Posted on August 22, 2011, Phil Hornshaw Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)
Reviewed on PC
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: August 23, 2011
I feel like I’ve been playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution for months, for all the time I’ve spent with it. As I type this review, it has dominated an entire weekend. It’s a rare game that can take 31 hours from a person over the course of a little more than three days — the marathon run I made to finish it in time for the review embargo — and leave him wanting to play more.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is such a game. It borders on perfection: a deep and thoughtful experience, powerfully written and expertly constructed. The kind of experience that robs you of sleep, or weekends, because it’s not only enjoyable and tense to play, but because it presents a narrative that leaves you thinking about it whenever you’re not immersed in it, even after it’s over.
I could write for days giving all the details about what DXHR has to offer — in fact, I kind of have, in this preview, this preview, this preview and this preview. Suffice it to say that DXHR offers an incredible amount of depth, and the team at Eidos Montreal behind it has gone out of its way to constantly make every situation malleable to the player’s whim, play style and morality. I can count the experiences I’ve had that rival its level of choice and the rewards for it on one hand: DXHR is a game in which almost every decision about what it is and what it becomes is yours. It’s an insane amount of freedom to exist within a structured narrative, and Eidos has done a spectacular job providing players with a world full of options.
A prequel to the original Deus Ex, DXHR is hybrid first-person shooter and RPG that presents a world on the brink of change. The player takes on the role of Adam Jensen, the security chief at tech corporation Sarif Industries. Sarif and its researchers work in human augmentation — they produce various mechanical technologies and prostheses that allow people to improve themselves. These range from replacement limbs and organs to help the disabled, to neurological enhancements, to military-grade built-in weapons. Augmented people have quickly become a new division of society, for better or worse, and around the development have sprung various factions concerned with the course of humanity because of the things that augmentations represent. Some people think augments should be slowed, regulated, or even banned outright because of the humanity being lost to them. Others see them as the next proper step in human evolution.
None of that really concerns Jensen until an attack on Sarif Industries early in the game leaves the company on the brink of bankruptcy and its research team, including Jensen’s ex-girlfriend, Megan Reed, dead. The attack is perpetrated by a shadowy special forces group, led by three highly augmented soldiers. Their motivations and employers are unknown — but what is known is that they’ve destroyed everything Megan Reed and her team were working on, research that Reed and the company’s owner and CEO, David Sarif, thought was about to revolutionize the world and augments everywhere.
Jensen is nearly killed in the attack, his body ravaged by a run-in with the soldiers. The company saves him with augmentations, a choice Jensen is never able to make. When he returns to work six months later at the behest of Sarif, he’s a different man, forced to live with his augments. Another attack is being perpetrated against the company when Jensen is brought back to deal with it, and it launches him into an investigation that spans much of the world.
Much beyond that I won’t specify, because Eidos has created a world and a narrative that unfolds at a pitch-perfect pace. Each link in the chain of Jensen’s investigation is another question answered and five more raised. Each step draws you forward a little further, deepening the mystery (and the conspiracy) behind the attacks and what they mean to the world at large and Jensen in particular.
It’s a credit to the game’s writers that DXHR unfolds more like a detective story than just about any video game I’ve encountered. Each time you complete a goal and learn something new, you feel like you earned it, and that information leads you to consider new avenues and want to uncover more information. Even when I was guessing the game’s plot twists — and there are a lot of them — each was satisfying and often deeper and more interesting than I had considered. Information is revealed through the game’s main plot, but there’s so much more to uncover through sidequests and exploration that if you take the time to really search DXHR, you feel at each stage that you are the one uncovering each new link in the story’s chain, not being fed it by checking off objectives. That’s an incredibly hard feeling to convey: DXHR nails it.
I could write about the game’s story for this entire review; it’s that good. The writing at work here is pretty much always stellar, and while there’s a lot of dialogue, it never feels tacked on or extraneous. It’s an extremely worthy prequel to Deus Ex and builds on that story much more than just being set in the same world. But there’s plenty of other stuff going on in the game that deserves attention — namely, all that freedom of choice I mentioned before.
The way you progress through the game is largely dictated by your play style and decisions in augmenting Jensen. For just about everything you do, you earn experience points, and at certain amounts those XP points roll over to become Praxis points. Praxis is what you spend to upgrade Jensen, and for roughly the first half of the game, every decision you make about how to spend those points is crucial to the experience you have. Do you want to be able to enter every locked door and read every email? Dump points into Jensen’s hacking capabilities. Would you prefer to be able to persuade and perhaps even manipulate people? Upgrade his social augments and use pheromones and psychology to win arguments. Prefer to be a high-powered killing machine? Dermal armor, aim stabilizers and faster reflexes are for you. Money can also be spent to purchase a limited supply of extra Praxis, adding a layer that requires you to think about how you allocate resources to your gameplay.
In every level and for every objective in DXHR there are multiple paths and multiple solutions. Sure, you can storm through the front door of the factory being held by terrorists, shooting all of them in the head as you go like a force of nature. Or you can opt to carry a tranquilizer rifle and sneak in through a vent on the roof. Most of the time you’ll spend playing DXHR will be time spent exploring, weighing your options, and learning what’s available to you. And the augments you pick early on will dictate what you’re able to do and how you can deal with situations — and how you can’t. In fact, it’s these things that make the game most interesting: knowing you could have the right augment for the situation you’re facing and that you don’t because you opted to push Jensen in a different direction is beautifully frustrating, making every decision an integral one, and forcing you to find solutions to problems with the tools at hand. For a while.
If I have a criticism of DXHR, it’s that eventually, augments kind of break the game. There’s a finite number of things you can add to Jensen, and while it’s probably impossible to unlock them all, it’s very possible to get very close. Some augments you can blow off altogether (like the various upgrades to hacking) without them having a meaningful impact on the game; however, once you’ve got the strength to move heavy objects, the cloaking ability to give enemies the slip, the leg boosts that let you leap up to high ledges, the hacking capability to open any lock — you start to come across situations where you’re not forced to improvise, you’re just choosing the route you feel like taking at that point. In the second half of the game, with some smart augment choices, there’s no path closed to you — which is nice, but it also removes that feeling of being a genius when you discover a brilliant way to turn a situation to your strengths when it previously seemed insurmountable. Once you have all the cards on the table, DXHR becomes an exercise in just picking one and moving on.
It’s a minor complaint amid so many other great aspects. There’s an entire second half to the game’s role-playing elements in its weapons system. Guns come in myriad varieties and uses — close-range, long-range, heavy, light, lethal, non-lethal and so on. There are plenty to choose from without it becoming overwhelming, and you’ll find mods along the way that let you trick out your guns to become even more awesome, allowing you to hone your favorite tools out of the pile of possibilities. You can also improvise, toss your empty guns and grab whatever’s on hand if you need to.
The Thinking Player’s Shooter Combat
You’ll need those guns (plus quick-activation melee attacks and grenades and mines), because Jensen is constantly getting into entanglements with enemy characters. It’s possible to use stealth all through the game if you like, but combat happens often, and it’s a credit to DXHR that every fight is a fight for Jensen’s life, augmented or not. The game’s cover system is key to these battles, both as a means of staying out of sight and just about the only way to stay alive. For the most part, enemy AI is passably intelligent — bad guys will try to flank and vary their fire with their allies, as well as pitch grenades and come searching for you, so being hidden as well as well-protected is alwasy important. Sure, bad guys will bottleneck in a doorway one at a time for your waiting shotgun, but in most encounters, the henchmen you encounter are sufficiently deadly to keep even run-and-gun players on-edge, and there’s a multitude of options for dealing with them.
The world around the game is similarly deep and expansive. Twenty five hours or more is a fair estimate if you do and explore just about everything, as I did, and if you take your time being sneaky. Obviously playtime will be wildly variable depending on play style, but if you take time reading emails, picking up ebooks, talking with people and listening to their conversations and just discovering everything the game has to offer, it’ll require a serious investment of time.
Even just finding everything there is to discover in the game’s city hubs is a huge task, and that’s to say nothing of each mission area, all of which are huge and filled with items to find and computers to hack. Some of that content is just world-building, but many players will find themselves hacking every single computer and reading every single file hoping to glean more insight into the story. Often you’ll be rewarded. DXHR functions just fine if you never read anything the game gives you, but the experience is all the better when a plot twist hits you and you realize how it comes together with all that information you discovered on your own through sheer diligence.
And the boss fights. DXHR throws you into heavy combat situations occasionally, so even though you can choose to play the whole game without firing a shot, it’s still a first-person shooter and you must, eventually, make use of your firearms. But it also includes “boss conversations,” in which your goal is to convince a key figure to see things your way. These moments can be just as tense as combat, and equally as important. Social augments give you an edge, but they ultimately become about listening to your opponent, reading him or her, and delivering the right responses. Winning the boss conversations makes you feel at least as bad-ass, and probably more so, than winning the combat boss fights.
Get It On PC
DXHR is available on all three major platforms, and through the course of the previews and reviews, I’ve had the opportunity to play on all of them. I can say pretty definitively that the PC version is the strongest. In addition to the amped up performance and the added features like the game’s AMD Eyefinity support, it just handles better. For example, the hacking minigame on an Xbox 360 controller is a bit of a pain, requiring manipulation of the analog stick that sometimes doesn’t result in your commands going through. In hacking, every tenth of a second is important, so having commands fail and having to track around the game space with an analog stick is painfully wasteful. Hacking with a mouse, on the other hand, is a breeze and much more effective. It’s little touches in the interface like this that make the PC version superior to the console experience — it just works much better in lots of tiny ways that add up quickly.
Ultimately, DXHR is just a joy to play, despite its somewhat anti-climactic final level and its slight tendency to overpower the player as time goes on with a few too many augments, weapons and credits. It would be a great game without its narrative; it would be a great narrative without its gameplay. Melded together, DXHR becomes the premier single player experience this year, and possibly for the last few years. Maybe even for this whole console hardware generation. This is a game you must play.
- Deep and engaging story
- Tense combat with some fairly smart enemy AI
- A huge world to explore, with extra content and sidequests that add to the story
- Tons of decisions to shape gameplay, both in paths through the world and in augments
- Boss conversations
- Some really great writing and voice acting, all the way through
- Final level is a bit lackluster compared to the game before it
- Piling up augments starts to take away from figuring out solutions to problems
Final Score: 95/100
The newest evolution of revolution won’t wait for you — check out Game Front’s complete text and video walkthrough for Deus Ex: Human Revolution.