It’s been just over a decade since the first Deus Ex came out on PC and permanently ingrained itself into the minds of all who played it. A remarkably ambitious title that mixed FPS gameplay with RPG elements, a concept virtually unheard of at the time, it was made all the more intriguing by the remarkable level of freedom the player was given to affect the game’s story and approach missions. The sequel, Invisible War, proved to be a lacklustre showing with many criticising its oversimplification of the various elements that made Deus Ex so great. Fast forward to 2011 and a new entry in the series has arrived, a prequel set thirty-five years before the original. But how does it measure up to its esteemed predecessor?
The year is 2027. Mechanical augmentations (hereafter referred to as “Augs”) are all the rage, capable of making the human body smarter, better, faster and stronger, to paraphrase Daft Punk. But with these advancements comes divisive ethical issues, with the Augs strengthening the class divide, leaving the “haves” with money and advantageous superhuman powers, and the “have nots” with bugger all.
You enter this world as Adam Jensen, a former SWAT officer who now heads security at Sariff Industries, a leading organization in the advancement of augmentation technology. When the facility comes under attack by an unknown organization, Jensen is beaten to within an inch of his life and left for dead.
All is not lost though, as his boss essentially brings him back from death’s door by lacing his body with a variety of Augs, quite literally leaving him more machine than man. After this he’s let loose, with his newfound mechanical parts and pointlessly cool sunglasses, to get to the bottom of who attacked the company and why.
The world of Human Revolution is truly fascinating and deep. Each hub world or mission you explore feels authentic thanks to little touches like office memo’s about overtime, or seeing an NPC playing games on his phone. The game also achieves its own unique and beautiful visual style which is vital in today’s market, where a sci-fi FPS can easily blur together with dozens of others on shelves.
One of the great things about this game is that it doesn’t penalize you for your individual play style. You can run in to a situation guns blazing if you use your head and have the right tools; at the same time sneaking in and slipping out unnoticed is just as viable and both methods are supremely satisfying. A clever (but not too clever) enemy AI assists in this, handling fire fights by pinning you down and flanking you with frightening efficiency and handling guard duty with a respectable level of observational skill, giving the shooter or stealth fan a satisfying challenge.
Any given task can be handled in a variety of ways dependent on everything from play style, the Augs you have, or even on decisions you made during prior missions. For example, in one mission you are tasked with entering a heavily guarded facility to investigate what’s inside. This can be accomplished by stealthily neutralizing each guard and slipping in through a ventilation shaft, or blasting through with assault rifles and grenades, and also by using certain Augs. You could have simply leapt over a fence and slipped through unopposed if you’d purchased the jump-mod Aug, or you could have used specific codes awarded after a prior mission to turn the facility’s security systems against the guards. Even if you didn’t get the codes yourself, hacking in is a viable option if you’ve got the right Augs.
The Augs are a useful plot device to explain why Jensen levels up as the play progresses, the reason being that as he gets used to his Augs more abilities become available to him. The Augs themselves come in a wide variety, from subtle traits like the ability to run silently, to the more brash abilities that allow you to do crazy things like spin around firing bombs in all directions. Each Aug helps to vary and enhance the way you play the game. Do you choose the Aug that allows you to hack computers more effectively to bypass security? Or do you invest in the accuracy and durability Augs so you become a terrifying and unstoppable angel of death? The beauty of these Augs is that they further extend the choices in play style that characterizes the entire game.
As is always the case, no game is perfect, although this one came close with just a handful of minor problems, most noticeably the restrictive boss fights. Whilst they are fairly standard explosive battles to the death, they are in no way in keeping with the rest of the game. All the freedom of choice in normal gameplay is eliminated, giving you the simple choice between fight or die and it’s often the latter if your Jensen was built up with stealth in mind rather than up-front combat.
The variety of approaches along with the decisions you get to make within the storyline not only allow a greater level of freedom in how you play the game but also add a great deal of replay value, with the opportunity to deal with a given task in a completely different way on a future play through. This, along with the rich settings and fascinating story, make for a great gaming experience only slightly hampered by the aforementioned boss battles.
Graphics: Before you even mention Deus Ex’s eye-catching cyber-punk style, the game is graphically beautiful, with any sort of slowdown or tearing being a rare occurrence.
Sound: Musically, Human Revolution utilizes a mix of electronica to not only enhance the atmosphere, but also to relate back to the prior games in the series. The radio stations play songs from the original game, which is a nice touch.
Gameplay: In a word it’s versatile. There are plenty of ways to progress in the game depending on your preferred play style, be it subtle, aggressive or somewhere in between. These options also allow you to try the game in an entirely new way on another play through.