Deus Ex: Human Revolution
As a great man once said, there’s a fine line between stupid and clever. Deus Ex: Human Revolution walks that line like a drunk driver. It stumbles this way and that between the cutting edge of mature videogame storytelling on one side and laughable, incompetent farce on the other, rarely finding any balance in between. It’s simultaneously stupid and clever, with the former pissing on the latter’s chips like… well, like that same pesky drunk driver. Liberally and without conscience.
Let’s start with the good stuff before, in a few paragraphs, we fall face first into a steaming, orange puddle of Human Revolution’s semi-digested shortcomings. It spins a good yarn; that’s its biggest strength. And it does so in the way a game should.
Jensen’s world is engaging, and on the brink of total meltdown throughout the plot
Passively, that is. There are bits where it goes, ‘Hey, here’s the story’ via the conventional means of cut-scenes and dialogue sequences, but that’s not where its storytelling really shines.
It’s the bits where you discover plot details for yourself simply by exploring, investigating and carefully listening that really impress, and give you a glimpse of what a great storytelling medium gaming could be if developers would shake off their inferiority complex, stop thoughtlessly aping movies, and start playing to the medium’s strengths.
Watching Jensen, your character, debate the ins and outs of Human Revolution’s plot with other characters doesn’t really give you much insight into his character or provoke much thought regarding the world in which he lives.
‘Shot reverse shot’ dialogue sequences just don’t work especially well in games, certainly not when the facial animations are as dodgy as they are here. But where ill-fitting film techniques fail to draw you into Human Revolution’s story, thoughtfully crafted game techniques succeed. We had Jensen down as a bit of a boring nobody until, that is, we got around to visiting his apartment.
Shooting is solid, although weak AI causes the immediacy of combat to falter
Simply by having a nose around its four rooms we learned a great deal about Jensen, and consequently our engagement with the ideas and issues that Human Revolution explores was greatly enhanced.
The attention to detail in Jensen’s apartment is excellent – as it is in most of Human Revolution’s environments – and the subtle, understated nods towards complexities in his character serve to create a much stronger emotional connection than was produced by seeing his generic sci-fihero face and hearing his gruff, bland, monotone voice.
We thought at first that Jensen was revelling in the role of distant, mysterious cyber-tough-guy, but the contents of his home hit us with the pretty sudden, and actually quite affecting, realisation that his life is hard. This had a knock-on effect too, making us think a little deeper about the game’s story and setting as a whole.
The entire game is full of surprising details and clues, which is just one of the ways it rewards you for exploring off the beaten track or just for paying proper attention to your surroundings.
Is this the kind of place you’d take a date home to?
The environments are mostly well designed enough that exploration is its own reward, but an intriguing plot lead or rare item found at the end of a lengthy diversion always comes as a welcome bonus.
It’s nice to know the game thought you might wander off down here, and that it wanted to reward you for doing so. But it isn’t always so good at anticipating your actions. Yes, it’s orange puddle time.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution offers you quite a lot of freedom. It’s not a sandbox game, but there is room to explore, experiment and do things in a variety of quite different ways. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to its own promise in this department, and often feels like it’s struggling to cope with its own flexibility.
On numerous occasions, we found that perfectly reasonable courses of action would produce totally illogical results, or even no result at all. This usually seems to be down to ropey game mechanics, a lack of forethought from the design team, dreadful AI, or a combination of all three.
Emails and hidden texts flesh out the world considerably.
It can be difficult to tell exactly what’s gone wrong because it often gets it half right as well, like the time we thought we’d cause a distraction at a guard post by dropping a fire extinguisher off a roof directly above it…
We were able to pull the fire extinguisher off the wall. Promising start. It broke when it hit the concrete. Good. The impact produced a huge cloud of white powder. Perfect. But the guards in the immediate vicinity ignored it completely. Oh…
Were the coding parameters of the explosion all wrong? Did the designers not think we might try that? Is the AI so dumb that it thinks there’s nothing strange about what just happened? Probably all three, although we’re inclined to pin most of the blame on the AI, which is consistently awful throughout.
Not only does it undermine the believability of the Deus Ex universe, but it often turns making progress into a comical process of trial and error. Shame.
Hacking minigames aren’t half bad , and can unlock extra cash and hacking tools.
But if you can forgive the shortcomings and limitations, no matter how severe they sometimes get, there is a decent, sometimes even excellent, interactive sci-fiadventure here. It’s hardly the return to former glories that some Deus Ex loyalists might have been hoping for, though.
You’ve read the review, now check out the neat launch trailer for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.