Deus Ex: Human Revolution Xbox 360 Review
The Corporations Are All Corporationy and Make Money
I have to admit that I missed out on the original Deus Ex. It came around at a time when my gaming budget was low and first-person shooters were quite far off my radar, and so the game came and went without me taking any notice. Since then, the amount of praise the game has received from my peers has made me curious, and so when Deus Ex: Human Revolution was announced, I was excited to finally have an opportunity to experience the franchise firsthand. What I came away with was a mixed experience. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that is as brilliant as it is flawed. For every step it takes towards greatness, it takes another step backward into the realm of mediocrity and frustration.
The year is 2027, and the world is a very different place than what we know now. National borders are becoming more and more meaningless as globalization continues and corporations begin to dominate the political landscape. People now have more loyalty to their employers than their country, and at the top of the game are biotechnology corporations developing new technologies called augments: highly advanced prosthetics more powerful and effective than the natural human body. Deus Ex: Human Revolution follows Adam Jensen, head of security at Sarif Industries, a biotech corporation on the brink of a monumental discovery. When their facility is attacked by an unknown group of soldiers, Adam’s body is nearly destroyed while trying to defend the scientists. When he wakes up, he finds that Sarif has saved his life by replacing nearly every part of him with “augs.” Now more machine than man, Jensen uses his new abilities to uncover the source of the attack and ultimately a globe-spanning conspiracy that threatens the entire world.
Firmly rooted in the cyberpunk genre, Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s story of conspiracy, corruption, and scientific morality is terrific in its execution. Bolstered by excellent characters and believable voicework, it moves forward rapidly and never ceases to be exciting and enjoyable. The game’s persuasion system, which allows players to affect the outcome of conversations by reading personalities and selecting appropriate responses, makes it an involving story as well. The only exception to the quality is Jensen himself, who might as well have been replaced by Keanu Reeves for all the difference it would make. From his stereotypical black trenchcoat and sunglasses to his characteristic throaty, emotionless tone, Jensen is nearly identical in style and substance to the character Neo from the Matrix movies, and it’s impossible not to notice. He’s even got a “chosen one” thing going on late in the game. Despite an interesting backstory and a personal history that would allow for decent character dynamics, Jensen remains flat, withdrawn, and neutral throughout the game.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution‘s gameplay is all about choice. Specifically, the game is designed in such a way that for any given level, there are a myriad of possible paths that players can take to complete them. Ultimately, the end goal is simply to get from point A to point B, but the methods to get there are incredibly diverse. The level design is absolutely spectacular, featuring many hidden paths and side areas to explore and discover. As an example, early on in the game players are tasked with infiltrating a police station. A persuasive player might talk their way into the building, convincing the guard to let them in at the ground level. A more dextrous player might make their way to the roof via a fire escape, sneaking into an air vent and working his way down from there. Tech-savvy players might be more inclined to hack a security door on the second floor, gaining easy access to the station from there. Finally, those players preferring brute force to more nuanced approaches can simply blast their way in with sheer force.
Ultimately, how players approach Deus Ex depends entirely on how they decide to distribute their Praxis points, the game’s upgrade system. Each point allows Jensen to upgrade one of his augments, improving his ability to hack, fight, survive, or sneak around in various ways. Although a handful of Praxis Kits can be found hidden in the game world, and a total of ten can be purchased from special shops over the course of the game, the majority of these points come by gaining experience. Since Deus Ex is a game that lets you approach it in so many different ways, experience gain is equally diverse in its distribution. Pretty much any accomplishment of any worth will grant a bit of experience. Defeating an enemy grants a simple ten point award, while defeating an enemy without killing him grants an additional bonus. Discovering hidden areas grants a nice boost, as does hacking a computer system. Of course, the biggest boosts come from completing objectives and sidequests.
Sadly, players may run into a major roadblock about a third of the way into the game, especially those who decided to take a stealthy approach. This is when the first of several boss fights begins. These fights feel extremely out of place and force players to engage in combat, eliminating stealthier options entirely. If players haven’t spent any Praxis points on combat upgrades, they’ll likely find themselves overwhelmed by the sheer strength and vitality these bosses possess, not to mention the fact that they’ll likely be unpracticed in combat tactics. Interestingly, one of these fights is an unusual exception to this pattern, allowing players to take a variety of different approaches in defeating it. This just goes to show that these fights aren’t just a necessary evil of the game, but simply poorly designed, as they could have all been created in this way and the game would have been better for it.
Luckily, these boss fights make up a very small portion of the game, and for the most part players will be exploring the two major city hubs, completing side quests, discovering secrets, and powering up Jensen’s augments so they can explore further and find new ways to complete objectives. Although there are less than a dozen sidequests in the game, each one has its own story and helps to explore Deus Ex‘s complex and intriguing universe.
One major issue that bears addressing is Deus Ex‘s inventory and weapon systems. As the game progresses, players can collect weapons, ammunition, healing items, and of course cold hard cash hidden throughout the world and on the bodies of defeated enemies. Unfortunately, players will have a difficult time collecting much of this, as inventory space is extremely limited. Similar to the Diablo series, Deus Ex uses a grid-based inventory system with various items taking up different amounts of space. Weapons are large and take up several squares while ammunition and grenades are notably smaller, taking up only one or two. Space rapidly becomes an issue, particularly if players want to carry around more than one or two weapons. It doesn’t help that ammunition only stacks to a certain point before a new stack has to be started, or that grenades don’t stack at all.
Things get more irritating when the weapon upgrade system comes into play. Each weapon in the game has a variety of upgrades that can be applied to it, increasing damage, reload speed, fire rate, ammunition capacity, or even adding additional effects such as silencers or laser sights. Unfortunately, the kits needed to provide these upgrades are limited in number, and players will likely find themselves picking a single weapon near the beginning of the game and focusing on building it up. That’s all well and good until one considers the problem of ammunition. Ammunition is also in short supply, and shops generally only sell certain types, and only so much of it. Most ammunition needs to be scavenged from enemies, and as the game progresses, their weapons are upgraded, meaning that it might get harder to find the right type. Players who choose to upgrade a 10mm pistol will likely find that, toward the end of the game, ammunition is in extremely short supply. Some weapons, like the plasma and laser rifles, don’t even become available until very late in the game. Of course, saving upgrade kits for those weapons isn’t an option, due to the aforementioned inventory issues.
Despite a few issues in its design, Deus Ex is overall an enjoyable experience. It’s also an extremely good-looking game, with a gritty, futuristic world that seems heavily influenced by movies like Blade Runner and Dark City. Nearly the entire game takes place at night in seedy neighbourhoods in Detroit and China. Trash litters the street, neon signs stand out as the only source of color, and even the various facilities Jensen infiltrates are sterile and gray. The character designs are also excellent, particularly the facial expressions which do wonders for improving the game’s persuasion system.
The sound is solid, though not as impressive as the visuals. The voice acting, as previously mentioned, is quite good (apart from Jensen’s Keanu Reeves impersonation), particularly characters like Sarif and Pritchard. The music is less impressive, mostly because Deus Ex is a rather quiet game. What little music exists is fairly subdued and sits in the background without making its presence known, save for during cutscenes. It also has a tendency to cut out into silence when players aren’t near any enemies, or when the game initially loads.
In the end, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a good game, but shies away from being great. Its level design is beyond reproach, but the various issues at play hinder it severely. The boss fights in particular are extremely frustrating, and mirror the major issues in Alpha Protocol. Of course, how big an issue those will be will depend on how you choose to play the game, and that’s really what Deus Ex is all about. Due to a lack of a time clock, I can’t say for sure how long the game is, though I would estimate most players will take between twenty and thirty hours to reach the end. The game features four different endings, though the decision leading to those endings is made after the final boss fight, making it a fairly unimportant one, and a simple save file reload allows one to see them all in succession. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a game that’s definitely worth playing, but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Perhaps Eidos will find a way to augment their design in a sequel.
Terrific level design
Can approach each area in a myriad of ways
Great story in an intriguing setting
Adam Jensen is Keanu Reeves
Terrible inventory and weapon upgrade systems
Boss fights are out of place