The Deus Ex franchise has always been a relative enigma, offering a little bit of something for almost every genre fan without ever having achieved the mass-market, triple-A appeal of better known franchises. For a game that can be played by run-and-gun, stealth, and straight-up RPG enthusiasts alike, one would imagine that every action gamer on the planet would have embraced the series by now. But with three games spanning more than a decade, an inconsistent release schedule and a hardcore sci-fi, story-driven approach have, until now, kept the series among gaming’s great semi-hidden gems.
With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, however, the series earns a shot at greatness with its first next-gen release for a current generation of gamers who’ve sadly been left without. We recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with the title’s opening few hours and immediately fell back into the world of trans-human intrigue. A prequel to the original Deus Ex, Human Revolution requires virtually no prior experience with the DE universe, focusing rather on the character of Adam Jensen, head of security of the bio-tech company, Sarif Industries.
Adam’s employer happens to be one of the leading producers of bio-mechanical augmentations which allow the paying public to “upgrade” themselves into above-average cybernetic beings. Of course, hints of corporate espionage abound and a rebel group called Purity First, committed to the untouched human physique, has been causing problems for the corporation.
The opening moments of the game constitute an on-rails conversation between Jensen and his scientific, quasi-love interest, Dr. Megan Reed, strolling through the thoroughly populated halls of Sarif in an impressive display of both world creation and natural character animation. The way people move and interact within the environment in this dialogue-heavy opening is perfect scene-setting for the fiery hell that’s about to break loose once intruders seize the compound.
As the un-augmented head of security, the first few action set-pieces are your standard FPS tutorial fare, teaching players the basic mechanics of aiming and taking cover. The cover system felt a little unintuitive at first, requiring players to hold down one button in order to break the first-person viewpoint and take cover, while pressing another to continue around corners; and all without an option to fast-jump between adjacent cover points. But after your fingers learn the sequencing, the remaining run-and-gun opening – which essentially ignores the soon-to-be-revealed elements of hacking, sneaking and social interactions – carries players back through the facility to a final confrontation with a fully augmented attacker against whom you’re no match. So much so, in fact, that you wind up the victim of a full-on bloodbath.
Fast forward to the return of Adam Jensen to the hallways of Sarif, saved by the various augmentations applied after the massacre a few months prior. Resuming his post at Sarif, Jensen returns to a much more unstable environment as Purity First has stepped up their violent rebellion and rumors circulate of instability at the top of the corporation. Intrigue and espionage persist…
At this point, the game provides you with the standard HUD and a complex series of upgrade options to four key components: Combat, Hacking, Social and Stealth. Tasked with quelling a hostage crisis at one of Sarif’s corporate holdings, you must first make your way through the building and up to the helipad on the roof. This gives you plenty of time to speak with your co-workers and explore the various offices and sub-labs for hidden items and potential sub-quests. While we pressed on with the main storyline, we’re assured that both listening to and engaging with NPC’s will open up additional side-stories to lengthen the game’s already substantial 25-35 hour playtime.
Almost immediately, gamers will want to familiarize themselves with the upgrade system, a rather unwieldy set of choices that could easily overwhelm first-time players. Each of the four areas contains individually upgradeable sub-skills, but it can often be difficult to know which skill one has to upgrade to achieve a specific result. For example, even with two developers in the room, it took us longer than necessary to find the Hacking upgrade that would allow us to pick locks, lost in the skill-tree maze of Hacking: Computers, Hacking: Technology and Turrets, Hacking, etc, etc…While the various effects are especially, inherently cool, the game’s upgrade system will almost certainly take time to master.
After heading for the chopper, we were given the option to enter the hostage area in either a lethal or non-lethal capacity, affecting our eventual load-out. We chose lethal, putting some emphasis on stealth. But if you’re hoping to simply sneak around and break necks, don’t get your hopes up. There’s an action bar that limits your ability to pull off close-quarters kills and other complicated maneuvers – while ammo is simultaneously scarce even on looted bodies – so players are forced to carefully consider their choices in true Deus Ex fashion.
Having snapped too many necks too quickly, we chanced upon an alternate route past the warehouse full of enemies by sneaking through the vents around a well-placed turret. Thankfully, the game recognizes when you’ve discovered alternate paths and will provide you with XP the same way it might if you’d gunned your way through the room or efficiently hacked the turret.
There’s no doubt that this is a true Deus Ex title, requiring far more strategy and forethought than virtually any title currently on the market. Thankfully, the next-gen visuals both upgrade and augment the series to the next level for gamers who can remember – and still occasionally play – the blockier iterations of the previous two chapters. Certainly, this is shaping up to be the most fully realized iteration of the Deus Ex universe to date, but the overly complex upgrade system and steep learning curve might give trigger-happy players pause. But for those who love the franchise, there’s every indication that Human Revolution is going to provide a bigger – and hopefully better – experience.