So I’m a few hours in to Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I’ve just accepted a job from an old cop friend named Jenny to ingratiate myself with a crooked detective by posing as a hitman. Using an augment that allows me to read a subject’s mood by a combination of polygraph and pheromones, I win his trust. I’m to retrieve a hidden weapon and use it to eliminate a gang leader, before stashing it in his rival’s turf in order to start a street war – but instead, I break into the detective’s apartment to gather evidence of his criminal activities, then find and incapacitate the gang leader to serve as a witness later before bringing the whole box of tricks back to Jenny. Gang leader off the street, bent cop behind bars, no gang war to threaten innocent lives – sometimes it’s fun to be the good guy.
Of course, many of you may choose to approach it all very differently. Perhaps you’ll help the crooked detective escape the law; maybe you’ll just shoot him in the head to avoid all the trouble – maybe you’ll walk right by Jenny without even knowing she’s important. That’s the beauty of Deus Ex’s malleable world: the main plot points remain rigid anchors around which the rest of the game flows dependant entirely upon our actions. It’s absolute genius and something you just don’t find at this scale outside of Eidos’ groundbreaking franchise. Mass Effect 2 might have a good selection of side missions, but they are largely standalone objectives separate to the main narrative; in Deus Ex, side-quests are exposition, revealing intimate details of the intricate backstory that genuinely enrich the world, whilst at the same time producing some of the game’s best moments.
In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Eidos Montreal present a dystopian near-future wherein global corporations have more money (and by extension, more power) than world governments. At the forefront of this economic stage are companies specialising in the controversial science of human cybernetic augmentation. Ostensibly to help war amputees and those suffering with crippling disabilities, augmentation is becoming more and more in vogue, with the rich and privileged augmenting themselves purely because they can afford to. The upshot of it all is, unsurprisingly, civil unrest. The human body’s natural tendency to reject foreign tissue leads to a reliance on a drug called Neuropozyne, which comes with all the downsides of any powerful narcotic. With addicts roaming the streets and gangs controlling the drug’s illegal distribution, crime is at an all-time high – not to mention relentless protests by anti-augmentation fronts like Purity First disturbing the peace.
The game begins when you take control of Adam Jensen, the Dirty-Harry-voiced Security Manager at Sarif Industries, the Detroit-based world leader in human augmentation. After a brief tour of the building by ex-squeeze and head biotechnician Megan Reed, Adam gets to spend two minutes in the company of David Sarif (one of the most interesting, non-clichéd characters I’ve ever come across in a game) before the conversation is punctuated by an attack by heavily-augmented terrorists. These nasty bastards then set about killing everyone they come across before chucking Adam through six inches of solid glass and shooting him in the head. Bummer. Luckily for Adam, he works for David Sarif, who sets him up with a brand new… well, everything, really, and once he’s called back to active duty to deal with a hostage situation at a Sarif manufacturing plant, the game properly begins.
You’ll learn fairly early on that Adam is a nifty bugger who can sneak around most obstacles and tackle most goons without further augmentation – and you can certainly play that way if you so choose – but the meat and potatoes of Human Revolution is the Augmentation tree. A riff on skill trees seen in more traditional RPGs, this screen is where you spend Praxis points (upgrade currency converted from your accumulated XP or purchased from specialist clinics in the hub cities) to unlock new gadgets and abilities. There are 7 areas (head, torso, arms, legs, skin, back and eyes) to upgrade with corresponding goodies; for example, leg augments will help you move faster and jump higher, whereas arm augments allow you to lift heavier objects or carry more gear in your Resident Evil-style inventory. Deciding early on how you want to play the game and what kind of operative you want to be is a good idea, as the Augmentation menu can be a little daunting.
Go Augment Yourself
If you fancy playing as a steel-plated James Bond, spend Praxis on upgrades to move silently or hack doors and computers easier. If you want to run through every mission leaving a trail of leaking bodies in your wake, take the Dermal Armour and 360-degree Typhoon Weapon System (note: it’s awesome). There’s a huge amount of choice and no one will do everything in one playthrough – perhaps not even two.
It’s not all about guns and knives and murder, though: interacting with NPCs is great. Although initially the dialogue wheel contains only three responses, selecting the social augmentation allows you to read people like a human polygraph, choosing the right response to Jedi-mind-trick them into compliance. With a cast of brilliantly-written and emotive characters, conversations in Human Revolution are often as exciting and strategic as the gunfights.
That being said, combat is sublime. A seamless cover system switches the view to third person in a manner reminiscent of Rainbow Six, allowing you to lean out to line up shots or blind fire with your head down whilst screaming for mummy. Firefights are tense, mobile affairs, leaping and rolling from cover point to cover point to get the best angle – or to get up close and personal enough for an intimate takedown. Keeping to cover and picking the right tool for the job are essential habits to cultivate – although you can avoid 95% of fights by making full use of Adam’s ninja-like grace. If you do choose to go loud, the game offers no shortage of shiny boomsticks to fulfil all your people-perforating needs. Every gun is upgradeable too, with silencers, laser sights, extended mags and damage enhancers.
Mind Over Metal
The stealth element is exceptional, making you feel like a bad ass in a way that only early Splinter Cell titles ever achieved. Sneaking around to avoid security cameras or patrolling guards doesn’t get old. If anything, given the XP bonuses for being merciful and the extra money earned from selling scavenged weapons instead of using them, the game appears slightly biased towards stealthy play. Which is not to say you’re punished for your homicidal gun rampages – you’re just not rewarded as much. The downside, of course, is that silent takedowns and active camouflage guzzle your energy supply, and resources to stay topped up are scarce. Patience and planning will see you through most missions, whether you choose to go quietly or spraying bullets like a hot lead fountain. The only real glitches are the boss fights, which rob you of choice to a certain extent – though thankfully they account for less than 10% of the actual play time.
Enemy AI suffers from occasional inconsistency, but baddies will attempt to flank and use cover to suppress you. World AI is less impressive. A good deal of the game is spent outside of missions in the hub cities like Detroit and Hengsha, and it’s here that Eidos make it a little bit jarringly-obvious that you’re in a game: Break-dancers who do the same move over and over for hours on end, repeated lines of dialogue, identical hookers standing beside one another… On one occasion a gunshot went off in an apartment and caused everyone to hit the floor, including my ex-cop friend who I’m sure would have the coping mechanisms for such an event. Similarly, after breaking into a police station I emerged from a vent into an interrogation room where a cop was grilling a gang suspect in view of three armed officers – none of whom batted an eyelid. Moths, spiders and bits of fluff coming out of your vents are no big deal; six foot cyborgs in trench coats and groovy future shades certainly are.
Complaints like cut-and-paste corridor skins and a glaring lack of mirrors in bathrooms may seem almost unfair, but they’re justified here purely because Eidos Montreal fly so close to perfection. Though, how much they bother you will depend entirely on your willingness to ignore them and get sucked into Adam Jensen’s world. In every other respect, Deus Ex is incredible. The beautifully-realised gold-tinted world, technology that genuinely fits (though only being set 16 years from now is a bit of a stretch for some of the inventions on display), and a musical score that doesn’t just aid the atmosphere but actually creates it work to immerse you in a gameworld like no other.
The visual style is such that it becomes almost hypnotic. A pastiche of neon signs, lens-flare, litter-strewn streets and dirty lamps draws inevitable comparisons with Blade Runner that, in fairness, are mostly inaccurate. As the devs themselves pointed out, Blade Runner is the future of 1984, whereas Human Revolution is the future of 2011 – as such, the differences are more prominent than the similarities. Neon dystopias will always bring us back to Ridley Scott’s legendary neo-noir, but Adam Jensen’s world is its own, not as bleak as Rick Deckard’s rain-drenched LA nor as totalitarian as JC Denton’s nano-augmented future – rather, it’s somewhere between, distinctly cyberpunk and distinctly dystopian but with an undercurrent of hope that the future may still be bright.
Overall, despite a few minor complaints that many won’t notice, this game is exceptional. Astounding, even. Blurring the lines between the FPS and RPG in a way rarely seen, it drags you into its world and demands that you keep both eyes on the future. An incredible storyline and lovingly-crafted world ensure an immersive, life-swallowing experience. If you still have any doubts that Human Revolution can live up to the legacy of Y2K’s legendary original, a few hours with Adam Jensen will wash them all way – like tears in rain…