Deus Ex: Human Revolution
The original Deus Ex has an untouchable reputation: for many it’s a classic that just can’t be beat, name-dropped with the best that first-person gaming has to offer: Half-Life 2, BioShock, Oblivion. They all owe something to Warren Spector’s 2000 masterpiece.
So having to recreate the Deus Ex experience – 11 years since the original and after Spector’s own sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War’s mixed reception – means the pressure’s on to make something to equal that turn-of-the-century classic, while trying to keep it relevant in a modern age.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to that 2000 classic. Set 25 years before a nanobot-fuelled JC Denton fought the Illuminati for the future of mankind, Deus Ex: Human Revolution tells the story of the rise of mechanical augmentations, and the moral arguments and implications of such technology on humans and society as a whole.
However, despite the comprehensive cyberpunk world that Eidos Montreal has created, the story fails to live up to similar examples in the genre. Ghost in the Shell, springs to mind.
You are Adam Jensen. You are augmented. So much so, in fact, Jensen’s military-grade augments have him resemble a walking tank with built-in sunglasses and a pointy beard than anything really human. He’s more machine, than man.
Despite this, and a portrayal of rising tensions between pro and anti-augmentation groups, the importance of Jensen’s super-augments with regards to the story are never properly resolved, despite the incessant references from NPCs and enemies alike.
Still, the action takes place in a dense, convincing cyberpunk world, and while the cities themselves fail to feel like the metropolises they are intended to replicate – falling somewhere between ‘open-world’ and ‘level hub’ – it is the hidden data pads and locked-away emails that tell the real story.
In fact, the greatest reward for those willing to explore – and this is, arguably, the ‘proper’ way to play a Deus Ex game – are the reams of text to filter through, whether through hacked email accounts or overheard conversations.
The original Deus Ex was a pioneer of this method of storytelling, and here, like the original, this content fleshes out and helps immerse the player in the Deus Ex universe. It’s certainly preferable to encountering the poorly-animated and incessantly-rambling NPCs.
Accessing computers will also gift control of cameras, patrolling bots and gun turrets, so the hacking augment – and levelling up this augment – is essential. But even a lowly level one hacker can have success accessing computers, given the ingenious hacking mini-game. This game requires Jensen to capture the device’s core by taking over individual nodes. With each capture comes a risk: a percentage that – dependant on augment level – deems how likely a capture will be without starting the countdown.
Should a hack be detected, a timer starts and it becomes a race to the finish. Fail to beat the clock and the alarm will sound and enemy reinforcements will show up. It’s a fun little mode and a damn sight more relevant than BioShock’s Pipe Mania-inspired hacking mini-game.
Augments themselves have become considerably more streamlined. A tech tree and experience points replace the Augmentation Canister-fuelled upgrades of the original Deus Ex, making the choice of which ability to opt for next much less antagonising.
For those who didn’t play the original this change will go unnoticed since Deus Ex: Human Revolution represents a more traditional affair in this respect. Killing enemies, completing missions and exploration rewards with experience points which, in turn, earn Praxis Points.
These Praxis Points are used to unlock the next augment. And while these items can be bought and even found in the field, they don’t offer the same thrill that the distinctive blue glow of a hidden Augmentation Canister had in the original.
The biggest disappointment with this, however, is lack of impact each ability decision becomes. With Augmentation Canisters the choice was between two abilities and picking the one you want most. That decision was permanent, and something you’d have to stick with for the rest of the game. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution there is less emphasis on specialisation, with upgrades more readily available.
Not that it matters, since stealth is really the only way to play the game. Considering that only a small handful of augments focus on skills necessary for combat – it’s clear that Jensen is built for sneaking missions.
Consider, then, all of the things that make up a typical sneaking mission in video games: routed guards; meticulously designed paths; security cameras that point in specific locations with obvious and appallingly short fields of view. It’s all here.
Of course the original Deus Ex was guilty of such issues too, and so what’s the problem? Well, Deus Ex was released 11 years ago. Times have changed, and such awkward stealth gameplay – especially for a game that is based on the mechanic – is just not enjoyable to play.
Should Jensen get spotted then there’s little effort needed to quell the aggression. In most cases, sitting in cover only a couple of meters away until the guards get bored and give up is enough to remain passive; and that’s just not how stealth gameplay should work.
There’s still an element of choice in how each mission is tackled, mostly dependant on the route you choose. Heavily armed guards protecting the front door? Well, there’s almost certainly an unguarded air vent behind a vending machine just round the corner if you want to take the stealthy approach. Which is almost always preferable.
Combat itself works as well as any other stealth-shooter, though a confused mix of third-person and first-person aiming can complicate things. Aiming is slick, but against the later, tougher opponents there will be moments of frustration if this is your chosen style.
Then there’s the most ridiculous inclusion of all: boss fights. They don’t often work in FPS games at the best of times, but in Deus Ex there inclusion is truly bizarre. All the effort spent on staying undetected and upgrading stealth skills soon become wasted when forced into arena combat with one of Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s bosses.
To say they’re infuriating is an understatement, since Jensen isn’t built to take a stream of bullets. Death will be regular during these encounters, especially in the awkward second boss fight, which will be exasperating for those foolish enough to forgo health upgrades.
This may seem like a long list of negatives but, honestly, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a flawed game. And yet despite all this, there’s something lurking underneath that makes the game – dare we say it – enjoyable.
The hub areas, for example, are the better moments within Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Here Jensen is away from the identikit warehouses, strict guard routines and the hundreds of man-sized ventilation ducts and is simply free to explore.
Extra side quests – however limited – add an additional layer of entertainment to these sections, which return player choice to a game that should be thriving with it. Moreover, they add a bit more personality to an otherwise barren landscape.
Beneath the mixed presentation, awkward animations and the old-fashioned AI there is the essence of a Deus Ex game. Subtle nods to the original – such as the grid based inventory system – show that Eidos Montreal knows how to tap into that Deus Ex feeling.
In many ways Deus Ex: Human Revolution plays just like it’s predecessor, resulting in an overly archaic PC game and lacking all the right modernisation.
But forgive these flaws and underneath there’s a decent game too. There are complaints, admittedly, but the deep and intriguing world and storyline will be enough to sustain fans through to its end.