Monday, 12 September 2011

Video Game Review | Deus Ex: Human Revolution, dev. Eidos-Montreal

It is the year 2027: fully quarter of a century before the events of Deus Ex.

Biomechanical augmentations are not yet commonplace, or very affordable in the eyes of the everyman, but the bubble around them is blowing up. Everyone wants augs; everyone except those folks who think them against God, or the natural evolution of the human animal.

Competition in the design, manufacture and distribution of these technologies is fierce, but Sarif Industries are at the forefront of their field, and one of their researchers - Dr. Megan Reed - thinks she may have just discovered the game-changer: a double-helix delivery vehicle for the bleeding edge biotech that should circumvent the need for the anti-rejection drugs all augs as yet rely upon, to stop their bodies from booting out these strange foreign objects which allow their privileged users to jump higher, run faster and think more quickly, among a many other talents.

But just as Megan is about to announce her discovery, Sarif Industries' headquarters in Detroit is attacked by a small army of heavily-augmented supersoldiers. Security Chief Adam Jensen, Megan's ex-boyfriend, does everything in his power to turn back this violent incursion, but man is no match for machine - or rather man/machine - and Megan, along with all those scientists involved in this project which could revolutionise an entire race, are either killed or kidnapped.

Adam only survives the attack by the skin of his teeth, and when he awakens, six months later, the skin of his teeth is pretty much all that's left of him... because to save his life - not to mention make him better able to see to these supersoldiers - his employers have refitted him with all the augmentations under the sun. Adam has hardly settled back into his role at Sarif when he picks up the trail of the shady organisation responsible for the death of so many, so close to him, and the destruction of so much, of such vital importance.

And now he can fight fire with fire...

So begins Deus Ex: Human Revolution, at last a worthy and worthwhile successor to a game that in its era completely revolutionised the way we play. Eidos-Montreal's long-gestating sequel cannot aspire towards that impossible crown again, but it embraces both those core tenets of the original - player choice, first and foremost, but also a noirish near-future, and an onion-skin, discoverable (or not) narrative rich with morality and conspiracy and intrigue - as well as those innumerable game-changers that the medium has for its part embraced in the decade since Deus Ex's release.

Invariably what will strike you first, upon booting up Human Revolution, are its incredible looks. And, after years of browns and greys and muted yellows on a good day, my oh my are they a sight for sore eyes! Truly, the design imperative behind this game - an neo-noir empire of black and gold and beautiful, fuscian blues - is so unique in the dreary follow-the-leader industry of today as to make this world, and its dazzling lights and dizzying heights, its glittering, gossamer sheen, come alive in mere moments. It will take you about thirty hours to beat Human Revolution, plus or minus perhaps five depending on how far down the rabbit hole you fall, and even then, you will not want to leave.

I didn't.

I started a second playthrough.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Looks, as we all know, are only skin-deep, and what, you might be wondering, is the ghost in this machine? Well, I bet you've already met - at least I hope for your sake you have - for it is in every meaningful sense the spirit of the original Deus Ex: a game you can play pretty much any way you please - whether by stealthing or shooting or hacking or simply exploring your way into any number of high-stakes scenarios, and if you're lucky out of them again - for either as little or as long as you please, thanks to an unrestricted save system and a selection of activities which cater to those with mere minutes or many hours on their hands.

Do not misunderstand me: this is also a game which very much rewards a certain level of dedication, and though the most casual gamers may flounder somewhat, those players who have perhaps drifted from the industry in the last ten years will find returning, by way of Human Revolution, a lot like riding a bike.

That is to say, a gold-leafed bike with onyx trim, twelve light but durable wheels, a multi-functional heads-up display complete with cruise control, temperature regulation, satellite guidance, impenetrable security systems and its very own onboard library. But for all that, it's still easy riding... unless you're going to go and jack the difficulty up, which--- well. Don't make the same mistake I did. Human Revolution can be as hard as it can be easy; exactly, then, as all games would be in an ideal world.

These days, player choice is a back-of-the-box bullet point every game developer likes to blow their trumpet about, but precious few games actually realise this idea, or reward such a spread of play-styles as thoroughly as Human Revolution. For instance I specced my Adam Jensen out like Mr Metal Gear Solid himself, Solid Snake, investing my currency and experience points, of which there are no shortage, into Praxis kits to upgrade my stealth augs for better radar, silent running, undetectable takedowns, and later on, an invisibility cloak that quickly became my go-to tech in tricky situations. When I had to shoot dudes, I shot them with a stun gun rather than the pistol I carried throughout, and trusty tranquilizer darts rather than an assault rifle, then dragged all the bodies off into some shadowy corner of the maps... till there were stacks of them, I tell you, stacks of them!

I tend to think, having played this way, that I saw the best of Human Revolution, and two achievements in the Xbox 360 version - for never setting off an alarm, or killing a single person - were fair impetus to do so. In the end, alas, I got neither: in part because there came a point in the endgame where a choice I'd made in the approach to it came back to bite me, and I had to kill to live - alarming several guards, needless to say - but also because I wanted to see what else this game could have been, if I'd played it another way.

And as a shooter, Human Revolution is competent enough; the action RPG has come a very long way. It's no Modern Warfare, of course, nor even a Mass Effect 2 in that regard, but its mechanics are more satisfying than say Alpha Protocol's, and a great deal improved over those you may remember from Fallout 3, to call out a couple of Human Revolution's contemporaries.

This single choice - to kill or not to kill, that is the question - has huge gameplay ramifications, as have the others you will make in the course of the meaty single-player campaign of Human Revolution... and there are myriad other decisions in the offing. Take a bribe, or dob in the doer? Plant drugs in this one guy's apartment to get him arrested, or heave him of his balcony? Risk your life to save a certain supporting character, or worry about your own well-being first?

Your particular choices do not impact the narrative of Human Revolution so much as the experience. Whether you shoot to kill or only to stun... whether you save or sacrifice... you can still hack all the computers you please to read notes and emails that expand upon the story, browse all the e-books scattered throughout the environments, and listen to henchmen chatting about the pros and cons of one dastardly plan or another. Ultimately, how the story ends - in one of four ways - is the result of a single decision you will make before the final cut-scene. Which I'll admit I found a little disappointing.

Nevertheless, Human Revolution is a vision so grand, and a game so understanding and forgiving in its design and execution that I do not find it difficult to forgive the slightness of its lastmost moments. It is still easier to overlook what is some pretty terrible voice acting, and the fact that this belated but brilliantly distinct sequel plays fast and loose with the notion of a steady frame rate -- though I understand the PC version is rather more reasonable in that respect. These are minor missteps at worst, and at its best, in its looks and its essential, surprisingly faithful feel, Deux Ex: Human Revolution is, if not a full-blown revolution in its own right, then a pliable and riotously rewarding experience which could very well lead to one.

Easily game of the year material.


  1. A great game overall, but doesn't quite reach the Witcher 2 as best game of the year so far (for me), due to the dissapointing ending scene and the even more dissapointing boss fights. If they force me to kill them, I would at least like them to be more than just regular enemies on steroids.
    Anyway, I played similar to you, went for no kill/no alarm run, with a lot of hacking augs. I'm actually a bit suprised how many people went for the Pacifist/Foxiest achivement, I was expecting most players to just take it as a regular FPS and shoot their way through the game.

  2. Been outta the gaming loop for a while, reckon this might be just the thing to drag me back in.

  3. @Ty-Real - Just when you thought you was out, they pulls you back in! :D

    @Severian - Really looking forward to my time with The Witcher 2. Alas, my PC just isn't up to snuff gaming-wise, so I'm on tenterhooks hoping the console version being developed isn't another incomprehensible PC port.

    As to Deus Ex, yeah... non-lethal is totally the way to go; makes it more of a puzzle game than a shooter, even, and I'm all about that. Except those goddamn bosses. One in particular - the penultimate fellow - was an absolute nightmare for me. Had to FAQ it, and even then, I just didn't have the equipment I needed... *sigh*

  4. Heh, I actually upgraded my PC just for the Witcher 2 and I think it was well worth it. Hope it sells well (I think they sold about 1 million copies in their first 2 months, which is pretty darn good for a PC only game and the small amount of marketing they had) and we get the next game soon. :)

    As for the third don't really need any equipment, you can just knock him out. Don't know if the devs messed up there, but it's "a bit" anti-climatic to beat a boss with a single punch in the face.

  5. Would that I could have done! Alas, I had the nice folks at the last LIMB clinic "upgrade" my biochip. Left me in a bit of pickle, that decision did... so I went back and grabbed a turret to do my dirty work for me!

  6. All levels of this game are really wonder. I have played couple of time. I am till in level 4, it is too much hard to kill all defeat men in this level.