Sep 2, 2011

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

When Deus Ex was released for PC in 2000, it instantly garnered high critical praise. Looking back eleven years later, it’s easy to see that Deus Ex also heralded a new era in gaming. By giving the player an unprecedented level of narrative control, Deus Ex arguably paved the way for the dialogue choices and morality meters that now overpopulate the industry. It comes as no surprise, then, that fans of the first-person RPG classic are notoriously hard to please. 2003′s Deus Ex: Invisible War was critically well-received, but lambasted by a community who begged for the same level of complexity that the original offered. Fast forward to 2011. Eidos Montreal and Square Enix have brought us the franchise’s third installment after eight years of development. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, like its forebears, brings players a blend of first-person action and role-playing that deals heavily in player choice. In this regard, Human Revolution succeeds in a big way, drawing players in with a hauntingly beautiful world that unfolds around almost every decision you make. While a couple poor design choices and technical issues keep the experience from being perfect, series fans and newcomers alike will find that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an absolute gem of a game that gets almost everything right.

Human Revolution takes place in a world not unlike our own, where mankind seeks to constantly better itself through science and technology. In the year 2027, this takes shape through cybernetic augmentation, enhancing the human body and nervous system with mechanical modifications. While these enhancements represent positive change, lending aid to the physically and mentally handicapped, they are also deadly weapons. Human augmentation is becoming increasingly prevalent in secret military projects and defense contracts. Corporations behind cybernetic augmentation are gaining power, while the issue continues to strike a divide in the human population. Is it OK to play God in the hopes of perfecting ourselves? Is scientific advancement bringing those with power closer to political immortality? At what point will the thirst for perfection trump our morality? The not-so-distant future of Human Revolution tackles these issues head on, and every faction in the game has a point to make. In this world, anti-transhumanists clash with augmented folk and the conservative Humanity Front takes potshots at cybernetic megacorporation Sarif Industries. On the brink of a major revelation in enhancement research, the stakes have never been higher. The political and civil unrest portrayed in cutscenes, dialogue, and gameplay is powerful and resonates with the player. The violence and manipulation that take place over augmentation are the very same reactions we see toward today’s topical issues, and Human Revolution even manages to show us what a few of these concerns might look like 16 years from now.

The world of Human Revolution is further brought to life by an absolutely fantastic art direction. Gold is the highlight on a dark, but vivid color palette that symbolizes both a technological Renaissance and the comfortless world being left behind. The rich geometry and architecture that highlight city hubs contrast sharply with dingy back alleys and city streets. This visually striking difference perfectly captures the conflict between purists and transhumanists, with the latter often enjoying wealth and convenience afforded by their acceptance of technology. An impressive attention to detail also benefits gameplay by demanding exploration. Unfortunately, some technical issues mar the experience. NPC face detail is often lacking, and animations come across as stiff or unnatural. In addition, a few of the game’s textures could have used improvement. Simple, bold textures can sometimes benefit the game’s distinct art style, but in some cases they are just poorly detailed. The framerate may also drop from time to time, but these instances are rare and never come at the cost of gameplay. In the big picture, these flaws are almost negligible. Human Revolution is a visual treat that uses artistic flair to make its world both believable and immersive.

An engrossing world is nothing without the characters and events that give it life, so the interesting and focused narrative comes as a blessing. Players assume the role of Adam Jensen, security chief for Sarif Industries. When Sarif Industries is mercilessly attacked on the eve of a major announcement, Adam is mortally wounded while love interest Megan Reed and her team of scientists are murdered. However, company CEO David Sarif has other plans and orders extensive augmentation done on a comatose Adam. The augmentations save Adam’s life, and six months later, he’s back on duty to resolve a hostage crisis at a Sarif manufacturing plant. As the story moves forward, Adam must struggle with both the loss of his girlfriend and his humanity, ripped from him when he was augmented without choice. This event both defines Adam as a character and sets the stage for the moral conflict at large. As Adam digs deeper into the attack that nearly claimed his life, he makes startling discoveries and begins to unravel a global conspiracy that threatens the stability of mankind. To say anything more would risk spoiling an excellent plot that is carefully told through dialogue, cutscenes, and in-game assets like newspapers and emails. Jensen’s one-man fight to uncover the truth is both thrilling and engaging, often posing tough moral questions that you must tackle to push the story forward in one way or another. These moments help flesh out the detailed world around you, leaving you captivated by the surprise plot twists and revelations around every corner. Just when you think the game couldn’t come to any more of a climax, it trumps itself and delivers exciting moments fueled by the choices you make.

Thankfully, the core gameplay of Human Revolution also reinforces this freedom. The game is played primarily in first-person, with contextual moments like entering cover and performing takedowns that bring the camera into third-person. Guns, grenades, and other FPS staples are certainly present, but you’d be hard pressed to classify the game as a shooter. Human Revolution features many elements common to role-playing games. Players will find weapons and items in the environment, gain experience points, and upgrade Jensen’s abilities via augmentation. Unlike many shooters (and even some of the game’s RPG brethren), player choice also factors heavily into the experience. As you navigate the game world, fulfilling mission objectives and tracking down side quests, you’ll find yourself choosing between the four pillars of gameplay: combat, stealth, hacking, and exploration. All four pillars are well-executed in-game. The shooting and cover mechanics are precise and flexible, and stealth works well thanks to the cover system. Meanwhile, hacking is a simple yet fun mini-game based on a logical premise. While the bulk of extra information you uncover about the world comes through exploration, hacking can also contribute through the doors and emails you unlock when successful. Rest assured, these four pillars don’t appear as strict choices that determine your path. They are simply options that allow you to play the game your way.

For example, if you come across a room of baddies, you may feel inclined to use your combat rifle to mow down the opposition. However, you might notice a ventilation shaft on your way into the room and find that it offers a quieter path to your destination. Alternatively, the locked office nearby may house a computer that will turn the bad guy’s automated turrets against them. Better still, a more thorough scanning of the building’s exterior may reveal a path that bypasses the area altogether. Human Revolution never penalizes you for choosing any of the above. Instead, it simply offers opportunities. You’ll earn experience points for almost every action, from hacking a terminal to pulling off headshots. Every 5000 experience points nets you a Praxis point that can be spent on unlocking new augmentations or upgrading your current ones. Jensen’s upgrade trees are sufficiently deep, offering plenty of creative solutions while not limiting the player to one path. Fantastic level design reinforces the element of choice and makes your upgrade decisions feel very meaningful. Multiple pathways are built into nearly every area of the game, and the levels are complex enough that you’ll rarely predict the alternatives immediately. Aided by universally helpful augmentations like the no-fall-damage Icarus Landing, the available options are often limited only by your creativity. Each location you visit will begin as a strange landscape, but will gradually become a veritable playground where you can see possibilities unfold before you.