So I just finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Read on to find out more what I thought of the game.
Deus Ex: HR nails the original spirit of Deus Ex on the head. It was such a long time ago when I played that revolutionary game, but as soon as I booted up Human Revolution – the design of the inventory, the characters, the environment felt like I was playing Deus Ex, except with a massive face-lift. And of course, a silkier smoother streamlined gameplay.
What’s the best thing about this game? Choice.
Not satisfied with going through the front door with guns blazing? Why not crawl through a coincidentally human-sized vent? Or hack a robot to take the bad guys down on your behalf? Or talk your way out of trouble instead. Or heck, don’t talk, just beat his face in like in this video below.
Eidos Montreal really took the trouble to offer up some huge diversions from the straight and narrow path, a design rarely seen in games today because it means hard work, extra coding, time and money, coding that not every gamer will see either. Because by choosing one path, you’re missing out on the others. And you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how subtle the outcomes can be. From a simple little change in dialogue depending on the consequence of your actions, to a full blown change of scene with ramifications that appear to carry on through the rest of the game. I like that all the way through the game, I couldn’t really tell that there were any other outcomes available, it felt organic, like my story was playing out as a matter-of-fact. Like that was really the story all along. In making a really great game that seamlessly assimilated the choices and made you less aware of what was “behind the curtains”, you were less inclined to reload save games, or even just let up the immersion of the story. That’s successful game design right there.
Deus Ex: HR’s adaptive gameplay design also had its sprawling cityscapes to thank. What’s great is that they didn’t build the world to meet the game design, or if they did, it also feels very organic. It feels lived-in, with people going to and fro their business. You can explore every nook and cranny, take in the squalid sights or take a back alley to climb up some ladder and drop in on douches via roof. So that’s fun. The scale of each city Detroit and Hangsha (Montreal features too, but very minor) isn’t as large as Liberty City in GTAIV but it’s compressed with so much atmosphere, feeling and denizens, you literally need to wash after. I can write a travelogue on the seedy underbelly of these cities. It’s very reminiscent of the world in Blade Runner too.
The next big thing about this game. Story. We come to the story 25 years prior to the events of Deus Ex, a time when human augmentation is just on the rise, bio-mechanical limb implants the big deal for the people, for the governments, for the corporations, for the world. And the writers who penned HR have to be commended because they write a seriously compelling drama with no simple answer to whether augmentation is right or wrong. They also harp on the point repeatedly throughout the game – every single bit of it, is in some way related to the concept of augmentation and what it means to be human. All the way to the conclusion, of which there are 4 possible endings. These aren’t as vastly exciting to experience as Bioshock’s but they do offer up some philosophical musings for you to take away as the credits roll – and emphasizes just how much heart this game has beneath all that “machinery”.
The only thing they didn’t take far enough I thought was how you, or your character Adam Jensen doesn’t struggle enough with what he has become (as he is an augmented dude after a near-death experience at the start of the game). There are points in the game where Adam comes across other augmented/non-aug humans and they tell him how much a monster they/Adam is and you just look back at them with a stoic “so-what?” demeanor. It’s almost as if Adam doesn’t really give a shit that his arms and legs are robotic, as long as he gets to beat people to a pulp for revenge.
Other than that, as a game, it seriously wins. The stealth bits are top notch because the AI is aware of everything going on around them as humanly possible, down to the sound of your footsteps on the marble floor. They are more cautious, so it takes some patience and skulking to get past ’em, and when you do it’s a real pat on your own back. And then you poke them with your scary elbow blades. I also like that once again, levels were designed to represent real world environments including offices and apartment units. You couldn’t just stealth behind “coincidentally” placed boxes. The game forces you to strategize and adapt. It’s a necessity as Adam isn’t strong enough to withstand a firefight at point blank range.
Or if you don’t like the stealth, there’s always straight-up shooting and this works fine too. The guns feel punchy enough and there is nice feedback with the ragdoll physics. Cover works well and I found myself using it often as it does help with aiming round corners. The only annoying bit of the game and plenty of other game journos have commented on this, are the boss fights. For a game that gives a lot of choice as to how to tackle each mission, the boss fights are unavoidable. I was okay at first at having to fight, but because I was interested in playing a stealth-approach character, I spent all my skill points in stealth and none in attack, leaving me pretty much at the mercy of these ridiculously overpowered enemies and I was only able to beat them by a hair’s breath after dying a countless number of times.
It turns out that Eidos had out-sourced the boss fights to another external dev-team, which explains the strange disparity in design between the rest of the game and the boss fights which were simple arena-like affairs. Why on earth would Eidos do this? No idea but I find it a little unforgivable – for a game so well-made elsewhere, the boss fights just appear more glaringly stupid.
I like the game’s role-playing elements, the ability to decide on which augmentations and upgrades to spend points in, so that your version of Adam Jensen is yours alone. You can feel yourself getting stronger which each skill point spent too – in some ways, there’s a meta commentary here about how deliciously tempting augmentations would be if it really gave you abilities like cloaking, added armoring on your body and being able to jump higher than normal.
Graphics are nice if somewhat strangely outdated. I don’t know if that’s on purpose, but it reminds me of the old Deus Ex with the strangely angular character designs, but the environments look positively next-generation. Especially when you’ve got DirectX 11 on. Some people don’t like the gold sheen but I feel it’s a nice added touch to straddle a seriously fine-line between a realistic and fantastical representation of the future. One other interesting thing I’d like to touch upon is the character design of the citizens out and about the world. Whether or not you’re interacting with them, some are normal looking people but others with robotic arms or legs, just look so strange. Except in that futuristic world Adam lives in, it is totally normal. It’s almost a bit of a culture shock, and Eidos have to be commended for bringing out that strange repulsion gamers would naturally feel at the weirdness of the whole augmented human thing. It definitely helps push our sentiments either for or against augmentation which is crucial to how the game plays out.
The music is top-notch, and if you can get your hands on the soundtrack you should. It’s great music to write or work to. But like Splinter Cell and other such stealth-based games, why do all enemies have to call out that they heard something suspicious? I mean, yeah, it helps us know enemies are on to us, but is that really realistic? Come on. And Adam Jensen’s voice is seriously gravelly. At first I thought it was grating, but I slowly grew to like the guy – he was just so badass, especially the cool way he reprimands someone with that gravelly voice of his.
All in all, Deus Ex: HR is like reading an epic novel on grand sweeping themes of humanity, with great bits of action and talky dialogue thrown in too. Which means to say, you should probably play it.