As one of those games I’d always meant to play but never gotten around to, I was pleasantly surprised when a copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut showed up in my review assignments. The game starts out strong, with an interesting story, brought to life by some very nice voice work. Unfortunately, one of the core mechanics is never adequately explained, and left me feeling like I was actively fighting against the game to progress through it, effectively killing a lot of my enthusiasm for the title.
Human Revolution is the story of Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT member who has taken a position in private security. Jensen is working for a company on the frontier of human augmentation, the practice of enhancing people with cybernetic parts. Injured while performing his duties, Jensen is saved by augmentation surgery, leaving him something of a super soldier. With his new abilities he gets right back to work, performing his duties while trying to track down the people who nearly caused his death.
The story of Human Revolution is a compelling one. In the game’s world augmentation is a hot political topic, one with moral and legal implications. As someone who required the surgeries to save his life and therefore didn’t have a choice, Jensen is in the awkward position of not fully embracing the advantages his enhancements provide. As the plot progresses he uncovers more information about the initial attack, leaving him to question who he can really trust.
The game is a first person shooter with a third person cover mechanic. Pressing the L1 button will cause Jensen to take cover against the nearest wall, zooming the camera out into third person. He can move from position to position while in cover, avoiding enemies, blind firing, or leaning out for more precise aim.
Early on, the game suggested that I had the option of playing it with stealth or more aggressive tactics but that’s misleading; this is very much a stealth game. Fortunately, the stealth mechanics are very well done. While in cover holding the X button while at a corner will cause Jensen to follow around the corner, while tapping X will cause him to move to the next lateral cover location (assuming there is one). This is something I’ve often found myself fighting with in other stealth games, but I never had a problem doing exactly what I wanted in this one.
Locations generally leave the player with a lot of choice in how to handle a given situation. Exploring an area will uncover different routes around enemies, such as air vents that can be crawled through. If I ran into a difficult section I could always search around for an alternate route, usually finding one. Most of the time it’s a matter of preference, although occasionally I found that one particular route was clearly superior to the others, and felt like the “right” way to go.
Hacking is a big part of Deux Ex, and it’s where my problems began. The world is littered with computers and numeric keypads that need to be accessed in order to proceed. In this situation there are two options – scour the area for passwords and keycodes, or hack the terminal through a sort of mini game. The problem is it’s never particularly well explained, which wasn’t aided by the fact that the hacking tutorial didn’t show up until after my first hack. Basically, I started at one node on the network, and had to traverse other nodes on my way to the end point. At some point during the hack, the system would discover my presence, and then it was a race against the clock to see if I could complete the hack before my location was found. There are different options available when taking a node but they’re never very well explained and more than once the game ignored my command to capture a node, costing me precious seconds. As near as I can tell capturing nodes is basically a series of dice rolls, but in larger networks the math is such that it would seem to make a successful hack nearly impossible.
With hacking as a non-option, my only alternative was to find the codes I needed to progress. This really slows the pace of the game, as the password for a computer on the third floor could literally be anywhere in the building. All of the searching also came with a side effect; since I was spending more time sneaking around, I spent more time being spotted by guards or security cameras. This led to my second major complaint with the game, the combat.
As I stated before, Human Revolution is most definitely a stealth game, so naturally avoiding conflict is the best course of action. There are some instances though where this just isn’t possible or practical, and combat becomes a necessity. Unfortunately, while the game is not shy about making weapons available, I never seemed to have very much ammo for any of them. This was compounded by the fact that, even on the easiest difficulty setting, enemies really soak up bullets before going down. There is the option to perform melee takedowns, but these are resource based and consequently aren’t always available. It feels uneven as well, as enemies that would go down with a simple punch to the face could absorb three point blank shotgun blasts as though they were nothing. In areas with multiple enemies, being spotted generally meant death, and it was just easier to get killed and try again rather than try to fight my way out.
These issues were a real shame, because otherwise the game is well constructed. Interactable objects are clearly noted, and it’s easy to keep track of main and side quest objectives. The XP system allows for augmentation upgrades and rewards skillful and stealthy play, and there are plenty of different upgrades to choose from. The characters are well voiced and the game looks good, although during certain cut scenes there were odd cuts and some crazy shadows that were pretty jarring.
I really wanted to like this game more than I did, but the fact is the more I played it the less I found I was enjoying myself. While it’s only one mechanic, the issues with the hacking cause a ripple effect that creates other issues. What could have been a fairly straightforward stealth game with the option of additional exploration became a joyless hunt for the codes I needed to proceed, highlighted by some very uneven combat. The story was compelling, but the mechanics wore out their welcome long before it was concluded. It’s not a bad game, just one that doesn’t fully reach its potential. It’s still worth a look, but those who find the hacking problematic probably want to consider finding a FAQ that includes the computer and terminal codes.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on PlayStation 3.