September 21, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – What a game.

It’s difficult for me to write a review of Human Revolution without calling back to the original Deus Ex and its sequel. Deus Ex is still widely regarded as nothing short of a masterpiece for its execution of a groundbreaking mix of various game play and storytelling elements. In fact, 11 years later, I have a hard time thinking of many games that have matched Deus Ex in that particular regard. It isn’t easy to make a sequel to a game of such outstanding pedigree as the luke warm reception to Invisible War will show you. What Eidos Montreal has pulled off with Human Revolution is a pretty rare feat in this industry. They’ve not only paid homage to an incredible game, but they have eclipsed the original title in many ways.

No, Human Revolution is not a perfect game. As my comments in VGH #21 will attest, a couple of the glaring issues are the terribly designed boss battles and the enemy AI feels like it comes straight out of 1998. Actually, those are about the only real complaints I have about the game. Simply put, the boss battles go against everything the rest of the game teaches you and that’s a big no-no in terms of simple game design. A great boss battle is supposed to challenge a player and make them think on their feet, using tools and skills they’ve developed over the course of the game to overcome a hurdle. Unfortunately since Adam Jensen isn’t equipped to stand toe to toe with enemies for longer than a few seconds, the player is simply not given a proper opportunity to come up with ways to defeat these challenges, and you just end up dying over and over until you either 1) Look up a faq on how to beat these bosses or 2) Fail enough times that you finally start to figure out a way to win. Neither of these solutions is terribly satisfying, so the boss battles just end up sticking out like a sore thumb. As for the AI, it’s silly, and easily abuse-able but doesn’t hurt the game enough to ruin the fun. Human Revolution hits an absolute home run in just about everything else.

It's a dance party! With a pile of bodies in the door.

What many people loved about the first Deus Ex was the freedom to tackle missions as they saw fit. Are you a pacifist that values all life? Fine, build your character so he shoots puppy dogs and flowers at enemies instead of bullets and you’ll put them away with the power of HEART. Are you someone that prefers the Rambo approach to things? Ok, just replace your torso with a laser cannon that vaporizes everything on Earth. (I might not remember all the details of Deus Ex correctly so forgive me).

Eidos has to be commended for these scenes. They are a testament to a concept I find quite rare in video games in that sometimes, avoiding violence can be far more thrilling than pure unadulterated carnage.

While Human Revolution does reward the player a little disproportionately for dispatching enemies in non lethal ways, you can definitely build Adam Jensen into a walking death machine capable of taking out enemies with simple brute force if that’s your cup of tea (though you still cannot run through levels with reckless abandon as enemy numbers will overtake your augmented ass if you’re reckless). I thought it was absolutely brilliant that most of the missions had multiple, sometimes polar opposite styles you could use to complete them. It couldn’t have been easy for the game designers to come up with fun and exiting ways to tackle obstacles that were fun for the player when using different styles. Massive kudos for that! I should note that I did find the game’s pacing dragged on a bit near the finale. This is probably due to the fact that the final mission required a very straightforward approach; I had most fun with Human Revolution when I could sit back, assess a situation and then methodically take down obstacles as I saw fit. In fact, there were numerous occasions where I would either get spotted by a guard or screw up during a hacking mini game and I would just reload my game so I could try again and do things MY way. For some reason, this game forced the OCD perfectionist out of me! I’d be so proud when I received the “Ghost” EXP bonus at the end of a mission for completing it without ever being spotted by anyone.

That’s another thing Human Revolution does better than most games. The player is rewarded with tangible benefits for exploring every nook and cranny of an area, or for completing  as many side quests as possible. In fact, I found myself with an excess of Praxis Points (the points you use to upgrade Jensen) at times because I’d been spending a lot time trying to explore everywhere and simply didn’t have any real interest in putting points into random upgrades that would see little usage with my play style.

I wasn't always a pacifist

In case you’re wondering, my Jensen favored using a pistol upgraded with armor piercing bullets, a silencer, a couple damage output upgrades, a few ammo capacity upgrades and a laser sight for pinpoint accuracy. For the record, this pistol was my weapon of choice through the entire game and took down any enemy in two shots or less if I hit them in the head, rarely did I ever need or even desire using another weapon. My Jensen was also a master hacker, had the highest damage reduction possible, had the typhoon augment, and was able to charm his way out of any situation because of the social interaction augment. Speaking of which, I found the socialization game play and mini game to be a most pleasant surprise. I came into Human Revolution with the expectation that I’d be able to approach missions with my personal, almost surgical approach. What I didn’t expect was just how emotionally tense and rewarding I found the “social boss battles”.

If the traditional boss battles were a bit of a disaster, Human Revolution almost makes up for them with it’s absolutely brilliant concept of a “social boss battle”. I really don’t know how I can properly define these scenes, but essentially what happens is at the climax of certain chapters in the game, Jensen will enter into a one on one conversation with a character. For example, very early on in the game you encounter a hostage situation with a terrorist, it’s your job to handle the situation as you see fit. You’re then given a choice, do you try and talk to the terrorist and save the hostage? Do you just eschew diplomacy and try and fight him? Or do you simply let him walk out the door with the hostage? If you decide to try and talk him down, you’re then given a choice of HOW to talk to him. You can try and appeal to his sense of reason, empathize with his situation, or just play it tough and try to humble him with a hard dose of reality. Depending on what your approach is, this terrorist will react differently and reveal subtle hints about his character which can give you a clue on which approach will work best to resolve the situation.

I tried to talk my way through this encounter and almost immediately a sense of dread and unease washed over me. One wrong move and the hostage was going to be killed, and it’d be my fault. I had to use my brain to figure this out, not my fists. I had to pay attention to what was being said, I had to quickly form some sort of plan in figuring out just what this terrorist’s motivations were and how I could use that to my advantage. Eidos has to be commended for these scenes. They are a testament to a concept I find quite rare in video games in that sometimes, avoiding violence can be far more thrilling than pure unadulterated carnage. This one scene and my particular approach basically hooked me on to Adam Jensen as a character, and on Human Revolution as a whole.

In fact, I’d be remiss to write a review on Human Revolution without delving into my thoughts on the protagonist. Simply put, Adam Jensen is an extension of you, the player. He’s essentially a blank slate in which you etch your play style and personality. Whereas JC Denton was pretty much cool as a cucumber no matter how you played, Jensen can (and in my case did) show some real heart and compassion to people he encountered. By the conclusion of Human Revolution, I felt uniquely identified with Jensen’s struggle to figure out his place in the world and just what was happening to him and why. I wanted him to succeed so badly. Oh and by the way, the conspiracy heavy narrative in the universe of Deus Ex begins to really kick into high gear in the second half of the game and things quickly start spiraling out of control. There are twists and turns, crazy revelations, friends turn into enemies and enemies turn into friends. And of course In true Deus Ex fashion, by the time your final choice is ready to be made you really don’t know who to trust and who is just using you as a tool.

But in the end, I simply followed my heart and pressed the button.

The real human revolution was about to begin.

 


Title: Deus Ex: Human Revolution [PS3, Xbox 360, PC]
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: 8/23/11
Buy it from Amazon

Score: 4 out of 5

4 out of 5

Recommended if you like:

* Deus Ex – Fans of the original title should get a kick out of this game. It’s basically an improved version and has some really great tie in’s with the original title!
* Metal Gear Solid – Focus on stealth game play and rewards for less “in your face” play style are very reminiscent of Konami’s masterpiece.
* Eating protein bars and face punching people.

Highlights:

* Completing a certain mission when you first go back to China, the “right” way. Damn that felt good.
* All of the “social bosses”. I hope more developers follow Eidos’ example for these scenes.
* The post credits scene that knocked me on my ass and leads into the first Deus Ex. BRILLIANT! And sad.

Boilerplate:

This game was purchased for review by Paul Sandhu. Played the campaign to completion on the PC in approximately 20-22 hours. Many generic Special Ops members were hurt in the making of this review. Vending machines were my weapon of choice (along with Ol’ Betsy my Pistol of Doom), and don’t you EVER mess with my fly girl. For more info on how VGH approaches game reviews, please read our reviews philosophy.

 

 

  • Matt Kernan

    It sounds like my play-through was fairly similar to yours. I suped up my pistol and tried to be pretty stealthy throughout. Just like you mentioned, I found myself re-loading my save if I accidentally made the shit hit the fan….. gotta get that “Ghost” XP bonus!

    p.s. – Pro-tip for those who haven’t played yet: don’t dick around in the Sarif Industries office at the start of the game…. you’ll have time for that later.

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