Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of those delightful little surprises in this year’s gaming calendar. It’s a typical knife-edge wildcard title that could change everything or fall under its own pretence. If you look at its pedigree, you can see a definitively strong title in the original Deus Ex but also the bitter disappoint of Deus Ex: Invisible War so many would be forgiven for feeling a touch apprehensive about Human Revolution.
Fortunately, we’re pleased to report this rich concoction of a game came out of the oven as a deliciously moist feast. Human Revolution is equal parts Metal Gear Solid, Rainbow Six Vegas, Splinter Cell, Resident Evil and Bioshock all rolled into one extensive experience that feels like its own individual slice of gaming history.
Before we get too carried away with chucking in the superlatives, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves what HR is. This title can be best described as a combat FPS RPG (acronyms will be running around heavily in this review, thanks to my review skills not being heavily augmented at this present juncture). However, the way you play the game is up to you.
Do you want to talk people round to your way of thinking or do you want to blow them sky fucking high? Perhaps sneaking up behind someone (like the stalker you are) and breaking their neck is more your cup of tea? No problem. The game’s mechanics allow you to adapt your play-style on the fly, mainly thanks to the FPS viewpoint giving way to a third-person perspective when behind cover. We know it’s a relatively cheap gimmick and it’s cool to head on cover-based shooters nowadays, but there’s no denying the fact that creeping into cover before picking off some unsuspecting poor sod is undoubtedly pleasurable.
The environments that house these theatres of modern espionage action are definitely well thought out and can prove suitably challenging. In essence, there are essentially some major hub locales (we will not reveal exactly how many as we still believe in not spoiling games, unlike some) that host your usual array of shops and other places of interest. Then, there are some self-contained arenas of sneaky (or possibly not so) destruction that you’ll be bouncing around in.
It’s an interesting mix, with the hub worlds demonstrating a large scope in terms of the buildings they possess (houses, apartments, shops, clubs and others all feature) and the hidden nooks and crannies you can get yourself into. The self-contained areas wouldn’t look out of place in a MGS title and whilst they deliver a suitable challenge with multiple pathways to reach your goal, you can’t help feeling you’ve seen this all before. It’s an odd sensation as there’s nothing essentially wrong with the areas in question (quite the opposite in some places), but on occasion it can feel like you’re essentially plodding along for the sake of it.
The main problem with the game’s areas is one that is also one of its main strengths: every room, corridor and building has its own place in that gameworld. While this can be great, you will tire of seeing the same old computers, photocopiers and toilets by the end of the game. Essentially everyone in the future has exactly the same suppliers for everything by the looks of things, even across countries (that’s the only spoiler you’re getting). The attention to detail has to be commended though. Hacking office computers and reading typical office banter between staffers can be a nice distraction before you suck it up and decide to blow up more naughty people.
Thankfully, the hidden areas and multiple pathways really add to these sections. Eidos Montreal wasn’t lying when they said that the multiple pathways would actually be different (as opposed to just choosing left or right in most games). We became so entrenched with the gameworld and wanting to experience the game that we backtracked a lot to find any hidden loot, which is all too common here thankfully.
Now, you can’t talk about a Deus Ex game without bringing up augmentations (essentially enhancements for your main character). HR’s augs are surprisingly well-balanced; with only a few giving you a completely unstoppable advantage over the game’s AI folk (even if the AI is typical dumb stealth-game fare) if you so choose to max them. They mostly present ways for you to handle situations differently, from eye and cranial augs to help stealth or hacking (which takes the form of a pleasant-enough mini-game) through to more combat focused augs like taking less damage. These dovetail quite nicely with the whole “adapt your play-style” mantra and can make some of the duller locations fun to traverse.
Another pleasantly surprising aspect of the game is the gunplay. The guns feel suitably punchy, and the fact that most of them are easily upgradeable adds to the game’s copious customisation options. They also make you feel like a complete bad-ass, which can come in handy when things get a bit wobbly.
All of this gaming goodness is complemented by a decent presentation. HR’s locales look stunning, but the character models can leave a little to be desired when compared to the beautiful hub worlds or pre-rendered backdrops you can lay your eyes on when you’re on top of a suitable massive building. These low-quality models definitely show their age during conversations with NPCs unfortunately.
Square Enix seem to be more than happy to add to the problem by adding in some frankly bizarre CGI cutscenes that ark back to their Final Fantasy RPGs. We know they had the game’s best intentions at heart (to make it look all cinematic and dramatic), but if they stopped and worked on the models a little more you couldn’t help but wonder if they would need the odd cutscenes in the first place.
Whilst we’re on the negatives, we would also like to point out that the boss battles are a pointless addition to a game that’s supposed to be about tactical action and reek of MGS’ equally pointless boss encounters. In a world where ammo can be sparse if you’re not looting every corpse or hacking away at every door you see they can be frustrating.
In all honesty, the characters themselves are like the bosses in many ways: they are instantly forgettable and voiced by seemingly bored individuals. It’s a shame really as the writing is good (the protagonist has a particularly humorous encounter with a cop where he mentions Che Guevara), but it’s quite telling that we haven’t even mentioned the typical brown-haired spec-ops-style tall muscular lead until this late point in the review. His name is Adam Jensen, for all those that care.
Thankfully, the story is much more gratifying and frames the action well. It’s not a typical mainstream-style plot and isn’t afraid to offer surprises to keep the game feeling fresh. Deus Ex fans will enjoy the fan service and newcomers will be equally happy to find it suitably bad-ass.
Bottom Line: At this part of the review it may seem that we are being a little down on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it’s only because the game is so close to perfection that its shortcomings stick out more than a fat person in a nightclub. However, we’re confident enough with HR to say that what’s here is unashamedly game of the year material thanks to its stunning gameplay and flourishes of architectural/story genius. The augmentations, different play-styles, fun environments and RPG elements really help to deliver something that is both comfortably familiar yet completely original. It’s an intelligent but lengthy experience that will put a silly grin all over your face.