Platform: Xbox 360
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a long awaited new instalment in the popular sci-fi franchise created by Ion Storm that first launched on PC in 2000 but has been dormant now for nearly eight years. Championed at the time for being a thinking man’s adventure game that provided branching narrative paths and multiple solutions to the in-game puzzles, these features remain far from commonplace and are highly desirable in a modern day video game.
While the weight of expectation is high, first time developer Eidos Montreal handles the pressure with aplomb and does the Deus Ex brand justice by delivering a game with all the modern trimmings but still feels true to its roots.
Players take the role of Adam Jensen, a security cheif for a genetics engineering firm Sarif which makes a major breakthrough in the year 2027 with technology that fuses humans with cybernetic enhancements that are referred to as ‘augmentations.’ This technology becomes a controversial moral quandry which results in rioting on the streets from naturalists who believe it to be a crime against nature and draws the attention of rival firms and governments who are interested in the military ramifications of augmentation.
Without spoiling too much of what unfolds, Jensen is tasked with finding out who is behind an assault on the Sarif lab which nearly results in his death and leads to the capture of several scientists including the brilliant Megan Reed, pioneer of this new technology and Jensen’s former squeeze. There is an ever-present feeling of paranoia and conspiracy surrounding the events. There are signs of covert government intervention, shading dealings with offshore companies and even your own boss doesn’t appear to be telling the whole story. Who can you trust? Who should you side with? In Human Revolution, many of those choices are left up to you.
Eidos Montreal absolutely nail the look and feel of Human Revolution. The near-future cityscapes look intriguing, consistent and credible. The environments are fully explorable sandbox environments that forgo size for depth and detail. The citiess are nowhere near the size of the typical enviroments in a Rockstar game but they are more densely packed with content and hidden paths that both invite and reward exploration. Played mostly from a first person perspective, the game has a very distinctive visual style that serves both an aesthetic purpose as well as a practical function for navigating the environment. It’s impossible to get lost and it is always easy to understand where the next objective is.
The story unfolds at a methodical pace and I don’t mean that as a euphemism for slow. Human Revolution gradually hooks you into the main narrative with new developments and plot twists whilst offering timely additions of sidequests that I believe most players will be compelled to finish. The game never rushes but it doesn’t bore either. This is a thirty hour game that manages to avoid feeling bloated or padded out with unnecessary content.
Crucially, the concept of being able to progress though the game using a variety of strategies is delivered upon and is what elevates the game to greatness. The key to making this work is a design brief that establishes a clear goal – e.g. how do I access the central hub of a heavily guarded warehouse? – and allows the player to choose which abilities they wish to hone when granted precious ‘praxis points’ to develop their augmentation abilities which influences their approach.
Depending on how a player has enhanced their own iteration of Adam Jensen, he may well silently leap through the environment with an invisible cloaking device, physically dominate his opponents by punching through walls to strangle unsuspecting goons or sneak through a ventilation shaft and hack the security feed so that the cameras and patrolling droids are neutralized. These are all viable solutions and thoroughly enjoyable endeavours. I love the design choice to have a single experience meter that accumulates points for doing just about anything – sneaking past a guard, discovering a hidden room, hacking a computer etc. All of these actions give the gamer positive feedback in the form of additional XP and encourages them to mess around and explore the world even further.
A small gripe is that this same flexibility in methodology is not afforded to the game’s three bosses. They must all be defeated with brute force and are bullet-sponges that require several hundred rounds of ammo to topple. Apparently these segments of the game were outsourced to a different developer and it really shows. A rare blemish on a game that is otherwise consistent in its experience and design philosophy.
Deus Ex Human Revolution offers an interesting array of viewpoints regarding transhumanism. The game never really forces your hand to completely side with one belief or another until the very end and I felt Eidos Montreal did a pretty solid job of not simplifying the options. Studios such as Bioware and Irrational Games could take some notes for future versions of Mass Effect and Bioshock – not everything has to boil down to simple good versus evil propositions.
When Deus Ex first appeared in trailer form some eighteen months ago, it offered plenty of promise but carried the uncertainty of a newly formed developer that didn’t have a single game to its credit. Happily, that promise has now been delivered upon. Deus Ex Human Revolutions is the first of many high profile titles that are due for release between now and the end of 2011 but as it stands, I believe it currently carries the mantle of being the best new game of 2011.