August 29, 2011
Things start off fairly quick in Human Revolution with players taking control of Sarif Industries head of security, Adam Jensen, and are introduced to a future cyberpunk world that is gripped in the heat of what could very well be the next major step in human evolution. Augmentation, a far more high-tech form of prosthetic limb attachment, has blurred the lines between humanity and machine with many wondering where exactly the limit is for evolution. As the head of such revolutionary technology Sarif Industries prepares to deliver a presentation on their discoveries when they're brutally attacked by a group of professionals mercenaries who almost succeed in their goal if not for a single loose end: Adam Jensen's survival. Jensen manages to make a speedy recovery with help from the very technology that mankind are heatedly debating about.
Jensen's augmentations are not only important for story purposes (as he would have no doubt died from his injuries without Sarif's technology), but it serves as a link between every other aspect of the game as well. Combat is defined by what augmentations are chosen and built upon; how players interact with NPCs will depend on what faction you're speaking with and how well they take to Adam's new body; and how players choose to explore the world is made easier depending on what augmentations are activated and upgraded. Upgrading skills and attributes are done by obtaining Praxis Points, which can be earned through getting experience or simply finding Praxis Kits scattered throughout hidden rooms or hard to reach places in the world. Naturally this means that, like the rest of the game, which augmentations players choose to advance will open more options for players to interact and explore the world around them.
Some augmentations are strictly combat only and will effect things like weapon recoil, or how often melee take-downs can be used, but most abilities in game serve a dual purpose. Options like x-ray vision, increased strength, or higher jumping come into play during missions and during exploration or general detective footwork. For example, a mission that requires players enter a police station can be handled in one of several ways: you can try to break down the front door, which would have the entire station mobilized to try and kill you, or find an alternate access point such as a sewer or rooftop entrance. Those who have higher hacking skills may find that some security measures can be more easily bypassed, while other players that have increased their ability to persuade NPCs in conversation may find it easier to get past the security guard at the front door. This balance between combat and exploration means that taking the right aug isn't about which one will simply assist in killing the enemy, but which will also assist in completing a mission that may seem difficult should you attack head-on.
It sounds like a daunting task to try and pick the 'right' augmentations, but in reality players will have an easy time figuring out how they want to go about things once given access to the city of Detroit itself. When not on a primary mission players are given access to the city and all of its various hubs, and completing side quests is often handled in the exact same way that handling a primary quest would be. It's during this exploration that players generally start to hit obstacles such as hidden vents, obscured walkways, or security panels that have unusually high ratings to hack. Accepting that only some skills are going to be accessible early on means that it's important to dedicate yourself to a particular set of augmentations that will get the job done, and since combat in game is more than just the typical FPS choosing the right passive skill becomes much easier.
Most of the fighting players will experience in game is based around stealth, as a head-to-head conflict is generally frowned upon. That's not to say that players can't just step into a room and start blasting away, but more often than not guards will be able to summon assistance that usually includes enemies from other rooms. When faced against such odds it's typically smarter to start taking down the opposition from the shadows, sneaking around losing fights and using every possible advantage to make sure you're neither seen nor heard when finally removing a guard from patrol. Most of the time it feels like Adam doubles as some sort of cyborg version of Batman, up until the point where the player is forced to actually use a gun. The same cover system that is implemented in stealth works alongside the gunplay itself, with players using corners to optimize being able to lay down the pain without suffering any in turn. However, much like the open-world aspect of the game, combat is more than just a matter of choosing to shoot or not to shoot. Decisions made outside of an actual fight play a major factor in how combat is going to be handled.
Entering a room and clearing it of enemies gradually becomes more and more complicated, as players have more than just security personnel to deal with. Cameras, turrets, robots and snipers all add layers of complexity to any situation, and getting caught becomes more than just a game of avoiding one type of security to deal with another. Sometimes it's a matter of turning one force against another, or alternatively picking which fight is even worth engaging in the first place. Players will find that the same skills that make the world and side quests easier to engage will make the primary objectives just as easy to handle, but only so long as they take the time to fully investigate the battleground and what it may have to offer.
Individually each of these elements make Deus Ex: Human Revolution a good game, but combined together so seamlessly it becomes a great game. Moving from one objective to the next, never quite knowing what the plot is going to throw at you next, always in anticipation that there will always be more than one solution to the same problem, HR becomes a title that not only forces the player to think hard about the choices they make, but to consider other options that may not be in their typical play-style. Instead of rushing in guns blazing against just about every obstacle, look at the situation, consider an alternative, and use your tools to exploit whatever advantage that presents itself. This isn't just good game design, it's brilliant storytelling, because ultimately putting yourself into the mindset of a character to solve a puzzle causes you to understand and empathize with their cause. A player looking to kill every enemy in their way is ready to submit to the consequences of such actions only when he knows whats on the line, and Eidos Montreal makes each objective's goal crystal clear.
Naturally for all of its hits the game does have a few misses, generally in the form of AI. Guards that patrol locations do so in a formulaic method, and players familiar with the Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell style of gameplay may recognize some of the flaws with such a setup. Knocking out a guard and leaving his body out in the open may leave him for discovery and could compromise the players position, or it could be handy bait for drawing another guard over and knocking him out as well. Most of the time guards will follow such bait like lemmings, and assuming that the AI doesn't 'see' the player for a particular period of time they begin to assume that their target is elsewhere and call off the search altogether. Most of the time players will find the guards are set up in fairly realistic and sensible areas, but every once in a while it's possible to encounter a setup that is outright silly in the way guards will flock to your location willingly to be executed. Needless to say when it happens all of the tension is drained right out of the situation leaving much to be desired.
Another strange part of Human Revolution's design would be ammo for weapons, which is spread throughout the world in an incredibly obscure fashion. Since items can be picked up and held in the inventory for an indefinite period of time players may find themselves toting around ammo for guns they haven't obtained yet, or worse may find themselves fighting in a location that is completely devoid of a particular type of weapon munition. This means that carrying 1-2 weapons at all times is a necessity, but which guns will actually get ammo at what point in the game is a mystery. Players will often encounter merchants that will sell ammo refills, but specific to only some types of guns, which is great if you happen to be carrying the right gun for the right merchant, but absolutely useless if you haven't obtained that gun yet. Just like the AI issues this kind of bug is generally situational, but no less frustrating when you find yourself low on ammo for a favoured weapon that's been twice upgraded and there is absolutely no way to refill it.
Visually Deus Ex is a gorgeous game, and while its detail is certainly outdone by a few other AAA titles, Human Revolution's graphics are nothing to frown upon. Each city-zone is designed in a unique fashion that evokes the feeling of a bleak cyberpunk future, one that only gains depth as players travel from city to city around the world. Most of the buildings are filled with additional rooms to explore, further encouraging the player to go out and wander between primary objectives, and no room is left without a purpose to some extent. The audio in game is also top notch, although Adam Jensen himself can sound a bit 'Keanu Reeves' at times, most of the other voices are performed quite well.
Overall Deus Ex Human Revolution is a game that attempts to draw a wide variety of game styles, and succeeds on just about every level. Part RPG, sandbox, FPS, and TPS, there are few stones left unturned by this title that does quite a bit of justice to a series already held in high esteem for both storytelling and game design. This is a game designed for every gamer that's ever complained about there not being enough choice in a modern title, or enough depth in the decisions made, or that the plot and character development is lacking. It has its flaws that can occasionally lose the player when it comes to breaking the mood, but all of that is easily forgivable. Otherwise there's very little that Human Revolution doesn't do to satisfy on the first play-through, let alone a second.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was reviewed on the PS3.