[LTTP Review] Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution had a lot to live up to on its release as the modern prequel to a classic among PC gamers, Deus Ex. Its predecessor is still fondly remembered as one of the greatest PC games of all time, praised for its freedom in accomplishing objectives, the complexity of its story, and blending of RPG, stealth, and shooter elements that was revolutionary at the time. Fortunately, its successor does not sacrifice any of these things for a more modern audience; rather, it presents mostly everything that was great about Deus Ex in a new light. Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s seamless merging of story and setting, open-ended tactical gameplay, and unique visual and musical style is more than enough cause to call it a worthy successor to Deus Ex, and more importantly, an incredible, unforgettable game.

The brilliance of the storytelling of Deus Ex is exemplified in its very first scene, in which a mysterious few discuss the state of the world and make clandestine plans. In a five minute glimpse, it is revealed that the world is in the midst of an ideological battle involving the morality of “augmentations”, which are implants or prosthetics that improve humans mechanically and mentally. Riots have broken out worldwide as debates rage among global leaders for the regulation of such technology that can divide people into human and superhuman, while a conspiracy is concocted among the unknown group. The whole premise for the story is shown for the perceptive player.

This world is seen through the perspective of Adam Jensen, chief of security for one of the firms which design and produce these controversial technologies. Although one can expect Jensen to have a lot of work on his hands due to discontent directed at firms such as his employer, we soon find that there’s a much bigger beast beyond the ensuing chaos. Jensen is also no ordinary man. Through circumstances beyond his control, Jensen was forced to be heavily augmented without his consent. Although his augmentations allow him to have capabilities beyond those of a normal human being, the fact that Jensen never asked for them allows the player to interpret the conflict in an unbiased way through him. The player’s take on the conflict will prove very important as the game will constantly question their stance until the very end, proving Human Revolution to be an immersive and intellectually stimulating game.

The central conflict is reflected not only within Jensen but in the world around him. The ever-present global news network Picus displays itself on screens, readers, and broadcasts everywhere Jensen goes, constantly providing updates and spins on the battles between pro-human activists and supporters of human enhancement technology. Often Picus will foreshadow an entity or event Jensen will become involved with a few missions later. You overhear conversations between NPCs about themselves, reflecting how much they resent the unfairness created by those that are enhanced and those that aren’t, or their incredulity at pro-human activists preventing technological advancement. The environment itself is the debating hall where Jensen, and the player, will discover what they truly believe. Side missions are each moral dilemmas which polarize the player to take a stand on this conflict, which greatly deepens the sense of immersion. You get a sense that these side missions are not contrived to give the player a distraction from the main story, but are a product of a world on a tipping point in which the player has to determine where the pieces fall. The missions constantly toy with this central question up until the ending. The cohesiveness of theme, setting, and interactivity in Human Revolution defines what it means for a player to be fully immersed in and engaged with the game world.

The dialogue is as well-written as the story. Whether it is a minor character only encountered in a side mission, or a villain who shapes the whole context of the story, you can’t help but be intrigued by each one through their unique personalities and stories conveyed by excellent voice acting and animation (although facial animation is a bit lacking). Playing the character of Jensen is brilliant in the fact that even if Jensen is a character with an established background in a linear story, the player is still allowed to role play in the conversation system. There are a good number of important conversations in the game in which Jensen must persuade a character through a careful selection of dialogue choices. Each dialogue choice conveys a certain aspect of personality. For example, a player favoring a more subtle, kinder approach can plead or absolve, while a more assertive, dominant player would crush or insist. There is no one sequence of answers to “win” the interaction, allowing the player to project his personality unto Jensen’s. These conversations illustrate the story in an entertaining and interactive way, and are much more preferable to a scripted cutscene. Whereas in some role-playing games the player would play as a faceless “everyman”, Adam Jensen is as enticing and interesting as the characters around him due to his rich backstory and personality influenced by the player.

Player agency is further demonstrated in Deus Ex‘s gameplay as its signature aspect. Each level is open-ended in the many directions Jensen can take to navigate it and reach the objective. There are always multiple ways of getting to a certain area, whether it is through entering an air vent, hacking the door, or using the security system. Options branch out not only in terms of navigation, but also in execution. Does Jensen sneak his way to the high ground to avoid the guards below, or fight his way through to the front doors? Does he take out his enemies quietly with a tranquilizer rifle, run and go loud with a shotgun, or try to avoid them altogether? These tactical questions are ever present during each and every mission, providing endless options for players to discover and execute.

If a player merely focuses on tackling objectives however, he would be missing out an a majority of the game. Human Revolution rewards so much for exploration it is virtually a requirement to do so to succeed in the game and fully figure out the layers and layers of story. There is a practical reason to explore every nook and cranny of a level, since the player can discover multiple infilration and exfiltration points, as well as useful weapons, ammo, and door codes lying around. The greater reason to explore, beyond practical reasons, is to fully appreciate the beauty of its map design and writing. I cannot help but feel a twinge of satisfaction when I find another way I could have entered a certain room that I didn’t notice before. The same applies when I find an area I never knew existed that wasn’t essential to the mission, to find out it contains a valuable weapon upgrade, an interesting editorial in a datapad, or a highly secured computer. Computers are a godsend for lore geeks and pragmatists alike, since they contain emails of anything from door codes to letters by very important characters. While a door code can lead to a new way of entry or a bunch of loot, an email can give the player a glimpse into the secrets beyond the outward appearances of characters and events. When a player is immersed in a world full of big characters, mysterious conspiracies, and references to the first game, these emails get real interesting, and make the world of Deus Ex so much richer.

Scavenging in Deus Ex nets Jensen anything from EMP grenades to energy bars which can be used to dispatch robots or power augmentations. Since every item you acquire has some practical use, it becomes a strategic affair when deciding what to keep since Jensen has limited inventory slots. The items Jensen holds can determine what approach he will take towards a mission, whether powering a silent augmented infiltration with energy bars or launching a deadly assault with an arsenal.

The gameplay focuses primarily on stealth, although the player can treat the game like a shooter if he wants. A level usually has Jensen tasked with going to some objective, sneaking through or dispatching guards along with way. The stealth system is snappy and understandable. Jensen can switch from cover to cover with a touch of a button, and the minimap shows the locations and directions of enemies. The mechanics are excellent since there is enough information to allow the player to figure out exactly what to do, while still remaining challenging due to the patrol routes which can force Jensen out of cover if he stays too long. Once discovered, Jensen will to run unless he chooses to fight, leaving the guards to be on alert and search for him.

Once Jensen gets close enough to an enemy, he can initiate a takedown. This will execute a canned animation where Jensen either knocks out the enemy or kills them, depending if the player had pressed or held the button. Once the guard is incapacitated, Jensen may choose to hide the body to prevent an alert from other guards. While they feel satisfying, takedowns present two flaws in the combat system. First, surrounding guards stop shooting once Jensen gets into his takedown animation, effectively making him invincible for a few seconds. This quirk, coupled with the fact that Jensen can just run up to a guard that sees him and take him down, makes combat a bit too easy. More importantly, the fact that everyone stops shooting to apparently witness Jensen take his time punching their comrade in the face is immersion breaking, which is made worse by how much the game tries to immerse you in its world. Secondly, Jensen is awarded with more experience points if he takes down an opponent nonlethally. Getting more points just because the player pressed a button instead of held it, or because he used a tranquilizer rifle instead of a sniper rifle, is not very balanced. This is especially bad in a game that encourages players to play as they please, although rewarding players more for a more skillful approach is fine.

If Jensen is not careful enough, he will likely be caught in a firefight. There is a good variety of weapons available for every situation, ranging from the silent, nonlethal stun gun for soft targets to the loudly destructive heavy rifle for guards and robots alike. Weapons can be upgraded through items found by determined scavengers, which increase stats such as damage and fire rate. A satisfying sense of progression is seen with Jensen’s guns, keeping true to the RPG elements in Deus Ex. The shooting mechanics themselves are not stellar however; guns don’t feel very solid, and look and behave like toys instead of real guns due to their sound and recoil.

Bosses Jensen encounters can seem out of place due to the freedom the player should be used to in gameplay. They are akin to bosses you see in a shooter: deadly, with lots of health. It is odd how stealth, coersion, and fluidity is so emphasized in everything in the game except the boss battles, where you have no choice but to pick up a gun and painstakingly whittle them down.

Jensen gains Praxis points as he acquires exp, which he can use to gain access to augmentations. The ability to customize Jensen’s powers to fit the player’s unique playstyle speaks to the elements of choice and role-playing highly present in the game. Augmentations can give advantages that favor various styles of play, whether the player likes exploring, sneaking, or shooting. Especially fun augmentations include abilities to punch through walls to access areas, see enemy line-of-sight and sound waves, and hack turrets to kill enemies instead of you.

The visual style and ambient music are simply stellar, somehow managing to perfectly express and underscore the rich setting as well as the theme. The black and gold color scheme is immediately apparent upon looking at the box art or booting up the game. A majority of the visuals showcase these colors: everything from the railings of staircases to the interfaces of computers. Outdoor environments seem continually bathed in a golden light, despite the fact that the time of day almost always is a perpetual night. The colors complement to the moody, serious demeanor and futuristic cyberpunk setting that permeates throughout the whole tension filled adventure. The excellent and enjoyable soundtrack complements these same things, merging haunting vocals with exclusively electronic sound. Whether watching a major cutscene or the sneaking through a multidude of guard patrols, the music of Deus Ex effectively conveys the tensions of gameplay and story in a futuristic era.

Since Human Revolution is a successor to the original Deus Ex, it is necessary to compare the two. Purely from a gameplay perspective, Deus Ex provides even more options and surprises than its successor, while Human Revolution has more refined mechanics such as those of stealth and combat. Deus Ex highly rewards exploration as well, but with additional surprises. In addition to emails and loot, the player can find things such as an important voiced character in a very secured hidden room. The original also has more options to traverse levels, such as the abilities to blow apart doors, to swim, and to get secrets from talking to NPCs. Human Revolution doesn’t have these things, but instead features a more refined stealth, combat, and conversation system. However, both the games contain similar immersion breaking flaws, such as the ability to hack into someones computer or take their stuff right in front of them.

Playing Human Revolution is an experience that is thought provoking in its moral questions and hidden secrets and entertaining in its tactical openness and role-playing elements. The setting will immerse you due to the sheer cohesiveness of the theme, characters, story, visuals, and music. Both the brilliance of the environment and the variations in gameplay will invite multiple playthroughs of the 20 hour story as players will be motivated to uncover all the secrets and try out all the ways to beat a level. Despite Human Revolution’s few flaws which can break the cohesiveness it tries so hard to create, and can prevent it from living up to the extensive open endedness the original is so known for, the polish of every element of Human Revolution proves it an experience that is worth every minute.

[+Gripping story] [+Immersive] [+Open ended tactical gameplay] [+Rewards greatly for exploration] [+RPG elements complement all playstyles] [+Challenging and clear stealth] [+Refined characters and dialogue] [+Outstanding music and visual style] [-Boss fights out of place] [-Some immersion breakers]

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