What does it mean to be human? Are we defined by our DNA? Are we no longer ourselves if we enhance or unlock our natural potential? Does biology make us who we are or are we the sum of our choices, each experience shaping the next? These are only a few of the very heady questions that Deus Ex: Human Revolution will challenge you with.
The year is 2027, and the world is changing. On the eve of a major scientific presentation in Washington, D.C., a shadowy conspiracy of faceless and distorted voices plots to prevent it from happening. What follows forever changes the protagonist, Adam Jensen, as he slowly uncovers twists and turns in pursuit of the truth. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is, if nothing else, faithful to its heritage. In an era when the word “reboot” often means discarding everything but the name, Human Revolution proves itself a worthy prequel to the classics Deus Ex and Deus Ex 2: Invisible War.
Some may say that Jensen starts the game weak, more so than you would expect from a game that looks like a first person shooter. I prefer to think of him as a blank slate. The first real mission in the game is littered with optional tutorials (which you really should watch). It will take you approximately two hours to progress through the first leg of Jensen’s adventure and will give you plenty of time to get a feel for how you want to progress. When you complete the first mission, you’ll likely have enough experience (and the related “Praxis Kits”) to activate a new augmentation.
Especially in the early part of the game, you will need to employ stealth to survive. Finding alternate routes on rafters and through air ducts is critical for success. Unlike other games, such as Crysis 2, which also offer multiple ways to tackle challenges, Deus Ex: Human Revolution does not hold your hand. Your augmentations will not identify alternate paths. Before taking that first step, you will survey your environment, or you will die. Be warned, that there is a lot of trial and error involved in this game and that the autosave checkpoints aren’t always that close together. You’ll want to manually save after each challenging area. The game does hold the last two autosave points for you, though, which is extremely helpful.
By the time you are ready to upgrade, you should have an idea of how you want to improve Jensen. Will you be a powerhouse, busting through walls? Or, perhaps, you’ll want to activate the ability to cloak to sneak past enemies. Maybe, you want to hack your way through every security system you find. There’s an aug for that. In the vein of Western RPGs, experience is earned for more than defeating enemies. By finding alternate routes, completing objectives without alerting guards and successfully hacking, you’ll rack up experience, which translates to new and more powerful augmentations. You’ll also have the opportunity to rack up huge experience points for completing secondary objectives, like freeing a room full of hostages, or talking down armed gunmen. You will have plenty of encounters that will allow to chat up friends and foes, and there are even augmentations that will make you more persuasive.
The game controls quite smoothly. You’ll be taking advantage of cover quite often. You can choose to hold down the left trigger to stay in cover or, in the options screen, change it to a toggle. I played the game through using the “hold” option. This allowed me to move quickly in and out of cover to take advantage of gaps in patrol routes. When you do enter cover, the game pulls back to a third-person view. This way, you can use the camera to get a limited view of the area.
The game also utilizes a tap or hold mechanic for a lot of the actions. When sneaking up behind an enemy, you can tap the B button for a nonlethal takedown or hold B to permanently silence your adversary. When moving bodies, tapping X allows you to loot them. Holding X will make it possible to drag unconscious (or dead) foes out of sight. When in cover, tapping A will quickly move you from one hiding spot to the next. Holding A will allow you to round the corner, without breaking cover. The system works, giving you more control than the average cover-based shooter.
The inventory is broken up into squares on a grid, just like in the Diablo series. The bigger the item, the more space it will take up. You won’t need to micromanage your space, though, as the game will automatically move things around as long as you have the space available to pick an item up. You can also spend Praxis on upgrades for your carrying capacity.
Your weapons come in a variety of flavors, both lethal and nonlethal. There are weapons and grenades for every play style and finding the right combination for you will ease your progress through the game. Weapons can be upgraded with modifications, increasing their viability in the field. You’ll need to choose weapons carefully because inventory space is so limited. Be smart and think about how you want to play the game before making your choices.
You’ll need to do a lot ha cking throughout Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The hacking minigame is, at times, intense, and usually satisfying. It functions much closer to the indie gem Uplink than the pipe puzzles we saw in Bioshock. You’ll have to move from node to node in the network, with each bearing the risk of alerting the network to your presence. Should that happen, you’ll need to move quickly to your goal before you are booted out of the system. Thankfully, you can enhance your hacking abilities with augmentations and purchase consumable viruses to ease your endeavors. The networks are littered with nodes that provide bonuses in the form of XP, cash and useful worms, so planning your path and thinking quickly are key to maximizing each hack.
During the game, you will encounter the occasional boss battle. You will be forced to fight and there is no way to sneak past or end them peacefully. Depending on your perspective, these will either completely break up the flow of the game, or provide a nice change of pace. I expect that we’ll see opinions split on them because, regardless of your perspective, they are a significant deviation from the rest of the game.
The game’s visual style was designed to make the world feel both familiar and foreign at the same time. The streets of Detroit, the office buildings and the other environments look as you would expect them to, but the clothing, technology and vehicles let the player know that the game takes place in the near future. The game makes heavy use of pale yellows, which gave me the impression of looking through tinted glasses. It’s not overused or oppressive. It is part of the visual style, and it fits.
The score, by Michael McCann, who has a number of credits to his name, including Splinter Cell: Double Agent, is reminiscent of the sounds heard in the Mass Effect series. This helps drive home a feeling similar to Blade Runner and emphasizes the “familiar, yet foreign” tone of the overall package.
I do need to point out that I ran into one persistent glitch with the game. Each and every time an achievement triggered, the game hung for a number of seconds (long enough to have me concerned that my XBox had locked up). I hope that this is something that can be patched in the future. No one enjoys that kind of panic when playing a game, especially when the game’s autosave points are few and far between. Speaking of autosaving, at those points, the game also tends to stutter, though not as badly as when an achievement unlocks.
I greatly enjoyed my time with Deus Ex. The game is fresh in a world of “me too” shooters. It may look like the average first person shooter game, but it is so much more. Effectively blending RPG elements, the stealth of Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell and the prey stalking of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Human Revolution is a worthy successor to the legendary series in a world where reboots often discard everything that made the original great.
Review copy provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.