There’s something pleasingly old-school about Deus Ex: Human Revolution and this is acknowledged in one of the first achievements/trophies in the game, the description of which asks if you “Point and Click much?”. The much lauded original Deus Ex, released just over a decade ago, practically pioneered the mix of RPG and shooter mechanics and many games since have followed suit. Fallout, Mass Effect and Bioshock have tweaked and refined the template to crowd pleasing effect and the gaming world is all the better for them.
But it’s the original Deus Ex, developed by Ion Storm and mentored by Warren Spector (of System Shock fame, another ‘cyberpunk’ First Person Role Playing Game) that many gamers hold dear to their heart. After being disappointed by the dumbed down Deus Ex: Invisible War, released in 2003, it’s understandable that many people may be apprehensive about another title bearing the Deus Ex name.
Well fret no more. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, despite a couple of design flaws and technical faults, can hold it’s head up high and stand proudly alongside the original. Eidos Montreal have crafted a deep, sprawling, conspiracy laden thriller that rewards the inquisitive nature of an RPG gamer whilst also respecting that some folk out there are a little more trigger-happy.
The story, set in 2027 (25 years before the events of the first game), puts you in the role of Adam Jensen, chief security officer for Sarif Industries, one of the top biotech companies involved in human augmentation. The ethics of these mechanical enhancements have split society down the middle and this is not helped by the fact that all these large corporations have effectively taken control of global governments. Caught in the middle of a terrorist attack on Sarif by a rival company, Jensen is almost killed and, at the behest of his employers and without his consent, is augmented himself. Six months later he is back at work and tasked with finding out who was responsible for the attack.
Whilst the tangled tale itself is engaging, the most important aspect of this title is the gameplay. Or, more accurately, how you play the game. Instead of one expansive map to explore the game is broken down into several large multi-tiered ‘hubs’, from Blade Runner inspired cities such as Detroit and China to more contained environments such as medical facilities or shipyard docks. This helps focus the story when following the main mission strand, but each hub is ripe for exploitation. Any situation can be approached from a variety of angles; need access to a corpse being held in a police station morgue? Try sweet-talking the officer at reception through an intelligently designed conversation mechanic. Or you could opt for sneaking in through a network of sewers, ventilation shafts and staying in cover, out of view of patrolling guards and security cameras to reach your goal. Maybe you need to hack a security system for sensitive information but your path is littered with heavily armed enemies and turrets; you could go for the heavy handed approach and stroll in guns blazing. Or you could make use of that code you found on the poor sap you put to sleep earlier in the game, opening up a door that could enable you to bypass the situation altogether. Don’t have the code? No problem, just utilise the game’s fun, initially complex hacking mini-game and open the door that way.
All of this is made easier, in no small part, by the augmentation upgrade system. Everything you do in the game earns you XP which, in turn, earns you Praxis points. These Praxis points are used to upgrade your biomechanically enhanced body in a way that suits your playstyle. In my initial playthrough I opted for hacking skills and stealth augments. I’d always be tempted to find out what useful or incriminating evidence lay on that level 4 secure computer I passed a while back, whilst walking right past an unsuspecting guard's face with my cloaking device enabled would give me a cheeky thrill. But not having enough Praxis points to upgrade much of my combat skills or armour would leave some avenues of exploration off limits. It’s a risk/reward system that invites multiple playthroughs and I know that, upon completion of the game, I knew only half the story.
It’s this investigatory aspect that is the most alluring and it really does pay to absorb any and all information you come across. At one point an email I read on a hacked computer put to rest any doubts I had about a pretty major character. If I’d not noticed the computer, or simply chosen to move past it thinking it too risky with all the guards in my vicinity, I’d still have those doubts come the closing credits. This exploration extends to interaction with seemingly random characters. From hobos and hookers, to police officers and bartenders, any one of them could open up an optional side-mission and you’ll be spinning many plates during the first half of the story.
Yet this is where the game comes a little unstuck. Human Revolution is at its best in both the Detroit and China city hubs, as choice and consequence are more evident in these open environments and you can feel the story moulding itself to your decisions. But as the game reaches its conclusion, and you move out of these cities, the mission strands follow a more straightforward path. How you move along the path is still up to you, but distractions from side-missions and the like are a rarity. Another flaw that keeps this game from attaining the perfection that so many desperately want is some glaring enemy AI issues. You might accidentally alert a guard during a stealthy approach, setting off an alarm and attracting all his buddies. Simply find a hiding spot, wait it out a minute or two and they will eventually forget the whole thing and return to their preset patrols, as if suffering from some group form of anterograde amnesia.
But the biggest misstep of all is most definitely the inclusion of boss battles. There is no need for them. At all. Each one follows the exact same routine. You’ll find yourself in a room, most likely unprepared, with a ridiculously overpowered boss. The room is then sealed and you have to run and gun for your life in order to proceed any further in the game. Each encounter is completely at odds with the surrounding game and they are all obscenely difficult, as if the developers wanted to intentionally irritate the player. Now if Eidos would kindly release a patch that replaces these mind numbing encounters with a simple cut scene I think everyone will be much happier.
So, is Human Revolution the be all, end all of RPGs? Well, it’s extremely immersive and can adapt itself to virtually any playstyle as much as your playstyle can adapt to it, yet the about-turn to almost standard action-fare linearity towards the final chapters puts a very, very slight dampener on things. It wouldn’t make it as a full on shooter though either, due mainly to some floaty movement and unreliable aim controls. But as a mix of both it will prove to be an intelligent, well written and engaging addition to any discerning gamer’s library.
The annual summer gaming drought has officially ended. Viva La Revolution!
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is available now on PC/PS3/XBOX360