for Sarif Industries, knee deep in a corporation that manufactures human augmentations. With his retractable shades and augmented body, Jensen is a product of the very company he works for. He is the face of a future in conflict, of a bleak envisioning not far from hand, where the sky broods and augmented humans test their might, while normal humans cluster down dingy side-streets, less fortunate than their peers. Or are they? This is a cautionary tale of humans reaching for God-like power.
The year is 2027 and despite its proximity to the present day, the idea of human augmentation changing our society doesn’t feel absurd. Like all good tales, conflict frames the narrative and Jensen is caught between warring currents of opinion. His employers, Sarif Industries, are keen to see human augmentation continue unabated. But there are dissenters at work and all the key players in the story have points of view worth listening to, amounting to a tale that comes to a head beautifully. Fans of the original Deus Ex will take particular delight in the way it finishes.
But how does it start? As a prequel, it sticks closely to the Deus Ex template. Yes, it takes a while to get a grip of you, but once you’re snugly under Human Revolution’s wing you’ll struggle to break free. Not merely content to play as a corridor shooter, or an exercise in stealth, or an adventure game, Human Revolution gives you the tools to enact all these genres as you please, and presents a playground in which it asks, nay begs, that you experiment with its rules. In one level in China, for instance, a club called The Hive sits under a neon orange glow, but the bouncer at the door will only let you inside if you pay in excess of 1000 credits. Jensen can acquiesce to this injustice, but it’s far more satisfying to explore an alternate route in. Failing this, you can simply shoot the bouncer for his impertinence.
If corridor crawlers run laterally to what real life is like, then Human Revolution, with its myriad ways of completing any one objective, does too. It’s certainly not realistic, no matter how hard it tries: after all, a wrong turn can be simply remedied by reverting to an earlier save. Yet what the game does do similarly to real life is give the decisions you make a real feeling of weight. Save or no save, it’s a journey in which you’re always striving to get things done properly, make the right choice, and do it the first time of asking.
Ironically, the early stages of the game are very much a hit-and-miss affair, in which very little can be done with any sort of confidence. Experience points earned throughout the game eventually produce Praxis, which are used to augment Jensen’s mechanical features. But since it takes a good few hours to ascertain what you enjoy doing (be it hacking, stealth or gunplay) you’ll likely assign your first few Praxis points across the board. It’s an issue the developers could easily have side-stepped by allowing you to re-assign a limited number of points at your choosing. But alas, once you’ve made your choices, you have to stick with them.
By all means, Human Revolution is a jack of all trades , and as the saying goes, it’s a master of none. The hacking mini-game is inventive and often pits you against a timer, but it soon overstays its welcome. Gunfights take their cue from Gears of War. The first-person camera snaps back, giving you a view of Jensen as he sticks behind cover, but entering the fray leaves you feeling outgunned. While Crysis 2 made you feel like a super-soldier as you alternated between stealth and open warfare, Jensen feels comparatively weak, even with all the armor upgrades in place. Still, the guns all pack a punch and the shotgun is particularly satisfying to use.
Undoubtedly, stealth is the game’s forte. Somewhat bureaucratically, the developers reward a passive approach by granting extra experience points for a non-violent takedown. And all the staples of the genre are here. Jensen can employ his cloak, see through walls, and even track his targets, but these are all goodies that need to be unlocked first. Yet even with these boxes ticked, it’s not as good as the best stealth games on the market. It has competent, well-rounded stealth mechanics, but nothing that makes it particularly outstanding. Combine this, however, with the ability to hack, shoot and talk your way through the adventure and you’ve got a package that caters for any and every inclination. For this is the of beauty Human Revolution: you are always free to pick your way through a mission as you please, and even if you are rewarded for skimping on the death-mongering, there’s still nothing stopping you from lashing out, guns blazing.
Augment, augment, augment!
For a game in which you have no say over the way your character looks and sounds, Human Revolution remains a very personal journey. Much of this is down to the augmentation system. Here are the three upgrades I found most useful.
Get Jensen socially up to the mark and he’ll soon have no trouble in reading people’s personality traits, granting you a unique leverage during important conversations. And since swaying someone in a debate nets you access codes, information and so forth, not only do you experience the thrill of a verbal joust, but you’re likely to walk away with an easier route through the game too!
Icarus Landing System
It wasn’t until late in the game that I bagged this upgrade, and I wish I had done it sooner. The maps in the game can be confusing, but with Icarus in place, you’re free to jump from any rooftop down to the road below in complete safety. It saves you time navigating endless corridors, and the animation looks great to boot.
Typhoon Explosive System
The Typhoon allows Jensen to deploy a serious array of explosives in a 360 degree arc. Fully upgraded, it can destroy the largest of robots in one fell swoop. This is a must if you’re inventory consists mostly on non-lethal weapons, or you’re finding ammo hard to come by.
Then there are the conversations, an area of the game I enjoyed immensely. Jensen can be “socially enhanced”, making him more influential, and outwitting an opponent in a verbal confrontation often bags you unique rewards. The camera tracks close as you begin to sway your fellow debater, doubt lines clouding your targets face. It’s gratifying to behold and the achievement that usually accompanies this victory is better yet.
Being able to converse with NPCs on your travels is vital in a game like Human Revolution because so much is invested in the authenticity of the world. Though no single map is huge, there are sizeable locales to explore and you’ll often find a side-path as of yet unexplored, that in turn offers up further reasons to continue off the beaten track. Then again you’ll often find you’ve gotten lost, because the map is frankly awful. For some reason, areas in the game are split into different levels of height, but in the two main city hubs there’s no clear logic to this separation. You end up with one level that fills up a hundredth of the map simply because its sandwiched between two small staircases, while the rest of the levels stretch as far as the eye can see.
The city hubs also force you to travel between different districts, and here a different problem arises. Each time you leave one district and enter another, the game pauses to load, but it’s not uncommon to see the minute hand on your watch tick over as you drum your fingers…waiting…and waiting. It’s a testament to just how good the story and gameplay are that you’ll persevere, despite hours of your life wasted watching the game desperately load new data. Much of this is probably down to the fact that Human Revolution arrives on one, snug disc. Compared to recent titles which have spanned two, or even three, it’s impressive that a lore this deep and intensive is housed in six gigabytes of data, but I’d certainly have put up with swapping discs if the load times proved shorter.
Nor is the game technically beautiful. All the characters, bar Jensen, look strangely boxy, as if they were ripped from the original Deus Ex and given a hurried touch up. Explore the cities with a critical eye and you’ll discover low-res textures that had their place five years ago. But what can’t be faulted are the game’s artistic merits. Jensen’s very own apartment, for instance, is a wonder to behold, brought to life with heavy slanting shadows and dazzling artistic touches. True, if one were simply to watch from afar the flaws in its presentation would be glaring. But I defy anyone to quibble once the game has spun its web.
Simply put, there’s so much to uncover that it’s a game dying to be played slowly and methodically. Outside of the main missions there are over ten side-quests that can protract the experience upwards of five hours. They also lend the plot such crucial backstory that at times you’ll wonder why they didn’t form a part of the core narrative in the first place. You’ll find yourself doing favours for shady corporate types, a bereaved mother, and along your travels, you’ll come across eBooks and emails that further flesh out the plot. During one mission set in China I couldn’t help but laugh as I read an email from an employee to his subordinate, warning that he’d reached 50% email capacity. Neat and tidy is the law, the boss proclaimed. He was only on two emails, the poor lad.
It truly is a fantastic creation. Clearly huge amounts of time and effort has been invested into the world around you, and it teems with possibilities. Even as you scale a ladder, breaching an objective from above, you notice a ventilation shaft eagerly presenting another way inside. The shotgun you wield as you approach a crowd of enemies can just as easily be swapped for a stun gun. And that locked door you doggedly hacked can be breached by finding a door code elsewhere.
Strangely, though you can get through the entire game without killing anyone, you’re faced with a boss battle on several separate occassions. Boss fights are a staid mechanic at best but it wouldn’t be a problem if you could sneak around the issue. No such luck. Progression won’t be granted until you’ve left these bad guys (and gal) on the ground, bleeding from every orifice and choking on their last breath. If you’ve spent the game gorging on tranquilizer darts and stun guns, it’s particularly frustrating to be faced by an armor-clad bad guy who far outstrips you in both grunt and armament. I appreciate the idea of capping off a lengthy level with a large-scale fight, but it simply doesn’t work in this context and towards the end of the game, Human Revolution relies on the mechanic one too many times.
All told, it’s not perfect. The load times are too long, the boss battles are a chore, and no individual element of the game is a world-beater. But it’s easy to nitpick in a game this ambitious, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution is ultimately more than a sum of its parts. It strives to be a big, all-encompassing cyberpunk adventure, and it wholly succeeds. You’re the beating heart of its existence, at the center of every decision, undertaking a very personal adventure in which your experience might contrast wildly with your neighbour. And like all great games, you’re just a little bit sad when it all ends.