Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Review

Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Eidos
Publisher: Square Enix
Singleplayer: Yes
Splitscreen: No
Multiplayer: No

(I’d like to thank Square Enix for providing this title free of charge for review)

Before I get into this review and start going on about how good Deus Ex: Human Revolution is, I want you to do me a favour and answer this question; imagine that you’re in 2027 and augmentation technology is real, that you can replace your limbs and organs with mechanical ones that can boost speed, strength, reflexes and more. Would you do it? Would you replace your limbs with cold, hard metal?

The game is set in the year 2027, and humans have been busy playing around with augmentation technology like kids with a new toy, a technology that allows them to replace perfectly health human limbs with mechanical ones, providing enhance abilities to whoever undergoes the operation. The catch is having to take a drug for the rest of your life that stops your body rejecting the cold metal that now reside within you, and that drug isn’t cheap. But augmentation technology has caused a cultural divide in the human population between those who believe that taking control of evolution is the next step in human developement, and those who believe it’s something best left alone. I find myself wondering how many gamers will play through the entire of this game without ever realising that the story is heavily based in our own world. We’re already developing this technology, and progress is rapid. Give it sixteen years and the future that Dues Ex is painting may not be far from the truth.

But let’s get away from the moral and ethical implications and get on with this review. Since Human Revolution is such a story-driven game, I’ll be quick on story details; You’ll be playing as one Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT and contender for Gruffest Voice Ever, who’s now working security at Sarif Industries, a leading researcher and developer of augmentation tech. An unknown group attack Sarif and leave Jensen on death’s door, and to save his ass Sarif Industries uses the latest military tech they have available and practically rebuild him from the ground up. After that, it’s up to Jensen to find out what the Hell is going on, and why.

However, Jensen doesn’t really make the most interesting of lead characters. His gruff, monotone voice never seems to change pitch, no matter what’s going on around him, and his personality seems to be almost non-existent. There were even a few moments during the story when I found him to be a bit of an idiot. Simply put, I never feel connected to him nor found myself caring what happened to him. This problem didn’t just apply to Adam, either. Most of the characters that Deus Ex threw at me were instantly forgettable and uninteresting, a problem driven home by some rather bland writing when it came to character interactions.

But while forced cybernetic raping may be a source of emotional turmoil for Jensen, it’s a great for us gamers as it provides an RPG styled levelling system, but with some utterly kick-ass toys to play with.  To upgrade your abilities and become Data from Star Trek, you’re going to need Praxis Points which can be earned via XP, bought or discovered. These points can then be used to upgrading your existing augmentations to make them even more lethal, or you can use them to activate brand new augmentations should you feel like playing with some new toys . And what a selection of toys and tricks you have to pick from; simple upgrades include improved armour and reduced weapon recoil, but cooler stuff includes cloaking technology, the ability to punch through walls, X-ray vision,  and the Icarus Landing system which lets you float down from great heights. And if you’re going for an assault build, the Typhoon system lets you unleash death in a 360 degree radius. The game  helpfully informs early on  that you should really choose how you plan on playing the game from the beginning, because you won’t be able to purchase every augmented in the game. Yes, that’s right, there are multiple ways of play Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Each augmentation lends itself to one or two styles of play, so choosing whether you’re a person who loves to shoot shit up, act like a ninja, hack everything in sight or a combination of all of the above, is vital in the early stages of th game. Hell, Jensen even has some kick-ass blades embedded into his arm, just in case you fancy getting up close and personal with some fools who got in your way.

Don’t get fooled by the first-person view and gun that’s floating around on the screen, because playing Deus Ex like a standard FPS is just one of the options available to you. But don’t fret if you are a shooter fan, because HR is pretty solid in that regard. Should you wish to give combat a slightly more tactical edge, a cover system is also fully present in the game allowing you to duck behind a box, pop out and pop some heads. It’s not a revolutionary cover system that’s going to have Gears of War trembling in its oversized boots, but it works well enough. Like your various cybernetic enhancements, weapons can also be upgraded to make them even more deadly, which is great as the selection on offer doesn’t boost a massive amount of variety, instead simply covering the basics of pistol, sniper rifle, combat rifle etc. Upgrades include things like silencers, laser sights and more to help ensure you’ve got a weapon that suits your every need. Despite choosing a stealthy build for my play through, I had a heavily modified combat rifle that could lay down some serious firepower should I ever feel like blasting things into little pieces.

If you’re someone who likes to think they’re the worlds sneakiest ninja, then going all stealthy might be the option for you. Again, like shooting everything up, there’s plenty of room in Deus Ex to use your chosen play style. Levels are carefully designed to allow stealth players to patiently sneak through each area, or around it should you be smart enough to look for alternate routes. In fact, it’s possible to play through the entire game without ever being seen or engaging an enemy, boss fights excepted. And if there is a guard in the way that you feel simply can’t be avoided, you have a range of non-lethal options available to put him down with. In fact, there’s even an achievement for never killing anyone in the game.

Hacking also plays an important part in Deus Ex. So important, in fact, that it gets its very own mini-game. Despite Eidos doing a fair job of managing to keep every style of play balanced, hacking feels as though it really is a required skill in the game. It is possible to get through without using it, but many of the alternate routes and background information on the game is hidden away behind doors and computers that need to be hacked. Still, it’s a worthwhile skill as those who invest some hard-earned points will be able to turn security systems against any unlucky patrolling guards. The mini-game that presents itself anytime you want to get all flashy and hack a door is a surprisingly complex one, and one that will surely divide gamers on whether it’s just frustrating and boring, or fun and interesting. Should you decide that someones personal Emails to their mum are worth hacking into, the game presents you a strategy mini-game that see’s you trying to capture nodes to form a path to the objective, all the while racing against the computer as it tries to stop you. Different nodes have different levels attached to them with higher levels slowing you down, but should you capture them they’ll slow the computer down. Viruses and other elements are also vital to the hacking mini-game, and it’s even possible to get some nice rewards by veering off the beaten path and trying to access another part of the system, but it takes valuable time to do so. All in all I was actually quite impressed by this take on hacking, but by the end of the game I was beginning to grow tired of it.

The final aspect is the social side of things, taking the form of a dialogue system instantly familiar to anyone who has undertaken the space venturing journeys of one Mr Sheppard and his crew of galactic misfits. In fact, the social side of things provided me with some of the most memorable parts of the game, such as talking down a hostage situation and talking my way into a police station. Unlike most games, the conversations here, despite some iffy writing, actually brand out and feel like they have true consequences to the gameplay. An example being the hostage situation, where, had I failed, he would have kept the hostage and left the room, but since I succeeded I managed to save the hostage and let the man go, who later returned the favour by helping me out with a mission. I even replayed the scene a few times, choosing different conversation options and was rewarding with different dialogue, giving the whole thing a very different feeling. Sometimes these social encounters didn’t have the impact I had hoped they might, but other times they did and I was pleasantly surprised by how they would come back later in the game. There’s even a handy augmentation available that will display a characters personality traits and allow you to use pheromones to try to persuade them to see things your way, though this isn’t used as often as it could have been.

Eidos have done a stellar job of managing to balance everything out and ensuring that no style of gameplay is pushed more than another, but ultimately I’d have to say that the augmentations on hand and amount of alternate ventilation routes and level layouts did encourage me to take a stealthier approach rather than a brutal frontal assault. I even talked to a few other gamers and they never met a single one that actually played in a completely shooter style, instead favouring hacking and stealth. Maybe they were just bored of shooting things.

Still, the level designs have had a great amount of though put into them to ensure that freedom remains paramount. I could get a bit picky here and question why there is some many ventilation shafts that lead no where in all of these high security buildings, or why they can be opened from the inside, but I won’t. While you can simply charge down the obvious paths like an enraged bull with cybernetically enhanced temper, you can also lift vending machines (assuming you’ve upgraded your strength) out of the way to access the aforementioned ventilation systems, hack through doors to sneak around the back, use your upgrade jumping skills to climb up onto roofs and so much more. I often found myself replaying a level just to see what other ways there were of tackling it, such as punching my way through a wall to reveal a handy ladder.

But it’s the boss fights in Deus Ex that are arguably the weakest aspect of the game. Thankfully there are only four of these fights during the game, but they make up for this by jarring you out of your immersion into the world by taking away your choice and forcing you into straight-up gun-fights where you’re stealth, hacking and silver-tongued social skills are utterly useless. If that wasn’t enough you don’t even get to choose whether they live or die, instead being forced to end their miserable lives. This all could have been acceptable if the fights themselves were actually any fun, but they really aren’t. To top it all off, three out of the four fights glitched on me resulting in easy wins for me. In a game that seems to pride itself on freedom of choice, these sudden moments where it all gets taken away feel utterly out of place. Perhaps it’s meant to be a metaphor for how, sometimes, we simply don’t have a choice in life, but if if you wanted experience that you could just look at your daily life.

In between story progressing missions you’ll get some time to relax and explore the games different hub-cities, free-roaming area’s where you can walk around, buy some new gear, get some Praxis points and pick up some nifty side-missions. These are picked up by simply talking to the right people as you aimlessly wander around the city, and while Deus Ex is hardly packed with these little detours, there’s still enough of them to keep you busy for a little while. These missions are almost always enjoyable affairs and often have little bits of information that tie in with the main story, so it’d worth checking them out of you want to understand the whole picture. They’re a pretty varied bunch as well, offering a nice selection of objectives to undertake and even more excused for you to pretend you’re Robocop or something.

Plenty of effort has gone into trying to make these hub cities look and feel real, but there’s also just something that feels fundamentally wrong about them. I can’t put my finger on it, but each and every city had something that didn’t quite feel right that shattered the illusion of a living, breathing world. It didn’t help that there were entire apartment blocks that seemingly only had one actual apartment. That’s some weird architecture.

Deus Ex’s biggest flaws come in the technical aspects of the game. Simply put, the tech running the game isn’t going to be competition with the big boys anytime soon. Look around the world and you quickly notice that it just doesn’t look that great. But the area in which it disappoints most is the facial animations which are incredibly stiff, giving the impression that you’re actually talking to a wooden puppet in heavy disguise. Some of the technical problems are hidden amongst the unique art-style that Deux Ex uses; everything is either black, grey or has a golden hue. It’s definitely unique, but never manages to hide the fact that the world often isn’t that interesting to look at; there’s only so many grey warehouses and white science labs that a player can handle before beginning to blank it all out, luckily you’ll be too busy playing with your augmentations to care. The final technical let-down comes in the form of long loading times that don’t even seem to be improved by installing the game.

So, here I am at the end of one of the harder reviews I’ve had to write. Part of me is demanding that I score this game a full 10/10 because I’ve enjoyed almost every minute of my time with it, but there’s just a myriad of small bugs and minor things that stop Deus Ex: Human Revolution being truly stunning. Flaws like some iffy writing and voice acting, little details in the world that don’t make sense and some irritating boss fights (at least there’s only four of them) all stop this game from scoring ten. But it’s still an amazing game, and one whose story appeals to be because it’s both a wonderful work of science fiction and a story grounded in our own world. And then, to top it all of, it allows me  a massive degree of freedom in how I want to play the game. Simply put, you dare call yourself a gamer, you should own Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

The Good:
+ Freedom!
+ Great story!
+ Augmentations make for a fine levelling system.

The Bad:
– Dammit Jensen, change your tone!
– Boss fights.
– Not enough opportunities to silver tongue your way through problems. By talking, not the other thing.

The Scores:

Graphics: 7
Deus Ex doesn’t look that great. Stiff facial animations, a lack of detail in general and other problems aren’t quite covered up by the golden hue that surrounds almost everything.

Sound: 8
The voice acting is a bit of a mixed bag, but for the most part it’s well done and the music suits the gameplay well.

Story: 9
Despite some writings problem and generally unimpressive characters, this tale of conspiracy, morality, human nature and links to our own world kept me hooked from start to finish.

Gameplay: 9
Stealth, shooting, hacking and chatting are all at your disposal. Few games give us the the freedom to play them how we want, and Deus Ex is one of those few.

Lifespan: 9
Should you wish to complete everything and really get into the world you’re looking at a 30-hour completion time. But the choice in how to approach the game and different routes demand a second play through as well.

Overall: 9
Summary: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the pefect example of a game that is more than the sum of its parts; take each gameplay aspect seperately, and they don’t manage to match up to the games that focus on those elements, but take these elements as one big package, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution belongs on your gaming shelf.

Categories: Reviews

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10 replies »

  1. Story = 9? Really?

    I found the characters uninvolving, and that’s a big mark against the story right there. Jensen remains an empty frame from start to finish, the end boss battle is confused and borderline misogynistic and then there’s the 3 button ending. Story = 9? Really?

    There’s one thing game designers rarely seem to understand (although Bioware seem to have an inkling) and that is that the hero has to change through his journey. That doesn’t mean getting a bigger gun or more outlandish armor or hopped up combat abilities. Having finished Deus Ex, I didn’t get a sense that Jensen had changed much even after all he’d been through. This is partly why the ending irked me so much and didn’t feel like proper closure.

    (Interestingly, In DX1 the rather lengthy philosophical discussions, although tedious, actually gave a better sense of the main character changing his internal point of view and growing as a result).

    Also (and this is problem common with video games), the hero has to be proactive. In this game I never felt that Jensen was much more than a corporate lackey. He could beat up or kill people but there was only a couple of moments when it felt like he could really go off-script (and they were thrilling moments). But the game effectively punished you for doing so by obviously closing off quests. Jensen, for all his power, is lead by the nose throughout the game until the final ending when suddenly he can make this massively important choice – and so it feels tacked on and false.

    I’m sorry – but all those reviewers giving this game a 9 or 10/10 are doing gaming a disservice and encouraging more of this sort of flawed story telling. Don’t just look at the graphics and gameplay mechanics – look at what the game is saying and seriously critique the way it tells its story and knock serious review points off if it fails.

    • You have to remember, though, that this is my opinion of the story. it’s going to differ from yours. I never connected with the characters, but it was the world and how it was linked with our own that drew me into the game and kept me playing.

      It didn’t appeal to you, but it appealed to me.

      • Baden

        I appreciate there’ll always be differences of opinion about things like these but I do feel that gaming journalists are too forgiving of weak storyline structure and characterization.

        To me it often smacks of ‘well, we know games suck at that side of things but the rest of the game’s good, you can blow stuff up and kill people and…and look at the pretty lights!.’

        To which I say, why can’t we have it all?

        Perhaps it’s just that I’m no longer that impressed with good graphics and mechanics. Games have been around now for 25+ years, but they’re still mired in cliche and basic story telling fail.

        For example – what were the story arcs for the other main characters? Pritchard got slightly less bitchy? The female pilot was either killed or saved? What happened to Sarif? They were interesting characters and they should have had good supporting story arcs that ‘boosted’ the main character’s journey. But they didn’t go anywhere. I would point to stuff like that as being pretty solid reasons beyond a matter of opinion as to why Deus Ex:HR should not get a 10/10 score.

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