Review by AronoBashkar
"Needs a few more augmentations itself."
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a solid effort that is, ultimately, merely human. It's just short of a full revolution, and would require a few more augmentations itself to get to a truly legendary level. It gracefully incorporates aspects of the first game, but executes them in a shallow manner. Still, for fans of the first, you're in for a real treat - you just haven't had gameplay like this in awhile.
To start, the gameplay: The gunplay is standard FPS affair. Gun upgrades are numerous and useful, and the special unlocks in weapons are good and definitely change the weapon dynamics. Some weapons, such as the 10mm pistol, find use throughout the game. Some weapons have far too little ammo, or are gotten far too late in the game to be worth it - weapon upgrades ensure that guns you got earlier will remain far more relevant. Grenades are overpowered, and some of the 'big weapons' feel underpowered. I was saddened to see no real melee weapons, with them being entirely replaced by takedowns. The takedowns are satisfying Assassin's Creed style stuff, though it costs an energy bar to use - which I feel is appropriately balanced. The reloading and the drawing out of some of the bigger weapons made them questionable to use except for some very minor moments. For example, why carry an RPG when some of the bigger enemies take multiple rockets, when you can carry a lone EMP grenade and take them out immediately?
The stealth gameplay is pretty good. The enemies are neither dumb nor psychic, though I question why they don't trigger alarms when they see dead comrades immediately. Considering this is the future, why do they need to press a manual switch? Even in Metal Gear Solid 2 they simply radioed it in. Speaking of which - with the right upgrades, you can pretty much replicate Metal Gear Solid's gameplay. However, stealth becomes a bit pointless with the cloaking upgrade - with max level sprint you could cloak and run full sprint through rooms, using the jump upgrades to leap over enemies in the way. They notice the sounds, but they never go full alert or get wise to it, enabling you to cheese the whole system.
The hacking minigame is entertaining though based almost entirely on chance, with a lot of the little neat features that, on paper, seem amazing - but in practice are pointless, such as fortifying nodes. The one-use virus items - Nuke and Stop! - both are very useful and are a very wise addition, adding intelligent resource management to it. An odd aspect is noted, however: since you can unlock items, credits and experience by hacking, it seems to beg the question: what is the point of getting the actual passwords and keycodes? There doesn't appear to be a reason - even with the keycodes, it's simply better to always hack for the extra stuff. You don't get any multitool like devices, so no hacking cameras directly by running below them. Unlike the first game, it's rare that you have to disable any camera. A few times in the game it's wise to hack a turret, but it's such a minor aspect and such threats are so easily avoided that it's a shallow option. Lockpicks - present in the first game - are entirely gone, as hacking takes care of that lock system. As a result, while the act of hacking is far greater, it's shallow compared to the first game - it doesn't feel like you can do much with it, besides open everything from computers to doors.
The augmentation system varies wildly. They work, more or less, like this: get hacking to max, get the social augmentation, get energy recharge to max, and then everything else is preference - nearly useless preference, I might add. I feel the energy bar system is lacking - despite items being in the game to restore energy, there is no point in having more than a single cell filled. For 80% of the game I had only one of those cells filled, and relied on the recharge augmentation to fill it. Recharge, however, works in a fickle manner. Beyond the base cell it will only recharge cells that still have a bit left in them - run a cell dry, and you won't be able to naturally recharge it. This encourages you to use only 1 cell in most situations and to only burn them down if you really need to do something in an extreme emergency.. though I question when you're ever gonna really need to burn more than a cell at a time doing stuff. Note to the wise: the radar upgrade is a trap that makes it harder to use the radar, which is a poor design choice. Those expecting RPG-style depth to this will find themselves sorely mistaken: with the amount of Praxis points you get, and the fact many augmentations are useless, you will more or less end up with the same build every playthrough.
The persuasion system likely makes a game like L.A. Noire extremely jealous. It's actually really well made and the facial animations coupled with the dialogue makes it work really well. I had a lot of fun with it - it was far more entertaining than the boring boss fights. I really wish there were more of them. I've never quite seen a dialogue system work so well in a game, and this is far and away the game's strongest point. The social augmentation just adds more finesse to it, and it deftly avoids the issues a lot of RPG persuasion systems have, which is just having the persuade option be an instant-win button. Sometimes, you even don't want to use it for moral reasons. The system rewards careful examining of the person and what knowledge you know of them that is gleamed through emails or talks with other characters. Body language, tone of voice, everything - it comes together in a brilliant and compelling bit of playing. I got the most tense during these persuasion attempts, and it's by far the most unique and strongest aspect of this game.
Boss fights, however, are shallow and very easy. Most of them can all be beat the same way - an EMP grenade or two, and simply firing with a moderately upgraded rifle. Frag grenades make them even easier, and a good mix of both will win the day in less than a minute. I am not exaggerating when I say I eliminated some of these bosses in less then 20 seconds using these methods. They will obviously be harder if you have poor resource management, or go in ill-prepared. The game makes it easy to save potent tools for boss fights, as nearly every other threat can be avoided or dispatched with minimal resources.
Now, onto the story.
The characters and plot are far weaker in this game. Many of the twists can be guessed with weak to moderate observation of the facts. Everything seems to revolve around Adam Jensen, the protagonist - if you hear a proper noun mentioned, at any point in the game, it's going to be important and come up in the plot. The bosses are barely fleshed out compared to the ones in Deus Ex and other games, and one of them doesn't even say a word - apparently being a mute is a replacement for actual characterization. Some characters just vanish and don't even say a word to you for multiple missions, and this is very obvious near the end of the game. There are some standouts: the pilot, Faridah Malik and your boss, David Sarif - but for the most part people seem to fit a generic mold. It feels like a lot of the characters were building up to something big from a characterization standpoint - and then they just vanish and never reach that point. Plot points are mentioned and dropped in rapid fashion, or not fully explained, relying on you to fill in blanks based on knowledge of the first game or something you are already familiar with.
As a result, things seem very arbitrary. Some plot aspects just seem present as though the developers were trying to fill a cyberpunk quota, or to stress that certain people are bad, evil men.
The plot is very.. direct. It's Adam Jensen doing a series of things, all very plainly and cleanly laid out, one after the other to pierce the 'grand conspiracy', which isn't effectively built up at any point. Since the conspiracy aspect starts from the moment you play the game, there isn't even an effective build-up of a facade of the world being normal. As a result, you can immediately piece things together with simple observation.
From a graphical and style standpoint, this game is soaked in heavy hues of orange and black, likely on purpose for contrast - Deus Ex was very intensely blue, for example. However, the art direction results in a heavy, lifeless feeling. Two major locations in the game look very similar, with one being a cramped and cluttered version of it's predecessor. The graphics range from grand - some of the sights are amazing, but some non-player character models are lacking in detail. Animations vary: Jensen's takedowns and the reload animations for weapons are well-done, but characters look awkward when speaking to each other, constantly fidgeting with different postures. The art design slowly becomes thinner and thinner as the game progresses. At max settings, the game is passable, but still looks dated - likely a result of limitations in console hardware.
The game will run you 20-30 hours, depending on your skill level and how much you explore and read. The game invites replays, most assuredly, if only for some of the achievements and a desire to see different outcomes. This will likely clock the entire length of the game, including replays, at around 60-70 hours. That's great for an FPS, and a low average for an RPG. Considering what this game is, it's exactly where it should be.
Overall, this game gives me mixed signals. Rating it against the high tier set by earlier games, it falls short. Yet, when you look at the competition it routinely faces, this looks like a godsend. It's not going to topple dedicated RPGs in length, presentation or depth - The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings can easily pull it's legs out from under it. However, it holds it's own, even if it does so only by going the distance and not quite getting that knockout.
JC Denton, the protagonist from the first Deus Ex, would nod in approval. This is the learner to the first game's master, but that's like saying being worse than one of the best games ever made is somehow bad.
Worth the buy? Yes. Going to go down as one of the greatest games ever made? Big maybe, with me leaning towards a likely no. However, it's easily worth the full price. Let's hope it does indeed cause a revolution - this is the way games ought to be going.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 09/02/11
Game Release: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (US, 08/23/11)
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