Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
How can you follow a game like Deus Ex? Invisible War failed to satisfy our expectations despite actually being a capable game in its own right, leaving us to wonder if the original could ever successfully be complemented by a sequel. After all, it's probably the best game ever made. Eidos Montreal, however, made the brave decision to develop a prequel and a stylistic reboot to the series - and as it turns out, the decision has paid off with one of the finest games you'll play this generation.
After security consultant Adam Jensen's company is attacked by a mysterious group of cyborg commandos, the reluctantly augmented hero is catapulted into a dystopian web of conspiracy, corporate espionage, paranoia and the far-reaching implications of human augmentation. Shades of grey and no clear boundary between good and evil define the experience, resulting in a thrilling mature narrative that's packed with revelations and fragile alliances.
Much like the original Deus Ex, Human Revolution's experience hinges around offering players meaningful choices at every level of its gameplay; facilitated by impeccable level design that encourages exploration. Enormous sprawling city hubs bristle with subquests to undertake, rooftops to scamper accross, sewers to delve through and hidden extras to discover. Story levels offer multiple points of entry and numerous ways to push through each facility; feeling like real buildings with ventilation systems, sub-basements and security systems to circumvent. It's not an open-world game, and you'll be constantly driven towards your objective, but Human Revolution spoils us with options at every conceivable juncture.
Jensen's augmentations - cybernetic prosthetics and implants for those who don't know - allow players to spend Praxis Points earned from experience on multiple ways to interact with enemies and the environment itself. Augmented arms make light work of heavy objects blocking hidden vents. Weak walls can be punched through to reveal new areas. Lethal drops can be circumvented with the Icarus Landing System, providing yet more routes to traverse and bonuses to find. There are so many choices, so many unique ways to take on each individual challenge and so much replayability that we're going to have to examine each individual gameplay element in turn.
Traditional combat is as solid as you'd expect from a triple-A first person shooter, complimented by a dynamic cover system that allows Jensen to cower, blindfire and roll behind plentiful walls and railings. Each of the numerous weapons can be modified in various ways, running the gamut from incremental stat boosts to target-leading software, armour-penetrating rounds or explosive potential. The AI is fairly easy to exploit (finding choke points tends to result in hilarious piles of corpses), but it compensates for a lack of self-preservation with a willingness to counter with grenades or augmentations of their own. Naturally your choice of augmentations play a key role in battle, with the ability to steady your aim, reduce recoil or deploy a ridiculously brutal human claymore that shreds anyone stupid enough to engage at close range.
Melee combat has been removed and partially replaced by cinematic takedowns that can be triggered with a single button press. Jensen's wickedly sharp arm blades make mincemeat of anyone stupid enough to venture within arm's reach, and a non-lethal stealthier takedown can be used for more tactical players. Subsequent augmentations let you engage two foes at once, which is balanced by a surprisingly high energy cost that means that you can't rely on it as an overpowering combat option. It's yet another meaningful choice in a sea of nonlinear decisions.
There are certainly a lot of enjoyable ways to kill enemies (or anyone you like for that matter including many of the important story characters if you so choose), but since most missions are based around the acquiring important intelligence and extracting safely, there's nothing to be gained from it. Using a little finesse and restraint is much more efficient and rewarding - and luckily Human Revolution spoils us with the best FPS stealth mechanics since Thief II. As well as abusing the staggeringly useful yet short-lived cloaking augmentation, the levels bristle with perfectly-placed cover, miles of ductwork to crawl through and predictable guard patrol routes that can be taken advantage of with a little observation and common sense. Line of sight, noise and last-known position are incredibly important considerations, and completing objectives without been seen showers you with extra experience.
It's possible to complete the entirety of the campaign without being seen by an enemy or triggering a single alarm... and better yet, it's actually fairly easy to do so without killing anyone at all. As well as avoiding engagements via stealth or clever route planning, tazers and tranquillizers provide a nifty way of rendering guards unconscious (as well as bonus experience) - though stashing their sleeping bodies out of sight is incredibly important.
Exploration has always been the most important part of the Deus Ex franchise. The environments teem with completely non-essential rooms, routes, rooftops and secret stashes that can be accessed through vents (or the door, if you're so inclined), but chances are that you'll need to throw a few Praxis points into your computer skills. Hacking into devices catapults you into an accessible minigame based around capturing control nodes that all have a random chance of triggering an alarm. Extra XP and credits can be finagled out of these challenges, with the constant threat of detection adding a real sense of tension, excitement and threat.
Or, 0f course, you could just hunt for codes and passwords in discarded PDAs or by eavesdropping on conversations.
While we're on the subject of conversations, a small number of characters can also be coerced, blackmailed or otherwise manipulated using an impressive dialogue system. Each of these chats revolve around telling the NPC what they want to hear based on their responses and demeanor, made easier with an optional augmentation that displays a psych profile and brief backstory. It's a shame that there aren't more of these moments, but successfully completing one tends to offer safe access to otherwise hostile areas or juicy optional plot details.
It's therefore possible to play through Human Revolution in any way you choose - so the most satisfying way of doing so is to take the blinkers off and treat each situation as an individual challenge. Rather than limiting yourself to a single style of play, true joy is to be found in using stealth when possible, killing when necessary, chatting to advantage and simply trying new things just for the sheer unadulterated fun of it every once in a while.
This focus on player choice and open-ended gameplay does occasionally slam into a brick wall, however, in the shape of a small number of truly miserable boss fights. Regardless of how you decide to play through the game - even if you haven't triggered a single alarm or killed a single guard - you'll be forced to fight to the death in tiny, cramped arenas. The bosses are all aggravatingly durable bullet sponges who present an annoying challenge for aggressive character builds... not to mention implacable obstacles for those who haven't chosen to invest in any lethal weaponry. Talking and tranquillizers have no effect, and most players will need to fall back on trial, error and good old fashioned constant saving.
Much hinges on the storyline (after all, Deus Ex fans and gamers in general are notoriously hard to please) and Human Revolution spins an exceptional yarn that rewards exploration and dedication. The more you delve into the subquests, backstory, emails and media outlets, the more you'll understand about the immediate plot and world in general. Not only is Jensen's personal drama one of the most compelling plotlines we've enjoyed in recent years, but frequent references to the events, characters and lore of the Deus Ex canon build up throughout the game. You can see the universe of the original Deus Ex being constructed, piece by piece, in front of you as you play, making for an experience that will delight newcomers and hardcore fans in equal measure.
Depressingly, though, the storyline builds up to a climax that never quite occurs. The last two hours of Human Revolution are a bizarre and unsatisfying non-sequitur that feels completely disjointed from the rest of the experience; both in terms of tone and basic gameplay. You'll eventually face off against a final boss who comes out of nowhere (foreshadowed only by an optional sub-objective within a subquest and a handful of terminals) and has nothing to do with anything at all. It feels like it's been ripped from an inferior game... and frankly, so does the last stage in its entirety.
The 'multiple endings' gambit is also a bit of a farce, for reasons I'm too exasperated to go into. Not to mention that I detest spoilers of all kinds.
But, like the best adventures, it's not about the destination. Human Revolution is all about Jensen's journey - and the multiple ways that players can end up at the same conclusion. We all know how the story ends (with the original Deus Ex), but getting there is the entire point of the proceedings. And a point that's been impeccably realised.
It's time to talk about graphics and performance, which is an imperfect science at best due to the dizzying array of PC builds out there. Human Revolution eschews default preset options in favour of letting you tinker with absolutely everything... meaning that you'll need to spend a fair few minutes fiddling around with the copious number of texture filters, AA, buffering and post-processing settings. Optional DX11 support also adds tessellation and the like. Bottom line: Human Revolution looks great on mid-spec rigs and high-end gaming laptops (displaying slight grain and grit when it comes to the texture work), and top end towers are able to push out a level of clarity and fidelity that far exceeds both console versions.
Much of this visual competency, however, is down to the art design - since Eidos Montreal has crafted a stunning, coherent and believable universe. Human Revolution's omnipresent black and gold motif is visually striking and uniquely rich, fully immersing players in a high-tech world on the brink of calamity or evolution. There's a case to be made that the society is too advanced to be taken seriously as a Deus Ex prequel (since helicopters are replaced by jet-equipped VTOLs, bathroom mirrors bristle with enormous computer banks and the humble button is nowhere to be found), but this is a personal observation - not a criticism.
Finally, it's worth noting that an exceptional level of overall polish is betrayed by a few technical inconsistencies. Clipping issues abound, especially in takedown cinematics where Jensen will occasionally punch a hapless guard through the scenery into the dark green nightmarish netherworld that lies beyond. I also personally witnessed a few objective waypoint glitches that failed to reset after entering a new load zone. Speaking of load zones, long loading times frequently break the sense of immersion - averaging between thirty seconds to a full minute depending on the size of the next area. It's a small price to pay, but one that forces players to suspend disbelief much more than should be necessary.
- Impeccable level design, open-ended gameplay
- Mature, compelling storyline
- Mechanically brilliant, graphically capable, outstanding art style
- Unsatisfying climax and resolution
- Awkward boss battles
- Clipping gripes, long load times
The Short Version: Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a triumph of open-ended gameplay, impeccable level design and the realisation of a believable, authentic universe. Its scant flaws are thrown into sharp relief by the exceptional quality of the overall experience, and Human Revolution is as good as we could possibly want from a prequel to an epic series. We have no doubt that its successor has the potential to be the best game of all time.
Oh, wait. It already is.