The original Deus Ex holds a special place in the hearts of many old-school RPG fans – widely regarded as a classic, it was set in a near-future cyberpunk dystopia and saw JC Denton, an augmented agent of a UN Anti-Terrorist coalition, investigate huge interconnected conspiracies that threatened the entire stability of the world – not that the world needs the help, given the rise of nanotechnology and a deadly plague has caused massive social and wealth divides (hey, that sounds familiar… oh dear)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC, PS3, Xbox 360 [reviewed], Wii U)
Released Aug 2011 | Developer: Eidos | Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: FPS, RPG
Deus Ex: Human Revolution released over a decade later, well after original Deus Ex developers Ion Storm closed its doors and the IP was handed over to Square-Enix and Eidos. Given the storied status of the first game, anyone could be forgiven for having some trepidation before going in – it has a huge reputation to live up to, after all. Thankfully, I am lucky enough to have not played the original Deus Ex beforehand (or unlucky, perhaps), and so my expectations before playing were limited to what I knew from third-party sources.
A small bit of backstory for you: I originally bought this game way back in 2014, during university. My housemate and I shared my console and after we’d both played and loved playing as a stealth archer in Skyrim (the inevitable fate of all Skyrim playthroughs) I thought I’d look into some more stealth games for us to try. I picked up this and Dishonored; I thought I’d love this because it was the heir to a beloved RPG franchise, and I thought the swords and magic in the latter would appeal to my friend. In reality, it was the other way around: I adored Dishonored and he was completely taken in by Human Revolution. I tried a few times to get into it, but to no avail and it sat on my shelf and gathered dust for years. It took all that time, plus getting a replacement version of the game, for me to finally sit down with it.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is set in the far-off space year of 2027. Corporations practically rule city-wide fiefdoms as they supply the booming augmentation trade amid the burgeoning world of the rise of transhumanism. Opposing them are interest groups and fundamentalists who argue that too much is changing too fast, and that as people supplement their bodies with technology they surrender all it means to be human. Gang wars spur violence on both sides and poverty is rife as those who can’t work for megacorps wind up in filthy slums. As if to make things worse, augmented humans need a steady supply of a drug called Neuropozyne, leading many enhanced humans into a life of dependency and addiction for which the poorest turn to crime.
In the midst of this turmoil is Adam Jensen, the security chief for Detroit’s largest corporation, Sarif Industries. When the corp is attacked by terrorists and a PMC, Sarif’s top team of scientists are killed and Jensen is left for dead; 6 months later Jensen returns to his job but now as more than just a man. To save his life Sarif replaced his body with a huge host of augmentations, turning him into a half-machine super soldier. When another Sarif plant is attacked by anti-augmentation terrorists Jensen is launched back into the world of corporate espionage. As he delves deeper into the mystery of who orchestrated the attacks, he begins to uncover a deeper, global conspiracy which threatens the entire world.
The way that Human Revolution’s plot unravels is brilliantly compelling. When the first mission sees Jensen come across a hacker with a brain augmentation hidden in the ranks of the anti-augment terrorists and slicing into the Sarif systems it opens up a riddle that begs to be solved, and gives you your first clue that things really aren’t going to be what they seemed to be on the surface. Peeling back those layers and peering into the world’s seedy underbelly is what Deus Ex is all about; what’s particularly wonderful about it is the way the game conveys this through environmental storytelling as well as the plot. Take Detroit, for example. Sarif Industries is credited with revitalising the city; certainly the interior of the business’s HQ is gorgeous, protected by hi-tech security and bedecked in colour and light; even the CEO, David Sarif, is a rare beast, a good boss in a cyberpunk dystopia, as he treats his staff with respect and care. And yet, once you step outside onto the streets of the city you see a different story unfold before you. Sarif can’t employ everyone after all, and so only a block away Jensen finds himself amidst extreme poverty and violence. People glare at him with disgust, either for being an augmented traitor to humanity or for the wealth it took to reconstruct him while others scrabble to earn (or, more often, steal) enough money for their Neuropozyne dependency.
Partway through the game Jensen arrives at the second hub and the difference becomes even more stark. Hengsha is a tiered city, reminiscent of Final Fantasy VII’s Midgar, with the megacorp of Tai Yong Medical controlling large swathes of the upper city, resplendent in the skyline. Below, the streets pulse with music pumped from gang-run clubs and people fight for even the lowliest jobs with Tai Yong in the hopes of escaping to the upper city and seeing the sky. A good cyberpunk story always paints a bleak picture of our near future as we come to depend more and more on corporations to provide, despite their innate greed. Beneath their compassionless gaze, humans are bled for every penny they own, but are too alienated from one another to see the harm the corpocracy does to them. While Human Revolution likes to tell this story through its narrative, and is quick to point out the good that Sarif does for the world, Jensen’s mystery is a little more technoir. It’s less about the marginalised taking control from the corps and more about that larger conspiracy which threatens both people and the companies which rule them.
I appreciate I’ve waffled a lot about the story and not yet touched on the actual “game” part of the game. Undoubtedly the first and most striking thing players will notice about Human Revolution is the colour scheme: absolutely everything in the game is saturated in black and gold. I suppose some folk might it a headache but the more I play the more apt I think the colour scheme is, with the gaudy gold symbolising wealth and power contrasted against the black of corruption and control. Because of the sharp colour choice, the developers made a decision not just to include objective markers pointing you to missions and sidequests but also interactable objects have a orange-gold aura highlighting them, which pops into view as you get near. That can affect quite a number of objects in the game world, such as doors, items you can pick up, e-books, and hackable computers, and some might find it obtrusive; the game has you covered though if you do, as both the objective markers and the highlights can be turned off. The one concrete issue I do have is the strange black splotches which float across the pause screen menus – if, like me, you have vision issues you might find they give you a headache.
Human Revolution is a first-person shooter / RPG hybrid. It would be disingenuous to simply label it as an FPS despite the fact that Jensen’s weapons are all guns (with the sole exception of his sweet retractable arm-blades which he uses for takedowns) because the RPG elements are pretty integral. As Jensen hits EXP thresholds he earns Praxis points, which allow him to enable more of his augments and therefore unlock more abilities. I love the flavour of his abilities being linked to his dormant augmentations being activated, and the variety of upgrades on offer allow players to sculpt Jensen into whatever particular kind of playstyle they want, in theory.
I say in theory because Human Revolution is very much a game with an optimal playstyle and it actively punishes players who deviate. While you don’t have to hack every computer, doing so earns quite a lot of experience points, and not putting points into Adam’s various hacking skills denies you that source of experience. Additionally, there’s a ton of lore and useful information hidden in emails and not hacking means you miss out on that as well. You get bonus experience for knocking enemies out rather than killing them, and you also get bonus experience if, at the end of an encounter, you weren’t seen at all, meaning that if you want to get the most out of Human Revolution you need to play Jensen as nonlethal and stealthy, with significant proficiency in hacking. That’s not to say you can’t play the game in other ways, and I’d fully recommend doing so as well as trying out the all-powerful stealth hacker playthrough.
Choosing how to manage your playthroughs is another key component of Human Revolution’s roleplaying. Obviously to say too much is to spoil, but it’s a game which demands you make decisions as you play and lets you understand the consequences of them. Some are in small ways, such as how you resolve conversations making a difference to how those characters react to you, but others are more impressive and profound. Even as early on as before the very first mission can your choices have a significant impact on elements of missions which follow.
Unfortunately, some decisions made by Eidos are a little questionable. If you put any time into hacking you’ll probably notice that if you’re using a controller then the minigame is a bit fiddly. Although it would be fair to say that a lot of the game has been made with a console audience in mind, given it’s nowhere near as mechanically dense as the original game, the hacking minigame (while fun) feels like a mechanic built to be played with a keyboard and mouse, rather than on a controller. Another bugbear is the battery system. Certain things Jensen can do, such as takedowns, punching through walls, and turning on auxiliary systems like cloaking or using his augmented eyesight, naturally use up his internal energy reserves. This is represented by batteries on the HUD; using certain abilities drains the batteries, and if they’re not entirely emptied they will slowly recharge. However, some abilities use up entire batteries at once and annoyingly these are often the most useful ones, including the takedowns. While you can earn upgrades which give you more batteries and make your existing ones recharge faster, it remains a poor solution to a bad system. Another glaring oversight is to do with the boss fights. Though the optimal way to play is as a nonlethal, stealthy hacker, the game’s boss fights are built purely for combat. This is where stealth playthroughs in particular can struggle as often you’ve little choice but to get spotted and without the more effective gear available to players who opt for lethal fights can boil down to lengthy slogs. This is something which was apparently fixed in the Director’s Cut re-release of the game but I can only judge the original as that’s the version I’ve played.
I’ve now played Deus Ex: Human Revoltuion a few times through and I remain thoroughly impressed by it. It’s a slow burn, especially so given the game is harder at the start than at the end since you’ve got no skills or weapons, but once it gets going it’s hard to ever pull yourself away. Still, the issues it has are by no means minor, but they’re forgivable to a point; after all, Eidos was bringing a classic PC series into the present day and that must have felt so nerve-wracking for fans waiting to see if they would do it justice. I’d say they managed it.
6/7 – EXCELLENT.
Games with a touch of brilliance. It might only just miss out on being an absolute favourite, but you should definitely play this.