Review: “Deus Ex: Human Revolution”

Deus Ex Human Revolution "Arm Blades"

Deus Ex Human Rev­o­lu­tion “Arm Blades”

In My last Deus Ex post, I talked quite a bit about the play­er char­ac­ter in the game, but I don’t feel that I gave it the full review treat­ment.  I’ve played through the game sev­er­al times on the PC but I’ve refrained from pur­chas­ing the DLC, so this review cov­ers only the game as released on the PC plat­form.

A good place to start with this game is that the visu­als are stun­ning in many places.  The art direc­tion is top notch.  If you stand back  and look at many parts of the game, you will notice a “yel­low” hue to things.  I recall an inter­view with the art direc­tor dis­cussing this and he said that while you can strive to achieve a pho­to real­is­tic look in your game, his approach in this game is high­ly styl­ized.  It’s as if the light in all these spaces has a yel­low tinge to it and it gives the game a very spe­cif­ic look and feel.

Sev­er­al times dur­ing even my first playthough, I had to stop and take advan­tage of the Steam “snap­shot” fea­ture as the visu­als struck me as both beau­ti­ful and mem­o­rable.  Gen­er­al­ly this was in an ele­va­tor (many of which are open with win­dows) or dur­ing a cut scene.  The pic­ture above is not mine (from at trail­er, IIRC), but the art direc­tion is very clear and every­thing from the art in the office to the way Adam walks fits per­fect­ly.

Deus Ex Human Revolution CityScape

Deus Ex Human Rev­o­lu­tion CityScape

An excel­lent exam­ple of an image I cap­tured: a vista from an ele­va­tor in the mid­dle of the game is to the left here.  While not strict­ly nec­es­sary for the game­play, note here the cyber­punk cityscape cre­at­ed sole­ly for the few min­utes of enjoy­ment for the play­er as they ascend in an ele­va­tor.

While these vis­tas and set pieces stand out (as do the small sec­tions of the cities you get to vis­it), it’s worth also not­ing that you’ll spend the major­i­ty of your time in quite bland-and-samey cor­po­rate hall­ways and/or duct­work.   To some extent, I’m not entire­ly sure how to solve that, but the per­son who does will prob­a­bly be noticed.

The very first game of my “mod­ern era” (I was away from video games for quite a few years) was Obliv­ion.  I think, in some ways, it spoiled me.  In truth, I haven’t fin­ished the main sto­ry yet because there are just so many inter­est­ing things to do in Cyrodill.  Or I have prob­lems fin­ish­ing things.  Either way, the ful­ly open world of Obliv­ion spoiled me.

For a game so appar­ent­ly about “choice” as Deus Ex, I was hop­ing for a more open-world expe­ri­ence.  To make my expec­ta­tions more real­is­tic, I played the first Deus Ex game in the weeks lead­ing up to the new game’s release.  At some point, I may have some­thing to say about that game, but it also per­forms a more fair com­par­i­son base­line for the cur­rent game than does Obliv­ion.  It’s also only a few days to Skyrim’s release, so I also need to get this review out before I become absorbed in that.

There is choice in Deus Ex, but it’s mul­ti­ple paths through a mis­sion map or mul­ti­ple orders to per­form side quests in a small city hub.  There is a “choice” at the end … a push one-of-four-but­tons (lit­er­al­ly) choice that ends up direct­ing the end­ing cutscene, but gen­er­al­ly the choic­es have lit­tle effect.  Your choice to kill or inca­pac­i­tate in the first mis­sion will dri­ve some dia­logue and your over­all abil­i­ty to com­plete the game with­out killing (which is a bit bugged) earns you an achieve­ment, but gen­er­al­ly you are com­plet­ing the same plot points in rel­a­tive­ly the same order for the same effect.

For some rea­son, in my first play-though of games, I tend to be over­cau­tious.  I know that there are ways of com­ing back from death — while the dif­fer by game, death is not gen­er­al­ly final in games — I still feel very attached to my char­ac­ter and (in role play­ing) I gen­er­al­ly think that my char­ac­ter would not live as if he could reload the last save file.  In terms of Deus Ex, that drove me to (gen­er­al­ly) take the stealthy approach pick­ing off (and hid­ing the bod­ies of) ene­mies one-by-one.  There’s a line in anoth­er game (Drag­on Age, maybe?) that comes on a cut screen: “Remem­ber to out-flank your ene­my; his­to­ry will not remem­ber how epic your all out (but failed) frontal assault was.”

So… you can approach the lev­els in a stealthy way, you can use aug­men­ta­tions to get around the lev­els in dif­fer­ent ways and you can kill or be nice.  That about sums it up.  That was pret­ty much true of the first game, too.  Here it can even be a bit trite.  I count­ed two places where the abil­i­ty (say) to drop any dis­tance opened up a tru­ly orig­i­nal route through the lev­el.  Sim­i­lar­ly, there are sev­er­al places were the abil­i­ty to walk through elec­tri­fied water opened up an option.  For each abil­i­ty there are con­trived places where they are very use­ful … some­what jus­ti­fy­ing their exis­tence.

But the prob­lem with an RPG (Role Play­ing Game) in this instance is that you often don’t know when you’re going to encounter (and how often) one of these oppor­tu­ni­ties.  This left me often not spend­ing my “point” of upgrade until I found an oppor­tu­ni­ty that required it.  Being a bit of a com­ple­tion­ist, too, this often left me unsat­is­fied.

This also wouldn’t be a Deus Ex: Human Rev­o­lu­tion review if we didn’t dis­cuss the boss fights.  They were very dis­ap­point­ing.  If your char­ac­ter is not com­bat skilled, the first boss fight can be very chal­leng­ing — to the point of frus­tra­tion.  I walked away from the game sev­er­al times due to that first boss fight.  Regard­less of your character’s choic­es, a major flaw in the game is that you must kill these four peo­ple.  I won’t dis­cuss strat­e­gy here.  Many resources on the inner-tubes can help you.  The best sum­ma­tion of this point is that boss fights are best when they are a sort-of mini-exam on what the game has taught you so far.  Appar­ent­ly, the devel­op­ers “out­sourced” the boss bat­tles due to con­straints of their process… and appar­ent­ly they’ve lis­tened to this often giv­en com­plaint, and so “appar­ent­ly” this is addressed in the DLC (for which I’m going to wait for a Steam sale — I want to play it, but I don’t feel that desire strong­ly enough to pay full price).

To quick­ly cov­er the things that are right with the game, I can say that it’s a great game that is well worth the price of admis­sion.  The game­play is tight, the shoot­ing is well done, the minigames are bet­ter than aver­age and the sto­ry is com­pelling.  I found myself car­ing about the char­ac­ters and the sto­ry.  On my first playthough, I was not aware that I could save my pilot at one point.  The scene left me as gen­uine­ly sad as I’ve ever been from a video game.  On learn­ing that I could save the pilot, I imme­di­ate­ly reloaded a game there to do so.  As I said above: the deci­sion doesn’t mat­ter to the game, but it def­i­nite­ly mat­tered to me.

I don’t con­sid­er the game as one that I’ll be revis­it­ing too ter­ri­bly often.  It can bear one or two play-throughs, but there are only so many per­mu­ta­tions and com­bi­na­tions to be had here.  I high­ly rec­om­mend the game and I believe it to be one, like the orig­i­nal, that we will be com­par­ing our expe­ri­ences to for some time.

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