Thursday, October 20, 2011

Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Release Date: 23 August 2011

Blade Runner fans, rejoice! The cyber-punk genre finally gets it's due in an action-packed, choice-laden package that not only pays homage to the PC Game of the Year (2000) that spawned the franchise, but adds modern gaming conventions and accessibility for fans new and returning. It's a game that not only balances its roots with the advances made in the last 10 years, but it also carves out its own identity.

Heng Sha is so pretty!

Human Revolution takes place in 2027. The world (as always seems to be the case) has started taking on a dystopian tone. The new and (of course) controversial science of human augmentation has split humanity along the lines of the Transhumanists and the Purists. Adam Jensen, your character and the head of security at Sarif Industries (a leading augmentation firm on the edge of a breakthrough), falls nicely into the gray area in-between the sides. A brutal attack on Sarif's headquarters by heavily augmented mercenaries serves as the tutorial to the First Person Shooting and Third Person cover mechanics. This jaunty ride ends with Adam's defeat and mutilation at the mercs' hands and the drastic step of augmentation to save his life. As Jensen reminds us, he “never asked for this.” This sets the stage for all the globe trotting to find out why Sarif Industries was attacked, and the ensuing conspiracy that Adam uncovers. Much like the original Deus Ex, the major players are governments, shadowy dealers of information, news outlets and the Illuminati. It's a story that not only asks us to question progress, but also what it means to be human. The game also makes the story as central as you want it to be. If you'd prefer to rush through the main story-line, you can do that in around 12 hours. Exploring the side missions, optional quests and a myriad of hacking opportunities (which flesh out the world and have a few nods for series veterans) offer more for those that want to dig. Lots of little nods to Deus Ex are there, if you know where to look.

The game plays just like its predecessors, with a couple of new wrinkles thrown in. The majority of the game is seen through Jensen's augmented eyes. First Person shooting and platforming abound as you make your way from Detroit to China and other points across the globe. Where this differs from the pure FPSs is in the cover mechanic. The press of a button will snap Jensen into a cover point and pull the camera out to a Third Person perspective. From here, you can sneak, blind-fire, pop out and fire and generally create havoc for your foes. The enemies are mostly intelligent and will use grenades and flanking maneuvers to flush you out. They also call for back up and will flee if the situation calls for it. That said, they do sometimes take cover and pop out at exactly the same spot; allowing for easy kills. Jensen isn't a bullet sponge like most heroes today, so you have to be smart. On the higher difficulties, it only takes a few shots to put Jensen down even with the dermal armor augmentations. This game rewards intelligent attacking over “run-and-gun” tactics.

The best part of this game is choice. Each objective and each map has a multitude of paths to discover and exploit. The game designers went to great lengths to make sure that people running in with guns blazing had the same opportunities as the Solid Snake/Sam Fisher-wannabes that creep, sneak, circumnavigate and avoid conflict. Depending on your augmentation load-out, your Jensen will play to your style: combat oriented, stealth oriented or a mixture of the two. When faced with a challenge, your augmentations make all the difference. Heavy lifting may yield a vent to crawl through. The high jump might allow you to reach catwalks. The cloak may allow you to run right passed the guards. Hacking doors or computer systems to gain access to other areas is great fun. But, if hacking isn't your thing, you can (usually) blow open doors with grenades, though that might attract attention. Even augs that have specific uses can be fun; the aug that negates EMP/electrical damage might allow you to access a room with ammo you might otherwise be unable to enter. Experience is doled out for everything from hacking to exploring to killing. It even balances the “kill them all” with “kill no one” approaches. The rewards for remaining undetected are higher, but the risk is similarly great. So, you might miss the experience points for the kills, but you make up for it from the bonuses for remaining undetected. Playing through without killing is a feat of endurance, and a non-lethal loadout ties into the one tiny issue that keeps the game from perfection. The bosses.

There are “social” bosses where Jensen matches wits with another character. These encounters are great, and the price of failure could be as mundane as having to find another way into a building or as impressive as character death. These fights adhere to the rest of the game as they are open and allow for multiple solutions. Using all your skills to win these encounters is a throw-back to Deus Ex and really are enjoyable. It's the “fighting” bosses that really stumble. These are arena fights that make those trying for a non-lethal run (the bosses do not count toward that trophy/achievement) pull their hair out in frustration. Since these fights are jarringly introduced and the difficultly depends on if you are only carrying non-lethal weapons (boss with a chain gun VS tranquiliser darts...) or if you picked up a few firearms along the level, fans complained. Turns out, the boss fights weren't done in house at Eidos. As seen in the video below, another company did the bosses. So, a game that encourages your choice and offers multiple paths to victory occasionally funnels you into a large room and sends something wickedly hard at you, and woe be those that do not have ANY offensive weaponry. The finale falls somewhere in between as it's not a chatty-battle, but it's not a straight up brawl either, so that's something.  Edit: From Destructoid, here's the word straight from Eidos Montreal itself on the bosses.

All About the Bosses (or, How We Dropped the Ball)

No guns? No grenades?  Uh-oh...

The game is visually and aurally wonderful. The “gold” filter and contrasts of yellow and black add to the “noir” vibe this game puts out. Cities have breath-taking skylines, the slums are dirty enough to make you want to wash and each hub-city has it's own personality. The facilities Jensen goes through do suffer from the generic “near-future science station” or “generic sewer system,” but overall the game is gorgeous. The music is well done and follows the philosophy of the game. The composer, Michael McCann, used all synthetic instruments to make the soundtrack. The music itself is very primal in places, with a lot of percussion and rhythms that recall aboriginal songs. Here too we see the mixing of the synthetic and the human, much like in Jensen. It's all very meta. The voice actors do a good job and everyone comes across as likeable, even stereotypes like Letcia, an informant Jensen knows. Jensen may be gravelly voiced like most protagonists, but his feelings (yours from the choices offered) and emotions do a great job of creating a likeable and memorable character.

Letcia the Stereotype (NSFW - Language)

Overall, this game is easily one of the best games released in 2011. The multiple ways to approach each mission and the variety of augmentations means that multiple playthroughs are possible. The fidelity to the original Deus Ex (no choice is “wrong”) and the modern amenities (recharging health, cover mechanics) make for a seductive mix. Over the course of the campaign (25+ hours to do everything), the game weaves a great story and offers an experience that is as deep as you'd like it to be. With great visuals, solid gameplay and an open-ended approach that encourages experimentation, Human Revolution is a must play for fans of the series, cyber-punk/noir or more cerebral FPSs.

So much for sneaking...

Score: 9 out of 10
Bottom Line: Even annoying boss battles can't keep this amazing game down
Check it out if you like: Deus Ex, Splinter Cell series, Metal Gear Solid series, trying out multiple play styles, more thinking than your average military FPS
Game of the Year Contender

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