Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

By Jake Gaskill - Posted Aug 22, 2011

Like its tortured protagonist, Deus Ex: Human Revolution carries with it the clear remnants of its past, while evolving past the limitations that often accompany those connections, to become something wholly its own. Human Revolution is a thoroughly engrossing and satisfying ride.

The Pros
  • Thoroughly engrossing world/settings
  • Slick and satisfying gameplay
  • Great sense of freedom and experimentation
The Cons
  • Inconsistent enemy AI
  • Jarring disconnect between cutscenes and gameplay
  • Illuminati clumsily included

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review:

Evaluating Deus Ex: Human Revolution based on how similar/dissimilar it is to its acclaimed grandfather, the acclaimed and seemingly infallible Deus Ex, and/or Human Revolution's divisive predecessor, Deus Ex: Invisible War, will be a natural inclination for anyone who has played the previous two games; however, I think it would be a waste of time and would do a disservice to what the team at Eidos Montreal has achieved with Human Revolution, flaws and all.

Meanwhile, Back At The Lab

After his lab is attacked by unknown military forces, Adam Jensen is left on the brink of death, and is forcibly outfitted with all manner of physical augmentations to both save his life and turn him into a highly capable super soldier for his boss, David Sarif, founder of Sarif Industries, one of the world’s leading biotechnology firms specializing in human augmentation research.

Over the course of the story, Adam must travel the globe to track down those responsible for the attack and uncover a few painful truths along the way. For as many twists and turns as there are (cough…Watchmen…cough), the story itself is, for the most part, well-paced and enjoyable. Sadly, the inclusion of the Illuminati as a major player in the game’s overall conspiracy is an unfortunate misstep. The story itself is rather well told and compelling enough on its own. Adding something as tired and predictable as the Illuminati unfortunately takes away from the rest of the story.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

The World is Yours

The yellow-tinged near future of 2027 is brought to life with pitch perfect detail and presents a world that feels both entirely plausible while just beyond reality. From the dark streets of Detroit to the neon sign-lit Hengsha to a miles-deep research facility in the arctic, the settings are diverse and wonderfully realized from top to bottom.

What the game lacks in graphical horsepower, it more than makes up for with mood and atmosphere. And the clever use of strategically placed backdrops—Mass Effect comes to mind—gives the illusion of existing in sprawling environments and metropolises even though you’re only exploring contained, yet still expansive, portions of said environments. The world has a life of its own, and it’s a place you want to exist in, an absolute must for a game that could take you upwards of 35 hours to beat if you complete all the side quests and take your time; running and gunning types might be able to get through it in as few as 15 hours, aka one hour per chapter, which would be mighty impressive.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Choose Wisely

From the first demos we ever saw for Human Revolution, the emphasis has always been on player choice, one of the defining characteristics of the Deus Ex series. The game does a fabulous job of giving players (nearly) absolute freedom to play and combine combat (lethal and non-lethal), stealth, hacking, and social elements in any way they see fit.

I say “nearly” because there are several key boss fights in the game that are combat-centric, and for someone like me who went the hacking/stealth route and didn’t upgrade my combat abilities at all (aside from upping my armor, mainly to prepare for the boss fights), these showdowns were much more limiting in terms of options than I was expecting, especially given how much freedom there is in the rest of the game. Of course, none of the bosses were particularly tough, even for my nerdy, non-confrontational Jensen, so it didn’t ruin the overall experience, but it was a bit surprising.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Augmented Reality

The augmentation system is the other major component in which players have the freedom to tailor the gameplay experience to their particular play styles. The menu can be a bit overwhelming when you first look at it (and the heartbeat sound that accompanies it gets quite annoying after a while), but once you get a grasp on which ones you want to focus on, it becomes easy to navigate.

The options are also plentiful, and best of all, when you unlock a new ability, you instantly get sort of perk for that augment, which serves as its first level. But because there’s usually a lot of time between upgrades, getting a little something extra makes the wait for the next upgrade point much more tolerable, and you get a cool perk to boot. It’s a small yet very smart design choice that improves the quality of the overall game tremendously.

Mixing and matching your augments is one of the game’s great joys, as you can truly make your Jensen wholly your own. But as the game tells you, you aren’t able to upgrade all of the abilities, so you do have to be careful how you spend your points.

Thankfully, there’s no real way to screw up your character. Like I said earlier, even though I ignored combat upgrades, I was still able to get through the toughest boss fights, even if I had to strategize a bit more. So, you really can explore freely without having to worry about augmenting yourself into a corner later on. Also, because of how the levels are laid out, it’s totally possible to be a not entirely lethal character (because after all, the silenced pistol and arm blades are just too sweet not to use) while still holding your own on the battlefield, making for an experience that truly caters to all types of players.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Ask The Right Questions, and You Get The Right Answers

The social functions can also open or close story and gameplay avenues depending on how you navigate them. Human Revolution features a character “interrogation” system not unlike that seen in L.A. Noire, neural analyzers and mood-altering pheromone emitters aside. While “failing” these conversations, which you can do by misreading a person’s personality type, can definitely cause problems, there’s usually always a way to solve the problem without their help; it will just be a hell of a lot harder to do so. Like, if you screw up with your pal at the Detroit police station during one of the game’s first missions, you’ll have to sneak your way through the station and reach the basement morgue undetected. If you can convince your friend to let you in the station, you are free to walk around all you want, turning what could be a potentially hour-long mission into a five minute one.

Like I said, I stuck primarily to the stealth/hacking tract for my playthrough, from my experience with the gunplay, I think shooter fans will find a comfortable fit here. The controls can be a bit stiff at times, but upgrading the combat augments will definitely help steady your hand and make it a more enjoyable experience, perhaps more so than I think a lot of people are probably expecting. The variety of weaponry is also welcomed and includes everything from a stun gun and a plasma rifle to a crossbow and a rocket launcher; again, it’s all about options.

Here Comes The Catch

Although, for as many successes as there are in Deus Ex Human Revolution, it’s not without its shortcomings. For one, the enemy AI can be inconsistent, vacillating between the smartest enemies ever to a rock in a uniform. This becomes quite noticeable when dealing with one of the game’s otherwise well executed cover system.

When in cover, you are virtual invisible from most angles, but there are times when an enemy should clearly be able to see you but they don’t; however, when you go out of cover and are simply squatting behind whatever object you were in cover against, the enemy that didn’t see you a second before spots you instantly. Or there are times when you an enemy will spot you from a good distance away as you’re diving between cover, but other times they won’t see you dragging one of their buddies away because you’re out of their cone of vision, even if there are no obstructions between you and the enemy.

Presentation wise, there is a serious disconnect between the cutscenes and the gameplay, and not just because its pre-rendered vs. in-game engine. The cutscenes are incredibly dark and dominated by shadows, while the game is significantly brighter (even before tweaking the brightness settings), so when it jumps between the two, you can’t help but be pulled out of the experience.

The performances are solid across the board (Sarif being the weak link) but the facial animations are stiff, and during the majority of your conversations, all the characters cycle through the same six or seven animations, regardless of the context of the conversation, which can make for some rather strange interactions.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The Revolution Has Come To An End

Some people might see the game’s multiple endings, sadly determined by pushing one of four buttons (assuming you complete two side objectives towards the end of the game, otherwise you will only have two buttons to choose from), as potentially a way to invalidate everything the player has done over the course of the previous dozens of hours by letting them pick a conclusion entirely counter to how they played the game (e.g. picking the harsher of the endings despite being non-lethal, or murdering your way through the game and picking the most sensible outcome); however, like the choices themselves, which range from light grey to darker grey in theme, nothing is black and white, and humanity’s capacity to adapt to ever changing realities, especially in terms of technological progress and humanity’s own evolution, is one of the game’s primary themes. Again, it’s not executed as elegantly as it no doubt could have been, but it wasn’t a game-breaking cop out either, and I thought it fit nicely within the context of the overall story.

Like its tortured protagonist, Deus Ex: Human Revolution carries with it the clear remnants of its past while evolving past the limitations that often accompany those connections to become something wholly its own. It certainly isn’t perfect, and there is plenty of room for improvement (a sequel is hinted at, so hopefully the team will have a chance to build on this very solid foundation), but Human Revolution is a thoroughly engrossing and satisfying ride, and it’s one you’ll want to restart as soon as the credits finish rolling.