Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

By on September 12, 2011

Three special forces soldiers guard the room you have to get through. How do you proceed? Maybe memorize their patrol patterns and pick them off one at a time when their backs are turned? Nah, that’s a bit too conventional. How about picking up a nearby vending machine and throwing it at each of their faces to knock them out? You could totally do that too. No? Okay. Why not try hacking the computer controlling a nearby turret, then reprogramming the turret to recognize the soldiers as its targets, letting the turret do the dirty work for you? And there’s always the straightforward “run in there with a shotgun in hand” approach as well. I’m sure there are other ways I haven’t thought of either.

But that’s what Deus Ex: Human Revolution is all about: letting the player figure out how to use his or her resources, observation skills and creativity to conquer seemingly impossible odds. There’s no “right” way to work your way through an obstacle. Eidos Montreal simply presents you with your playing field; it’s up to you to figure out how to use it to your advantage. This concept, along with a keep-you-guessing cyberpunk story driven by the player’s choices, made Human Revolution the most engaging and downright fun video game experience I’ve had all year.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Xbox 360[reviewed], PlayStation 3, PC)
Developed by: Eidos Montreal
Published by: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
MSRP: $59.99

You play as Adam Jensen, the chief of security for Sarif Industries, a Detroit-based corporation specializing in human augmentation, which is essentially the fusing of humans and machines. As you would expect, augmentation is a hot-button political issue in this 2027 world. Anti-augmentation supporters believe Sarif and other augmentation companies shouldn’t be playing god, while the pro-augmentation lot argue that some people need them. Trouble ensues when an attack occurs at Sarif Industries on the night its lead researcher, Megan Reed, is set to speak about her new, revolutionary finding. She’s killed during the attack, and Jensen is left for dead, needing extensive augmentation surgery to barely survive. It turns out Dr. Reed and Jensen had some sort of love interest in the past, so when Jensen shows up to work six months later, he’s intent on finding those responsible for the attack and figuring out why they did it.

Jensen will need to infiltrate and/or escape from many different locales throughout the game, so Human Revolution‘s gameplay is mostly stealth-based. Sneaking around to complete your objectives feels very Metal Gear Solid-ish, thanks to a radar system that helps you navigate by displaying enemy locations and cones of vision, as well as other useful data if the player chooses to augment Jensen’s visuals system (reminding me of the radar system used in MGS). Of course, getting caught will quickly change the gameplay pace from stealthy to suspense-filled, first-person shooting action. There’s also a good chunk of exploration worked into the game between missions, where you’ll traverse a few different hub worlds, meet the folks who inhabit it and complete side missions. You’ll communicate with NPCs in a Mass Effect-esque dialogue tree fashion, and much like the intergalactic adventure series, the decisions you make when communicating have an effect on gameplay; opportunities can open or close all depending on how you interact with the world around you.

This gameplay diversity is almost perfectly balanced, and it really sets a nice pace for the game by ensuring you don’t experience just one gameplay aspect over and over. It’ll really draw you in by making you want to reach that next stealthy mission, while simultaneously making you need to explore another hub world and find some more items. The stealth portions are excellent; They all feature several ways to go about being ninja-like, though in almost every situation, an air vent had something to do with one of them. Thankfully, not all of these paths are clearly presented to you, so oftentimes, it’ll take a bit more patience and wit to locate these paths, encouraging exploration and quick thinking. It feels very rewarding to quickly analyze your surroundings and find a successful route to your objective. When you do get caught, the game will still keep you on your feet, as you’ll have to devise a way to either take all your enemies out quickly and efficiently or make an escape. (Death comes quickly if you try to Rambo it up.)

Thankfully, you’ll have a sleuth of weapons to use, though you’ll have be selective and choose what weapons to carry around with you according to your play style. Those weapons can also be upgraded to enhance your play style even farther. Trying to be as stealthy as possible? A silencer enhancement on your pistol is a no brainer, in the case you need to make a silent kill. Expecting to get into a lot of firefights? A shotgun, upgraded with an increased mag size and burst fire, is probably a necessity. Again, by encouraging the player to search for different paths and customize their loadouts, the game essentially ensures no one person will have the same Human Revolution experience — and it definitely encourages several playthroughs.

Exploring the hub worlds between missions is fun, but definitely not as exciting as sneaking around and laying the smackdown on unsuspecting guards. The worlds seem a bit, well, dead. You’ll find the same NPCs in the same spots saying the same things every time you pass by. Time is non-existant as well. During the Shanghai portion of the game, no matter how much time you spend there, it’ll always be night time; people will always be populating the night club; and for the most part, everyone stays in the same spot. Eidos Montreal tried their best to make the cities seem lively by having the NPCs speak with each other and make comments as you pass by them, but for the most part, it seems like you’re roaming around a city full of dummies or drones. It’s only a minor annoyance though. Exploring these cities will unveil secrets that sometimes add to the game’s backstory or foreshadow future events, as well as land you some weapons, ammo and upgrades, so you’ll still be rewarded for roaming around.

The dialogue tree conversations you’ll have with characters are pretty straightforward. But there are a few scattered throughout the game that’ll require you to persuade a character by analyzing what type of personality he has, and then figuring out what type of response is appropriate. Persuading the character will, of course, have an effect on gameplay. For example, early on, you’ll have the chance to persuade a cop to let you into the police station. Succeed, and you’ll be able to walk around the police station at will. Fail, and they’ll turn you away at the entrance, leaving you to find an alternate route and risk being caught and killed once inside. This felt a lot better than choosing how I wanted to respond based on how “good” or “evil” I wanted my character to be.

And now that we’re on the subject of good or evil, let me just say this: Almost everything about Human Revolution is good. Great, even. But its boss fights are just evil. There’s no other way to put it. All three major boss fights are some of the most infuriating experiences I can recall in recent gaming history. It kind of reminded me of what I felt while playing Bayonetta last year. Bayonetta was difficult at times — but it was always because I just needed to play with a bit more skill, a bit more patience and tact. Human Revolution‘s boss battles seem to rely a lot more on luck — in more than one way: You’ll be lucky to head into them with a properly prepared inventory. You’ll also be lucky to survive long enough to get your boss-pattern-memorizing on. The result is a frustrating experience that will likely consist of several deaths as you struggle to figure out exactly what your course of action should be. Make one mistake, and every boss is completely unforgiving; each one will kill you in a matter of seconds. Once you figure out that course of action, you’ll try to perform it flawlessly a few more times and hopefully succeed before your 20th death in a row. It just feels cheap. Luckily, the boss fights are few and far between, and the fun stuff takes up 90 percent of the game.

And did I mention how good that 90 percent is? You’ll quickly get over those frustrating boss fights as soon as you jump back in to your next mission.

The Good

- A well-written, thrilling and thought-provoking story.
- The stealth gameplay just oozes fun. It’ll keep you on your toes and make you feel like a ninja (if you manage to stay stealthy).
- Upgrading and enhancing your weapons and augmentations let each player create his or her own character’s identity, allowing different play styles to be accommodated and ensuring no one gameplay experience will be the same.
- Hours of gameplay to be enjoyed aside from the main story thanks to rewarding exploration and side quests.

The Bad

- Evil, evil, evil boss fights.
- Hub worlds seem a bit dead.
- I’m not sure if this is a “bad.” I mean, I appreciate the variety of paths one can take to reach an objective, but do all of them need to feature an air vent?

The Final Word

Gamers: You must play this game. There’s a great story to be told here. There’s the addictive gameplay that empowers you to take charge of your experience, whether it be your weapon loadout, your character’s abilities or how you interact with the hub worlds and its people. It will really just suck you in, and when it’s ready to let you go, you’ll be holding out your hand, not ready to. Then, you can play again and have it feel like a different experience (except for those evil boss fights, of course). Go buy this now. You won’t be disappointed.

4.5/5

This review is based on a review copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution provided by Square Enix.

Jonathan "butt3r" Davila

About Jonathan "butt3r" Davila

Many words can describe Jonathan Davila (aka butt3r). Male is one of them. There are probably others too. He is a superhero blessed with the power to type consecutive words at unflagging speeds, albeit incoherently. He also loves the crap out of video games and basketball, while not being particularly good at either. While he’s written about music for magazines, and performed journalism for a major metropolitan newspaper, nothing brings him the amount of joy that writing about video games does. Unfortunately for you, he does that on this website fairly often.