by Tim Bacani on Aug. 30, 2011
Since the highly lauded 2000 release of Ion Storm’s Deus Ex and it’s less than comparable 2003 follow up Deus Ex: Invisible War, fans have been itching for another addition to the series. The Deus Ex series established itself by mixing the first person shooter perspective with role-playing elements while offering players multiple ways to tackle various situations. The dark and dreary future setting introduced a complex and engaging lore that revolved around the practice of artificial human enhancement. Hopes for a successor to the series were crushed after Ion Storm’s closure in 2005. It’s been a long time coming but Eidos Montreal has stepped up in the hopes of providing fans with the game they’ve been waiting for, a worthy title to carry on the Deus Ex name.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place 25 years before the events of the first Deus Ex. The nanite technology that was prevalent throughout the first game is absent here. Instead, entire limbs and organs are replaced with mechanical prosthetics or “augments” that grant superhuman abilities to their recipients. Whether or not these augments violate the natural course of human evolution remains an ever-present issue in the global economic and political sphere.
You play Adam Jensen, a former officer and the current head of security for Sarif Industries, a leading provider and innovator in the field of augmentation. An attack on the facility by unknown assailants places Adam near death and forces him to go through extensive augmentation in order to save his life. With these augments at his disposal Adam sets out to find the people responsible for the attack on Sarif. From here Human Revolution spirals into the typical sci-fi fiction tropes of scientific morality, corporate hegemony, and government conspiracy.
It’s from the very beginning that the game sets its environmental tones quite well. The main streets of Detroit are sleek and angular which contrast with the dilapidated apartment structures and claustrophobic alleys in the poorer districts of the city. The flashing neon ads, congested streets, and near-future architecture evoke the stylistic tones of fictional sci-fi cityscapes like Blade Runner’s. The game pays just about as much attention to macro detail as it does to micro. Building interiors are busy and look lived in. Laboratories bristle with mechanical equipment in sterile white angular rooms. Offices are cluttered with books, posters, and notes. Alleys are smattered with anti-augment graffiti and littered with moldy mattresses and trash.
Every area has a personality all its own and convey the character of their inhabitants. For instance the office of snarky cyber security head Francis Pritchard paints his character. His office floor is littered with wires and electronics. His chair is surrounded by computer monitors and his wall pays tribute to Square-Enix with a poster of Final Fantasy XXVIII. You wouldn’t even have to meet Pritchard and you’d know just from his office that the guy’s a computer nerd. This is just one of many examples were the attention to detail alone helped me extract information about characters without even having to meet them. It’s a feature I don’t see often enough in video games today.
In case you can’t pull enough information from the aesthetics alone, every area in Human Revolution is littered with tons of computers, pocket secretaries, and “eBooks”. These contain tons of information about the game’s universe and characters. These should satisfy anyone who enjoys diving deep into their game’s lore. Be forewarned that a lot of the game’s juiciest information is locked behind high level security or located in hidden rooms. The truly interested would do well to upgrade their hacking augments as early as possible.
The game is divided into City Hubs and mission instances. In city hubs you’re free to explore and take on sidequests for experience, money, and supplies. Like most every situation in the game, sidequests can be solved in a multitude of ways. Depending on the options you choose during these missions the conclusion and reward may differ. Unlike sidequests, story missions often take place in their own self enclosed environment. The decisions you make during these missions often have far reaching consequences. Assist someone during one of these missions and they may appear again later in the game to reward you.
These missions provide the bulk of the experience points you receive in the game. Smaller bonuses are awarded for exploration, hacking, and takedowns and for every 5000 points of experience you receive one Praxis Point. These Praxis Points are spent to acquire new augments or upgrade the ones you currently have.
The augments you choose to upgrade will govern how well you can effectively tackle certain situations. For stealthy types upgrading augments that raise your hacking proficiency can help you get through locked rooms and shut down security systems. Cloak will let you slip past lasers, cameras, and guards unnoticed. Upgrades to your radar augments will allow you to see the enemy’s cone of vision ala Metal Gear Solid. Those who want to take a more offensive approach can pour points into passive augments that provide better weapon handling. Or you can turn yourself into a walking bomb with the devastating Typhoon augment. Activate it and watch as everyone within a 360° radius gets decimated by mini-explosives. Other passive augments like ones that allow you to walk on electrified floors, jump higher, or fall from any height help to further facilitate exploration and path finding.
The real satisfaction comes from when your augment build of choice comes together to resolve a situation. This is due in part to how well every area is designed. Every area is peppered with multiple paths which cater to the player’s choice augments. Locked door in your way? Find a panel to hack and you can walk right in. Don’t feel like hacking? Find a vent or fire escape and sneak in. Don’t care about making noise? Blow the door off its hinges with a grenade or punch down an adjacent wall. Early on in the game when you have only a few points for upgrading you may find yourself relying on a single augment to get through most areas. Building myself as an early hacker I often sought out keypads and computers to make my way through most areas. As I got further into the game and my repertoire of augments grew I found that what were once obstacles became new points of entry.
Though the option to go in guns blazing is readily available to you, the game tends to favor those who take the stealthy approach. Huge experience bonuses are awarded to players who skulk through missions unnoticed. Non-lethal takedowns and weapons also net more experience points than their lethal counterparts. The unfortunate result of this is that the “loud and lethal” option can become less desirable to people looking to upgrade. Though it’s definitely the fastest way to clear out an area you’ll often find yourself coming out of missions with a couple hundred to a couple thousand fewer points than if you had taken the stealthy route. Ammo is also a commodity in short supply. Enemies carry a ridiculously tiny amount of ammunition so you’ll often only find three or four bullets in a dropped weapon, maybe less. Once again the combat heavy types may find themselves quickly devoid of ammo if they don’t place their shots carefully.
Combat, mandatory or otherwise, is also where a few of my problems with the game arise. First, the enemy AI isn’t particularly smart. When in a firefight enemies can typically take care of themselves. Most will take cover but there have been a couple times where an enemy will simply stand out in the open and strafe in small circles, resulting in a poor mimicry of what I can only assume are evasive maneuvers. Playing stealthily is when you realize how stupid and easily exploitable the AI is. Incapacitate someone while out of sight and their buddies will go check out the body. If you simply keep an eye over the body you can drop anyone who comes to investigate without much of a problem. If you’re so inclined you can clear entire rooms this way.
My second problem with the combat is that you can only take a few hit before dying. Even on the normal difficulty setting two or three shots will quickly put you near death. There are augments available to increase the amount of damage you can take, but even when those are fully upgraded you can still be quite fragile. Granted this isn’t particularly problematic when you have cover or play stealthily but these options are typically ineffective during the game’s less-than-stellar boss battles.
During these fights the boss will often circumvent your cover, forcing you to rely on hit-and-run tactics most of the time. Trying to go head-to-head with them is practically suicide unless you know how to cheese them effectively. These battles are incredibly jarring and seem so out of place when you consider the wide breadth of options you are given leading up to them. These options narrow dramatically since your opponent knows where you are at nearly all times, can kill you in just a few hits, and can soak up an incredible amount of damage. I obviously can’t say it’ll be the highlight of your experience.
Whether it be death, accidentally setting off an alarm, or any other mistake you'll often find yourself loading old saves. And that’s the biggest problem I have with the game, particularly with the console version. When uninstalled, the load times are absolutely horrendous. Whether you are reloading an old save or moving between city hubs you will find yourself staring at a load screen for an excruciating amount of time. So long in fact that I decided to run a stopwatch during some load screens. My recorded load times all took thirty seconds or longer which is terrible. I decided to install the game which cut load times down to around twenty seconds or more for most situations. Despite the improvements a twenty second wait is still pretty long. Especially if you use saves to rectify mistakes. This is something you’ll often do in Human Revolution and those twenty to thirty seconds quickly add up as more difficult areas may require more frequent save loads.
The last problem I have with the game is that the ending is quite lacking. Like the previous Deus Ex games, Human Revolution has multiple endings. Unfortunately these endings look lazily put together and leave a lot of questions unanswered. I won’t go into too much detail but I’m sure those who experience the endings will likely be left wanting something more substantial.
In the end Deus Ex: Human Revolution simply asks the player to "think outside of the box". A concept lost on the over saturated shooter market of this generation. The single-path single-option layout of most shooters today are trapped within their own box, never peeking outside to see the light, never poking out holes for fresh air. They fester inside, sprouting "new" guns to shoot and "new" corridors to shoot them in which are simple variations of a trite concept. This is why Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a true breath of fresh air. Though killing everyone is certainly an option it is not the most rewarding. Path-finding, pacifism, and stealth are combined to create something that offers much more than your average day shooter. It's thinking outside of the box. It's this type of decision making that you don't see often enough in the current market and it's a welcome change of pace.
I talk a lot about choices and options and those are concepts that define the Deus Ex series for me. It’s in that regard that I feel Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a worthy addition to the series. The few problems I have with the title are for the most part overshadowed by the sheer scope of the world, it's story, and the options it presents to you. Eidos Montreal has done an incredible job implementing what made the series fun for me and it’s my express hope that they carry forward into the future with plans for more to come.