The Year is 2027…
For anyone who played the original Deus Ex back in 2000, the imagery of Greek mythology is nothing new. Daedalus and Icarus – two sides of the same story – are simultaneous reminders of our desire to become something better than human in order to surpass our limitations, and the dangers of such a transcendence. Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the third in the franchise, isn’t shy in calling this myth to the forefront of our minds in its opening cinematic, and for good reason.
Humans have been grappling with their ultimate fate since the dawn of time, and the lengths in which we’ll go to secure our future has been at the center of many great science fiction stories. Our biological evolution is at an end. Whereas the development of society and culture took over for the last 10,000 years, it’s not a stretch to speculate that human augmentation by way of machines will take us into the future.
In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, you play the role of Adam Jensen, an ex-cop turned private security officer who works for a biotech corporation called Sarif Industries. After an incident at the lab where researchers are attacked by an unknown organization and Jensen is left for dead, he undergoes an unprecedented operation that outfits him with an incredible amount of augmentations, some for his own survival, and others to turn him into a superhuman capable of carrying out dangerous operations.
The unconscious nature in which Jensen was outfitted with these augmentations becomes a constant conflict in the story as you spend the next twenty hours attempting to unravel the reason why Sarif Industries was attacked. The choice to remain human or become part machine is an ethical dilemma that the citizens of our own futuristic world are constantly grappling with. Human Revolution does an excellent job building a believable future where anti-augmentation terrorist attacks make the front page of the paper, and where every person has a varying opinion on how far humans should become outfitted with machines – if at all.
This constant battle between the fate of humankind is balanced on the shoulders of Jenson, who was given no choice when it came to what was done to his body. What you can choose, however, is how you go about using your augmentations, and this is the games strength.
Level design for Human Revolution is all about your options. How you choose to augment Jensen will determine which path you will take to complete your mission. You can hack doors and computers that will give you access to turrets or cameras, lift heavy objects out of the way to reveal paths, shoot your way through enemy territory, and everything in between. The game does an excellent job of creating a seamless gap between the player and the game world. However you can think to complete an objective is most likely a viable option.
What makes this mechanic work is that the game doesn’t punish you for choosing one play style over another. You’re always being rewarded for everything that you do. Even simple exploration yields experience points. The amount of weapons in the game does make it skewed in the combat direction, which could turn the game into a third person cover-based shooter, but if that’s how you want to play the game, the mechanics are tight enough to work, and the game won’t punish you for choosing that path. The result is a satisfying experience that rewards creativity and exploration of the various locales.
In Human Revolution, you’ll explore everywhere from Detroit, Hengsha, secret military bases, and complex corporate offices. This world is sleek and industrial, a place where everything else already appears modular. This design is what allows such a seamless multi-path solution for each objective, but I did wish for more diversity when it came to the locales. For as much as pulsing neon lights and crowded city streets feel futuristic, Human Revolution has a classical aesthetic that it sticks to, right down to a constant golden glow reminiscent of the Greek tale, but it sacrifices form for function, which means most of the places you visit lack any true distinction from the last, and aren’t very memorable.
Also, where the choice of how you want to augment Jenson is executed extremely well, the choice in how you develop his character is not. Personal conversations with NPCs, both friendly and belligerent, give you a fair share of flexibility in terms of how you behave towards someone, but ultimately, your choices don’t mean anything to the larger game. Whether you decide to go for a no-kill run, or mow down every last enemy in a hail of bullets has no direct or indirect long-term consequences.
The game does give you some choices when it comes to individual quests, but beyond the scope of their isolated plot line, nothing carries over to the larger story. The only other time the game brings up your past actions is done poorly and dealt with swiftly, without any repercussions for Jensen or the plot. This flaw is punctuated by the ending, which gives you a handful of interesting choices that are in-line thematically, but are presented a-la-carte without any forethought. For a game that seems so focused on choice, it’s disappointing that this didn’t carry over to the long term narrative.
Now, the original game was hub based, which meant as you explored a particular level for your main objective, you came across various side quests. This fleshed out the world and encouraged you to explore every nook and cranny. Human Revolution does this to a much smaller extent, with only one or two side quests per level. This makes the hubs seem oddly empty. I was disappointed they weren’t particularly robust, but it’s still nice to see a return of the hub-based format in some diminished form.
The boss fights are the only other moments of contention. For a game that never punishes you for playing the way you want, the boss fights always seemed heavily combat focused. Thankfully, the director’s cut edition of the game gives you plenty of options to deal with each boss without having to fire a shot. They’re still not perfect, but it definitely alleviates some of the frustration early gamers might have felt on their original play-through.
Still, after a much reviled sequel to the original Deus Ex, Human Revolution is a breath of fresh air for both the RPG and first person shooter genres. It plays great, you’re rewarded for exploration, and the multiple paths in which you can complete your objective is a great mechanic. The narrative choices and repetitive level design may keep it from being the complete Deus Ex package, but it is entirely worth your time if you’re looking for a unique RPG experience
One last note – the only problem with the director’s cut itself is the inclusion of the bonus level “The Missing Link”. The level is fine on its own, but in this edition of the game, it’s placed where it fits logically in the story. This 3-4 hour sojourn absolutely kills the pacing of the main game. It’s a great level if you want to jump back in and scratch that Deus Ex itch, but it becomes a drag when placed within the main game.
Steve Dixon is figuring out which limb he wants to augment. You can follow him on Twitter @Driver194