Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Xbox 360, PS3)

The Year is 2027.  Mankind is teetering on the brink of social implosion over the escalating conflict of biological “augmentations.”  Referred to as “enhancements” by those fortunate enough to afford the technology, these organic proxies have drawn criticism for tainting the human race, while others glorify the advancement as the next stage in human evolution.  On one side of the conflict is Sarif Industries, a leading manufacturer and developer of these newly christened bio-mechanical marvels.  On the opposing front resides an unknown shadowy third party that is hell-bent on Sarif’s destruction and bringing about a purification of the human race.

Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Genre: Action RPG
Price: $59.99
Pros: Immersive storyline, amazing amounts of environmental detail
Cons: Death in missions lead to long loading screens, can end up in death cycle
Verdict: A must own game, pure and simple. Game of The Year material.

Acquired via Developer

Over a decade ago Deus Ex landed on PC and forever changed what was expected from the action-RPG genre.  Critics and fans alike were wowed by the title’s branching plotlines, multiple paths to complete mission objectives, and an unprecedented freedom to explore the game’s immersive world.  Following on the heels of the sequel Invisible War‘s lukewarm reception in 2004, Human Revolution was faced with overcoming seven years’ worth of hype and disappointment that had been slowly boiling over.  This time around Eidos Montreal made a concerted effort to bring the franchise back to the open ended roots that helped the original break the mold, and it has in the process helped restore the series to its prior glory.

For those that are keeping track at home, Human Revolution actually takes place twenty five years before the events of the original Deus Ex.  Players get to see with their own eyes the self-destruction of the entire human race over the philosophical argument of whether playing god with the human form is acceptable.  Adam Jensen, the game’s protagonist, is forced into the middle of this conflict through no choice of his own.  As a result of a covert attack on Sarif Industries, Jensen is left mortally wounded and mourning the loss of his former love interest.  He was only kept alive through extensive use of virtually every augmentation both available and experimental, rendering him not only a super soldier, but also a veritable human Petri dish.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Jensen sets off on an epic series of quests, trying to get to the bottom of who is responsible for the atrocities and why exactly the Sarif was targeted to begin with.  It becomes increasingly evident early on that the violence is not the work of local radicals.  As players begin to dip their toe into the narrative, the scope will expand far beyond what could ever be imagined.  Eventually the protagonist will be led from the dingy, tear-soaked streets of Detroit to the Cloud City-esque setting of Heng Sha.  Without giving too much away from later portions of the game, it is safe to say that Jensen will be forced into scenarios that push him well outside of his comfort zone.

One way that Human Revolution proves itself to be a successful evolution of the Deus Ex formula is through the extensive dialog systems.  Literally EVERY single person, both NPC and ancillary characters, have at least two pieces of dialog to share at any juncture in a playthrough.  Granted, sometimes the nuggets of audio aren’t necessarily going to be putting John Grisham out of job, but just the fact that this commitment to detail exists in full audio form is an impressive accomplishment.  Discussions amongst NPCs frequently shift throughout the campaign in order to account for the events that had recently transpired.  Paying close attention to the conversations of others, without actually interacting, can often lead to discoveries of key bits of information that would have otherwise been withheld from the player.  If that isn’t incentive to digitally stop and smell the roses, what is?

Though there are certainly circumstances where it pays to just soak in the story from the lush detail of your environments, there is no replacement for a good old fashioned dialog tree.  Luckily the same attention to detail is on display for both the stellar writing and solid voice acting.  This combination is what helps differentiate the game from other action-RPGs on the market.  No matter what road the player decides to tread in their conversations, it will have a very different outcome on the actual discussion itself, not to mention on many different aspects of how the overall plot plays out.  The same could be said about the availability of the numerous different side quests.  All it takes is one ill-advised quote and whole quest-lines could go the way of the dodo.  Complete freedom is a dual-edged sword to say the least, so God help those who are not friendly to everyone.  Who knows when “Joe Shmoe jockstrap dealer” could be the key to an entire quest-line?

Another compelling aspect of the storyline are the situations where there is no clear cut “good” vs. “evil” decision.   Matters can even be complicated further when being forced to deal with the aftermath of a split-second judgment call.  Oftentimes it becomes evident that what appeared to be the obvious “correct” choice was a red herring, meant to ensnare all of those who haven’t fully investigated the details surrounding a situation.  For example, early on you can accept a side quest to crack down on an employee who has been stealing expensive chemicals from the research labs.  As cut and dry as it may seem on the surface, once you have caught the thief in question you learn that he hasn’t been selling the drugs, but rather has been giving them away to homeless suffering from “augmentation related” ailments.  If you turn the good Samaritan into Sarif Industries brass he will no doubt lose his job, as well as cut off this much needed community service.  On the other hand, if he allowed to continue, you must return to the quest giver and accept the consequences of a failed mission.  The scariest part is that this is just the tip of the iceberg…

When the role-playing aspects of a game like this are so solid, it is easy to lose sight of the actual combat systems. Hell, depending on how much narrative is explored between quests, the controller’s triggers could remain blissfully unused for hours at a time, without even the slightest twinge of sadness.  That said, when the fecal excrement strikes the oscillating blades and lead starts flying, things have a tendency to get chaotic in a hurry.  Traditional first-person shooter veterans should have very little trouble holding their own, but sometimes the best combat when faced with daunting odds is complete pacifism.

To put it bluntly, Deus Ex shamelessly borrows many of Metal Gear Solid‘s immensely successful stealth components, while seamlessly integrating it into this drastically different world.  Whenever something stealthy needs to be accomplished, the camera pulls back to reveal a third-person perspective, similar to what would be seen in either Gears of War release or the Syphon Filter games.  This allows the player to hide behind cover, get a good bead on the location of their adversaries, adjust their positioning to avoid detection, or plan their attack.  Successfully navigating minefields of man-meat may be a tremendously difficult task, but when done properly it can save players a lifetime of grief and ammunition by the clip load.

If the options to go guns-a-blazin’ or pussy-footing around were not enough for players, there is one more level to the complexity: vents.  That’s right, what better way to avoid being filled with lead than never encountering enemies to begin with?  The catch with using these shortcuts is actually finding them hidden throughout each stage and navigating them without drawing the attention of guards.  Just be careful, because if they are tipped off, even the dumbest AI can easily blow more holes into an air duct than the plot of one season of Lost episodes.

The best way you could describe the overall combat experience would be calling it a “Choose Your Own Adventure.”  No matter how you approach a situation, there multitudes of different options to explore in order to reach a desirable conclusion.  The problem with this is, much like the popular book series of the same name, all it takes is one wrong move and you will be deader than cell reception from orbit.  While this isn’t a bad thing most of the time, this can lead to a frustrating infinite loop of failure.  Matters aren’t helped much by the thirty seconds worth of loading after each death.  Talk about pouring salt in the wound.  Let’s face it though, if having to play more of an already outstanding game is a fault, then most likely the developer has hit a winner on their hands.

It is amazing what a little bit of soul searching and reflection can do for a game franchise.  Deus Ex: Human Revolution manages to breathe new life into a brand that many had written off half a decade ago.  Returning to the fundamental elements of freedom and exploration helped lay the groundwork for a extremely engaging experience.  We finally have a worthy successor to the vision originally conceived by Warren Spector over fifteen years ago.  It’s good to be the king.

GrE Grade: A-

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