Friday, 9 September 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

In the year 2000, the world was introduced to Deus Ex: a sprawling cyberpunk adventure with multiple paths and endings, a cast of fantastic characters and storytelling beyond most things seen at the time. Which is why it won countless Game of the Year awards.
   In 2003 its sequel, Invisible War, was met with derision as fans of the PC original (which was later ported to the PS2) were angered by the simultaneous release with the Xbox version, and what they thought was a compromised or cut-down game. In all honesty, the sequel was a fantastic game in its own right, albeit a little smaller in scale than its predecessor.
   In 2007, Eidos Montreal took on the immense task of creating a new game in the franchise, one that would wipe the bad memories of Invisible War's reception whilst eclipsing the original game in the franchise. Not an easy task for an entirely new team's first game.
   But one they succeeded in.
   Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the year 2027, a full twenty-five years before the events of the original game. Playing as Adam Jensen, a private security operative for Sarif Industries, a simple assignment goes horribly wrong, leaving poor Adam beaten by an unknown augmented chap before being shot in the head. That would ruin anybody's day.
   That is not the end though, far from it, as Sarif Industries, the leading company in human augmentations, puts Adam back together using mechanical augmentations such as his new arms (with blades embedded within, an excellent choice for the security chief of a global organisation) and, although unlocked as you progress, an invisibility cloak, ability to see through walls and many, many more.
   Augmentations have always been an integral part of the Deus Ex games and here it is no different. A new levelling system has been put into place that earns you experience points (XP) for various things – successful hacking, finding secret areas, taking down enemies – and in turn gives you access to Praxis points, which allow you to upgrade or install your various augmentations. Praxis kits can also be found in the really secret areas, as well as in the not-so-secret LIMB clinics, wherein you can buy a limited amount of them for use at any time.
  The various augmentations you buy can be tailored to whatever play style you choose, with the invisibility and hacking ones helping you to maintain a stealthy attitude, the social upgrade helping you to be diplomatic and talk your way out of situations, and the likes of the Typhoon system (deploying miniature mines to knock down multiple foes) and the ability to punch through walls being just a couple of the choices for the more visceral approach. Whichever way you play, you even have the choice of being non-lethal too. Tapping the context-sensitive takedown button will perform a stealthy knock-out attack whereas holding it will result in Jensen killing his prey, each choice ending in any of a number of brilliantly animated scenes as you pummel or butcher your target. This can also be upgraded for taking down two enemies simultaneously too, which leads to an even more stunning array of animated takedowns.
   How Eidos Montreal has limited this is very clever, giving you limited energy supplies (Jensen is using powerful machinery, after all) in the form of bars of energy, with one being used up every time you use a takedown or any other energy-based augmentations. Only one of the bars will recharge though, meaning you have to be frugal in your attempts to bypass the various guards and goons of Deus Ex.
   The guards and peoples that populate the world are all hugely varied depending on the region you are investigating. With Detroit, Hengsha and Singapore on the list of places visited in the game, the variety of each place's residents differs wildly from the others, as do the environments themselves.
   Every location in the game is rendered beautifully, with astonishing attention to detail that extends from simple 'missing persons' posters and giant advertisement billboards, to the intricate post-it notes plastered over desks and computer screens. The lighting and shadows are exquisite too, with locations bathed in the glow of neon signs or the spotlights of vehicles overhead, and the first time you enter Adam's apartment is a thing of real beauty.
   When navigating these places, there are tonnes of hidden areas to explore, pocket secretaries to be found (usually offering access codes to terminals or electronically-locked doors, sometimes crucial when on the run) and masses of people to speak to. Find the right people and you can unlock side missions, often involving finding a certain person/object or to resolve tough situations, and will net you extra XP toward those all-important Praxis points.
   When you find yourself entering into conversation with certain characters, you will be presented with options for various responses or simply to ask questions, but this is often much deeper than it first seems. Decisions can have lasting effects on the story, with one particular choice determining the outcome of a very important scene much further on in the game. It really is a game about choice and consequence, which hits the nail on the head when creating a Deus Ex game.
   The voice acting and storytelling in general gets almost everything right, from the husky voice of the lead to the settings themselves, all created with the utmost care by a team clearly intent on making the best possible experience they could. There is intrigue and suspense, you will feel genuine mistrust for certain characters or affection for others, all the while trying to balance the need to explore with the craving to find out what happens next in the story.
   And this is no small game either, running into the tens of hours' worth of gameplay, with average times coming in at around thirty hours. There is such rich detail and immersion here that you will struggle to part with the controller (or mouse and keyboard) even after long sessions. There are so many moments when the end seems near as well, only to find yet another plot twist or mission that needs completing. In many games this extra time can merely be crammed with filler content but not here, as even the most minor twists can result in massive implications down the line for those who pay attention.
   This all sounds like Human Revolution has no flaws, but that simply is not true. The AI can be a bit glitchy at times, with guards sometimes seeing you without being in their line of sight, and the boss battles can feel a little out of place, though they are usually fun and challenging. However, if you have set up for a stealthy approach, you can often be left fuming when you must face down a boss character head-on – but stealth rules still apply, as the boss AI will still lose you if you slip away undetected.
   All in all, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stellar example of blending first-person action with role-playing, infusing it with thought-provoking storytelling and a soundtrack that is dripping with atmosphere at all times, and absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful when it hits its best. Even the biggest titles on the horizon this holiday are going to struggle to match this level of quality throughout.
   Eidos Montreal hasn't just eclipsed the original game with Human Revolution, they have probably given us 2011's Game of the Year.