Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a Review

I played the game with keyboard and mouse, and the copy of the game I got was not given to me by any companies or third parties. I completed the game in about 12 hours on what I would describe as a “mid-range” PC. This review is spoiler-free.

The original Deus Ex is one of the most critically acclaimed titles in game history. The famous meme is that everytime you mention it, someone re-installs. Any discussion of this game, reviews or not, will be centered around and framed through this game’s relationship with the first in the series. It is an act that is very, very hard to follow – so no one really envied Eidos Montreal’s task of creating a game that can live up to that legacy. As far as I am concerned, they have matched those expectations.

Granted, Human Revolution will need time to age before anyone can really assess how it stacks up to it’s older brother, but there is plenty we can talk about now. The first thing to discuss are the visuals. You’ll notice early on that the whole game is drowned in orange and sepia tones implemented to tie-in the environments. It’s gotten some complaints from other reviewers but I don’t find myself being distracted by it and it certainly isn’t as droll as the brown-and-grey shooters we’ve been inundated with over the past few years.

The art style deftly communicates the not-so-distant future aesthetic and there is a very clever use of costume design you’ll pick-up on not long into the game. Wealthier individuals, especially women, will often wear Victorian-esque clothing with lots of neck ruffles and elaborate sleeves. However walking around with the lowly plebeians you’ll see clothes that mostly match with what you’d see on the street in your local city. Unfortunately DX:HR is still plagued by that ever-traditional issue of video game aesthetic: human hair just looks awkward on pretty much ever character. I understand technology limitations but a stylized work-around would be nice. Moreover, facial animations and body language are certainly sub-par. If, like me, you’ve been spoiled by L.A. Noire’s excellent animation technology – the way many NPCs talk with their hands will seem very unnatural.

But you’re probably here for the gameplay, and who can blame you? DX:HR operates on a simple upgrade system where progression and completion of objectives allows you to unlock new abilities such as stabilized aim, ability to lift heavier objects, more effective hacking methods, etc. The gun-play isn’t top-class but it feels good and the cover system will be intuitive to anyone that has played a shooter in the last half-decade. Unlike the prior games you wont need to dump character points into stats to be good with a pistol or rifle. If you’re competent, Jensen will be competent. If you aren’t competent, there is almost always an alternate solution to advancing through dystopian Detroit. Having just started my second play-through (a non-lethal run) I am already finding more subtle ways to tackle the problems I faced the first time around, which I approached more like a gun-toting madman with robot arms than a rational human being.

Being able to hack computers and security terminals will be essential to your survival and a lack of proficiency can prevent you from completing some of the lesser side quests. It also should be noted that the upgrades that let you lift heavy things like photo-copiers should not be underestimated in their utility and hilarity.

The real appeal of this new Deus Ex should be in its narrative, though – and the philosophy contained therein. As well as the traditional standards of conspiracy theories that the series is known for, Human Revolution engages a few topics that really set it ahead of most other games in terms of storytelling: trans-humanism, corporate ethics, and mass media. The first of those is the focus of the game as humanity tries to wrap its collective head around the concept of not just restoring quality of living with prostheses, but augmenting and empowering people.

Run faster, jump higher, etc. – it’s a concept that may not be too far off in our own future. The more subtle, but often more telling examples of how society is dealing with augmentation are covered in small books and newspaper entries you find scattered around the environment much in the vein of the first Deus Ex. The tone and word choice of these writings is delivered in such a way that they often read like a newspaper article from our daily lives which significantly improves immersion.

However under this is a much more understated discussion of mass media and the dangers attached to it. One of the chapters of the game takes place in a TV-news station and reading some of the e-mails that circulate within the organization really speak to modern concerns about the corruption of media and the misinformation that they can spread. It is worth your time to slow down in this area and really pay attention to the information you’re being presented.

So to wrap this review up, how does Deus Ex handle the biggest objective it set for itself – having players engage with the concept of trans-humanism? Throughout the game you will encounter many individuals who are all caught up in this human revolution, approaching it with their own notions and biases. There is a Persuasion System where you will have to make dialogue choices in certain important conversations. In a testament to the voice-acting and writing, these situations feel much more realistic than the ones in L.A. Noire.

They also give the characters a great deal of depth. With the more important dramatis personae in the game, I found that I was kept guessing in regards to their true intentions right up to the ending credits, and even past the credits for a select few. (NB: Stay after the credits!) Throughout these interactions, I also found my own views on augmentation being challenged. As I started the game I was sort of smitten with the idea of enhanced humanity but the grey areas, the ambiguities, the exceptions and nuanced occurences all break this down and make it difficult for you to really come down on either side of the argument.

And it was at this point that I knew Human Revolution was special. It asked me to engage philosophical, morally-charged material with a critical mind and at the end of it the developers had not forced any answers or ideas on me – but left me to come to my own conclusions. It got me to think about this concept long after I had turned the computer off. It is for that very reason, if no other, that you should sit down and give some time to this game. Games tell stories but it is very rare that one of them leaves you struggling with a moral dilemma. Yet if games like Human Revolution and Bioshock are any indication: this is something video games, as a medium, are going to get better and better at as time goes on.

 

Shaun Watson

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