Ion Storm’s Deus Ex for the PC remains one of my most favorite videogames of all time. It blended the FPS and RPG genres perfectly, and its emphasis on giving the player open-ended gameplay options when it comes to exploration and decision-making is something that still resonates in the open-ended and sandbox games of today. Suffice to say, the Mass Effects of today really owe it to Deus Ex. Deus Ex: Invisible War was the sequel that followed, and it got quite a mixed reaction among the diehard Deus Ex fan base. I, myself have not finished the game, although I did find it pretty disappointing.
A third game in the series was announced way back in 2007, and I was excited, if not a little wary, as the game was not being supervised by Deus Ex creative directors Warren Spector and Harvey Smith of the now-defunct Ion Storm, but by newly-formed Eidos Montreal.
A lot of the fears I initially had about this new sequel were quelled when the first cinematic trailer hit the internet last year. The music and tone of the game just hit me in all the right spots. Now that the game is out and I’ve played through the PC version, it’s time to decide. Eleven years after the original: is Deus Ex: Human Revolution a worthy successor?
Visually, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is pretty well-done. While the game was developed by Eidos Montreal, Nixxes Software took up the job of porting and optimizing the PC version. The dark, dystopian and cyberpunk tone of the original game is present here. The game’s environment has a big emphasis on black and gold lighting and textures which may be seen as overzealous to some. I played the game on the highest graphical settings, but not in DX11 mode, so I didn’t get to see the boost in graphical performance. I wouldn’t call the game’s graphics top of the line, but they get the job done. Character faces and animations – particularly lip movement, can be a bit wonky and quite a few faces are reused throughout the game. The levels themselves look great, however.
Deus Ex had an incredible amount of music that was not only good, but it fit the atmosphere of the game perfectly. When I heard Human Revolution’s main theme, “Icarus” in the cinematic trailer, I knew that Eidos Montreal was stepping in the right direction with the game’s music. It’s very Deus Ex-like with its synths and obvious Blade Runner influence, but it still manages to have its own unique spin. Michael McCann’s score is good, but at the same time I found that there simply wasn’t enough music. The original’s music was quite prominent no matter where you were, but in this game it felt quieter at times and it didn’t seem as memorable to me. Several songs from Deus Ex make cameo appearances via radios if you listen to them closely enough. I even heard an NPC in Shanghai whistle the first couple of notes to Deus Ex’s main theme.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s voice-acting isn’t bad overall, with perhaps a couple of voices crossing into absurd territory, such as a very stereotypical portrayal of an African-American woman named “Letitia” in the Detroit area, and some of the Chinese accents in Shanghai. I was surprised to hear that many of the NPCs in Shanghai actually spoke in Mandarin. It sure beats the embarrassingly fake Chinese accents from the first game. While not all of the writing is top-notch, with a few cliché lines written here and there and a bunch of re-used NPC models with repetitive lines, it gets the job done and it’s effective enough to make the game’s world believable. Main protagonist Alex Jensen’s gravelly voice suits his character and it’s pretty evident that they were going for another approach at JC Denton. Jensen is often serious but can also be very sarcastic.
Like its predecessors before it, Human Revolution is an FPS/RPG hybrid. Players take on the role of Adam Jensen: ex-cop and security officer of Sarif Industries, a company that specializes in human augmentations. Following the prologue, Jensen himself gets augmented, which allows him to perform a number of awesome feats. You get to pick which augmentations to unlock throughout the course of the game, as you accumulate XP by doing quests and other actions. With enough XP, you get “Praxis” points which you can put towards the augmentation upgrades of your choosing. Overall it’s a great system that’s a large improvement over Deus Ex’s hassle of scouring for augmentation canisters and upgrades.
The choices in how to upgrade Jensen are vast and it all depends on how you want to play the game. Are you a stealthy ninja? Then invest in something like cloaking or silent running. Want to be an unstoppable killing machine? Then add points into the dermal armor and Typhoon upgrades to strengthen your armor and expel hidden bombs from your body, obliterating everything in range. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of upgrades. You’ve got augmentations that can make you jump higher, run faster and longer, improve your hacking capabilities, increase your energy gauges and more.
Not every augmentation will prove useful to everyone, and I daresay that some of them won’t even be all that useful to anybody. Nevertheless, it’s a lot of fun to dink around with the upgrade system and discover new abilities that give you the upper hand in a situation.
Although you don’t have to play stealthily in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it’s one of the bigger options within the game, as head-on combat is still difficult. There are three options in the game that change the difficulty of combat: “Give me story,” which is akin to easy, “Give me challenge,” which is the medium/normal option, and “Give me Deus Ex,” which is the toughest difficulty and the one I played on. It made the game really challenging in terms of combat. Expect to be killed often in this game, as it only takes a couple of bullet sprays from enemy fire to take Jensen down. Health regenerates in this game, however before you Deus Ex purists get your pitchforks out, the regeneration rate is so slow that it still makes staying alive quite a challenge.
The game adds something new to the series by creating an effective cover system. By holding down a button, Jensen sticks to a wall or a piece of cover in a third-person perspective, which is handy for staying out of sight while still having a good scope of what’s ahead of you.
When getting close to an enemy or NPC, players have the option of assaulting them with a melee attack with a simple key press. What results is a quick cutscene where Jensen will either knock the opponent unconscious or execute a kill move which involves the painful use of Jensen’s pop-out blade augmentations, depending on how long the button is pressed. It’s a very satisfying maneuver that is balanced by using up an energy cell. Players can recharge these energy cells or just wait it out and let the cell recharge on its own, however it will only recharge up to one cell. I understand the need to limit the use of this move, but allowing only the recharge of the first cell makes upgrading the number of cells a bit pointless.
It’s a bit of a shame that there are no melee weapons in the game aside from the blades Jensen uses in melee takedowns. I sure miss clubbing people over the head with swords, crowbars and batons!
The enemy AI is pretty well done, with a few occasional hiccups. Enemies have managed to flank me in at least one or two occasions, and trying to take them on in great numbers is just asking for a quick death. When patrolling, enemies will oftentimes turn their head to look back, making sneaking up to them a greater challenge. They still sometimes struggle to find you when you’re attacking from an open air vent, although I have seen them toss a gas grenade my way when I assaulted them from there. There will also be the occasional slip-up where a guard standing not too far away won’t notice the scuffle I made by punching out a nearby guard. I still find it silly that city-dwellers will cower in fear if they spot you hacking a device in public.
Ultimately, the combination of a third-person cover system, a plethora of various upgradeable non-lethal and lethal weapons and satisfying melee takedowns makes the game one of the best stealth action games I have ever experienced. Like Deus Ex before it, sneaking around is just too much fun.
The grid-based inventory system is back, and now it allows you to flip items around “inventory tetris”-style so that item placement can be better optimized. My inventory filled up fast with the various weapons you can find. Ammo for these weapons tended to hog up the inventory grid quickly. The weapons themselves are a treat to use, and can be upgraded in several ways using kits you find throughout the game world. There is an unfortunate glitch with the tranquilizer rifle and stun gun, as they can sometimes actually kill an enemy rather than incapacitate them, which would render one’s “Pacifist” achievement run pointless.
Rather than lockpicking doors and hacking keypads with multitools, everything has been unified to a new hacking minigame. In this fun and surprisingly engaging little feature, you have to hack your way towards opening the door by acquiring a web of nodes which will lead you to the final core. The challenge here is the risk of a security tracer being initiated, in which it tries to trace your original starting point. If the alarm successfully takes over your entry point, the hacking fails and an alarm can sound off. I enjoyed the hacking minigame a lot, and whereas a minigame like this would eventually get annoying in games like Fallout 3/New Vegas or BioShock, that wasn’t the case here. Nevertheless, it would have been nice to have some kind of one-use item that allowed you to instantly hack something, however, as hackable keypads and computers are incredibly abundant in this game.
In addition to having multiple-choice dialogue options in normal NPC conversation, there are interesting moments in the game where you play a persuasion game with a character. Players need to choose a certain response in order to successfully persuade them into giving you additional information or convincing them to help you out. It’s really deep and makes for some fascinatingly tense moments. Failing to persuade them leads to different dialogue and might even alter how you approach the next objective. With that said, I found these rare moments to be quite easy. You could spend Praxis points on a social enhancer augmentation to aid in picking the correct responses, but I found that to be highly unnecessary, as common sense was usually enough in picking the right choice. Character reactions are randomized with each playthrough, however, so the same set of choices won’t always persuade a character.
Taking a page from Deus Ex, the third iteration features big-city hubs in which a player can explore, talk to NPCs, discover sidequests, sneak into buildings, and more. The game’s world is filled with incredible detail. There are so many items and backstory elements that players can miss out on if they don’t take the time to explore. Hidden air vents and doors can lead you to new discoveries and may even show you an alternate route to a location you’ve already visited.
I was pretty disappointed to find a lack of interactivity with objects in the environment. Many boxes and crates can be picked up, dropped and tossed around, but this isn’t the case for many other objects. In the original you could pick up nearly anything, no matter how pointless it was, such as a potted plant, chair, couch or kitchen pot. In this game many objects are simply static and glued to desks and walls. The game tells you which objects can be interacted with via an orange, highlighted glow. While I turned this off for my first playthrough (in addition to an objective marker that I found to be too annoying and hand-holding), I realize that it helps in figuring out what you can’t interact with.
In total, there are only 2 big cities to explore, with repeated visits to both. The story does take you to many other locations in which there are story missions to be done. Apparently, one big-city hub was completely cut out of the game, which is unfortunate. Nevertheless, the cities are pretty big, and there’s a lot to see and explore within them.
There are usually multiple pathways to an objective, be it a story mission or a sidequest, with the latter having multiple outcomes depending on your actions. While your actions don’t necessarily change the direction the story takes, there are several different factors that can affect future sidequests and even small dialogue changes. I love how the game makes you think outside the box. Can’t get in through the front door? Circle around and see if you can find a vent, or hack another room to get through. I recall a moment where I had to pay an individual in order to get information out of them that pertained to a sidequest, but afterwards I was able to just knock his lights out and take my money back. The nonlinearity of how you approach objectives clearly shows that Eidos Montreal knows what Deus Ex is about.
Overall, the game took me close to 30 hours to complete on my first playthrough, with most of, if not all sidequests completed. It’s a very decent length that’s oddly similar to the length of the original game.
Some of the game’s important moments take place during pre-rendered FMVs which took me out of the game. Not only were they highly unnecessary (why not just use the in-game engine to render the cutscenes?) but they were heavily compressed in the PC version, so they end up looking very grainy on a computer monitor.
The game’s plot serves as a prequel to Deus Ex, and it has many twists and turns. While the game does a decent job of displaying the moral ambiguity of characters’ actions, including the player’s, I felt that the plot lacked the depth of the original. Sure, the original Deus Ex’s plot sometimes became a complicated mess, but there were some really deep philosophical themes and discussions and some truly hair-raising and memorable moments. Human Revolution’s theme regarding the ethics of human augmentation is prevalent throughout its entirety and is explored greatly, however a lot of the conspiracy-oriented parts felt underdeveloped and were too simple.
The mandatory boss fights that are forced upon you in the game detracted from the game as well. The fact that you are forced into these fights without somehow finding an alternate path or at least being given the choice to incapacitate the boss was very disappointing. I could think of a few examples in the original where you were able to skip boss fights entirely if you played your cards right.
Despite this, I could tell that Eidos Montreal really wanted to please fans of the original. There are several instances of fan service, with many references to Deus Ex, especially in emails you read through hacked computers. There are a number of character cameos in the game, with younger versions of characters from the original either making brief appearances within the game or at least being mentioned in text and dialogue.
If there’s one thing I have to admit that I was greatly disappointed with, it would be the last quarter of the game or so. By the endgame, several characters you’ve built relationships with throughout the course of the game are simply pushed aside. The choice of enemies for the final hurrah is also questionable. I could tell this particular part of the game was rushed. The four different endings in the game were anticlimactic and they didn’t grant any sense of closure. Rather then having the player’s actions over the course of the game determine the ending, the game falls into the same trap the original did: it presents you the different options at the end and quite literally makes you handpick one at the last moment. The lack of closure, aside from the big surprise found after the credits left me disappointed and yearning for more.
So, it’s time to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this review: is Deus Ex: Human Revolution a worthy successor to the original Deus Ex? Most certainly. Eidos Montreal has done a fantastic job with this game, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the game suffers from a few flaws, most of those directed towards the game’s story and its final quarter or so. Nevertheless, the game kept me engaged so much that I wasn’t even keeping track of time anymore. For a full week and a few days I was living and breathing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It’s about time there was a game that took so many great things from that 11-year old title and utilized them better than any other game that came after it. I know it’s a little unfair to compare the legendary greatness of Deus Ex to this newly-released title, but if there’s one big thing Human Revolution improved upon with the original, it’s the many gameplay elements, such as the improved stealth, hacking and action. At this point, I seriously cannot wait for another entry in the series.