Date: September 7, 2011
Author(s): Brett Thomas
Thanks both to its stellar go-your-own-way gameplay and immersive cyberpunk world, the original Deus Ex is regarded as one of the best PC games of all time. Following up to such a cult classic isn’t easy, but with Human Revolution, Eidos Montreal has proven that it didn’t want to disappoint DX’s hardcore fans at any cost.
So, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (aka DX:HR) has been out for a couple weeks, and undoubtedly you’ve seen reviews all over the place by now. Of course, as many fans of the series know, no Deus Ex game (even the crappy Invisible War) has been small enough to properly review anything more than its basic mechanics within a week of its launch.
That’s why here at TG, we let the others charge ahead and write their reviews early – and now we can give you the stuff they all gloss over. In many games, that stuff is all the extras and the goodies and the bonus tweaks – but in the Deus Ex franchise, those extras ARE the game.
The original DX was known as an amazingly open-ended choose-your-own-adventure style game wrapped up in a first-person interface, with different early game choices putting you on the same maps with completely different objectives later. Multiple paths crossed in ways that sounded more like a John Grisham meets Michael Crichton novel than a video game, and the “augmentation” style leveling system meant that you could never explore ALL of the paths in one playthrough.
The game’s plot wrote you in as a pawn between huge world powers, and stepped you in at the shallow end – lending a pound of truth and a bucketload of believability to the feeling of getting mixed up in something far greater. Even its endings left you wondering whether you made the right choice – and I note the plural because there are several different ones.
Deus Ex stripped away the “feel good” sense of accomplishment behind your objectives and laughed at you for your optimistic desire to save a world you didn’t even understand. I grew to love and hate the story at the same time – amazed at the intricate and believable writing but hating what I felt was a world best described as hope in freefall.
Good and bad blended together so well that you could justify almost any action – which was made harder by the fact that you could do much of what you thought about. In the end, the game has sat in my “Top 5” since it came out – never to be toppled as my #2 gameplay experience ever. I’ve replayed it several times, and each time I find a new thing or try a different approach – and am always rewarded with things I’d not seen the last time through.
Fans of the series will have a lot to look forward to, but let’s get one thing straight – DX:HR is a prequel, and it will not require any knowledge at all of the first two games. Though you do get rewarded with a lot of insights into the history of the Deus Ex universe (character ancestors, for example), playthrough of the original is a bonus and will mostly just help you feel instantly at home with the game’s mechanics.
DX:HR casts you as Adam Jensen, the head rent-a-cop for Sarif Industries – a big biotech company based out of Detroit in the near future. The company has created a tremendous scientific breakthrough called augmentation, which involves the fusing of digital circuits and mechanical “muscles” to a person in order to restore limb function.
At the story’s opening, the technology is still somewhat new – but by the time you really get into the world, the company has grown tremendously and augmentations are a hot item – and a cause for debate. Some say that it’s uncapping our evolutionary power, while others argue that it’s ruining everything that it means to be human. There’s merits to both sides of the debate, and it doesn’t take more than a single mission to understand that there’s a downside to “augs” – a need for lifelong treatments by a drug called Neuropozene, which prevents painful (if not fatal) body rejection but is addicting in its own right.
Your own augmentations are forced on you by your employer in a lifesaving operation shortly after the start of the game. Sure, they give you some great abilities – but it brings a bit of personality to the “augs or no augs?” debate that you hear all around the world. After all, you weren’t given a choice in your augmentation – and being augmented gives rise to some prejudices that must be overcome (by persuasiveness or force) by key figures in the game.
It doesn’t help that your augs are a “gift” from your employer that can keep you on a short leash – betray him, and the world just became much more dangerous for you. Throughout early wanderings in the Sarif headquarters, you’ll stumble on bits of correspondence that let you know they have you just where they want you. It’s a chilling feeling, and adds to the “pawn”-like feeling of the original.
The rest of the story involves considerable spoilers, as even the introductory mission sets the tone for a variety of sidequests later in the game. If you’re a proper fan of the series, you’ve probably not even watched many of the videos before firing up the game, and if not… well, there are enough rehashes of the story specifics that I don’t need to include another one here.
Outside of the narrative, the story transpires in “chapters” that you’ll only be able to identify in the loading screens. When not on a loading screen, you move from chapter to chapter seamlessly, and you instead feel constrained only to the city you’re in, which the game calls “hubs”. Each city is filled with people, places, sidequests and also some little extras that don’t really do anything except make it feel a lot more alive. The game will reward you for finding these little out-of-the-way spots, which is a neat (if a little immersion-breaking) way of thanking you for taking the time to look around your environments – whether it be a few credits (the game’s currency), a couple rounds of ammo, or just a bit of experience.
City streets have people on them, most of which have something to say, are individually voiced and well-rendered. Alleys have punks and bums, streets have police and citizens, and the world feels alive. There were even points where trash blew up (realistically) from the ground in alleys. All of these things contribute greatly to the feeling that you’re not just in a “filler” space, but in a real place. Even the exits are blocked believably – a car accident fills a Detroit tunnel, complete with a few people yelling at each other and a police officer trying to resolve the dispute. Trains carry you from area to area in a Chinese metropolis, letting you feel like areas that DO get broken up are done so well as to feel believable.
One of the greatest things about the Deus Ex franchise has been the very many ways that you can complete any and every mission in the game. There are options for stealth, for heavy artillery and for good ol’ run-and-gun techniques.
Whichever you chose, you’d better have a plan to clean up your mess (or make more), as enemies who found tranquilized or killed partners, blown out doors, etc. will always alert the whole place. Though Deus Ex: Invisible War constrained the game world compared to the original (ridiculously so, in fact), even it provided some simple requirements for disposing of bodies and slinking about unseen.
DX:HR functions in much the same way, though its scope is very much more like the original. Missions almost always have both a violent and non-violent resolution, and every side mission can be refused. Many of these side missions crop up amid your normal business, but some of them are quite out of the way and are discovered only by going places that you had no business wandering into to begin with.
Main mission paths provide numerous (and I use that term specifically) methods to get to your objectives – even the very first mission provides ductwork to crawl through and areas to slink around that can get you most of the way without even seeing an enemy. The trouble is, you have to find them – which is a risky strategy on its own and often involves exposing yourself without being prepared to fight back.
Weapons in DX:HR allow you an immense amount of personal choice – from the Doom lover’s double-barreled shotgun to my personal favorite, the silenced 10mm pistol. Further to the extremes are rocket launchers, rail guns, crossbows, sniper rifles, and a host of other amazingly potent items, all of which can be enhanced with bonus weapon upgrades that you can find lying about… making no two guns the exact same.
Along with the wonderful choice of lethal armaments comes a host of non-lethals as well, including a tranquilizer rifle with a scope for distance and a stun-gun for those up-close-and-personal moments. Knocked out enemies will not come back during a mission (if they’re not found by comrades who wake them up, at least), making them just as effective as kills – without the moral issues.
If you don’t fancy using your weapons (or are out of ammo for the weapon of choice), there’s the option of getting down and dirty with your hands at a cost of one cell of energy – which is a much more limited resource in some ways than ammo (we’ll cover energy in just a minute).
Takedowns can also be either lethal or non-lethal – sneak up behind someone and do a quick tap to knock them unconscious (in a pretty awesome looking scene), or hold the same button to drop a razor blade from your sleeve a la Wolverine and put them down permanently. Either way involves a little finesse, as you need to sneak behind the intended victim to perform the maneuver, but it makes a great option at times and a nice change of pace. It also lets you switch it up between being nice and being mean on-the-fly, no matter what your weapons loadout.
Weapons (and ammo that isn’t in the clip) take up inventory, which is quite limited in space. Inventory can be upgraded in the augmentation process (more on this shortly), but management will very quickly become key to your gameplay. Fortunately, DX:HR does something no other game in the series did – it provides an auto-manager that rearranges inventory for you to find the absolute best use of space at any point. You can choose to disable this feature, though frankly I can’t imagine for the life of me why you would do such a thing.
Suffice it to say that a couple extra augmentation points on inventory are well-spent unless you like playing bare-minimum on the weapons loadout. By the time I was done with my first mission, I was already running out of space. Along with the weapons and ammo will come a host of small items – grenades, nutrients, etc. Each of these will take up precious space in your pack, so finding the most efficient arrangement is important.
Along with your arsenal, you also pack your augmentations. Augs get upgraded through “Praxis points”, which can be purchased/found in Praxis kits or earned through experience over time. The experience point concept is nicely woven into the story (though, oddly, not until you’ve already earned a bit), describing how you can’t simply “turn on” so many enhancements at once without putting the body further in shock. I wish it came up earlier in the story, as I’d not found out about this “logic” until well past the point where it felt like a random ‘meter’ gauge… but it is there.
The augmentations that you have available to you are tremendously varied – far more than in DX:IW and even a little more than in the original game. There are stealthy ones (move silently, see enemies from farther away or through walls, even fade from sight for a short time), technology ones (hacking terminals, taking control of gun turrets and robots), movement ones (jump higher, fall safely from heights, sprint longer) and management ones (inventory increase, more energy cells, and faster recharge). Probably my favorite of all of the augs, though, is the personal influence augmentation – it has given me a lot of variety in how I’ve solved missions, as well as many insights into key characters.
Many augmentations, along with your bare-handed “take-down” methods, are powered by energy cells. You start off with two, and any energy cell that is not completely depleted will recharge over time. One energy cell will always recharge, whether fully depleted or not – leaving you at least one energy to be able to handle take-downs and short uses of other powers in mission-critical times. Otherwise, you’ll be refueling yourself with nutrients from the surroundings, mostly from energy bars (think of a protein bar or a meal replacement bar). Energy management is a vital part of using certain augmentations like cloaking or moving silently, and is further complicated by the take-down methods consuming a whole cell at once.
I know it sounds like I’m really hammering home these take-down methods, but honestly I’ve used them a LOT in the game. Ammo is very sparse for my true weapon of choice, the tranquilizer gun – and I don’t want to waste inventory space for a stun-gun and ammo when I have a built-in method. I play a no-kill approach most of the time, so I’ve enjoyed having this option at my disposal regularly. It also adds a LOT of “basic” depth – you’re playing a massively augmented ex-cop – if you couldn’t take someone down with your hands, it would just feel… shallow.
Hacking in the original Deus Ex was essentially a “yes or no” process – either you had the skills, or you didn’t. If you tried to hack something too difficult, you could end up setting off the same alarms you were trying to deactivate. In DX:HR, hacking takes on a new twist – that of a mini-game that is well worth your time to learn and master.
Since we’re in the future, of course all doors are passcoded instead of having key locks. This means nearly every door can be hacked, along with most computers and all security stations and alarms.
Successful hacking not only nets you access to more information and more places (to find more things), but it also increases your experience by a minimum of 25 per hack (usually 50 or 75 – base XP is 25 x Security Level), and offers bonuses in the form of even more XP, money, or “software” items that make future hacking easier if you are particularly good.
All of the bonuses turn hacking one of the most useful augs in the game, and likely one of the first to get upgraded to a high capacity. In fact, it’s easy in the first level or two to earn a whole Praxis point on nothing but hacking – making it a mod that pays for itself.
Hacking can do a lot more than just get you into places, though – it can allow the turning on and off of security cameras, remote turrets, and robots in the area. If you’re particularly nasty, these last two can even be dominated – turning it onto your side and killing any enemy foolish enough to be in sight. Turret and Robot domination are each one more Praxis point – but if your style is sneaky with a bit of twisted justice, they’re two more points well-spent. After all, nice people wouldn’t put giant automated turrets and hulking, murderous robots in the way!
DX:HR brings something new to the table that was not really found in previous versions of the game – old-fashioned, authentic boss battles. PAINFUL old-fashioned, authentic boss battles.
I’ll confess – I’m not a fan of these. Even though I’m incredibly impressed with how beautifully they weave them into the story (and they do a GREAT job of that), the boss battles take something away from the game to me while adding something totally different. Don’t get me wrong – what they bring to the table includes a tremendous feeling of satisfaction when you bring down a huge enemy, who was tightly tied to the story.
This feeling of satisfaction is sadly mixed with a feeling of being a little jilted at being forced into the predicament, however. Even though boss battles don’t count as kills for those of us who play for “no kills” on Steam’s achievements, it takes a bit away from the game (in my opinion) to be forced to participate in a battle that is essentially you vs. something altogether huge. When your augmentations are based around covert ops, for example, they just feel tremendously unfair.
That being said, the game does a LOT to even the score in the form of carefully constructed environments. I have found everything I needed to win the battles present in the room (Thanks, Rob!). The environment variable is wonderful and if the battles didn’t start off so immediately in-the-line-of-fire, I’d have time to calculate a great battle plan.
These additions make the game feel more “open”, though I don’t feel like they contribute as much as the battles themselves can take away. As the boys over at Penny Arcade noted last week, “We arrived at the point we discussed in panel one only to learn that there was an entirely other game included with our purchase, a mid-range shooter, and we had to learn and play this game in order to resume playing the other one we liked so much.”
It’s amazing that this “second game” exists so tightly within the universe that DX:HR puts forth, enough so that fans of the whole FPS genre will likely embrace this change as a wonderful move for the franchise. I wish that I could feel similarly, and perhaps with some slightly different options for the battles, I could come away with that same enjoyment. With such a well-written story, the boss battles DO give a sense of scale and of satisfaction at the true completion of an objective… but the real world doesn’t have “bosses”, and their existence still detracts from the overall realism.
I had to take a minute to put in some words about the game’s bonus (downloadeable) content, the Explosive Pack and the Tactical Pack. I got the opportunity to try both out, and I have to say that both add some wonderful extra content to the game. However, since most of you only get the opportunity for one or the other, I figured I’d save you a little headache on deciding which one.
Of the two options, the Explosive Pack is by far the better choice. It gives you the remote detonated explosive and the Automatic Unlocking Device (AUD) – which is nearly a game-breaker in usefulness, getting you in and out of places that you shouldn’t have the ability to go to just yet (unless you spent every Praxis point on hacking). It also gives you a bonus mission, which grants you the Grenade Launcher at the end of it – which may or may not be to your tastes.
The Tactical pack is a nice addition, but it hardly feels worth it comparatively. It gives you some choice weapons that you can’t really get elsewhere in the game – a Doom-like double-barrel shotgun which takes up very little inventory space and a silenced sniper rifle that you cannot build in-game (as the sniper rifle does not accept a silencer). It also gives you a bonus 10,000 credits (currency), which purchases your first couple Praxis kits.
It will be nice when the game offers both packages for North American gamers, but for now it seems to be that you have no option but to choose one or the other. Given that, I’d stick with the Explosive pack and pick up the Tactical pack when it became available. Credits are freely available and though 10k of them is an instant two upgrades, the upgrades are still obtainable by normal means and the guns aren’t quite special enough to really demand your attention. However, a mission generates XP and the AUDs open up whole game areas if you don’t devote yourself to hacking, making a much more interesting play-through.
Though it feels like I’m barely scratching the surface of the game (and believe me, I am), writing much more would simply require explaining more that the game’s incredible story should be telling you. True to the original, it’s well-written and its methods for imposing limitations on where you go in such huge areas feel natural.
Even more true to the original, you simply can’t get everywhere in one playthrough – there are areas that require one type of augmentation, when you’ll likely have invested in another. All you can do is make a mental note to revisit them with a different loadout, and move on.
When even the experience point system doesn’t feel like a tacked-on mechanic, you can tell there has been a lot of thought put into the story. No, it’s not as perfect as the original, which had no experience whatsoever – solely augmentation kits, forcing you to “level up” without even knowing that’s what you were doing.
But the system allows you the recognition and reward for going places not expected, or doing things in ways the game didn’t expect many to take (things like the “Silver Tongue” and “Ghost” bonuses come to mind, which reward you for getting out of tricky situations without fights or alarms) – which is nice, because ammo and other toys aren’t all that useful in a game that consumes precious inventory space with bullet boxes and only lets you sensibly carry a couple types of weapons at once.
The boss battles detract a bit from the experience, but even they are so intricately woven into the story that they feel “good” even if they feel out of place. The whole system feels tightly knitted into a beautiful narrative that, though it doesn’t cover the same “scope” as the original, covers what it does beautifully and with detail. Corporate intrigue, political backstabbing, and even the ethics of what it means to be human are brought in without feeling fake or forced. You never feel like you’re “trying to save the world” – and for what you accomplish, that’s amazing.
This is the only time in the review I’ll even bother to mention the graphics, by the way, and that’s simply because they don’t really require more than screenshots. Any words I say in this review will not give justice to the beauty of the game’s environments – and that’s not any unearned praise. Light bloom, smoke, fire, lens flares – it’s a hodgepodge of effects, all used well. Play it on a mid-range system or better, and remember to pick up your tongue – there’s not a lot that looks THIS good.
All in all, it’s hard to not practically squeal with glee that this game turned out to be as good as it is. After Deus Ex: Invisible War, fans of the series were tremendously let down – both by the crappy graphics that were made for the original Xbox, and by the poorly written story and gameplay. It felt like a traitor to the franchise, and many of us hoped there would not be another game to spit on the legacy of the original Deus Ex. To say that the team at Eidos Montreal redeemed Warren Spector’s magnum opus is an understatement.
Whether you’re a fan of the series or a fan of games in general, you couldn’t do yourself much more of a favor than to pick this game up and play it for all it’s worth. There aren’t a lot of single-player releases that come out like this (Bioshock is about all, in recent history) – lean, mean, story-driven games that grab hold of you and don’t let go. And with all of the replay value involved, it’s simply some of the best money you’ll spend on video games.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
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