Deus Ex: Human Revolution Xbox 360
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that every time you mention Deus Ex, someone will reinstall it. Or so the meme goes. You don’t need me rattling off a load of clichés about how revolutionary and amazing Deus Ex was, with its level of choice, gritty sci-fi aesthetic and brilliant acting (‘You’re gonna burn alright.’). Besides, after you give Human Revolution a shot, there’s a good chance you’ll go back and try the original again anyway, as Human Revolution is so immersive, you’ll immediately want to play the other games. Even Invisible War! Maybe.
For the uninitiated though, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stealth action RPG that takes place in a near future dystopia. You’ll find yourself wandering around grittily-realised city streets (they act as hub worlds that have their own side missions) and infiltrating heavily guarded fortifications. Chronologically it’s the first game in the series, meaning the developers can ignore how increasingly apeshit the plot in the other games became and start the proceedings from a more sober angle. It’s 2027, a few decades before the first game. The use of electronic enhancements is rife, and tensions between ‘naturals’ and the augmented are coming to a head. Naturally it all largely takes place at night, in moody run-down backstreets, neon signs and street lamps providing the only illumination for your chap to scowl around.
Speaking of which, he’s called Adam Jensen. Jensen’s a proper Adonis, a finely coiffured, stony-faced psychopath. He’s got absolutely no sense of humour and is more likely to crack your face in than crack a joke. It’s probably no coincidence either that he bears a passing resemblance to the original game’s very own stony faced psycho JC Denton, although Jensen isn’t half as unintentionally funny as JC was. He also sounds a lot like Seth Bullock, meaning I can cheaply shoehorn in an unnecessary reference to Deadwood.
Jensen’s all human at the start, but as gaming convention dictates he won’t stay that way, as he has lots of lovely robotic abilities to gain throughout the 25 or so hours it will take him to figure out what’s up. As with most action RPGs, you can’t just apply your upgrades willy nilly. You have to decide what you want Adam to specialise in. You can turn him into a stealthy mofo, a hacker that’d make even Lulzsec quake in their boots, or a bloody killing machine. It’s absolutely up to you.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is basically fantastic, and is probably one of the most engrossing games you’ll play this year. A lot of this is down to the world itself. If Resident Evil 4 is the El Topo of video games, then Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the Blade Runner. Obviously. There’s a genuine sense (particularly in the hub worlds) that you’re wandering around a place that’s been degraded by man’s hubris. This feeling of decay is bolstered by a mournful, synth-led soundtrack and the game’s art style, blanketed in a saturated gold hue. On a superficial level it helps separate Deus Ex from the myriad of washed out looking military shooters. On another level though it buttresses with cynical, apocalyptic glee just how bad things have gotten in this world. The gold hue shows that man has gleefully pissed all over any semblance of humanity in the name of technological progress. A more elegant example is probably that the colour scheme is almost sun-drenched, as if to say mankind is flying too close to the sun like Icarus, and is about to fall on its fat augmented arse.
Now that I can take my pseud hat off, I can talk about how much fun it is beating up people.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an anomaly, in that it manages to make stealth enjoyable for people that don’t like stealth. A lot of this is down to a well implemented third-person snap-to cover system that lets you plan where and when to make your move. It’s a lot more effective than surreptitiously poking your head out in first-person and getting spotted by some eagle-eyed guard. Another fun addition is the ability to instantly take down your quarry, rather than ineffectively batter them for a while like you had to do in the first game. You can creep up to a guard, curtly press a button, then sit back and watch as Jensen proceeds to choke them. Hold the button down meanwhile, and Jensen will brutally kill the object of your derision. What’s less impressive is the way it cuts to a third-person camera during these bits. Where it makes sense for the cover system, it’s a bit jarring here. Couldn’t they have done it all in first-person like in the Chronicles of Riddick games? It felt more clinical and effective when sneaking up behind someone and snapping their neck.
Of course though, if you find sneaking a pain in the arse, you can always be a dick and shoot everyone to bits. Thing is though, it’s nowhere near as fun. Deus Ex prides itself for the level of choice it gives the player, but you always feel like it’s pushing you towards playing stealthily anyway. You get more upgrade points for sneaking about and not killing people, and going through the game blasting everything isn’t satisfying. If anything, going in guns blazing is a last resort; a means to a bloody, messy end.
Sneaking and sporadic shooting make up the meat of the action, but there’s also hacking and chatting. Throughout the world you’ll find computers that need infiltrating. You can either get into them through finding conveniently placed ebooks that some dumb bastard has used to remember his password, or use your l33t hax00R skillz to bypass security. It’s a fun little minigame, and a lot more engaging than the pipemania in Bioshock or the join the dots in Mass Effect 2. You can get yourself some nice bonuses depending on how well you perform, so it’s well worth investing in some hacking know-how. You’ll also engage NPCs who can help or hinder you dramatically. For example, there’s a chap near the start who won’t let you into a certain building unless you sweet talk him into it. Do it well and you’re in. Cock it up however and you’ll have to either blast your way in or find a separate entrance. It adds a nice bit of variety and tension for sure.
It’s with the NPCs though that I can start listing my gripes with the game. You know how in other RPGs you can hear NPCs talking about all sorts of silly stuff about their day to day lives? That doesn’t really happen in Human Revolution. Nearly every chat you overhear has something to do with augmentation or an event in the game. Fair enough, but I distinctly remember in Mass Effect 2 you could overhear bachelor parties and the like going on. Even the original Deus Ex had this, as you witnessed Gunther moaning about a vending machine. It’s all so bloody po faced too. Sure, it’s a dark grim tale about a society on the cusp of self-immolation, but it’s absolutely fine to have the odd giggle. There’s a world of difference between the relentless dourness here and the relative insanity of the criminally underrated Alpha Protocol, another stealth-focussed RPG. It too was dark in places, but it revelled in its fantastic writing, sticking in snappy one-liners with gay abandon.
This leads me onto my next gripe. The developers have undoubtedly crafted a really excellent world here, but the story they’ve crafted along with it doesn’t quite measure up. It’s engaging and serviceable, but you’ll struggle to remember anything about it a few hours after you finish. This isn’t helped by a denouement that feels frankly anticlimactic. I won’t ruin anything, but it’s typical cyberpunk conspiracy theory guff.
The biggest faux pas though is the inclusion of completely arbitrary boss fights. Imagine: you’ve snuck your way through a complex without being caught. You’ve not spent one bit of ammo or been spotted. You’re a stealth master, you’re the man, you’re… about to face-off against a bloody walking tank with a minigun on his arm. Thanks guys.
Deus Ex didn’t need boss fights. They’re probably there to add some narrative tension, but all tension disappears when you’re forced to restart a fight again for the tenth time, because you’ve been playing stealthily and all you’ve got on you is a silenced pistol. You’ll persevere through sheer bloody mindedness, but these fights are so clumsily stuck in.
It’s all subjective though. Some may like the plot and the serious tone. Some may even think the boss fights are great. What’s beyond doubt though is that Human Revolution is largely fantastic, and has swooped in to save the Deus Ex franchise like a, eh, Deus Ex Machina. Sorry.
Human Revolution is an engaging and compulsive piece of work that’ll find itself nestling near the peak of many a top 10 chart. With Mass Effect 3 postponed, this’ll be the one bit of interactive escapism that the fella in the Battlestar Galactica shirt can rely on for his kicks this year.