Geek Game Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 05:47 Written by LoganDX Wednesday, 14 September 2011 05:00
Prequels, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. They can either add a new element, dimension or point of view. That or they’re The Phantom Menace. I felt some trepidation and excitement when the next Dues Ex game was announced as a prequel to the critically acclaimed series. On one hand we would get to see the events that led to the original Deus Ex, the people who influenced the dystopian future of the franchise. On the other hand, it could be The Phantom Menace.
Set 25 years before the original game, Human Revolution follows the story of Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT member and current security top dog for Sarif Industries. Sarif, founded by David Sarif, is on the fore front of the augmentation industry. Augmentations are the mechanical precursors the earlier games’ nanotech augmentations, technology that allows humans to do spectacular things. As with all life changing scientific breakthroughs, society is divided on the use and regulation of augmentations. The world is at a tipping point, a time where everything can change in a heartbeat.
The game opens up with the player stepping into Jensen’s virtual shoes, as Sarif Industries comes under attack by a mysterious force. The ensuing battle claims the lives of many employees but also the lives of a team of researchers on the verge of a breakthrough of epic proportions. Amongst them is Jensen’s ex-beau, Dr. Megan Reed. Jensen is nearly a fatality as well but thanks to the marvels of modern (future) science, he is saved. Jensen may be alive but he is not normal. Sarif rebuilt Jensen with state of the art tech, turning him into a one man wrecking machine. After six months of rehab, Jensen is pulled back to duty to combat a terrorist attack on a Sarif facility. Without spoiling any more of the excellent story, this battle kick starts Jensen’s quest for the truth behind the attack that stole Dr. Reed from his life and a larger world reaching conspiracy.
The writing is top-notch throughout the game. The main story kept me guessing until very close to the end and I like that. Questioning everything I saw kept me pushing forward, had me on my toes. Every revelation added a new twisted layer to the plot, turning it into a living, breathing organism. The overall story arc was more than the sum of its parts, crafting one of the strongest narratives in a game so far. Soon enough, you won’t know who to trust in the conspiracy filled labyrinth. Once you head down this rabbit hole, hold on tight until the end. It’s going to be a roller coaster ride.
The peripheral world around Jensen is filled with diversions, little bits of a world alive. Newspapers are scattered around, adding a new depth to the events as I lived them. Computers ripe for hacking held interesting tidbits of the everyday lives of the people populating the world. Some of the folks had their own worries secondary to the strife reported on the nightly news. Some people were in danger of losing their jobs, some got caught up in circumstances beyond their control and one hapless fellow found himself the butt of many, many juvenile pranks perpetrated by his co-workers.
Delving into the action, gamers will find what the developers called “the pillars of gameplay”. Broken down into the four elements of Stealth, Combat, Hacking and Social, players will not be crammed into any one section. Players can sneak around, staying hidden from enemies and hack computers or keypads. They can scrounge through drawers and lockers looking for pocket secretaries, electronic devices that can hold passwords or passcodes to help bypass security protocols. Gamers can also slip by to find better cover and then unleash buckets of bullets into the unsuspecting foes. The most wicked sense of justice came at the end of a Jensen delivered takedown. As long as he has a battery full of energy, he can viciously beat an enemy into submission, or if he prefers, slaughter them like cows for a steakhouse. Combat however is a bit of a different affair as direct combat will end with Jensen on his back, dead. Players will need to use cover efficiently to survive fights. The enemy will toss grenades and try to flank Jensen to end the battle quickly. Just because you can fight, doesn’t mean you should. Using the surroundings to an advantage is key to sneak by as well. Jensen can fluidly snap to most set pieces and remain hidden from prying eyes. He can move effortlessly against walls, crates, sofas and slink around the corners while in cover. He can even flip to another object with the press of a button. The cover system worked marvelously, heightening the sense of ninja like infiltrations.
Gamers looking to avoid the sea of gun-toting baddies have plenty of options in that department. Jensen’s new body allows him to fit into places only inhabited by midgets and rats. Almost every encounter has a handy vent opening, breakable wall or hidden pathway nearby. Inquisitive explorers can find plenty of avoidance options by moving boxes, printers, vending machines and the like. In this aspect, Eidos Montreal crafted a unique adventure. I often spent my game time sneaking through these out-of-the-way paths snickering at the clueless evildoers jabbering away at each other as I slipped past their perimeter. The game even rewards those that take the extended path, awarding some nuggets of XP. XP that will build up towards that next handy upgrade.
Players can upgrade their virtual doppelgänger with new and better augmentations. They run the gamut from damage resistance to cloaking to strength enhancement to hacking upgrades. By giving gamers the varying choices, they can craft an experience that closely resembles their play style. Prefer to sneak around and hack in silence? Upgrade your sneaky sneaky augs like silent running, vision that allows Jensen to see through walls and strength to bust down weak walls. Prefer to provoke the hornet’s nest and spray bullets everywhere? Upgrade to the dermal skin, increase inventory space and reduce gun recoil. Players can mix it up to run like I did, a combo of brains and brawn. Not content with altering your body, the game allows you to purchase and/or find upgrades to your weapons. Upgrades can add a sound suppressor, a laser sight, ammo capacity or even tracking bullets. By the end of the game I had turned my sniper rifle into a grunt killing whisper and my pistol could penetrate the heaviest of armor!
The social pillar puts Jensen into situations where he may want to finesse his way through a situation. At times, the game will allow him to trade verbal jabs with less than friendly characters. He must try to judge the best way to steer the conversation towards his objective without turning them hostile. A cranial augment is available to make the job much easier, allowing Jensen to disperse pheromones to charm people and to assess the proper responses based on their personality type. Other times, Jensen might use his social skills to take on a new side mission or finesse an NPC. While not as in depth as Mass Effect 2′s dialog, it gives a greater sense of interaction then past games.
My biggest gameplay gripe comes in the form of the bosses. You heard me right, bosses! My first play through was a more stealthy style with a dash of violence when the need rises. More of my upgrades leaned towards the stealth line and that made the first boss fights very difficult. If there was any big flaw I could find in the game itself was for all the talk about playing it my way, I still needed a healthy investment in assault and defense augments. A true stealthy ninja will get decimated plenty of times in the boss fights before finding a way to topple the giants. That’s not to say it can’t be done but it will frustrate those looking for the stealthy route.
Last stop on the review train is the graphics. Detroit of 2027 might be on the brink of calamity but it’s never felt so alive.The city is populated with wandering NPCs rummaging through trash, complaining about work or the news, sitting down reading a newspaper or e-book. The details sell the world around Jensen as navigates the Blade Runner-ish landscape. Things begin to look more dire as he travels to Hengsha, an island off of China. The lower part of the island is a true mess, very much a slum of the future. Here the citizens look more downtrodden and despair filled than their Detroit counterparts.
The cutscenes are where it’s at though. The power of those highly rendered scenes stole quite a few gasps from me. Watching them was akin to watching a big budget animated action film. Switching from Jensen’s point of view to a standard moviegoers’ view set not only the tone but also gave a fresh perspective on what was going down. Spaced just right, the cutscenes were a graphic treat to Jensen’s dogged sleuthing and generally trying to stay alive.
The visuals in the game are ripe with little details. Pizza boxes litter apartments, beer bottles and trash litter the city streets. One later level had me pausing to just look out a window at the beautiful environment. Sure, the insides of some of the buildings started to look the same after a while but the rest on the set kept my attention long after I should have proceeded to the next point on the map. I spent a considerable amount of time breaking into apartments and offices just to see what people had lying around. That and to steal as much of their worldly belongings as possible!
What can you, the geeky reader, take from my ramblings? Well firstly, Eidos Montreal has put together a fitting and completely welcome addition to the Deus Ex universe. Secondly, while the boss fights might be frustrating, the game itself is a satisfying action-RPG bound to keep the most jaded of gamers playing through. Lastly, it’s no Phantom Menace!
I want to thank Square Enix for sending me a copy of the game for the Xbox 360. Stay tuned for the inevitable DLC!