Having never really spent much time with the original Deus Ex, I found myself comparing Human Revolution to another similar game: Alpha Protocol. The thing about Alpha Protocol was that it had really good concepts but very poor execution. By the end of my first playthrough, I realized Human Revolution has a better story, setting, combat system, character development, and visuals than Alpha Protocol. So it seems that Human Revolution has succeeded in both concept and execution. That’s not to say it doesn’t have faults, though.
First and foremost, the greatest triumph of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is setting. The game does a superb job of presenting us with a year 2027 that’s both familiar and different. The result is a setting that’s extremely unsettling because it’s very plausible. This feeling is echoed in all elements of the game’s visual design: clothing is recognizable, though lines and seams follow different patterns than we’re used to; architecture is sharp and appealing while being too impersonal. Even the design of guns seems like the natural progression of what modern guns could look like in several years.
The color palette is a striking black and gold, where the gold could potentially represent the fancy advancements humanity has made while the black represents the underside or hidden agenda of everything. To quote a character in the game, “Everyone is lying.” Naturally, different people will see this color scheme and the overall art design in different ways but that just strengthens the game’s presentation that everything is dependent on perspective.
Perspective is important in the year 2027 as the concept of transhumanism has started to result in people attempting to ascend above what makes us traditionally human and become something greater. This is presented to the player through the idea that augmentation (upgrading the human body with technology) is running rampant. While many people may need a mechanical limb due to an unfortunate accident, lots of people in 2027 are being augmented merely to increase their natural capabilities. At the same time, many “purists” are opposed to any augmentation whatsoever. This is such a strong dilemma because this technology, for the most part, already exists in today’s world.
The game follows Adam Jenson, the head of security for a major augmentation company, who is being augmented in order to save his life after a traumatic accident. From there, the game follows Adam as he tries to uncover the cause of the accident and other conspiracies that pop up along the way.
While you could write entire essays on the morals of transhumanism or the effect of such technology on society, Human Revolution is also a video game. While the art, story, and setting are all outstanding, they aren’t going to be worth experiencing if the game isn’t fun. Thankfully, the game is very fun.
From what I understand, the original Deus Ex was praised because it embraced a style of variable gameplay where obstacles could be tackled using any number of creative ways that the player could discover. Human Revolution seems to continue this trend with what feels like very nonlinear gameplay in an era where games are feeling more and more like rail shooters. You can set yourself up to handle the events of the game as a stealthy character (and it feels like this playstyle is most beneficial to the gameplay style and pacing) or you can go all action and just fight your way through with brute force. In addition to stealth and action, the game also lets you hack various devices to find extra routes or hidden rooms which can be helpful regardless of your play style. Lastly, there’s a social element that uses a conversation wheel to help you convince people you encounter to give you what you want.
The social element is important because decisions you make here and there will matter further down the line rather than immediately. I was reminded of The Witcher when I encountered in the mid-late game someone with whom I had made a certain decision much, much earlier. Not only that but the game features “social boss fights” which are essentially arguments or interrogations where you have to figure out the best way to convince someone to give you what you want. You can succeed at these in multiple ways, though there is one specific way to get the best result.
Throughout all these different ways to approach obstacles, you’ll be upgrading your augments to give you an edge no matter what way you play. You can (and likely should) upgrade your hacking abilities and your inventory size. Other upgrades are more playstyle-specific, such as the ability to cloak or punch through walls. For the most part, every upgrade seems useful in some way or another, so at times it can be a pretty tough decision what to get.
Most of your upgraded abilities require battery power, which brings me to my first complaint. You have several batteries and, other than one, they don’t recharge. This means that in order to keep using your abilities you need to use items you can find or buy in order to recharge. This doesn’t seem bad until you realize that everything costs a battery to use. The most frustrating example of this is that in order to perform a takedown on an enemy (a special melee move that can be either lethal or non-lethal) requires one battery charge. Why does it require a battery charge to punch a man in the face? It feels very limiting and pointless and can cause hiccups in the flow of gameplay when you’re constantly waiting for your one last battery to recharge.
My next complaint has to do with combat as well, so I might as well get it out of the way. This is easily the biggest problem the game has, though in context that means it’s not something that should be a deal breaker for you if you’re on the fence. Human Revolution features boss fights. The problem is that it’s a game where you’re encouraged to find your own solutions to problems, many times those solutions being non-confrontational. The boss fights actually require you to stand up and have a head-to-head fight with a tough enemy. It’s even more frustrating that the bosses take a lot of damage to kill and they have no health bar. At first, you might not even know if you’re damaging them at all. There are ways to deal with the bosses that make them easier, but they still feel very out of place in this style of game.
The combat is fun, though. The game does an excellent job of making you feel like some sort of augmented super-human, especially after you’ve upgraded a few times. I was very thankful that the ability to shoot a gun wasn’t governed by some silly “guns” stat like it was in Alpha Protocol. You can take cover (which bumps you out into a third-person view) and essentially makes the sneaking play like a Metal Gear Solid game. At the same time, the game is played mostly in first person with all the modern shooting conventions (iron sights, etc.) included.
Human Revolution isn’t really split up into chapters or anything, but you will find yourself in various “hub” cities. While in these hubs, you can explore the streets for hidden areas, do some involved side quests, deal with shops, and more. Finding out where to go for your side quest or even main quest is easy thanks to a relatively intuitive objective marker in the HUD. It’s a good thing that it is there because I found the main map to be a little hard to follow at times. The game can also highlight interactive objects (a feature of Adam’s augmented eyes), which is very helpful in a game where so much is interactive.
The game features four different endings, but the real replay value is in your playstyle. I imagine most people will do at least a stealth playthrough and an action playthrough, while others may create challenges for themselves (or to get achievements/trophies) such as a no kills/no alarms/hard mode playthrough.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an absolute triumph of a game. Other than a few missteps involving the boss fights and battery management, few games feature such a great level of practical choice in gameplay. Not only that, but the striking art style and engrossing setting will pull you in from the very beginning. Not to beat a dead horse, Human Revolution is the best game released so far this year.
And yeah, if our technology reaches the level of the technology in the game, I’m totally getting augmented eyes that give me a virtual heads-up display.