Review by Vamphaery
"Simply put, one of the greatest videogame experiences I have ever played."
DISCLAIMER: As always, this review is only one person's subjective opinion. The best and most important review for you should be your own.
INTRODUCTION: When a new developer takes the reigns of a classic franchise, particularly one as beloved and long dead as Deus Ex, my mind instantly conjures nightmare scenarios. Dumbed down action-heavy games with pretty graphics and little depth, short campaigns padded by subsequent overpriced DLC, and only marginal fan service to the spirit and gameplay of the original. So, naturally, when it was announced that Deus Ex would receive a prequel game developed by a new team put together by Eidos - of Tomb Raider fame - and published by Square Enix - of Final Fantasy fame - I had sincere reservations.
Lesson learned. Never judge a game by the name of its developer, especially when it's a new team. Because Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the greatest games I've ever played, and possibly the single most atmospheric game I've ever immersed myself in. Bursting with detail, nuance, intrigue, and classic Deus Ex gameplay sprinkled with modern conveniences that don't rob it of its depth or hardcore nature, this is a game truly worthy of the name Deus Ex. When I look back on this gen, this game will stand among my most cherished memories. This is the game I've been waiting eleven years to play. and the game I feel Invisible War (the sequel to Deus Ex) should have been.
Lets get the preliminary technical aspects out of the way before moving on to what truly makes this game great and unique among games this gen (and last gen for that matter.)
Hubs: When not in combat, you spend most of the game in first person perspective, exploring closed but enormous city hubs. These hubs are where you do your exploration, socializing, shopping, and quest acquiring. These are large, highly detailed locales that sucked me into an immersive experience more than just about any other game I've played in a long, long time. (The only other game that comes close this gen would have to be Red Dead Redemption.) I'll expand on this in the graphics section of the review but sufficed to say, these are among the most immersive, detailed, and atmospheric locations of any game I have ever played.
From these hubs, you eventually access missions. These missions consist of levels, in the more traditional sense (and yet due to the freedom you are given to chart your own course through these areas, not at all traditionally,) and this is where the bulk of combat will take place.
Combat and Stealth:
During combat, you have several techniques at your disposal. Although there is much more nuance and subtlety to it than this (as I will expand upon later in this review,) to put it simply, your options are open aggression or stealth. The stealth mechanics in the game work beautifully. By holding the left trigger, you can press your body against almost any object - a door frame, a wall, a concrete plant potter, etc. - and hide. You can click the left analog stick to go into a crouch, both in and out of cover. Enemies have line of sight as well as the ability to hear, so you must remain behind cover and move slowly if you wish to remain unseen and unheard.
You have the ability to avoid virtually every enemy in the game this way if you so choose. You are never required to engage in combat (with the exception of boss battles) provided you are careful and patient.
If you do choose to engage, you again have several options at your disposal. Do you want to kill your enemies, or just knock them out? Do you wish to use hand-to-hand, or weapons? You can perform non-lethal or lethal takedowns by tapping or holding the B button. This consumes one of your energy cells, which must be recharged or replenished with consumables before you can perform more. Once your enemy is dead or just unconscious, provided you weren't seen or heard, you can drag their body (don't forget to take their weapon, too) into a location unlikely to be seen. This lets you thin the herd in a room before sneaking around the remaining enemies. If they see one of their comrades dead or knocked out though, they'll start earnestly searching for you, forcing you to engage or hide until they return to their normal patrol routines.
But what if you just want to kill everyone? If you're seen or simply don't care to hide, you can play the game like a third person cover shooter. This works beautifully as well. While in cover, you can press the left analog stick up, right, or left (depending on where you are in relation to the edge of cover,) to point your weapon reticule at enemies. Headshots obviously kill faster (usually in one hit,) but you can also play tag with them, popping out of cover to fire a few shots and then hiding again as they return fire. This works great, and really adds a sense of tension and excitement to the game.
Inventory: Managing weapons doesn't end with deciding who to kill and who to sneak past, though. The game's Resident Evil 4 style inventory screen holds items on a grid of squares, with different items taking up different numbers of squares, and assuming different shapes on the grid. This isn't a game where ammo or items are particularly abundant. There is almost a survival horror approach toward hoarding items, and knowing what to save for later and what to drop is an important and strategic part of the game. Throughout the game you'll also find items you can combine with others. Weapons can be outfitted with laser sights, silencers, damage enhancements, and other components. This not only makes the weapons more useful and powerful, but it also gives you a degree of freedom with respect to what weapons you choose to enhance and how you play.
Now the preliminaries are out of the way, and already the game is sounding pretty cool, right? But hold on. We're ready to get into the multitude of finer points that elevate this game above being a good game to being a truly great one.
Hacking: During missions and even in hubs, you will frequently come across computers, locked doors, and alarm system terminals that you can hack. This is where the game's excellent hacking system comes into play. Hacking in this game works like a sort of simple strategy game. The hacking screen consists of a series of nodes. You can unlock or gain access to whatever you're hacking by successfully capturing the green sphere, or the red enemy node. But do do this, you must first capture the nodes connected to them, and doing that requires capturing the nodes connected to those nodes, and so on. The goal is to progress from node to node without triggering the red enemy node, which begins a countdown timer that causes you to fail the hack should it reach zero.
Before trying to capture a node, the game shows you your detection probability as a percentage. So if it says 75%, there's a good chance hacking that node will result in you being detected and the countdown beginning. Thus, it's a better idea to take a longer route that has less likely to be detected nodes on it, than a short route that has a high detection percentage node. You might think this makes it obvious that you should always take either the shortest or safest route to the green or red node, but the game throws in a few twists.
Cubical data nodes give you extra XP if you capture them, so sometimes it's worth taking risks if you think you'll still have time to succeed once detected. And there are other capabilities at your disposal. If you have Nuke or Stop Worm software (one-time-use consumables collected or purchased throughout the game, which you can also earn by capturing the red nodes) in your inventory, you can capture nodes without being detected, or pause the countdown timer briefly as you frantically try to reach your goal. It's one of the most genuinely fun, strategic, and truly interactive hacking modes I've ever seen in a game, and it's one of the game's many strong points.
Augments: One way to make hacking - and just about anything else you can think of - easier, is through the use of Augments. Augments can be thought of as this game's version of skills or abilities. If you earn enough XP, you gain a Praxis point. (Praxis points can also be found in hidden locations throughout the game, or purchased on rare occasions at LIMB clinics.) Acquiring a new augmentation costs two Praxis points, and gaining one of its additional upgrades (think of these as perks, only really, really cool ones) costs one Praxis point. The Augments (augs for short in the game) are truly awesome, and can completely change the way you choose to play the game.
There are augs that enable you to hack high level terminals, make it less likely for you to be detected during a hack, allow you to cloak yourself briefly, allow you to float down from great heights without suffering damage (and even to stun enemies upon landing,) to let you jump higher, to render you immune to electricity and gas, to let you lift heavier objects, to literally see through walls, and even to make social interactions easier. The thing is, unless you know where every last Praxis point is, do everything possible in the game, and/or use a glitch to earn infinite XP, you can't get all of the augs in one playthrough. So how you play the game will be largely (though certainly not entirely) defined by which augs you choose to invest points in. Which brings me to what is possibly the greatest attribute this game has going for it.
Gameplay Flexibility: Choice. Real choice. Not the illusion of choice. Real choice, and real consequences.
There are a multitude of ways to progress through every area of the game, and intrepid explorers are sure to find more than one or two of these. But which ones you choose to take will depend upon both your own choices, and what augs you have. Do you sneak through most of a level undetected because you were able to lift a heavy vending machine hiding an air vent? Do you disarm the bomb and save the hostages? Do you hack it? Do you steal the pass code from a guard you knocked out and disable it? Do you just let them all die? Do you ignore the obvious path and walk through a gas filled hallway?
Those options are just the tip of the iceberg. And here's the kicker: absolutely everything you do rewards you. Avoid being seen throughout a level? XP bonus. Avoid setting off any alarms? XP bonus. Headshot? XP bonus. Find a hidden area? XP bonus. Hack something? XP bonus. Complete a quest a certain way? XP bonus. Another way? Different XP bonus. There is no wrong way to play this game, and every way you can think of is most likely possible to one degree or another.
If this flexibility and freedom was limited to tactical missions it would already be impressive. But it isn't. You can deal with most social quests and conversations in the game in a variety of ways, and these usually have consequences. And these aren't just dialogue consequences... they're gameplay consequences merging with dialogue consequences. For example, what if you find a terminal that a later quest asks you to hack before ever getting that quest, and you hack it? There's an immediate line of dialogue right then, and the dialogue in that later quest completely changes to reflect this as well. What if you kill someone rather than just getting them to confess a crime, just because you feel like it? The dialogue and consequences change to reflect that, too. Sometimes things you don't think would even be remotely possible not only are possible, but are fully taken into account by the game. I can't remember the last time a game did this successfully, but other than the original Deus Ex, it was probably a Bioware RPG.
Choice: I mention Bioware specifically because I think it's important to highlight the contrast between this game and Bioware RPGs. Bioware RPGs are known for their dialogue choices, leading to different endings and scenario outcomes. The choices and consequences are very in your face, and not particularly subtle usually. This game is instead more akin to The Witcher, although it's still not analogous. This game subtly blends dialogue choices with real time gameplay choices, in a way perhaps unprecedented. Do you remember in Goldeneye 007 back on the N64, during the train level, how you could shoot Xenia and earn yourself a little more time to escape? Well imagine that kind of real time gameplay choice having much deeper, satisfying ramifications in a much more fully featured, deep, intricate game, in ways that you wouldn't typically expect a game to acknowledge at all. That's Deus Ex: Human Revolution. A game so hard to describe and so unique that I have to combine Goldeneye and Bioware RPG analogies to even come close to an accurate comparison. (And all of that ignores the aforementioned stealth, hacking, and other mechanics. Are you starting to get a picture of just how dense with content, choice, and complexity this game can be?)
And then there's the way you have to be fully aware at all times and actually pay attention to details most games would simply spoon feed you. If you're on a mission (or even just exploring) and you come across emails on a computer you hacked, or other data, chances are that information will be useful later in the game. There are several points in the game where even getting a quest in the first place requires you to stumble upon disparate pieces of evidence and then put two and two together, eventually triggering a mission that you would otherwise completely miss out on, or at least be unable to complete.
Bosses: If there is a single drawback in the gameplay department, it is definitely the boss battles. Temporarily robbing you of the aforementioned freedom and flexibility, boss battles force you to fight regardless of whether you've spent the rest of the game making yourself adept at stealth, and whether you have any decent weapons on hand, or not. Yet even here, you have options. You can use cover deftly and fight them toe to toe. Or you can explore the area and find other strategies, such as hurling explosive barrels and gas canisters at them. You can stun them with EMP or concussion grenades and then unload, or use your Thyphoon aug - a built in super weapon that you can optionally choose to invest Praxis points in - to put the hurt on them in short order. So while these encounters can be frustrating initially depending on how you've played up until then, you always have options at your disposal. It's a good sign when the weakest element of such a multi-faceted game is still flexible and reasonably fun.
In short, this game is a masterpiece of espionage-RPG-stealth-shooter-sci-fi hybrid bliss, and the only other game I can think of that even comes close to giving me what this game delivers is the original Deus Ex. It's that unique among games, and it's that good.
As should be expected from a Deus Ex game, the central plot resolves around a shadowy conspiracy concerning corporate interests, technology run amok, and future geopolitics. While it may not be the best tale of its sort ever woven, the atmosphere, setting, and player choices from start to finish make it interesting and compelling enough to keep you playing. Like much of the game, it provides a sense of mystery and intrigue that urges you to continue investigating until you come to a conclusion.
And speaking of conclusions, some may be disappointed by the endings on offer here. Many expecting elaborate finales that explain everything nicely and go out with a satisfying bang may well feel let down. The four endings are available to all players with minimal input and effort, regardless of the choices they made earlier in the game, and each consists of little more than some philosophically cogent dialogue over a cutscene.
While that may sound disappointing, I think it's worth reminding anyone reading this that this is precisely how the endings of the original Deus Ex worked. In this game you have two basic choices to make at the end of the game, and two additional optional choices that are only accessible if you carry out specific tasks within the final area of the game. That's actually one more ending than the original gave us, and maintains the spirit of the original game's design.
The original game eschewed locking players into a specific ending based on earlier choices because the entire game had been about choice already. To force players to see only one ending based on earlier choices without giving them one final, epic decision to make would fly in the face of the design philosophy of the original, and thus would contradict the premise of this game which goes out of its way to remain true to the spirit of the original.
GRAPHICS (Technical): 7/10
On a purely technical level, the game's visuals are definitely behind the times. They don't look bad per say; they just look somewhat dated. If I had to compare it to a contemporary game, I would that generally the visuals seem roughly similar to the first F.E.A.R. game. Facial animations are stiff and unnatural, although they do lend the game an (potentially intentional) 90s/early 2000s vibe. In fact, upon going back and viewing some original Deus Ex footage, the facial animations are almost a spot-on homage, and in my opinion probably intentional.
Compared to the pre-release cgi trailer, the actual in-game cgi is of considerably diminished fidelity and detail. However, this too lends the game a spot-on nostalgic sensibility very reminiscent of games from the beginning of last decade. Given the other homages and winks toward the original, I have to wonder whether this too was an intentional choice.
GRAPHICS (Style, atmosphere and setting): 9/10
Put simply, this is possibly the single most atmospheric game I have ever played. If you've played the original Deus Ex, or games like Omikron: The Nomad Soul, imagine those sorts of cyber punk inspired settings, but fleshed out in immaculate detail and vivid style.
Every part of the game is so self-consistent, so believable, so vibrantly stylish, and so dense with detail and intricacy, you can easily get lost just exploring and staring. The last game I played that made me feel this much like I was in a real place was probably Shenmue on the original Dreamcast... or the original Deus Ex. But this game eclipses both with its utterly omnipresent sense of atmosphere and reality.
I wanted to actually leave reality and live in some areas of this game. They were that cool. I won't spoil it for anyone reading this, but the city hubs must be seen to be believed.
The game's mellow yet dark electronic score does a great job of setting the mood for the seedy, sci-fi oriented sensibility that pervades the game. When detected by enemies or entering combat, it shifts to a heart racing throb that establishes the tension effectively.
Weapon sounds are booming and impactful when appropriate, and properly pingy when silenced.
Voice acting ranges from really good to could be a lot better territory. Definitely not best in class, but more than good enough to carry the game and keep it believably compelling.
Overall, with proper in-menu tweaks, the game's audio is well mixed, clear, and effective.
REPLAY VALUE: 8/10
The first time you play this game, if you don't use a walkthrough, it may take you as long as 40 - 50 hours, as it did me, especially if you're the sort of person I feel this game is made for: someone willing to immerse themselves in an experience and take their time with it as though they are walking through real locations, taking in the sights, talking to everyone, investigating clues found off the beaten path, etc.
The next time you play it won't take you nearly as long, but you will be satisfied and surprised at how effectively the game responds to different gameplay choices (see Gameplay section of review) you make and how your experience changes. It's not so much the ultimate outcome, but the way you get to them that kept on surprising me throughout my multiple replays. I'm on my third playthrough, and I'm still finding tons of things I never knew were possible. And people are telling me of more scenarios I didn't even think to try! This is truly a game that gives you back as much as you are willing to put into it.
It is a single player game of course, and like all single player games, it can be memorized, and will eventually end. But for what it is, this is a game that screams for you to play it more than once.
CONCLUSION: I have tried my best in this review to articulate just how good I consider this game to be. It is one of those games." The games I will remember ten years from now and look back on with a special level of nostalgia reserved for the most immersive and unique experiences gaming has to offer.
The best way I know how to say it is this: this game gives me so much of what I've been clamoring for for years, that it actually left me feeling a bit angry at other developers. Developers who say we can't make games like Deus Ex anymore because of graphics and skyrocketing development budgets. Developers who say their games offer choices and consequences only to spoon feed you options A and B in a clear cut, obvious way, with little or no subtlety. Developers who purport to give me the freedom to play however I want to. To those developers I say: play this game, and then get back to me.
This is a game so good that I now actually fear for how I will react to other games I was eagerly anticipating before I played this.
This is a game truly worthy of the name, Deus Ex."
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 09/02/11
Game Release: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (US, 08/23/11)
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