Time to give yourself a reboot - the original Cyberpunk master class is in session.
It's an unenviable task to follow-up any amazing game, but when that game is looked upon by many as one of the seminal releases of all time that job is downright near impossible. Deus Ex: Invisible War tried and it either failed miserably, if you believe internet rhetoric, or was moderately successful, if you put stock in critical analysis. It was with some trepidation that fans of the original Deus Ex responded to the announcement of a new entry in the franchise, to come some eleven years and a new development company later. But by putting Eidos Montreal in control, Square-Enix has delivered not only a worthy title for the Deus Ex catalog, but reinvigorated the series going forward. Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn't without problems, and some glaring ones at that, but it's an awesome reminder of what the RPG-shooter genre is capable of when done well.
Alpha Protocol Done Right
Deus Ex: Human Revolution tells the story of Adam Jensen, head of security for Safir Industries, a leading international manufacturer of human augmentations. The year is 2075 and there's a political rift stemming directly from the augmentation debate. On one side you've got those pro-augmentation and on the other those wholly against them. After a horrifying attack on Sarif Industries, Jensen finds himself the new owner of his own set of augmentations that will help him as he journeys across the globe to uncover a world-wide conspiracy. Now, I'm dancing around some major story points here but that's because it's really best experienced firsthand. The one thing I'll put forward to you is that Human Revolution is an archetypal cyberpunk story in the vein of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, and I mean that in the best possible way.
While there are a few disputable moments scattered throughout the narrative, the story is deftly told with a respectable restraint not often found in gaming. Fans of the originals will be glad to know that finding eBooks and emails throughout the world help shed some light on the Deus Ex universe, going so far as to connect this prequel with the original in some very smart ways. Eidos should be commended for keeping their story beats clear and concise, allowing them to simultaneously welcome back old fans of the series and avoiding the alienation of new players.
Choice Is Your Weapon
At it's core Deus Ex is an action-stealth game with heavy RPG elements that are much simpler than most dice-roll RPG's. Choice is paramount in Deus Ex and Eidos Montreal makes it clear to the player that there are multiple solutions to almost every single situation. Even the basic layout of the game world makes this obvious. Missions and side-missions take place in large city hubs that naturally lend themselves to various routes and approaches. And even though story specific missions take place in smaller areas, like a single building, they manage to be just as elaborate and comprehensive. Choosing how you'll get to where you're going is really only the first decision you make, but it provides the perfect foundation for what the game does best.
It's up to you whether to attack enemies or avoid them, or whether to use deadly force should they choose to engage. That might be elementary in premise but Deus Ex makes you feel like those decisions really matter. The best example of this, without spoiling anything, is an early mission where I needed to get into a location to acquire an important piece of evidence. Sneaking or breaking into the building meant I had a firefight on my hands if anyone spotted me, so I had to stay low and keep quiet, drawing the mission out over the course of half an hour in a laborious patience game that was especially rewarding when I got out undetected. The next time through, I talked my way into the building and strolled through in under five minutes, friendly with every NPC in the area. Many games give the illusion of choice, Deus Ex lets you live in a world where it is a virtual currency for your personal enjoyment.
The most intimate, and potentially the most important, paths to consider throughout the game come from the augmentations, or skill trees. Augmentations can be bought with Praxis Kits, upgrade points that are handed out for every 5000 XP you earn or that can be found and purchased throughout the world. Adam starts with some inherent abilities but by and large you're able to craft him into the man-machine you want. Augmentations can allow you to move unseen, hack into high level security, take more damage, ignore environmental effects, influence conversation, see through walls and much more. But even with completing all side-missions and finding most secrets - which can take 40 or 60 hours depending on play style - there aren't enough Praxis Kits to unlock every augmentation, giving you enough to make the experience your own but not enough to do everything proficiently during a single campaign.
Of course, it'd be foolish to think there weren't certain paths through the campaign that offered less resistance than others. Having a maxed hacking skill enabled me to access mostly everything I could want right from the start, but it also meant I wasn't tough when bullets started to fly. Everyone's decision will be different in some way that will indirectly and directly inform how different scenarios will play out. Generally speaking there isn't much you'll miss if you go hard one way, so long as you figure out how to overcome your deficiencies. The fact that both of my playthroughs, where I played as opposite to each other as I could, were massively enjoyable speaks volumes of the gameplay malleability.e
Metal Limbs, Glass Jaw
Of course things aren't all perfect; Eidos wasn't quite able to create this big of a game without some very noticeable problems. The most egregious error in the games design is the artificial intelligence. I'm not certain if it's a path mapping issue or part of the way the stealth works but Jensen can all but escape in plain sight. Set off an alarm and watch as a half dozen enemies bare down on you, only to walk away perplexed by your sudden disappearance behind a wooden crate. I lost count of the times when I was staring at an enemy's crotch - because I was hunkered in an air duct - as they looked aimlessly around the room for my whereabouts. Players bent on breaking a game just to prove that they can will find it an arbitrary task here, but one that only does themselves a disservice. If you're tolerant of a game inadvertently illuminating its fourth wall barriers and then working within those confines then Deus Ex's stealth mechanics and its AI will be just fine.
The other glaring miscue is one that I can't reconcile in anyway and I'd be surprised to hear if many people were on board with them: boss fights. They suck, and I say that without reservation. However you decide to play through the campaign it won't matter when you meet a boss, you have to kill them. It's jarring when the game accommodates your play style for long stretches only to then force you into one you might not enjoy. Making matters worse, these fights end up being a lot of trial and error, especially if you go in without the one or two augmentations that this boss might be weak against. I started to hoard Praxis Kits just so I could upgrade what I needed for a boss fight specifically - something that flies in the face of the games whole premise.
Some of those problems could have been alleviated by the arsenal you carry, or the arsenal that you can find when battling a boss, but the shooting just doesn't get the job done. Aiming fills off-center and Jensen moves far too stiff when shooting. It doesn't help that the game severely limits ammo capacity, while making enemies damage sponges to anything that isn't a direct headshot. It feels as if the shooting was planned around the stealth elements of the game, expecting players to only take shots while hidden, so that they had time to line up perfect shots. As it is, Adam doesn't quite have the tools at his disposal to disperse a room full of enemies in the type of efficient manner you expect out of an action hero.
Then again, Adam Jensen has a few other strange quirks. Out of gaming habit I jumped off a floor down a single story, assuming my 6-Million Dollar Man would want to get where he's going fast, only to find myself on the floor dead and loading a previous save. Since save times on the console can stretch upwards of 30 seconds, dying can be quite frustrating. Installing the game on the 360 cuts that time significantly, 5-7 seconds shorter than loading on the PS3, but the PC load times are better all around. It's something you're made well aware of since, even at the best of times, Jensen takes just a slight amount of damage before going tits up. Though I suppose if he didn't the game would be too easy.
The last oddity is easy to forgive by it still feels unusual. There's a battery system in place that lets you take down an enemy, activate stealth, seeing through walls, and so on. By performing any of these actions you use up one bar of energy which will naturally replenishes over time. Like most things you can upgrade the amounts you have and the speed that it recharges, but the idea that Jensen can't taken down an enemy without energy is really bizarre. You can increase your energy quicker by eating energy bars that you find in the world, but that means traversing through an inventory system each time you want to do it which is more cumbersome than it is fun.
Who Keeps Buying The Yellow Paint
If you're a stickler for good looks then Human Revolution might put you off in some areas. The world is quite believable and the ultra-techno focus back-dropped by the slums is right out of Cyberpunk 101. It's fun to explore and my only complaint was that I wish there was more of it. But then the character models leave a lot to be desired. The game switches between cutscenes that are fully rendered CG and cutscenes that use the engine in-game. The one's in-game look rough, falling out of sync with the audio so often that it's hard not to be jilted while watching them. I think some players may also find the Gold-Black aesthetic to be a bit much, but I found I was able to look past it after the first couple hours until eventually warming to the deign scheme.
The voice acting is equally off-putting early on, but I found I came around and eventually really liked most of the actors in the game. Elias Toufexis delivers his best Batman impersonation as Adam Jensen, which you'll probably warm to after a few hours. Stephen Shellen plays Adam's boss, David Sarif, with a sort of pseudo-surfer dude laid back attitude that is an interesting choice. Human Revolution also has some incredibly perplexing voice actors sprinkled throughout the game that strike wickedly close to bad racial stereotypes. It' unlikely that it was intentional but it's a good reminder of why casting for a major game like this is so crucial (right Heavy Rain?). Whether you like the voice acting or not, the conversations are usually so well written that it's worth it to sit and listen the whole way through and not just skip forward.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, or more appropriately Eidos Montreal, has done what almost nobody could have expected: add to one of the most beloved game franchises of all time in a way that makes you want to see more. It tells a thrilling story without ever jumping down your throat with it or strong arming the exposition into scenes, it just lets you uncover the world at your leisure. There's a near mastery of player options handed out, it's just unfortunate that the core shooting action is only standard, made more obvious by the games stellar stealth and hacking. The world is expansive and the situations make you think - but the game never handholds you, something experienced players will appreciate. In an era when six hour campaigns have become standard and illusion of choice is more important than actual choice, Deus Ex: Human Revolution does it right, delivering a lengthy, thoroughly enjoyable experience that lets players craft the experience how they want it, without much limitation. And it's because so much of the game remains strong throughout that the slight problems become so obvious. Ultimately, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is more than the sum of its parts. Sure, it's not perfect, few games are, but it's almost everything you could hope for in a game meant to restart a franchise. It's been a long wait - but well worth it.
Final Score: 90%