I know there’s supposedly been a bit of a games drought on but my god I’ve been reviewing some awesome games lately. I guess I’ve given this review away somewhat with that line but as I’m sure you’ve already heard, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great game. It’s been a long time since the original Deus Ex was released to rapturous praise on the PC and it was only a few years after, that the slightly disappointing Invisible War showed up. I can’t think of any games since that have done justice to the Cyberpunk setting, it always seemed to be the domain of Deus Ex.
Sticking with the series genre of First Person Action RPG Shooter, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the first title with the core story covering the public reaction and acceptance to human augmentation. An interesting subject that I’d never considered before playing the game, a bionic arm would be awesome, but is it an affront to humanity? Throughout the game this theme is addressed and questioned on many levels, enhancing soldiers, assisting the disabled and even forcing working girls into augmentation for kinky clients. Even as you play you are given your chance to make you feelings on the subject heard.
That said, if you have a real moral objection with augmentation then you might have some issues getting through the game as upgrades and new skills are key to progression. I initially found myself obsessively checking to see if I had earned any Praxis points for ‘just one more upgrade’, although I quickly learnt that keeping a few points in reserve was handy for overcoming an unexpected obstacle that I wasn’t yet ready for.
While that sounds a little harsh it was only down to my own choices. For example, I needed an upgrade point to hack a terminal to open a door, the door would let me bypass a bunch of guards. I didn’t need to hack the door, I could have shot my way through the guards. The role playing of this RPG is very much about choice and building your character so he is able to do things your way. There will be shooting, hacking and sneaking no matter what you choose but when you’re in a bind you’ll likely have a choice on how to get out of it and the skills you’ve chosen to upgrade will dictate your choice.
The game itself is fairly hard but the kind of hard that makes sure you know it was you that fucked up: get caught while sneaking and you probably didn’t check all the corners, get taken down in a gunfight and you probably didn’t use the available cover and, most prominently for me, mess up a hack and you were probably being greedy trying to grab all the bonus data. The difficulty is softened somewhat by a very fair autosave system that allows you to reload not only your last autosave but the previous one too, on top of that you can manually save more or less anywhere. This level of freedom means it is always worth trying something risky as the payoff will leave you feeling like a total badass.
Despite being challenging, the game is very easy to play; the heads-up-display presents vital information to you without seeming cluttered and every menu is easily navigable and intuitive. It might seem dumbed down at first but everything you need is there at your fingertips. The game progresses at a comfortable pace, using clearly differentiated story and side missions. There are times when progressing with a story mission will void any unfinished side missions, but the game dutifully presents a warning in such situations. You are free to complete as many or as few side missions as you wish but I found myself completing all that I could manage and even returning to some when suitably powered up.
In the first case this was down to my own over thinking, I was tasked with gaining access to a building with a high security gate, there was no place to hack the gate so I looked around for a time but was unable to find another way in. I returned some time later when I was strong enough to move dumpsters around and built myself some makeshift stairs. I was very pleased with myself and completed the mission. I left the building by means of a fire escape that took me down the side of the building into the alley next to my pile of dumpsters. I’d missed a very obvious solution to my problem, pretty stupid of me but it’s testament to the freedom you are given throughout the game. While onscreen waypoint indicators will lead you to every objective, showing both height and distance, it’s up to you to figure out how you actually make it there.
As mentioned, when not talking to one of the many fantastically voice acted characters that permeate the world, you’ll be hacking, shooting or sneaking about. Both sneaking and shooting work extremely well and both require smart use of the well implemented cover mechanic. Being able to move around corners while locked to cover is great and having to hold a button to confirm the movement saves you accidentally blowing your cover. Hacking may be an acquired taste, essentially a path finding mini game it will take a while to get used to what is happening. Instinct initially has you backing out of a hack when detected rather than fighting on and making use of the nodes in your path. Once I had the theory down I couldn’t help but hack everything I could find in the hopes of earning a bonus or two.
Visually the game is quite stunning, the cool orange glow of your HUD and the clean, bright interiors of the city corporations are in stark contrast to the dark, neon streets and dingy pedestrian slums. While textures and room designs are reused it all feels very real, the same corridors leading to similar apartments with the same door entry systems and identical computers, the future isn’t a wonderful world of self expression, it’s a cold hard place where the only way to be unique is to modify your body. The dark streets feel busy and alive, they may be filled with cloned cookie cutter people that will eventually start repeating dialogue but the illusion works if you let it, and you will want to let it. While playing I only encountered two minor issues in the game engine, firstly the game hung for a few seconds when an achievement was about to pop, this only ever happened out of the action so no big deal. The other issue occurred when I was sneaking about avoiding two patrolling guards. I found myself in cover against a railing that a guard was patrolling, he came around the corner and didn’t see me but I was in his way, blocking his predetermined path. Normally a guard with a blocked path will find another route but this guy wasn’t having any of it. I moved a bit and he still did not react to my presence, eventually allowing me to squeeze past him. In my head I made up a little story as to what was going on, this was no bug. The guy had seen me, he’d seen how awesome and tough I looked, he knew he’d last about two seconds if he’d reacted and called for help. A silent agreement was made, he ignored me and I moved along without punching his head off. That’s when the game world clicked for me, I wasn’t interested in noticing that those two guys I just passed in the street were nearly identical or that everyone has the same door lock and shower fittings.