Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review: There is a God in my Machine

If you think about other games that have tried it, it must be difficult to pick up a series with an acclaimed first title (and a disregarded second title) after a decade and knock it out of the park, but that’s exactly what Eidos Studios – Montreal did with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I was a huge fan of the original Deus Ex, which was one of, if not the first FPS/RPG hybrid and I’d been seriously let down by the lackluster Deus Ex: Invisible War, so I was cautious in getting my hopes up when I heard about the development of Human Revolution. That caution was pointless as Human Revolution, while not flawless, is a rich experience with outstanding graphics, dialog work and great gameplay with a high level of replayability.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Stealth

Just because I'm being stealthy doesn't mean I'm not going to add another hole to your head.

Enhanced, not super

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in the not-too-distant future in which cybernetic enhancements have become somewhat commonplace but require expensive anti-rejection drugs in order to keep replacement limbs and other organs functioning. If the specter of class-warfare between the cybernetic haves- and have-nots weren’t enough to drive a plot try this on for size: global warming has become enough of a problem that a massive iron-seeding program of the Arctic Ocean is being undertaken, China has risen to become a global military-and-economic superpower, the United States is in danger of falling into a Balkanized collection of warring region-states, terrorism has expanded to a level that makes modern standards pale in comparison and a Luddite/religious group called The Humanity Front is pursuing parallel political and para-military paths to restrict or eliminate cybernetic enhancement like a post-post-modern IRA.

In the middle of it all is Adam Jensen (wonderfully voiced by Elias Toufexis), security director for leading cybernetic firm Sarif Industries. (Minor plot setup spoiler alert) Horribly injured in a terrorist attack on Sarif Industries immediately prior to a Congressional hearing in which a discovery of profound importance will be announced by Jensen’s former love interest, Dr. Megan Reed, Jensen awakes to find himself with significant enhancements including two new arms, eyeballs with an augmented reality system and no leads on who attacked Sarif Industries and killed Dr. Reed. Being the security director of Sarif Industries, it falls to him to confront the factions attacking Sarif Industries, track down the terrorists, hack computers, electronic locks & security systems, help out acquaintances old & new and rescue the occasional cat from a tree along the way.

Deus Ex Icarus

It's called the Icarus Device because it looks like you're falling AND on fire. Except you don't die.

Did I mention you have cybernetic upgrades? Yup – twenty branching-tree upgrades ranging from recoil-eliminating arm upgrades to a Predator-like stealth function to a room-clearing 360-degree Typhoon launcher to upgrades to your hacking skills. That said, you can’t upgrade all of your enhancements all the way and my experience was that some of them are only marginally useful, niche upgrades (e.g., one that allows you to sprint for an extra 2.5 seconds or one that lets you ID the contents of a data store before you use it in the hacking mini game). Yet, despite all of the enhancements, even at the end-game, you never feel Spartan-esque – while you become tougher and more competent as you level up, you’re still a (relatively) fragile meatsack and if you don’t take care, you will die. A lot.

Hard is the new normal

Probably due to the fact that I grew up with games that were brutally hard, I can get cranky when a game becomes more of a “directed experience” and less of a challenge, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that even on the “normal” difficulty setting, Human Revolution had a set of brass ones when it came to how hard it was. As the game rewards you more for non-lethal takedowns of your enemies (and even more generously for making it through missions without being detected at all), I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy; what I didn’t anticipate was that my enemies’ AI would be disturbingly intelligent. Guards reacted to sounds when I knocked coffee cups off of tables, unexpectedly turned and checked their back-trail when patrolling and weren’t hesitant to call for help, time their firing to coincide with their teammates or make flanking maneuvers. While the challenge level with regular enemies trod just on the right side of painfully difficult (it was a good sort of pain), the boss battles took things to a new level.

Yes, there are boss battles. Proper ones that occur at the end of a mission. And, if you’re prone to getting worked up, they may pose a risk to your controller’s continued existence. Of the three boss battles, the first and third were from the Metal Gear Solid breed of “Man, this is really hard but I just need to figure out the pattern after I die a few dozen times.” The other…well, let’s just say I might not have beat the game but for a glitch that left the boss frozen in place, cloaking and de-cloaking and ripe for me shooting the crap out of her.

Deus Ex Boss

In case you're unable to tell, this is an Evil Boss. The one I gleefully glitch-killed. Bitch.

After the amount of times I died fighting her before this fortuitous quirk, grinding my teeth in frustration at the un-detected pattern, I’m not ashamed at taking advantage of her. While there was an upgrade that would have made the battle much easier, I’m not certain how I would have gotten past her without it, and this is one of the reasons Deus Ex: Human Revolution didn’t receive a perfect score. I’m all for difficulty, but when I can’t even begin to figure out how to get past a boss without a certain upgrade, that’s a black spot in my book. (Note to trolls readers: If you figured out a way through without the electricity-shielding upgrade, bully for you, but shut up about it.) While we’re on the topic of glitches: this review is based on the Xbox 360 version – it’s available for PS3 and PC as well. I’ve read several other reviews noting that, while the game looked great, the consoles had some framerate problems that would frequently occur when walking around the expansive cityscapes. At no point did I experience this, but I also install all of my games onto my hard drive, which may have helped ameliorate the issue. (And the cityscapes are expansive both horizontally and vertically and are populated by tons of NPCs, many of whom are carrying out conversations and can be interacted with).

Deus Ex Blades

Did I mention that Jensen's upgrade suite came loaded with ALL of the options?

Grueling boss battles aside, many of the game’s main- and side-quests have multiple paths to successful conclusion, a trait shared with Human Revolution‘s progenitor – the choice of how, when and if you tackle them remains yours. Deciding how you’re going to tackle obstacles when there are multiple ways to do so is one of the things that makes Human Revolution so enjoyable – there are no “right” or “wrong” answers with corresponding ethical meters, just different paths open for the taking. One other thing to note: if you’re looking for a run-and-gun shooter, this isn’t the game for you. While there are plenty of opportunities (and great weapons) for firefights, Human Revolution favors stealth, creative pathfinding and carefully planned & executed attacks; think more Metal Gear, less Gears of War.

I took down PSN

Not really. But one thing that runs throughout the game (and is critical to leveling up, getting past gun turrets and stealing from your co-workers) is hacking and fortunately, Eidos Studios – Montreal made the experience fun, challenging and rewarding. You quickly learn that as cool as being able to punch through a wall is, cranking up your hacking skills is critical as it provides money, access to locked rooms and plenty of details about the goings-on in the world around you. In addition, it lets you do really fun things like override security turrets and robots, changing their targeting protocols to “enemies,” where they’ll do your dirty work for you. Normally to the completely unpleasant surprise of hostile PMCs. (My favorite? Hack a turret, let it clean out the bad guys, and then, using your Lift Heavy Things enhancement, pick the turret up and carry it with you. Saves on ammo, health and is fun for the whole family).

Deus Ex Hack

In this game, being a Black Hat is a good thing.

Mechanically Augmented

While I’ve been all almost entirely glowy up to this point, Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn’t without its flaws, most of which can be found with the control scheme and layout. In short? On the Xbox 360 game pad, it’s a little awkward. Not awkward enough to ruin the experience, but definitely noticeable. Without getting into the blow-by-blow, most first-person (or third person) games, regardless of developer, have settled on a common control setup which even lets a somewhat smooth transition between Xbox 360 and PS3. For some reason, Eidos Studios – Montreal took a different approach with their control mapping (which felt, for lack of a better word, unintuitive) as well as the in-game controls. For a cover-based shooter, the cover function was fine, if not particularly smooth for when you’re trying to return fire (especially if you’re trying to zoom in) and for a game that put so much emphasis on hacking, I set off more than a couple of alarms because the hold-down-X-and-select-the-action menu didn’t register my action.

In addition, while the “quick inventory” system was slick (reminiscent of Mass Effect 2‘s wheel), the inventory screen left something to be desired (at least on the console). Being required to spend valuable Praxis points (your augment upgrade currency) on expanding my inventory was a little irritating and felt slightly dated (if realistic), but the fact that I literally had to “manage” the inventory by moving  & rotating items around to get the most space-efficient arrangement (remember Resident Evil 2? Kind of like that) without being able to “stack” like items was even more irksome.

The other two critiques are semi-complimentary in nature because they communicate my desire to spend more time with the game:

  1. You can’t travel back and forth between cities and mission areas with new upgrades that would have let you have access to previously inaccessible areas with your new abilities; and
  2. There’s no New Game +.

Because the structure of Deus Ex is a blend of open-world and linear (you’re free to roam in Montreal as long as you’re on the Montreal level, but you can’t go back to Detroit until the game takes you there, nor can you return to Montreal once that Act is finished), it makes sense that I couldn’t travel back and forth. Nonetheless, the amount of sidequests, locked doors and areas that I could get to if only I had upgrade X were numerous and I wanted to get to them all – the game is a simultaneous wet dream and nightmare for the completionist gamer, so I was bummed when I discovered you could only backtrack so much.

Deus Ex

Remember: you are my number. One. Guy.

The lack of a New Game + is a mistake on Eidos Studios – Montreal’s part, period. Dovetailing with my desire to explore the great world that they created in Human Revolution is my wish to take on the earlier parts of the game with the weapons and skills I picked up towards the end-game. While its replayability is very high due to the different approaches you can take to complete missions, leaving out the option of playing as close to being the God in the Machine as possible was an oversight (and a somewhat baffling one at that).

More than a sum of its parts

Despite some… intriguing mechanical issues, a boss-sized glitch and the lack of a New Game +, I had an absolute blast in my time with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Without a doubt, after I finish my playthrough of a different, recently released title, I’m looking forward going back to Neo-Detroit. Except this time, I’m going in quiet. The bad guys are never going to see me coming.


Giant Bomb (images)