Let’s look at the latest installment with a ground-up review after the break.
Deus Ex is traditionally a franchise firmly rooted in the world of PC gaming, and Human Revolution remains faithful to those origins. The controls are highly intuitive and PC-friendly, making it clear that the developers thought of PC gamers first and consoles second. The format—WASD with an ‘E’ action button—isn’t exactly groundbreaking, though it’s nice to see a smart button—Mouse 2—used for entering and leaving cover. Pro tip: learn to love that right-hand mouse button. You’ll be using it a lot.
As far as bad stuff goes, the map tends to be at best useless and at worst infuriating. It’s a yellow-on-black bit that will display every possible layer of terrain—but only one at a time. If you’re in, say, an office building, the map is somewhat usable. But in the sprawl of the city environments, it’s annoying and time-consuming to try to decipher. Similarly, quest waypoints can sometimes feel misleading when you’re standing two meters from an objective and there’s a brick wall in your way, or you can’t figure out if the waypoint is telling you to go to another loading-screen-inducing zone of the city or if it’s somewhere you can’t figure out how to reach. Both of these issues will be met frequently—and infuriatingly—in the game’s second city environment, which has a horrifically aggravating layout and renders the map hopelessly unhelpful.
Human Revolution is a stealth-centered shooter. The cover system is made to be strongly instinctive because of how much you will be relying on it at every stage of the game. The ‘casual’ version of Human Revolution—which I admittedly sank to frequently for my first playthrough—might involve entering a room, getting a gist of how the guards are patrolling, and going. I’ll probably pick one or two off and make sure their bodies don’t get spotted by cameras or other guards, but I’ll make my way through the room fairly quickly. A true playthrough of that same room would involve sitting in place for five minutes, memorizing every nuance of the room—every patrol path, every turn of the head or idle glances the guards make—and spending another six or seven minutes working your way through the room and leaving it without moving so much as a pencil. The game recognizes the importance of stealth and makes a point of encouraging them and rewarding them handsomely for taking the time to ‘do it right.’
The enemy AI detecting you can be a little too forgiving at times. An enemy goes from passive to ‘Alarmed’ to ‘Hostile.’ A ‘Hostile’ enemy has seen you identified you, and has probably notified nearby enemies or sounded an alarm. While ‘Alarmed,’ though, they tend to stick relatively close to their usual patrol pattern, but are on higher alert and have weapons drawn. Still, there are a few times where you’ll feel as though the AI is letting you off easy when an enemy spots you from across the room and proceeds to diligently search his own little corner. For the most part, though, the AI is aggressive and will pursue you relentlessly for screwing up.
Still, combat happens. The cover system makes looking out from behind obstacles easy and gives you a lot of variety: peeking around the corners, over the top, and so on are all simple and allow you to take deadly little potshots and feel like a good little secret agent. Using cover in tandem with more advanced ideas—diving from cover to cover, using grenades to disorient enemies or Augmentations to sneak past them—are even more rewarding when done correctly.
The weapons are all well-balanced. A headshot will take out most enemies immediately, but enemies can and will use covering fire or obstacles to their advantage. At later stages, the enemies become more advanced, tougher, and better equipped, and big firefights just go right off the list of available options. In fact, the game does a good job of encouraging good stealth behavior early on, and gradually enforcing it as the action progresses.
The game’s hacking system is pretty easy to use and requires more a quick hand than much specific skill-savvy. You’ll be doing it quite a bit, though, and leveling it is important. Hacking offers small amounts of EXP and in most environments can be done to gain access to alternate routes or extra goodies.
The story’s protagonist, Adam “I’m Not Keanu Reeves” Jensen is the head of security at Sarif, a corporation that develops advanced robotic human augmentations. When Jensen is horribly injured, his boss decides to use these augmentations to rebuild him (they have the technology). Jensen then doggedly pursues leads to uncover blah-blah-blah mass conspiracy blah-blah-blah repercussions. And so on. I’d hate to give away spoilers.
In brief, the main plot line is compelling and will consistently keep the action flowing right along. Though Jensen’s Dark Knight impersonation can be a bit flat on the delivery, it makes for some delightful dry humor in his interactions with supporting characters. In fact, most of the humor throughout Human Revolution is dry, subdued, and appropriate—but hey, it’s there, which is more than some of us might have been expecting. Jensen’s character is fairly understated, giving the player room to develop him as they see fit without having to make him Gordon Freeman. Still, it’s the little moments of roleplay that really make the game the subtle masterpiece that it is: in Jensen’s apartment, his bathroom mirror is smashed, a note attached to it reading “contact maintenance—replace bathroom mirror again.” Why can’t Jensen stand to look at himself? Is it guilt? Hatred of the machine he has become? We are left to interpret as we see fit.
The supporting characters are diverse and fun, mostly because appropriately exploring the plot will often leave you wondering about their motivations or whether they’re telling you everything. On many occasions you’re able to dig for information in conversations or push towards a certain outcome, and like the rewards for being stealthy the game knows how to compensate you for doing it well.
The side quests are so-so. On one hand, their plot and process are just as entertaining as the main storyline and you’ll almost certainly enjoy doing them. On the other, their diversity tends to fall a bit flat. Human Revolution boasted various aspects of gameplay and how you could different ones to solve quests or puzzles by different means. While this is almost always true of the main storyline, this is not necessarily the case with side quests. Rather, there tend to be a tiny handful of very specific ways you can solve them. For example, there’s an Augmentation that protects you from harm via poisonous fumes. At a couple points in the game, it’s great for circumventing an obstacle. But you literally only see it five or six times in the game, total, and almost never at a truly important point. So you can either spend multiple Praxis points (the games’ Augmentation upgrade currency), or just find another way around. While that’s not necessarily bad, a worse example is when I was on a side quest with strong plot relevance and I was confronted by a computer requiring level 5 Hacking. No alternative. I was just at the guy’s apartment, for goodness’ sake. He’s the one who told me where this computer was, and he didn’t give me the password? I couldn’t have sleuthed around the apartment for it? Most of these moments are in the side quests, but even on the main plot line at times I felt like my options were a bit throttled. I’d like to see some updating to offer more routes or options for players if they so choose and help diversify the game experience.
Speaking of diversity, the Augmentation system is fun. Really fun. There are oodles of Augs to pick from and they all offer a great deal of utility and functionality. At the same time, the system is incredibly well-balanced. The Augmentations tend to be pretty underpowered to start with, especially if you don’t diversify how you’re spending your Praxis points. Certain Augs, like bonuses to Hacking, are basically required to get absolutely anywhere in the game, but the frequency of these actions, or how often you can be rewarded for going out of your way to use them, make up for this mandatory investment.
At first I was concerned that spreading my points out so much meant that I wouldn’t get to specialize my character as much as I wanted. However, even on an average-EXP gain playthrough the middle of the game hands out Experience (and thus Praxis points) like free candy on Halloween, and you’ll get a pretty good boost to how well you can develop your character. If there’s one thing I regret, it’s the aforementioned problem of certain quests or areas requiring very specific Augs.
Overall, Human Revolution is a strong game that is a blast to play and even more fun to simply experience. Improvements can certainly be made—potential DLCs would give an already fleshed-out game even more, but mostly a polishing of its current campaign would nudge this game right up to the top for my current game of the year.