Review by sixgears2

"Human Revolution is a fantastic game despite its flaws. Deus Ex is back!"

Deus Ex has long been a major name in gaming. The first game in the series was a landmark of gaming innovation when it released back in 2000; its mix of action, stealth, and RPG elements was skillfully coupled with one of the first real choice systems in the industry, and gamers ate it up. It didn't take long for the Deus Ex name to become legendary in the game world, which made it all the more disappointing when Deus Ex: The Invisible War released and failed to live up to the high standards of the original game. The lukewarm reception of The Invisible War also created quite a bit of trepidation among the Deus Ex faithful when a prequel, Human Revolution, was announced a couple of years ago. Fortunately, Human Revolution manages to not only skillfully navigate the tricky waters between nostalgia and progress, it also happens to be one of the best games we've seen so far this year.

Human Revolution is an extremely memorable experience on a visual level thanks to its tremendous art direction. Eidos has done an outstanding job of capturing the cyber punk, gritty feeling that the series is known for, and as a result each area stands out as unique and interesting. Detroit manages to feel both futuristic and run down, and Shanghai feels as oppressive as one would expect a city with another city piled on top of it to (it also happens to be one of the most unique and memorable areas in recent gaming memory). There are a few other areas as well, and while I won't spoil them here I will tell you that they maintain the same excellent art quality and originality. The outstanding art direction is also complimented by a pretty impressive graphical engine. The texture work is outstanding, and the lighting is frequently both harsh and beautiful, though it does make use of a little too much orange from time to time. Both Jensen and the enemies animate fluidly and believably, and even the canned melee or slam animations look excellent. Human Revolution is not a perfect game visually, however, and in-engine cutscenes frequently showcase the relatively outdated facial animation technology in use throughout the game, as well as some less than impressive lip synch work. Some of the NPC models also leave a lot to desire, with cheap bump mapping and shiny skin rearing their ugly heads if you look too closely at them. Additionally, I noted a few frame drops here and there in the Xbox 360 version, but they were never really substantial enough to detract from the experience.

The sound in Human Revolution is another high point. The guns sound surprisingly realistic and powerful, and the explosives are sure to rock your world—just wait until you run into one of the game's many hidden (sometimes very cheaply) mine traps. The voice acting is above average for the most part, although I wouldn't say that it's the best I've heard and it can be a bit inconsistent. Some of the scenes with David Sarif, for instance, see Sarif being overly whiny and a tad irritating, while in others he comes across as a confident CEO. I initially hated the overly raspy actor chosen to play Adam Jensen, as well, and his performance in the beginning of the game is pretty shaky, but in a rare turn of events his acting actually gets better as the game progresses and it's downright good by the time the story wraps up. Great sound effects and decent acting aside, though, Human Revolution's music is really the centerpiece of the whole audio experience, and it deserves its place on the aural pedestal. The soundtrack perfectly conveys the espionage and conspiracy themes that run so deep in the Deus Ex franchise while also fitting cleanly with the cyber punk, futuristic world that Jensen operates in. It may be the best soundtrack I've heard all year, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it winning some awards come the end of 2011.

Human Revolution is a lengthy game. My playthrough clocked in at about 25 hours, but it isn't hard to imagine someone squeezing close to double out of that if he/she explored every nook and cranny and did every side quest. Of course, any game of that length needs an excellent story to keep you hooked and coming back for more until the credits role, and fortunately for Human Revolution, the writers at Eidos have come through in that regard. You play as cop-turned-private-security-guard Adam Jensen, who embarks on a quest for the truth after having his backside thoroughly kicked by a team of mercenaries early in the game and having to become “augmented” (read: cyborg) due to the severity of his injuries. Jensen's journey runs the gamut from corporate espionage to Illuminati conspiracies, all the while making some pretty pointed statements about the nature of being human and the potential evils (and benefits) of playing god with technology. The whole set-up is pretty relevant given today's arguments about stem cells, cloning, and the like, and I found it interesting just speaking to the many varied and unique characters that I met along the way about what they thought. Even NPCs will share their thoughts with you, and the more people that you speak to, the clearer your view of both sides of the issue at hand becomes. The story gradually builds and becomes more and more interesting before culminating in a fairly questionable but still relatively satisfying ending, and it successfully kept me interested the whole way through (no small task). There are a few niggling issues here like the occasionally confusing or overly complex story revelation or characters that simply disappear and reappear seemingly without reason, but for the most part Human Revolution upholds the lofty storytelling standards set by the original Deus Ex.

Most importantly, Human Revolution is a success on the gameplay front. The game manages to capture the old-school feel of the original title while also incorporating enough modern innovation to keep current gen players interested. The game offers several fairly large, open hubs from which missions are launched and where side quests are acquired and completed, and the openness of these areas allows for quite a bit of free form puzzle solving—using air ducts, hacking a terminal to gain access to the back door of a building, coming up through the sewers, etc.—but it's worth noting that the game strongly encourages stealth and, as such, most options will lead you back to the same stealthy gameplay. If you hate stealth-based play, Deus Ex probably isn't for you. Like the classic Metal Gear Solid series, it is possible to shoot your way through nearly every level in Human Revolution—Jensen is able to use a slick cover system lifted straight out of Rainbow 6 Vegas and then upgraded—but to do so would be to violate the spirit of the game and potentially miss some interesting stuff along the way. After all, dead men tell no tales.

To be honest, much of the game plays very, very similarly to the Metal Gear Solid franchise, so closely in fact that I had several flashbacks to MGS 2 during the course of the story. I'd even go so far as to say that it could potentially be mistaken for a MGS title by an inexperienced gamer. Despite the lifted gameplay elements and sometimes uncomfortably comfortable gameplay, though, Human Revolution winds up adding enough unique elements to feel like its own product. Most notably, the game features one of the better hacking mini-games that I've ever seen, Mass Effect style conversation wheels and verbal boss battles during which you must convince a character to give you what you want by reading their personality type, and branching, choice-based storytelling. Besides, the lifted gameplay elements are done so well that it's pretty hard to complain about them, especially since they happen to be lifted from one of the best game series ever produced.

Human Revolution also features enough RPG and customization elements to keep players with a taste for personalization happy. Jensen levels up by earning XP related Praxis Points, which are essentially skill points that can be put into different augmentations in order to upgrade his ability. These upgrades are pretty varied, ranging from an ability to see through walls to increased health to being able to fall safely from any height. Players can also upgrade their hacking skills—an absolute must early on if you don't want the last few hours to be soul crushingly difficult—as well as their persuasion abilities and HUD. Most of these upgrades were helpful and fun to use, but I did notice that there were several that seemed like wastes of space, the most obvious of which were the Typhoon weapon system, which I found no occasion to use despite carrying it around for 15 hours, and the ability to take down two opponents at once, which I'm relatively sure would only be possible only through extremely careful orchestration. Some of the other upgrades also felt a bit superfluous, too, in that they offered things—alert timers, cones of vision indicators, etc.—that really should have been available right from the get go. Still, the upgrade system is satisfying enough, and even more so when you realize that you can slap just about anything other than a microwave on your weapons in order to elevate yourself to the level of a true Neo-esque bad ass.

There are a few more major flaws with Human Revolution that also have to be mentioned. First of all, the inventory system is just plain archaic. It uses the old standard PC grid style to store and organize your stuff, and this frequently winds up with the player either having to play gun Tetris or drop and re-acquire items to fit certain consumables like candy bars or upgrades into the inventory until they are used up. The map is also extremely unhelpful due the level of verticality in the game, and I spent a large chunk of time when I first started out trying to figure out why I could see the objective marker on my HUD but not on my map. This is a game that really could have benefited from a “bread crumb” style path indicator ala Dead Space or Fable, and the lack of such a system coupled with the organic and often convoluted environments can frequently lead to feeling lost and frustrated. You won't be lost forever, though, as the game also suffers from some fairly weak area repetition as you cross about the halfway mark. You'll be pretty damn familiar with Detroit and Hengsha the second time you wind up in them. Furthermore, the energy use system in Human Revolution (all of your abilities use energy in varying amounts) has been grossly mismanaged so that even though you can add extra energy bars to the meter, only the first one will ever recharge. I spent nearly the entire game working with only one energy bar despite numerous upgrades, and that makes me wonder why Eidos didn't go with the more fluid approach to energy management seen in titles like Crysis 2. Finally, and this is the real kicker, there are more than a couple of downright infuriating boss fights that Jensen will be forced into during the course of the game. One in particular had me fighting a boss who could become invisible, leap over walls, and instantly kill me with one hit if I wasn't paying attention, all while my vision was being distorted and my powers had been stripped away. I suspect this had something to do with a choice I made earlier in the story, but the fact that such a horrendously unbalanced encounter could even occur was more than a little frustrating.

It isn't often that we get an entry in a comparatively ancient series that is actually worth playing, but that's exactly what Eidos has delivered with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the sometimes outright stolen gameplay mechanics and the frustrating interface and balancing oversights are easily overshadowed by the open gameplay, interesting storyline, and general production values. Deus Ex has never been better, and while there's still room for improvement, this is a game that any serious gamer needs to experience. I recommend a purchase.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/02/11

Game Release: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (US, 08/23/11)


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