Deus Ex has always held a special place in my heart. It was the first game I played where stealth was not only a valid option, but in most places required. It is also the first first-person game where the story was of real consequence and more meaningful than just ‘shoot this guy, run here, jump there.’ Finally, it was the first game where I had a choice in what actions I took, and those affected the outcome of not only the level, but the story.
Eleven years later and the third game in the series, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, lands on my desk. It was developed by an all-new team, it’s available on consoles, and finally it’s not a sequel, but a prequel. Yes, the game had a proper sequel, and it was not half bad, but it lacked a lot of the innovative punch the original carried. So how does this third game stack up? Very well!
It is the year 2027, and in Detroit the people are protesting. Human augmentations have become affordable and easily accessible. The moral implications are heavily disputed and riots are breaking out, yet some people have no choice – these augmentations saved their lives. The world is not much better than it is today, however, with crime and violence still abundant.
Adam Jensen is the hand-picked chief of security at Sarif Industries, one of the major augmentation suppliers in the world. Sarif is attacked by mysterious augmented soldiers who kill nearly everyone, and Jensen is left for dead and his girlfriend murdered. In order to save his life, Sarif outfits him with the best augmentations currently available, against Adam’s will. When he returns to work six months later, he sets out to find the attackers and get to the bottom of the assault.
The story starts off with a bang and continues with twists and turns throughout. Sure, I saw the outcome of the story a mile away, but it doesn’t mean I wasn’t enthralled – I was more entertained in this game than any other singleplayer game I have played so far this year.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a sneaky-talky-shootie game, an ‘STS’ if you will. Most importantly, however, it is a game of choice. You can choose to play it like a normal first-person shooter, and shoot all that moves. Or you can choose to use stealth to reach your goals, and there is also quite a lot of dialogue in-between to help you make a decision on how to approach certain situations.
Shhhh! I’m hunting wabbits!
A stealthy approach will slow the game down significantly. Planning a route around enemies on a level and discovering new ones is half the fun I had with the game. Using objects for cover, air ducts, sewer systems and roof access ladders to slip behind enemies without them noticing creates a sense of real achievement. It really pays off to examine your environment before rushing in, and then thinking outside of the box for solutions.
Staying out of sight is not as easy as it sounds. Cameras and turrets sweep the hallways, while enemies patrol the levels, and studying the movements and patterns of these security measures will pay dividends. Silently taking out the lone sentry is a small step in the right direction, but if his body is discovered the alarm will be sounded and all characters will be on high alert, scanning the area to find the perpetrator. It’s a good idea to drag bodies out of site, and an even better idea to do this with nobody watching you. Bodies can be searched for ammo and they drop their weapons.
Enemies can be taken out by silenced weapons or melee attacks. The attacks can be lethal or simply stun the recipient of the attack. Killing is obviously more permanent, but scores negatively with others, which means less experience points are awarded.
Of course you can play through the game the same way you would any other shooter: run in and shoot. This is more difficult than it sounds, however, as enemies are extremely accurate with their aim, and if any shots are heard the AI will again be on high alert. Ammunition is also in short supply, and during fire fights there will not be enough time to raid bodies for more.
The cover system in Deus Ex Human Revolution works well, but is a little limited. Adam will only use cover when a button is pressed, and even though this might feel a bit clumsy at the first, it soon becomes second nature – it certainly beats the auto-cover systems of other games like Kane & Lynch. Besides providing protection, the cover system also allows you to spy around corners as the game switches to a third-person view for all cover antics.
Adam’s biggest advantage over most of his rivals is his augmentations. Most of his body parts have been replaced, but due to the complexity of the system, different features can only be unlocked over time. This is a different way of doing the RPG level-up system, and fits very well with the world of the future. As with a standard RPG you gain experience points for performing tasks and completing missions. These points allow you to level up and each level gives you a ‘Praxis’ which unlocks a new feature of your augmentations.
The augmentations range from small things like a bigger radar, to big things like a cloaking device, extra strength and extra speed. Depending on how you intend to play the game your choices in what to upgrade becomes very crucial to success. If you intend to be a stealth master then you certainly do not need to upgrade your strength too much. Right? Wrong!
Adapt to survive
The design of the game forces you to create a character that can really adapt. For example, you need to enter a building to retrieve some evidence and the local mercenary police have the building covered. You can choose to go in the front door, guns blazing, but hopefully you’ve upgraded your armour level and you have a steady aim.
Or you can choose to climb the adjacent building and jump across onto the roof of the target building. That will work if you upgraded your running speed and jump height. Alternatively, you can move that big dumpster in the alley next to the building to reveal an air duct which you can sneak through, but to do this you need more strength to pick up the dumpster and more sneakiness to not be detected in the air ducts.
Finally you can attempt the non-violent way of simply trying to talk your way into the building, although very few missions allow this method.
Other skills that can be upgraded allow you to hack your way into different systems. Hacking is performed by a very addictive little mini-game where the aim is to take control of different parts of the system before the security takes over. Control the registry and the hack is successful. Hacks can be performed on locks to safes and doors, and on computers.
The world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is meticulously created. Computers give access to e-mails, providing clues to the mission and a lot of background to characters. Most of the e-mail serves no purpose other than to create a sense of immersion, and it succeeds. Most of the important characters have detailed back stories, accessible via e-mail, e-books and newspapers. Eavesdropping on conversations also often gives you clues and hints.
The most striking accomplishment of the game is that of presentation. The future is certainly not as bleak as we expected it to be. Orange is the colour of choice, and this might be because Adam literally looks at the world through orange tinted glasses. It creates a sense of optimism for the world, which contrasts with what is actually going on.
Did I leave the water running?
The levels also try their hardest to immerse players further into the game, but the ability to open a tap in a bathroom doesn’t automatically make for an interactive level. Yet a lot of the levels require some smaller level of interaction – move boxes into position so you can reach a higher level and move some more boxes to reveal secret entrances.
But as immersive as the world tries to be, the characters try their best to pull you out of that immersion. Emotion seems to have been eradicated, and faces express none of that happy or sad nonsense. In the future we are all about facts and getting the job done. Oh, and we also cannot synchronise our lips to our words.
This Deus Ex is a very tough game. Playing on the highest difficulty coupled with my perfectionist streak forced me to load the game every time I was detected by the enemy. Towards the end (where the Adam I played got really annoyed and angry and tried his hand at a bit of violence), I died quite often.
You will find more in common with Mass Effect than the original Deus Ex. Some third-person cover, mini conversations and light RPG elements all add up to create a game that is perfectly balanced to your preferences. With promises of downloadable content that will add more content to this universe, not necessarily from Adam’s perspective, I get very excited. After all, I fell in love with Deus Ex because of the world it takes place in, not the man in that world.
Deus Ex Human Revolution comes together in a perfect balance of all that makes gaming so great. I got lost in the world and felt involved in how it ended. The fact that I had a choice in how the objectives are accomplished was the icing on the cake. And this is a cake you definitely want a piece of!
The Good: Immersive, atmospheric world; Master of all trades; excellent design; freedom of choice
The Bad: Lip sync; can be very difficult; Um… nothing else
The Ugly: Opening a tap does not count as immersive level design