Deus Ex: Human Revolution Xbox 360 Review
Kickpuncher: The Cyborg Cop Whose Punches Are as Strong as Kicks
The original Deus Ex is a classic PC title widely lauded as one of the greatest games of all time. To say the second game, Invisible War, was less well-received would be a serious understatement. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is in the unique position of having incredibly large shoes to fill while at the same time a very low bar of expectations to jump through. As a successor to the series it may fall short, but based on this game’s own merits, it manages to be a solid experience with only a few glaring flaws.
Human Revolution is set twenty-five years before the original Deus Ex, as cyborg enhancements are beginning to become the norm, accompanied by social upheavals and corporate intrigue surrounding this societal change. Players step into the role of ex-SWAT officer and current security chief of Serif Industries, Adam Jensen, as he investigates an attack on his workplace that left him nearly dead and his girlfriend missing. Unravelling this mystery sends Jensen hopping around the world, sneaking into top secret research facilities and dealing with all kinds of seedy underworld types.
The story takes the basics of a well-paced conspiracy thriller and leavens them with a range of futuristic elements. The cutscenes are wonderfully composed and the characters are performed believably. Sure, Adam Jensen sounds like Batman performed with all the range and depth of a two by four, but considering the precedent set by the Denton family in the last two games it would be disappointing if that had been otherwise. The rest of the cast is well realized by the actors and stand head and shoulders above the characters of the previous games.
However, there are two points where the plot falters. One is that it never feels like a proper prequel to Deus Ex, even with brief cameos from the first and second games. While the events of the game are interesting, it is difficult at times to see how they might lead into the first game. This wouldn’t be a problem if the ties into the other games weren’t so direct. Second, the ending sequence feels out of synch with the rest of the game. Players are presented with a choice between four different factions. The need to keep things tied in with the original game means that the true consequences of this choice cannot be elaborated upon, and so the player is left with Jensen waxing philosophical over a slideshow of disconnected scenes. This removes any impact that this decision might have, to the point where having a choice at all seems pointless. That said, the shift away from conspiracy towards corporate espionage and underworld intrigue brings the tone of the story much more into line with current cyberpunk story sensibilities.
The setting of Human Revolution oozes cyberpunk goodness. From high-gloss Jobsian research labs to Shanghai slums, everything just looks great. The aesthetics are fresh and unique, but still feel like they’re a part of the overall franchise. The environments are wonderful, with lots of nooks and crannies to explore and multiple routes to any given objective. This school of environment design has been the cornerstone of the franchise and is a breath of fresh air in a recent slew of linear dungeon crawlers and corridor-based shooters. There’s plenty of freedom and opportunity for all styles of approach, from stealth runs to if-everything-is-dead-in-a-two-mile-radius-it-still-counts-as-stealth runs. In addition to looking good, Human Revolution also sounds good. The sound design and environmental noises are just perfect, and the soundtrack is very nice ambient techno that supports the action well, but never steps on the toes of the other sounds or makes it difficult to be stealthy.
Gameplay-wise, the game falls into the murky divide between action-RPG and straight up action game. Players can advance Jensen’s augments, giving him new abilities like enhanced hacking skills or persuasive conversation enhancements. Upgrading Jensen doesn’t feel especially RPG-like. There are no mutually exclusive augments and experience points are so commonplace that it is possible to have a character max out every single upgrade track. So while Jensen will be specialized early on, eventually he’ll broaden out into a more generalized character. One thing that made the original Deus Ex so special was that no two gamers’ playthroughs were alike. Their particular incarnation of JC Denton was either a hacker or heavy weapons expert, and he went through the plot with abilities that were available to him. The fact that Adam can be a master hacker, an expert negotiator, and still be able to wreak more damage in a fight than a spec-ops team neither suits the game’s pedigree or its genre.
The game has bowed to current trends in first person shooters with a number of additions. The new sticky cover system is welcome, considering how shotgun shells to the face can be brutal, and complements the stealth elements of the game. Players have an option for blindfire from behind this cover, but they’re fairly useless until heat seeking rounds become available. Regenerating health is now automatically installed after Jensen’s 6 Million Dollar Man montage. The augment itself works more slowly and steadily than the rebounding health of most shooters and feels more organic for it.
Human Revolution‘s gunplay feels a little stiff on a 360 controller. Specifically, right thumstick seems to lag when targeting foes, even after fiddling with the sensitivity settings. However, moving about stealthily from cover to cover feels smooth and easy. The stealth elements of HR leave something to be desired, as hostile NPCs seem to have great hearing and terrible eyesight. Players can slip right under a guard’s nose unnoticed, but a dropped box in the next room can set off the alarm bells. This inconsistency can be troublesome for sneaky characters.
A welcome return from the first game is a grid-based inventory system. Not that playing inventory Tetris adds anything amazing to a game, but it is a taste of the familiar. The inventory has picked up a few new tricks since then; the game will automatically reshuffle the items in storage for the most efficient use of space, saving players a few headaches. Somewhat frustrating is that ammo now takes up a spot in inventory, though the amount of storage can be expanded with augmentations. All these changes make the act of carrying stuff around a relatively painless experience. Jensen’s equipment is upgradeable, from damage boosts and silencers to cool things like smart ammo and explosive rounds. It adds a nice layer of depth and personalization to the gear. The guns are great, as each one has its own niche that gives it a unique feel. Pound for pound, non-lethal weapons are the most fun just for the animations of characters as Jensen knocks them unconscious.
A pair of welcome additions to Human Revolution‘s gameplay comes in the form of minigames. The hacking mini-game manages to be both tense and strategic, and it can be a great source of amusement to hack any terminal in sight to see what lies within. Social boss “fights”, are also a nice addition. These are interesting in that Jensen must try to talk down a hostile NPC through a series of dialogue exchanges as players try to read responses and shift persuasion methods to suit the character in question. This twist on normal battles are some of the best acted scenes in the game, which only serves to bolster the game mechanics behind them. Not many games have social mechanics more complex than a single die roll for persuasion, so for a game to try do something different and do so well at it is superb.
For as many positive elements the gameplay has, there is one very glaring flaw: the now notorious boss fights, outsourced to GRIP Entertainment. The fact that these were outsourced is an apt metaphor for the encounters in the game itself. The boss fights are out of place, existing in their own little bubble outside the plot and only able to be resolved by violence, which stands in contrast with the first game where you could literally run away from some boss fights and still progress the plot. These fights are punishingly difficult and not even remotely fun. The feeling that comes with putting each of these mercenaries down is not any sense of accomplishment, but relief they’ll never be seen again. It’s a shame that Eidos felt the need to farm out the fights, considering the two other climactic encounters that they did design for the game can be resolved through several different methods.
When reviewing a game like this, it is very easy to point out the big flaws and changes. Just as important are the little things that make the game feel fun, like the joy of crawling through the vents, the voyeuristic fun of reading characters’ e-mail, getting lectured for going into the wrong washroom, or the fact that NPCs will occasionally whistle the theme song from the first game. While all these little things do nothing to diminish those flaws, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is still a worthwhile gameplay experience and a worthy addition to the franchise despite them.
Amazing environment design
Interesting and varied augmentations
Solid cyberpunk storytelling
Annoying boss fights that don't fit the style
Minimal RPG elements