It’s very hard to adequately describe what was so special about Deus Ex when it first came out, back in 2000. Largely, the problem lies in the fact that everything that was so breathtaking back then is now taken for granted. Nowadays, branching storylines and multiple endings are par for the course, and RPG elements rear their charming heads in pretty much all shooters and even some racing games.
So please forgive me if I just say that the original Deus Ex game was a groundbreaking smash hit, and can be praised for innovating many of the concepts we how take for granted. There was a sequel, hardly surprising considering the deluge of praise that had been sloshed over the original by everybody and his bionically-enhanced dog. The sequel was pretty lacklustre, if truth be told, and so the miracle of Deus Ex was unceremoniously put to bed. Until now!
How do you improve on a game like Deus Ex? This was a question the first sequel never quite managed to answer, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution goes a long way toward having a good try. The thing that really set the original apart after all was said and done was an incredibly strong story that you were not just following, but leading.
If I had to sum up Human Revolution in one word, it would undoubtedly be ‘imaginative’. Each and every location has been thought about, and given a reason for existing. Spend five minutes exploring the main character’s office, or better yet, his apartment, and you’ll learn more through the little details than you ever could sitting through reams of text and dialogue. A picture tells a thousand words, and this really is the motto here.
You play the part of Adam Jensen, chief of security for cyborg body part manufacturer Sarif Industries. After one particularly bad day at the office, you find yourself the proud (if not altogether consenting) owner of a whole bunch of robotic body parts that allow you, with practice, to do such diverse things as punch through walls, explode claymore mine-style shrapnel from your body and hack computer systems. Once you’ve recovered from the surgery, it’s straight back to work, protecting Sarif Industries in ways which, as the game progresses, look less and less like the kind of thing a chief of security might want to put on his CV.
Set in 2027, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a strong design vision poised somewhere between a believable ‘next few decades’ future and full-on Blade Runner. One of the central innovations in the original Deus Ex was the freedom of choice: choose the skills you want, and play the game you want to play, be it stealthy, social, computer or straight up-and-down violent. While all of these game styles do definitely still exist in Human Revolution, it has to be said that they tend to boil down to a ‘right’ way of doing things (stealthy, making judicious use of air vents) and a ‘wrong’ way (shooting indiscriminately, and dying over and over and over again). That said, the decision to throw occasional boss battles at you seems to reverse that ethos, and punish players who haven’t gone the shooty-shooty route.
It must be hard to write a sequel to a great original. Everyone wants to see loads of the features from the original brought back, but if it’s too similar, Internet motor-mouths (like me) will slate you for that as well. So the trick is to find a magical, tiny middle ground where things feel similar enough to the original, but not too identical. Well done, Eidos Montreal – you’ve hit that nail perfectly on the head. The night-time streets of Detroit, with their shiny offices and trash-strewn alleys (and of course, loads of fire-escapes and air vents to explore) and then later locations (which I’ll not mention to avoid spoilers) bring back strong pangs of nostalgia for the original whilst retaining a slick, modern look.
Oh yes. If for some reason I wasn’t allowed to have ‘imaginative’ as my one word to describe Human Revolution, it’d have to be stylish. Every part of this game oozes cool. From that already-iconic shot of Jensen brooding over a whisky, basked in the artificial light of the city to the cyborg-building surgery montage culminating in the beating of Jensen’s new heart, marked with the corporate logo of Sarif Industries, Jensen’s world is one of quicksilver cyberpunk panache. The storyline branches constantly – I would recommend to anyone to allow the game to play through even if you fail to achieve a secondary objective, just to marvel at how many times that decision is referenced later on in the game.
So, a perfect 10 then? I wish I could, as the work that has gone into this game deserves it. But there are a couple of niggling flaws that get in the way. Tiny, inconsequential things that in no way interfere with my unreserved recommendation to buy this game. A couple of the augmentation upgrades are distinctly underpowered, and the gossamer-thin balancing tightrope between stealthy and direct gameplay styles is occasionally mis-stepped. While the inclusion of boss battles does harken back to the original, the way it forces you into a direct confrontation runs counter to the ‘freedom of choice’ ethos.
Small potatoes. What we are looking at is, whilst perhaps not quite the game-changing masterpiece that the original was, one of the tightest games in terms of storytelling and sheer vision that I’ve played in ages. Suspension of disbelief is near-constant, and the story sucks you in like that of a AAA title in 2011 really should. It is the Blade Runner for this generation’s gamer. High praise indeed.