Deus Ex: Human Revolution
22nd Aug 2011 | 16:00
The good news is that it's everything they promised.
Deus Ex is freeform, tactical and intelligent; the anti-Call of Duty. The bad news? Weak boss battles and twitchy, unpredictable stealth hold it back from true greatness. Like its augmented hero, its great advances come with great flaws.
The year is 2027 and mankind has taken its next major technological leap: biomechanical augmentations. These implants can give people superhuman strength and speed, boost their intelligence and even replace lost limbs, but they're not for everyone. Only the extremely wealthy can afford them.
This has torn society in half, dragging the gulf between the rich and the poor even wider. Massive corporations and private military companies tower above overpopulated metropolises in gleaming skyscrapers, while criminals and homeless flood the streets below. It's the stuff of classic dystopian sci-fi , and it makes for an evocative, immersive setting.
The good news is that you, Adam Jensen, are one of the lucky ones. You're head of security for augmentation manufacturer Sarif Industries, and - after an attack on your HQ - you're rescued from the brink of death and fitted with the latest augmentation tech. Your goal: find out who tried to kill you.
Adam is now a mechanical superhero. He can jump twenty feet into the air, punch straight through walls, turn invisible and hack any computer - but at the expense of his humanity.
One of the main reasons Deus Ex excels over other shooters is that it's smart, dealing confidently with the ethics of body modification and philosophy of what it is to be human. Is it right to meddle with God's design? It's a debate that sparks riots and in Deus Ex's world, and is intrinsic to the storyline. It really does make you think.
SHIFT OF PERSPECTIVE
But let's cut to the action. It's viewed from the first-person, with one sensible concession - whenever Adam pins to cover or climbs a ladder the view zooms out to third-person. The result is that when you're firing on enemies from cover - which, to be honest, you won't do that often - it feels like Uncharted, and thus a bit more intuitive than it otherwise would. Cover shooting just doesn't work in first-person.
The game's split between regular story missions and city hubs. In the hubs you can wander freely around the futuristic, neon-lit streets of Detroit and Hengsha an island off the coast of Shanghai, picking up side-quests, talking to NPCs and exploring.
This feels reminiscent of Oblivion, albeit in a much more limited environment. The hubs are decently sized, but it won't take you long to learn their layout by heart. Still, they're stuffed with detail, secrets and things to do. You can easily spend ten hours or more just ignoring the plot and working through all the side content.
Story missions are largely themed around infi ltrating high security buildings and avoiding guards. The gameplay variety is impressive (more on that later), but the game sorely lacks moments. The first ten hours of the original Deus Ex were littered with standout, memorable scenes, ones gamers still excitedly talk about today - genuinely affecting moral choices, unexpected twists - but there's not nearly enough of that in Human Revolution.
But back to the good stuff. There's no sweeter sight in Human Revolution than the glowing yellow outline of an air vent. These twisting aluminium tunnels are your best friend, giving you the opportunity to slip behind enemy patrols, access locked areas and sneakily knock out guards without being seen.
You can approach your objective any way you choose, sure, but the truth is, you'll always favour stealth. The option is there to just shoot everyone but it's impractical; you die easily, and supplies are limited. What makes the game so satisfying is that 'stealth' can mean a number of things.
Around every objective there are a multitude of security terminals to hack, cameras to deactivate, guards to knock out, corners to hide behind and, of course, vents to crawl around in.
That's without mentioning your gadgets, weapons and augmentations. Jensen is a walking Swiss Army knife and you find yourself constantly mixing up your gameplay style, rather than relying on the same methods every time, just to test everything out.
You can plant mines, disable cameras and turrets with EMP grenades, send guards to sleep with tranq darts, hack terminals to discover computer logins and door codes, attach silencers to your guns, equip MGS-style stealth camo, sprint silently with an aug upgrade... the list goes on; that's only a handful of your abilities.
The catch is that augs use energy, and you can only use them for a short period each time. As powerful as you are, you never feel totally safe.
HIDING TO NOTHING
The problem is that the stealth is annoyingly inconsistent. Enemies often magically know where you are, even when you're hidden in a vent. The instant you uncloak, they all start firing directly at you, even if they didn't know where you were previously. It feels twitchy and unsatisfying, and there's no science to it. Sometimes you get caught... sometimes you don't. Stealth upgrades can help, such as a view of where enemies are looking on your mini-map, but it's still frustrating.
The boss battles are also a disappointment. In a game so rich with freedom, being forced into a straight fight with an overpowered enemy feels distinctly out of place. It's a needless throwback to traditional game design that something as forward-thinking as Deus Ex really doesn't need.
The main motivation, besides the story, is unlocking all of Adam's augmentations. You begin with only a select few and must collect Praxis kits to unlock the really good stuff, such as cloaking or wall-punching. You can buy these from LIMB clinics (but they're pricey), find them randomly scattered around levels (very rare) or unlock them by earning experience.
Everything nets you XP, from killing enemies silently or subduing them non-lethally, to hacking computers or finding secret areas. Then, once you reach a certain XP level, you unlock a Praxis kit to upgrade or unlock more augmentations.
This RPG-lite structure gives the game a distinct, rewarding sense of progression. By the end you feel like an unstoppable superman who laughs in the face of puny security systems, while at the start you might not even be able to hack through the most basic door because your hacking skills are so low.
The story can occasionally meander, with Adam following a seemingly endless string of 'leads', but it's still involving, and above and beyond what most big budget games have to offer (it plays with similar themes to MGS4, but does a better job of realising them). It's a masterclass of visual design, presenting a convincing futuristic world that's abundant with effortless realism. Everything looks like it's there for a reason, as opposed to a cardboard movie set.
The irksome boss battles and unpredictable AI are immersion-breaking letdowns, odd moments of foolishness in what is one of the most stylishly executed, intelligent shooters on PS3.