The year is 2000. Video game company Ion Storm releases a little game called Deus Ex for the PC. The game is a smash hit, getting glowing reviews across the board and selling pretty well. Three years later, the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War is released. It is however not received with quite the same adoration as its revolutionary predecessor. And maybe it’s because of this slight misstep that the franchise then went dormant for years. But finally, in the year 2011, the franchise reemerged with a prequel called… Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Set in 2027, the game follows Adam Jensen, the head of security at a company that creates robotic augmentations. The company is attacked one day, with Jensen basically being left for dead by the attackers. In the time following this attack, Jensen’s boss decides that there’s only one way to save the poor man… augment the shit out of him.
Cut to six months later, Jensen is called back into duty when some anti-augmentation terrorists break into a factory/lab owned by Jensen’s employers. And it’s during this return to duty that Jensen starts following a trail that leads him down a major, complex conspiracy that goes deeper than he could’ve ever expected. All the while tensions between pro-augmentation and anti-augmentation groups escalate around him. Clumsy racial analogies aside, this is a plot that never fails to engage me, no matter how many times I play through it. I like conspiracy stories, I find them fun. And Human Revolution‘s take on it is certainly one of the more unique ones. So, Jensen, ready to talk about gameplay?
This game generally presents itself with a “play it your way” kind of mentality. But this is every so slightly bogus, as the game clearly wants you to be more on the stealthy side of things. Don’t get me wrong, you can get into direct skirmishes with your enemies as well, but that is a difficult strategy that won’t end in fun… just countless deaths or the worlds stiffest cover-shooter. BUT if you decide to play to the game’s more sneaky standards, then it can become a highly engrossing gameplay experience… or at least I think so. You can also hack computers to learn more about the world.
Creeping around hallways, using vents, staying out of your enemies’ visibility, all that stuff is a bit challenging, and highly rewarding. Partly because it shows how well you’ve learned the intricacies of the levels, and partly because it nets you a lot more XP. That’s right Human Revolution isn’t just a sneaky-bang-bang game, but it’s also an RPG. When you earn enough XP in Human Revolution, you gain a Praxis (or a skill point as most games would call it). You gain this by taking out enemies, completing objectives normally, or completing them in super sneaky ways. You can then use said Praxis to buy different skills and abilities to craft Jensen to your liking. Maybe you want him to have a sneaky cloaking ability, maybe you want him to be able to punch through walls, or breathe through gas clouds, or maybe you want him to be able to have some social skills, or explode an entire god damn room. The choice is up to you… as long as you got the Praxis to show for it.
I specifically mentioned that social skill thing because of another gameplay feature of the game… dialogue! Maybe you just want to talk your way out of certain situations rather than sneak around like a ninja or brute force your way like some Schwarzenegger-wannabe. Then there are of course also bits where you basically have to talk your way out of it in a few so-called “verbal boss battles”. In these, you have to engage in a lengthy conversation to try to convince a person of helping you out in some way. These can be challenging, which can be a tense bit of excitement for most players… but you can also get the social enhancer to make them a bit more manageable. Either way you want to play it, you will have to chat with people someday in this game.
The final things I want to mention regarding gameplay: You can hack computers and certain locks to gain access to more information, items, routes, and things to punch throughout the game, given if you have the password, correct hacking level, or an automatic hacking tool.
The second thing I wanted to mention were the boss battles. Not those verbal ones I mentioned earlier, as those are their own separate entity. No, I’m talking about actual boss battles. To the bafflement of many players, the boss fights in this game aren’t exactly as versatile as the rest of the gameplay. Say you put a bunch of points into hacking or sneaking or baking, then you’re gonna be shit out of luck since these basically required brute force to fight. The reason it is like this, however, is because the boss fights were outsourced to some other company that had no involvement with any other point of the game, so there was a weird disconnect between the two… which is just absolutely baffling. Now, this was *slightly* rectified in the Director’s Cut version of the game, which we’ll talk about in a bit. But so far I’ll say, the fights were made *slightly* better. But not much.
In terms of presentation, Human Revolution is pretty stellar. The graphics may not be the best in the world, but the game has an undeniably unique style. From the unique takes on digital technology to the grimy areas you explore that feel very lived-in compared to so many other games, to the very angular clothing that characters wear, it all looks really unique and makes up for any slightly weaker aspects of graphics and animation. And the music, good god, the music is spectacular. A lot of electronic sounds, befitting of a futuristic cyberpunk sci-fi, but also a fair bit of regular orchestrations and chorals. Mix it all together, and you get Michael McCann’s unique and absolutely mesmerizing score for the game. And the voice acting in the game is top-notch. From the ever gravelly Elias Toufexis as our leading man Jensen to Andreas Apergis as the somewhat dickish tech support Frank Pritchard to Stephen Shellen as the dubious father figure David Sarif, the entire cast is absolutely top-notch.
I told you we’d get around to the Director’s Cut stuff too, didn’t I? Now, let’s start with the bit I sort of pulled a cliffhanger on, which are the boss fights. They’re not very good in the regular version of the game, you have to hope you have enough grenades and/or shotgun shells to make it out alive. Now, while the Director’s Cut doesn’t entirely fix the boss fights so you can chat them to death, they do add options so non-combat players can feel a bit more involved. They open up boss areas a bit more, allowing players to find other things to use in their favour, such as vents, turrets, and more neat things that I won’t spoil here. Again, it doesn’t make the fights good, but it certainly makes them a bit more manageable when you know you got *a few* more options to play with.
The next part of the Director’s Cut discussion I want to chat about is DLC. In the original game, the DLC was like a standalone thing that you had to access separately. In the Director’s Cut, it is integrated into the game. It’s called The Missing Link and is set between a few of the late game chapters. It’s fun to finally have gotten to experience it as it was intended, even if it felt like a bit of a pace breaker. Still, can’t complain about having more Human Revolution to mess around with.
Despite some of its flaws, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has become one of those games I keep coming back to every now and then. It’s a special gem that is an absolute blast to experience. Its gameplay is deep, its plot engaging, its characters memorable, and its presentation in a league of its own. I absolutely adore it and will probably keep playing it for years to come, and loving every (non-boss) minute.