Reviewed: August 22, 2011
Released: August 23, 2011
For a long time, it seemed like Deus Ex was one of those games that was just too complex, too broad, too beautiful to even exist anymore, save for the $10 section of Steam and maybe gog.com. With a lackluster follow-up that sank the series, and the nascent shooter-RPG genre being drastically simplified by the likes of BioShock, it seemed like the days of such amazing, baroque games were over. I'm overjoyed, then, to report that Deus Ex: Human Revolution proved me wrong. The Eidos Montreal team has done an amazing job, creating a game with the kind of depth that we haven't seen for over a decade. |
Human Revolution puts you in the shoes of Adam Jensen, the head of security at Sarif Industries, the leading producer of cybernetic augmentations in 2027. When an attack on Sarif's laboratories leaves Jensen nearly dead, his employer fits him with head to toe cybernetics in an attempt to save his life. From that point on, it's down the rabbit hole at breakneck speed, with Jensen getting caught up in events which bring to light the truth about the attack, taking him from Detroit to Hengsha island off the coast of China, from Montreal to an arctic science station in a fascinating cyberpunk story full of twists and turns.
The game can be played anywhere along the axis from stealth game to shooter, with an amazingly intuitive cover system allowing for either in any measure. With the right augmentations, Adam can easily track the locations, paths, and vision of guards, where they think he is, and their current state of mind, giving you some of the most profound stealth tools in any game. If that's not your style, weaponry ranging from combat rifles and shotguns to nonlethal pulse guns and plasma cannons arm Adam with everything he needs to shoot his way through the world. When ammo is scarce, the ability to knock out or eviscerate opponents with your close combat augmentations picks up the slack.
The ability to move between cover is also impressively natural-feeling, and ends up putting clunkier cover systems, like practically every one we've seen in the last five years, to shame. Not too sticky, not too clunky, easy to reposition or pop up for a quick shot, Deus Ex manages to do a cover system better than anyone else, an amazing feat from a game whose previous incarnations came out in a time when cover meant crouching behind a crate, though Human Revolution still includes that as a remarkably viable option for those confident in their own abilities to avoid bullets and spring from place to place.
Along the way, Jensen learns to use his augmentations, with abilities ranging from a social enhancement program which allows him to access dossiers on people he talks to and measure their body language and words to determine personality type, cybernetic arms which let him fire without recoil and smash through walls like a robotic Kool-Aid Man, a cloaking device and legs that allow him to get a ten foot vertical leap and sprint and leap silently. The progression of Adam Jensen from unaugmented human to cyborg man-god marks your progress through the game excellently, and as you gain power, the ways you play change dramatically, new paths opening up to you. Both hacking and conversational augmentations come in nearly as useful as combat and stealth augmentations, and are well worth specializing in to see everything the game has to offer.
Highlighting the game's themes of human enhancement fundamentally changing what it means to be human, nearly every new augmentation adds a fundamental change to the way you progress through the game, whether it's making your own shortcuts by blasting through walls, using a mix of pheromones and computer-aided manipulation to convince an enemy to your point of view, or simply letting you lift vending machines out of the way of air ducts or leap to the fire escape. Past this, each area has numerous routes for you to explore. The truly leisurely player could spend days plumbing the depths of the Detroit police station or the biotech laboratories of Hengsha, but even in my blitz through the game to review it, I found myself finding vast arrays of alternate paths, hidden areas, and other bonuses that both leave amazing amounts of power in the players' hands, in terms of how they want to approach the world and show the depth and care that went into crafting the environments.
In fact, the craft and presentation in this game is amazing. While the degree of cultural change and aesthetic updates seem a bit far flung for a game set a hair over fifteen years in the future, the game's visuals define its world. The conflict between traditionalists and transhumanists is represented by the transhumanists' adoption of renaissance stylings in their personal lives and clothing, highlighting the view of a new dawn for humanity, while those who fear the changes which human augmentation brings call back to the modern day. It doesn't seem like much in text, but when you get into the game and start reading the NPCs, it both adds depth to the world and shows where those you meet stand on the central debate of the game.
The game's world is cast in gold and black, lending a sepia tone to the game, as well as a strong, but subtle, theme of coloration. While some areas break from the theme, and are striking when they do so, there's something to be said for the beauty with which the color palette is handled. Some of the gamier aspects of augmentations aside, the game's technology manages to be surprisingly believable. Quadrupedal robots are based on the BigDog, Sarif's superweapon is essentially a cyborg-deployed claymore mine, and even augmentations aren't immune to occasional glitches and outside interference.
The game isn't perfect, of course. There are some animation issues that lead to certain NPCs doing a strange arm-shifting robot dance mid-conversation, which stands out compared to the beautiful body language of NPCs more critical to the plot. The old-style inventory is back, which is a refreshing throwback to games of the 90s, but issues with mouse control hamstrings it, making it a pretty big pain in the ass to try and use a healing item or combine two things, especially with strangeness on how the mouse tracks movement of items. On the upside, the game does handle almost all of the inventory Tetris for you, leaving you with only rare occasions where you need to reshuffle your possessions. Some of the game's voice acting is rather off, especially near the beginning. Still, while all of these take you out of the game, they don't particularly harm Deus Ex's amazing gameplay.
And that's what it really comes down to: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an amazing game, the likes of which we haven't seen in over ten years. If you're at all interested in cyberpunk, transhumanism, action, stealth, exploration, conspiracy theories, roleplaying, futurism, or old-school PC gaming, pick up Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Hell, even if you're not interested in those, pick it up as a favor to me. It might be a little early to say it, but it's hard to imagine anything at this point beating out Human Revolution for game of the year.