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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Review; Oct. 3, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Jenner David Cauton
When there's a will, there's a way ... and another way, and another way, and another way, and ...

When I was younger, my favorite FPS experiences belonged to the N64 era — namely Goldeneye 64 and Perfect Dark. Then one of my friends got an Alienware computer and showed me a game called Deus Ex: Mafia Conspiracy. I was completely enthralled with Deus Ex's campaign compared to other linear shooters. (It was also pretty damn cool playing a video game in which the main character's code name was my initials.) Deus Ex wasn't a standard shooter, and it wasn't an RPG; rather, it was a mix of the two genres, blended perfectly. For many, these were the golden ages of PC gaming.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Many games today, particularly shooters, try to find a balance between RPG elements and actual player skill. Unfortunately, it's hard to find the right time to roll the invisible dice as you pull the trigger. The use of the term “RPG” has gone from staying in-character in a D&D affair to any game in which the player is able to make his character stronger throughout the journey. This technically means any game — even games as old as Super Mario Brothers — but how far developers take this concept is what truly defines this label.

The first DX found this fine line and has been heralded as a PC masterpiece. And I can say with confidence that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is no different. 

Shady characters? Nah, certainly not in a place like this.

Unlike other shooters that have you going through endless corridors and other environments full of enemies, DX gives you a choice in exactly how to solve each scenario. Every place you visit or scenario you encounter, violent or otherwise, has multiple paths. Whether it’s simply choosing a different door, crawling through an air vent, hacking a terminal to make gun turrets shoot down their own allies, or even talking your way through and avoiding violence all together, the choice is yours.

The second Deus Ex, Invisible War, while enjoyable on its own, was a fluke only if you compared it to its predecessor. Despite the first-person view, the DX series is only part-shooter, and while Invisible War definitely got the shooting part down (by removing the silly aim-at-a-target-for-5-seconds-so-you-can-hit-it-because-you’re-only-a-trainee mechanic that plagued the first game), it seemed to have gotten just about everything else wrong. The game practically threw all available augmentations at you from the beginning and gave you more than enough opportunities to switch them around, in addition to providing a too-generous amount of inventory space. For a game that was all about choices, these generosities dumbed down the challenge and left little to no room for any choice or multiple play-throughs. Thankfully, DX: HR has taken the better elements of the two games and melded them seamlessly.

As the game is a prequel to the first Deus Ex, the storyline has you play as ex-SWAT member Adam Jensen, special field agent and head of security of Sarif Industries, a corporation that deals with cybernetic implants to improve the human body. Despite his occupation, Jensen scoffs at the idea of augmentation but gets into a horrible incident and is forced to undergo the very surgery he despises. Six months later, Jensen returns from an early sick-leave and soon discovers that not everything is as it seems.

Click the image to view game screenshots

DX:HR uses a cover system similar to other shooters like Gears of War. The game is normally in a standard first-person view but will switch to a third-person view whenever you take cover. You can also quickly advance from cover to cover with a key press if you're close enough to one. This not only makes combat more tactical, it also makes stealth a much better experience than it was in the game's predecessors. (Previous DX games used light and shadow as a method to staying hidden. But enemies didn't pick up on you very easily and only saw about 5 feet in front of themselves.)

Lighting is no longer a factor when staying hidden; you must simply stay out of view all together. (Which might be a fair trade-off with the third-person view.) If enemies get a glimpse of you or hear something, they become suspicious and approach. If you run, they will simply resume their patrol. If enemies get a direct view of you, you'd best be prepared for a fight, as the entire complex or guard will be after you, and even more will show up than were patrolling.

Enemy difficulty is a mixed bag. The AI isn't perfect (Who am I kidding? It's just average.), but you'll probably feel glad when you realize just how few bullets you can take. The medium difficulty setting already doesn't give you much leeway, and the hard setting gives you so little health the mode seems to be biased to stealth play-throughs only. (Though combat is still fun in this mode, just be prepared to hit that quick load key a lot.)

Melee weapons are absent in this iteration, so there won't be any crowbar or Dragon Tooth slaying here. (It wasn't invented yet!) You can perform silent take-downs barehanded, but they can only be executed while hidden. These are CQC moves that Jensen will automatically perform, and for some reason, will cost an entire energy cell. It's understandable that limiting the amount of times the player can perform silent take-downs makes other attack methods more viable, but it is really lame that a souped-up cyborg can only perform these moves two or three times before having to "recharge" when a well trained fully human can do it without breaking a sweat. (And if that's the case, I must be a cyborg.)

Augmentations are now treated like unlockable skills in a tree, as in many RPGS. Instead of finding augmentation canisters in set places (DX1) or getting a whole bunch of them in set places (DX2), players receive Praxis points that they can use to unlock augmentations whenever they earn enough XP. From the start, players can choose to unlock a wide range of options, and most augmentations open up opportunities to unlock others as well. The catch is the choices are permanent, but because of this, players can experience different play-throughs by choosing which augmentations to unlock at different parts of game.

The inventory grid from the first game has, thankfully, returned. Guns now take up a large amount of inventory space, forcing you to make decisions in just exactly how you wish to arm yourself. In addition, ammo now takes up space as well, so you’ll have to gauge exactly how much is enough. Gone are the handy multi-tools and lock picks. All doors and computers are electronically locked and must be hacked via a quirky mini-game.

The hacking process involves hacking nodes from point to point until the last grants you access. Each node has a percent chance to trigger a trace attempt when you hack it, depending on your augmentations. Once this happens, you'll only have a limited time to completely finish the hack before the system finds you and sends in guards. You can also hack additional nodes within the same system to gain rewards such as extra XP, credits, or hacking software. (Which can be found as physical items as well.) This software can be used to mess with the system you're hacking such as slowing down a trace or completely negating a chance a trace will trigger. Time also doesn't stop whenever you're hacking, so you'll have to be on the lookout for patrolling guards by holding down the middle mouse button to turn your view around. (Which is easier said than done because half the time you can never turn your head enough to actually see anything.) 

Players will either love or hate this mini-game, as there's so many terminals. Most are optional — reading email and other miscellaneous things.

Players can tackle their objectives either by going in guns blazing or by remaining in stealth. Many would argue that sticking to only one play style is recommended, but I’ve found that doing so is more than feasible. During my play-through, I chose a little bit of everything, picking off lone enemies with a silenced pistol, but holding my own with more automatic weaponry when things started getting hot.

The problem is that both methods, combat or stealth, are both done so well it’s hard to resist doing both. Neither method ever feels half done. Going Rambo turns the game into an adrenaline-filled Gears of War-esque experience, while going the stealthy route feels more along the lines of a Metal Gear game. All the ammo you’ll find will make your eyes glitter with delight, yet the complex maps you’ll venture through will make you wonder if it would be more fun trying to stay hidden.

"Yes, it's floral. You got a problem with that?"

As you progress through the game, you’ll discover that the world is split between two different viewpoints: people who are either augmented or support augmentation, and others who despise such enhancements and find them immoral. The story focuses on the growth and decline of humanity. It brings to light the question: Is it more human to embrace technology or to stick to our roots, to what makes us who we are?

Like the previous Deus Ex games, the world is extremely detailed. Most FPS campaigns give you a linear experience, filled with scripted action sequences and heavy combat. But all Deus Ex games, including HR, are more of an adventure than an enemy-infested gauntlet and puts you in non-linear areas, giving you the freedom to complete your objectives in any order you see fit. If you’re vigilant, you’ll also encounter various people who will offer different side quests, making the already lengthy title even longer.

The sense of urgency changes from time to time: full-scale missions in which Jensen infiltrates (or slaughters, if you prefer) different bases or compounds, furthering the game’s main storyline. Afterward, the game will (usually) return you to the city for a rest period, where Jensen dons his trench-coat. This part allows you to relax, walk around the city, interact with various characters (and their belongings if you wish), and tackle smaller-scale side quests at your leisure. Side quests are optional, but there's really no reason not to do them as they effectively double the game’s length. Completists need not worry, as the game will promptly warn you at certain plot points when you’re about to advance the story that will cancel side quests.

DX: HR has taken conversation a step further than the previous games with certain plot points that change the view to a first-person perspective and focus in on your subject. Regular conversation is usually straight forward, but during these plot points, you’ll have to carefully watch and listen to your subject and respond accordingly to get them to see things your way. If the player chooses, he can opt to purchase the CASIE augmentation, a social upgrade that monitors and reports behavior patterns and personalities and provides alternate responses. This is essentially the same thing as having a high charisma score in a typical RPG, but unlike other RPGs, this process is not a guarantee, as it is still possible to pick a wrong answer.

For whatever reason, not too many FPS games have boss fights. They're usually heavily scripted action sequences that have the player either use the environment or attack through alternative methods. Unfortunately, the boss fights in DX: HR are probably the game’s worst area. It's been reported to have difficult boss fights, but this is up to individual skill. I found the difficulty curve all over the place; the most difficult was in the middle, and it was oddly pathetic toward the end, leaving for a very disappointing (yet interesting) ending battle.

Thankfully, bosses are the worst problem, but it doesn't mean the others aren't annoying. DX never gave you a karma system, yet role playing as a good or bad guy was still viable during conversation. This isn't the case with stealing, and the same has returned in HR. Snatching credit chips, ammo boxes, or other personal belongings in front of people doesn’t seem to bother them in the slightest. In addition, the on-screen cursor used to interact with different UIs like the hacking and inventory screens is a bit off, as the point of the cursor doesn't actually match up to what button will click. At first this doesn't seem like a very bad thing, but it can lead to a lot of frustration during hacking when you find yourself with seconds to spare, only to waste precious hacking software simply because your click missed.

Because choice plays such an important role in the DX series, it seems obvious to have several different endings, and in this regard, the series has delivered. But the determining factor for the ending all happens at the end of the game, leaving absolutely no incentive to start a new game to make different drastic decisions and see what ending you’ll get. This held true for the first two games and was the source of many complaints. Unfortunately, this aspect has reared its ugly head for the third time in a row. Granted, the main game will play out differently, depending on what you do or don’t do, but unless you can justify this as a reward for choosing different paths, the effort to start all over again instead of at a previous save will feel pointless.

It's important to remember the DX: HR is three types of games in one: combat, stealth, and social engagement. All three are done so equally well here it's hard not to recommend this game even if you only enjoy one aspect. DX: HR offers many different choices. Some many will find easy; some many will find hard. If you talked your way in the first time around, try and sneak in the second time, even if you know talking your way in is easier. See a nice weapon behind locked doors but don't have the hacking skill to get in? There might be another way. There's always another way. Keep this in mind, and you'll enjoy Deus Ex to the fullest.

Presentation - 9

From the slick interface, to the orange glow of the entire game, everything is presented with style. That is, if you like tech stuff.

Story - 8

It may get a little confusing in the middle, but it fleshes out somewhat in the end. The ending feels shallow considering the player's lack of options to determine it beforehand, but the journey is what's important.

Graphics - 9

The graphics are pretty nice, probably along the quality of Mass Effect 2

Sound - 8

The right music for the right scenes. Veteran players might recognize a few tunes from the radios.

Game play - 9

The only thing keeping the game play from getting a straight 10 is a free blunt object that comes with the game so you can hit yourself on the head and forget what items are placed where.

Current Stability - 9

Reported to have some stuttering problems (though not for this reviewer) but overall good stability. Game performs well even on Duo Core systems.

Lasting Appeal - 8

This is what it's all about.

Editor's Note: The PC version of the game was played for this review.


Review Score


Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.

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