If there were ever a game with massive shoes to fill, it’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Human Revolution is a prequel to the widely celebrated Deus Ex, released back in 2000, which popularized concepts such as genre-blending, multiple methods of completing objectives, and RPG elements and specializations.
Human Revolution has been a long time coming, and Deus Ex fans should be basking in the nostalgia as they go down a familiar road. New series players will be just as engrossed; Human Revolution is a polished, deep experience in an immersive near-future world.
Our star of this world is Adam Jensen, a security manager working for Sarif Industries. Sarif is a leading augmentation company making strides in human augmentations, which doesn’t sit well with people who believe in human ‘purity’. No sooner can Jensen voice his worries about the potential results of human augmentation than a radical terrorist group attacks Sarif Industries, leaving Jensen on the brink of death when he tries to rescue his ex-girlfriend. Jensen is saved with extensive augmentations before being called back in during a hostage crisis. This seemingly simple mission immerses Jensen in conspiracies and cover-ups as Jensen bears witness to the titular human revolution that leads into the first two games.
As a prequel Human Revolution ran the risk of appearing redundant given our foresight of how future events culminate with Deus Ex but the narrative of the game is second to none. Human Revolution waxes about the relationship between man and machine in interesting ways. Social criticism explores topics including the relationship between humanity and technology, how technology is used by people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, and fighting against the same technology one relies on for survival and functionality. The opening features a telling sequence of machines mingling with man. It saves Adam’s life, but how far is too far? When does humanity end and machinery begin?
Human Revolution comes across as a very visual game, and a lot of these questions are mostly conveyed through the world itself. It really feels like a living world; bums rummage for trash and gang members talk trash in back alleys, civilians fiddle with phones, and augmentation clinic doctors plead with the police for protection against protesters who claim they are fouling humanity. Something as simple as listening in on two civilians can give interesting insights and perspective onto how Sarif Industries has affected the world and peoples’ thoughts on augmentation’s benefits or downfalls. Character histories can be discovered through pocket secretaries, E-mail accounts, and testimonials from other characters just by looking around.
Gameplay in Human Revolution is diverse and rich. The game fully understands the spirit of Deus Ex but feels very much like its own first person RPG. The four distinct gameplay styles of combat, stealth, hacking and social are all deep and full of their own strategies, but they often mix with each other. There are always multiple ways to complete any given objective and, as the game itself notes, the easiest route isn’t necessarily the best or most effective. As early as your initial hostage situation you’re given the ability to initiate a firefight with the terrorists guarding the front entrance, carefully sneak past them, or discover a cleverly hidden rooftop entrance. Getting into a police station can mean talking your way past the desk sergeant, hacking security systems, or sneaking in through a ventilation system.
Combat will likely take some getting used to. Firefights are cover-based but combat functions very differently than most shooters. Even with augmentations Jensen is a mere mortal who can’t withstand more than several hits without dying. As infuriating as this may sound on paper it makes each battle delightfully tense. There’s a thrilling sense of strategy to taking advantage of cover when available, isolating enemies and confusing them with concussion grenades, and picking them off one by one. Even with higher end weapons like sniper rifles and shotguns, combat is very situational. Running and gunning will do nothing but put you in a body bag very quickly.
Combat is a viable option but since you can’t effortlessly blast through your enemies stealthy gameplay is also encouraged. Stealth is top notch in Human Revolution with enough cover and alternate routes that you can often sneak through entire bases or areas without a single combat encounter. On a basic level, there’s a clever mechanic that lets you press a button to hide against cover view the surrounding area from the third person. It becomes a fantastic way to carefully plan routes, watch for enemy patrols, and quietly make a break for where you need to go. You can perform takedowns that knock enemies unconscious (or outright kill them at the risk of making more noise) but you’ll need to hide the bodies lest they be discovered by other patrolmen.
Hacking is another example of the game going above and beyond pseudo-quicktime events you often see in other games. It’s a clever, dynamic mini-game in which you go from node to node inside of a computer system on a hackable terminal with the intent of accessing a central node that lets you override security. Each time you access a node you have a chance to set off a trace, which puts you on a timer to get you to a central node, but you can combat this with software pieces to slow down or temporarily stop traces. Hacking has five levels of increasing difficulty, and it’s fun enough that I enjoyed hacking even when I had a door or safe code, least of all for the experience points.
Even the social aspect is much more engaging than most speech checks found in RPGs. You frequently engage in social ‘battles’ to convince someone to get what you want. Early in the game when you confront a terrorist who has taken a Sarif manager hostage you can sympathize with him, appeal to his reason, or be threatening to try to get him to release his victim before she gets hurt. You can also get a social augmentation to see ‘persuasion levels’ to see how well your tactics working corresponding to someone’s personality. Additionally you can determine what type of personality somebody has and the best type of dialogue approach that will give you what you need.
Regardless of what you do the game rewards you for just about everything. Completing quests awards you with experience points, but taking down an enemy without being seen, discovering a ventilation shaft, and every conceivable tactic awards you with extra experience. Experience earns you points that can be spent on various augmentation skills, such as an upgrading your strength to carry more inventory items or lift heavier objects. One of my favorite techniques is an upgrade that gives you temporary invisibility. Alternatively you can put points into hacking to hack more sophisticated security systems. In a nutshell you can take whatever strategy you want and bolster it significantly with these upgrades.
If there’s a problem with the augmentation it throws in several upgrades that have almost no practical use. The damage resistance upgrade marginally upgrades your health, but it makes almost no difference when an enemy is spraying you with machinegun fire. I was able to pick and choose the upgrades that were actually good, but I wound up getting them all early enough that it’s easy to see a particular ‘cookie cutter’ system working unless you have a devout interest in specializing in one pillar.
The one downside to all of this diverse gameplay is where it comes into play during boss fights. Specifically, it doesn’t come into play. For a game where combat is tactical and gameplay itself emphasizes multiple pathways and methods to accomplish an objective, you’re forced into boss battles where, perplexingly, brute force is the only option to take down your foes. I focused comparative little on gunplay so engaging the boss for the first time forced me to run around, empty my inventory, and defeat bosses before they drained Jensen’s meager health bar. It’s the only smudge on an otherwise stellar gameplay experience.
Even outside of tactical scenarios the world of Human Revolution is immeasurably fun to explore. You’re constantly rewarded for wandering even on a smallest level, be it hacking somebody’s E-mail to learn more about their personal history or reading one of several Darrow books that give you a “Scholar” bonus of 200 experience points apiece. The moment you step into the grimy city of Detroit there’s a sniper cache to discover, side quests to involve yourself in, safes to discover and hack, and apartments to raid for credits, pocket secretaries, and painkillers. When judged by scale Detroit is fairly small, but the depth of the city allowed me to get lost in it for hours on end before I even bothered with a sizeable chunk of the main story. I found myself accessing apartment rooftops for hidden weapons and hacking into offices to see what I scrounged within.
The art direction in Human Revolution lends itself the type of functional dystopian future that echoes Blade Runner. Society lives and functions but an eerie sense of fatalism permeates the atmosphere. The slick, polished walls of Sarif Industries contrast sharply with the filthy streets of Detroit where the poor and despondent linger in alleyways while civilians go about their business discussing the coming changes due to human augmentation. Juxtaposition is a common theme in Human Revolution as dark shades of gray and black mix with sharp orange and gold hues similar to what is seen on the box art. It may be depressing but it’s also captivating, and it contributes to the stellar atmosphere.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution lives up to the lofty expectations of the Deus Ex name. Beyond that, it’s a superb game in its own right. A thoroughly engrossing narrative is made all the more entertaining by the polished gameplay and rich opportunities for exploration. There’s a lot to do in Human Revolution; as bleak as the world is, feel free to immerse yourself in it and get to hacking, sneaking, exploring, or whatever else you feel like doing.