It's tough to be the sequel to any game. No matter what you do, the expectation is that you improve on your strengths while fixing any flaws, becoming a better game in the process. This is easy if your predecessor was considered below average or worse since, in theory, there's nowhere to go but up. It becomes difficult when the game you're following is average or good since there is the potential to mess things up, derailing a franchise in the process. In the case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the pressure to live up to the original is high since the first PC game in the series won multiple Game of the Year awards and is considered a high watermark in gaming. Pair that with the fact that much of the development team doesn't consist of those who worked on the original game, and the task can be called nothing short of Herculean. Despite this — or possibly because of it — the team at Eidos Montreal has crafted a worthy sequel to the original Deus Ex that is also an excellent game in its own right.
The plot serves as a prequel to the series, so those who haven't played any of the previous games need not worry about missing any integral story elements. It is the year 2027. World governments still maintain control, but the corporations pull in the real power with their personal armies and monopoly-like status. More importantly, there is much debate over augmentation, a process where humans begin to replace or enhance their capabilities with technology. The pro-augmentation side argues that it brings benefits for those who experience limitations due to unforeseen events; the anti-augmentation camp is morally opposed to the idea of tampering with the human body and the fact that only the rich benefit from this while the poor lose out.
You play the role of Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT member-turned-chief of security at Sarif Industries, one of the leading companies in human augmentation. On the eve of a big congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., where the company's research scientists were scheduled to speak about the benefits of augmentation, the researchers are brutally murdered. You were also a victim, and while you were on your deathbed, you were provided with live-saving augmentations (augs) for which you'd never asked. You are called back to duty six months after the incident, and while you continue to do your job, you also want to find out who called for the attack and why.
On the surface, Human Revolution looks and acts like a typical first-person shooter with cover elements. Jensen can do short sprints, jump over crates and duck under low doors like any action hero. He can fire any gun from the hip or use the iron sights. He can even take cover behind walls and crates and do things like blind fire with any weapon, perform SWAT turns, and round corners while still taking cover. Jensen can also regenerate his health by staying away from the action for a while; you'll find yourself doing this often because initially, it only takes a few shots to take him down. He differs from other modern action heroes in that he can carry more than two different firearms at a time. Unlike those heroes, though, he is incapable of performing melee attacks without burning up any energy, so he's more reliant on gunfire and grenades to take care of hostile situations.
Once you get past the prologue, you begin to see that shooting only makes up a small but important part of the game. Since you aren't a good bullet sponge, stealth becomes another great technique. You may not be able to engage in lots of acrobatics like wall-climbing or hanging off ledges, but you can sneak around enemies and choose to take them down. You can then search their bodies for supplies and drag them away. It's important that you drag them to good, hidden locations because enemy AI is intelligent enough to go on alert when it sees a body until you escape or take down everyone. While the game doesn't punish you for slipping up and getting caught, it rewards you for being smart enough to not make much noise or leave bodies where everyone can find them.
Hacking is something you'll do quite often since you won't always find passwords to locked doors, safes and other PCs. While it is presented like a puzzle, it feels more like a race. You'll be tapping into nodes to create a link from your entry point to your destination, and each node has levels that determine the likelihood of you accessing it or getting caught. For the most part, successful hacking requires good route planning and reaching the necessary nodes before the timer expires and enemies get you. It's an interesting minigame that has a bit of excitement no matter how many times you do it.
Dialogue is another mechanic that stands out in Human Revolution. Like the Mass Effect series, you'll not only talk to plenty of people but also engage in full-blown conversations. Throughout most conversations, you'll be given a dialogue tree of choices that let you decide which emotion you want to convey and what dialogue will arise from that emotion. It's more fluid than static, so while you can change your emotional track as the conversation goes on, you simply can't pick every option on the tree until you find the right one to push things forward. The idea of not being able to take back anything really makes it feel real since you always have to be careful what you say, lest you make things harder for yourself later on.
All of this is tied together into an experience system that makes the game play like an RPG. Everything you do, from killing enemies to successful hacks and completing missions without raising any alarms, nets experience points. Unlike other RPGs, though, the amount of experience needed to attain a level is always the same, and you don't necessarily level up in the traditional sense. Every time you reach 5000 XP, it is converted into an upgrade credit, which can be used to add modifications to your body or improve what you already have. The improvements include honing your hacking ability to access higher security doors and PCs, improving your resistance to bullets and gas, and surviving falls from greater heights. Since everything is up to you, you can modify your play based on the upgrades or modifications you've chosen.
The gameplay mechanics make for one of the deeper hybrid RPG experiences in recent memory. This is made even more satisfying because the game world isn't exactly sterile. Civilians walk around in non-combat zones and carry on conversations with each other. Everything you do is noticed by everyone, so leaving a gun in the open is bound to attract more attention than if you keep it holstered. News and radio broadcasts always play somewhere, often echoing the sentiments of the people on the street. E-mails, newspapers and journals have a healthy mix of backstory and news pieces to flesh out the world and add to some atmosphere. The living world idea also extends to combat situations. Searching bodies and containers for items doesn't pause the action, so those hoping to temporarily pause things by performing a quick search will be very surprised when they are shot while looking through some drawers. The same also occurs when you're hacking terminals, and since the act attracts the attention of everyone around you, you'll find yourself being harassed by people if you don't clear out the area before you begin the hacking attempt.
Everything comes together under the game's single big hook: complete freedom. Immediately after the title sequence, you're given some freedom in how you want to complete the mission and whether or not you want to handle things using lethal force. You can choose whether you want to sneak around the facility or use pure firepower. You can even decide if you want to eliminate the gang's leader or negotiate with him. Pass this, and you have the freedom to take on any mission you want in a similar manner. Augment yourself with a cloaking device to sneak through gang territory undetected. Barge through a warehouse full of soldiers, breaking walls as you go by. Hack police station computers to get confidential files or crack open doors to prove that company employees want to commit corporate espionage. It's all up to you to determine how you'll play the game, and it's refreshing to see such a controlled sandbox style paired up with such deep gameplay.
It's the idea of choice and attention to detail that create a believable world and help the game shine. The overall story arc remains the same no matter how you decide to play, but everything else can be experienced quite differently depending on what you do. Going in guns blazing may complete the main mission, but it might make side missions more difficult to accomplish. Threatening people might lead to separate side stories down the line, and leaving an area before completing those side missions may close them off until the next playthrough. On average, the game lasts around 25 hours, but because everything you do changes the game so dramatically, expect that to fluctuate wildly. You'll want to play through this game multiple times to soak up everything and do everything possible.
No game is flawless, and Human Revolution is no exception. In particular, the load times feel a bit long, especially in comparison to other recent games on the system. Considering how often you'll die in the course of one playthrough, you'll be seeing load screens often enough to probably memorize the tips. Another issue comes in the form of bosses. You'll encounter a few boss fights, and even if you fully invest in strengthening your combat skills, don't be surprised if luck gets you through a few fights. This is especially true if you employ more stealth through the game since it might leave you close to defenseless for these encounters. It isn't enough to bring down the game, but it's something to be aware of nonetheless.
For those wanting to compare the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions, the differences between both are fairly minor. There is a mandatory 3GB install on the PS3 iteration, but this helps with the load times, as they are much faster when compared to the X360 without optional HDD installation. There's also no pause in gameplay when obtaining a Trophy, so you'll experience fewer interruptions during key moments. Beyond this, everything else feels similar enough that only those with sharpened vision or hearing will be able to spot other differences between the console versions.
The controls are interesting in that they don't follow the scheme set forth by the Call of Duty series. In fact, the scheme is similar to Halo, where you need to click the right analog stick to look through the gun sights. The L1 trigger handles getting in and out of cover, and while it's pretty efficient, those who are still getting weaned on the modified control scheme will find themselves popping in and out of cover by accident when they really want to get a better bead on the enemy.
The original game wasn't praised for its graphics. Even for its time, it was considered blocky, muddy and not representative of what a PC could do. Thankfully, the opposite can be said for the graphics in Human Revolution. Character models are indicative of what one can expect from this console generation. They are well proportioned with semirealistic-looking features, and their animations are well done. Lesser characters, such as civilians and common enemies, seem to have issues with mouth movement, but it's barely noticeable on the more important characters.
The texture work on the characters is pretty impressive. Lots of the textures are clean, and you need not look further than the patterns on Jensen's coat shoulders to see the fine detail work. The textures are also very legible. Even in this day and age of high definition, very few games have textures done so well that you can read the manufacturer's print on your weaponry and the augmented body parts of everyone you meet. The texture work also expands to the environments, where things like vending machines have clearly legible buttons and everyday objects look much better than expected.
What's even more impressive about the environments is the color scheme. Unlike most games, which seem colored in browns and grays, most locations in this title are bathed mostly in blacks and golds. You still have interiors made entirely of steel and a few daytime levels here and there, but for the most part, the game takes place in a nighttime setting that, when combined with the different architecture in each city, makes for interesting and artistic-looking locales. It's certainly a looker and will convince people that good gameplay and storytelling need not eschew good graphics.
From a technical standpoint, the sound is also well done. The music strays from the typical stringed instrument scores you expect from most modern epics and goes deeply into modern sci-fi territory with the gratuitous use of bass. It's haunting material that doesn't take a grand departure when the action heats up. The voice work is expertly done. Jensen's voice is a bit silent and hoarse but not to the point that it feels like the character is being portrayed as a poor man's Clint Eastwood. The voices that manage to impress even more are those of the civilians and bystanders that populate the world. Their constant presence adds life to the environments, and while you hear them more often than you would expect, it feels like great care was taken to ensure that the voices sound diverse. Like the game's visuals, sound makes the game feel like a quality experience.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is as good as they come. Even if it doesn't sport the best graphics, its style greatly makes up for it, and the sound is magnificent. From a gameplay perspective, the freedom of choice is refreshing. The hope is that the provided tools work so well that you'll gladly try out everything during one playthrough. With the various avenues you can take and endings you can receive depending on your actions, you have a game with tons of replay value. The gameplay doesn't get old, and the flaws feel insignificant compared to everything that the game does right. While other high-profile games are coming out this year, it's safe to say that Eidos Montreal's rookie effort is a definite candidate for Game of the Year.
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