Reviewed on PC.
Human revolution is a prequel to the legendary Deus Ex. Released in 2011, it aimed to take the open ended gameplay and conspiracy heavy plotlines, and update them with the polish of modern AAA titles.
In Human Revolution, you play as Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT officer, who suffers horrific injuries at the beginning of the game. In order to save him, doctors replace large sections of his body with top-of-the-range cybernetics. These ‘augmentations’ can then be upgraded to give him superhuman abilities, such as seeing through walls and dropping safely from any height. Jensen tries to track down the people responsible for his near-death and uncovers some inconvenient truths about the world he lives in.
Gameplay is crucial in these kinds of games, and Human Revolution delivers. Main missions generally require you to break into heavily guarded areas. You can do this by silently moving past everyone, showering the area with grenades, or taking an approach somewhere between these extremes. That said, the game rewards leaning toward stealth and pacifism with bonus XP and achievements. In addition, the narrative makes more sense when corporate security chief Adam Jensen doesn’t gun down everyone in the local police station.
Levels are designed to allow multiple paths, providing vents to crawl through and boxes to construct platforms with, as well as security systems to hack into and manipulate. The hacking mini-game is probably the best one I’ve played; it turns a few colours and shapes into an abstract chase sequence, and manages to be genuinely tense when the anti-tamper measures kick in and home in on you. Your augmentations also open up new routes, and while some upgrades are more universal, like the cloaking system, you’ll find a use for even the most niche aug.
One of the more controversial additions to Human Revolution is the third person cover system. Both stealth and combat playthroughs will spend a considerable amount of time attached to walls. I don’t mind it too much, but sometime the cover placement seems a little too convenient in allowing you to flank around guard patrols. I think it would have benefited from a lean button, which would accommodate people wanting to play purely in first person. This would also reduce the disorientation you can sometimes feel regularly switching from first to third person.
Along with it’s main missions, Human Revolution includes some great side quests. Rather than throwaway ‘collect 2569 of this’ tasks, these often take the form of investigations, which you carry out by interrogating people and compiling evidence. Each of them tells a self-contained story, as the best side missions should. ‘Shanghai Justice’ is a clear highlight, where at the final stage you interpret the evidence you found earlier, and doing so correctly leads to an incredibly satisfying conclusion.
This leads me on to another huge strength, the conversation system. Every so often you’ll enter a social mini-game, where you will try to persuade someone into divulging key information or helping you out. You need to understand their personality, and pick the response that suits them best. The options tell you exactly what Jensen will say, which avoids the unexpected outbursts in games like LA Noire, and the choices all fit into the character’s established personality, rather than being morality based. Jensen might not be quite as funny as JC Denton, but he still provides plenty of sarcastic retorts to make you grin.
The game is also famous for it’s distinctive art style. The gold filter is divisive, and my opinion wanes between thinking the smoky look complements the neo-noir tone to feeling that everything looks washed out. The environments are striking, comprising of run down streets surrounding spotless corporate buildings, and they compound the cyberpunk feel. The graphics are pretty good, but I think some of the character models are pretty weird looking; I always get distracted by Jensen’s pronounced, pointy chin and contorting mouth that doesn’t give a fuck what he’s saying. The animations in dialogue also look stiff and everyone seems to have an arm crossing compulsion.
As well as it’s look, Human Revolution’s soundtrack is well realised. Composed by Michael McCann, the music heavily employs electronic and ambient instrumentations. It lends a melancholic tone when you are in neutral zones, and dynamically escalates when entering stealth and combat to boost the tension. The soundtrack contributes massively to the establishing the dreamlike atmosphere of the game.
Human Revolution’s quality takes a huge hit when it comes to the boss fights. In contrast to the rest of the game, these fights take place in small arenas, and the only approach you can take is to spray them with your most powerful weapons. The way the bosses can easily flank you means these fights are not suited at all to the cover based combat. There are two ways to get around them. One method is to have bought the ‘director’s cut’ version of the game, which added in stealth options to boss fights (along with new bugs and performance problems). The other is to take the typhoon system augmentation (which carpet bombs the area around you) at the start of every playthrough, and as soon as a boss appears, keep using it until they drop. Not the most elegant method, but neither was letting the boss sections be handled by a different company that didn’t know anything about Deus Ex.
While performance was mostly smooth, I did experience a few pretty bad crashes. Most of these happened by entering a particular section of an alleyway, which was required for progressing one of the side quests. The issue eventually disappeared after a few restarts, but other people have reported having to edge around this ‘crash zone’.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution had big boots to fill, but it actually managed to measure up to the original. The third person cover and pre-animated takedowns risk making it blur into a thousand other games, but it’s so smart and sleek that it remains distinguished, and the end product is an engrossing debate-and-infiltrate-em-up.