Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stealth-based first & third-person action/RPG, set in a futuristic setting where conspiracy is law, and enchanting your abilities through limb augments is as common as the regular cold. It’s made by Eidos Montréal, and it’s a prequel to the legendary PC game Deus Ex. While it does feel more serious compared to the original, the tone and thematic setting remain the same. This review will be based on the initial PC release, and not the sham and semi-abomination that is the later released Director’s Cut.
You play as Adam Jensen, a former SWAT member, but now head of security for Sarif Industries. During preparations for an important announcement regarding biotech and the future of augmentation that will propel humanity into the next step of self-controlled evolution, the company is attacked by an unknown mercenary group. The terrorists destroy everything, and everyone involved in this project including your girlfriend who is one of the top scientists in this endeavor. Adam himself is seriously wounded and requires extensive augmentation to survive which ends up making him a perfect infiltration and combat unit, on top of his already extensive knowledge regarding these matters. From here on, you set out to find out who the killers are, and why Sarif Industries was attacked – which in true Deux Ex manner leads you deep into the rabbit hole of conspiracies and shady organizations.
As with many prequels where the story is already known, there can’t be too many surprises. But as it is with Deus Ex, the past is fairly unknown. In the case of this game, it leads to a very interesting narrative, because of the loose reins permitted. It’s impossible to know what will happen and how it will play out going in blind, you only know the final destination thanks to the original game. It’s only a taste of what is to come, though, since it’s a pretty self-contained story after all. However, if you have played the original game beforehand there is still a lot to take from this title. One example of this is Bob Page. A situation of “best of both worlds”, I would say.
While I do consider the game an RPG, the main protagonist is already set in stone, so he will never be fully yours, going by mannerisms and huge chunks of the game dialogue. But going by gameplay, it’s very free-form – will you be the stealthy guy that values human life regardless of affiliation? Or will you play the renegade that doesn’t care who he has to kill to get the job done? Or maybe something in between? What is good here is that the character is written in a way that he could come off as either, and the dialogue that actually lets you pick what to say cements the way you want to play. It’s a nice balance, and overall, I enjoyed the main character and the story at large. It starts off great and keeps it up throughout the whole game. At random intervals, it will throw new character at you to keep a tab off, but it never feels overwhelming or dull, since all of the characters you interact with has great personality, and are in general well-written. While most hold secrets, you can usually point out what kind of agenda they push just by paying attention, and with a little help of skulking in the dark of course, like reading private e-mails, and such. In other words, there was serious attention to making the world, and its characters come alive in the setting, either through direct confrontation or from finding hidden information.
The gameplay is excellent as well and fits the story, however, I highly recommend playing on the hardest setting, even for someone new to the game. It makes the world so much more dangerous, and amplifies stealth, making every enemy an opponent not to be underestimated. Even with fully upgraded armor, one shotgun blast to the face will end you. It happened to me, several times in fact. You can say it put a bit of hesitation to go full Rambo, and made me appreciate the life of a lurker of the ambushing kind. Between missions, you have big hub areas to explore, and one of the best parts of the game is just the focus on exploration. There are so many nooks and crannies to uncover, not just for loot and info, it’s for finding alternative paths to your objectives as well. But to fully enjoy this aspect, you must enjoy sneaking. Personally, I find it extremely satisfying to eavesdrop on unsuspecting enemies, watching them spill their hearts out from the safety of an air duct. The creeping is a lifestyle, and in Deus Ex: HR, it’s fully explored, and above all rewarding. Both from a combat perspective, if you now decide to punish your enemies, and going full “ghost”, aka, finishing the mission without ever being seen, nor shooting/knocking people out.
With Adam being half-machine thanks to the incident at the beginning of the game, you now have a lot of enhancements normal mortals can only dream about. Everything from superior strength, to cloaking technology. However, to unlock these, and upgrade them, you need praxis kits. These can be bought, found, given as a reward or earned through leveling up. It gives a great incentive to go out of your way to do sidequests, and explore, because the upgrades are more than just a percentage increase, like in many other games. Instead of upgrading your strength so it does ten percent more damage, you gain completely new skills instead, like being able to break through walls for example. Most of the stuff is useful and adds to the gameplay, some more than others, like the wall-breaking as mentioned, since it opens up new paths, literally.
The shooting is also pretty satisfying. You can stick to walls to get a third-person view to be able to peek around corners, however, going by the FPS mechanics by itself, it’s surprisingly good. It’s a viable way to play the game, because the controls are tight, especially if you boost your submachinegun with a laser sight. The snappy aiming and high rate of damage make the combat flow and feel exciting when the underhanded ways isn’t working out. It reminds me a bit of Splinter Cell: Blacklist, which is another game focused on stealth, but that also got the combat right and deadly.
The visuals are great. I acknowledge it comes with some controversy, regarding the yellow/”piss” filter, but I think it fits the setting and adds a nice dreamlike shine to the experience. It also symbolizes the renaissance theme of the game, the ushering of a new golden age for mankind. Beyond that, the graphics look good, but what makes it all stand out is the competent futuristic design of… basically everything. There is a true visual splendor to Deus Ex: HR when it comes to the more extreme locations you will be visiting. I think the commonplace areas look interesting too. The mundane still looks mundane in this future setting, but it’s often interwoven with technology common to this world – to add a little strangeness and optical flair to it all. The all-embracing sleek design, in combination with the square-like stylistic form of clothing, makes for a really compelling visual style, and it never seems out of place and remains consistent throughout the whole game. It’s impressive work and highly adds to the experience. Now, graphics aren’t everything, but in the case here, it hangs more on the well-design style beyond the technical aspect of it. A truly good visual style lasts forever, while good graphics alone fade away eventually.
Other standouts, besides the superb looks of the game, are the music and voice acting. Adam Jensen sounds great and got a unique voice. He sounds a bit “sleepy”, much like a noir detective at times, and I think it fits the character as a glove, and to me, his voice is forever anchored to this character. It always feels weird to me to hear him in something else, much like hearing the voice actor of Solid Snake in other games. The other characters do a great job as well, and some that I think to stand out are David Sarif and Tong. Especially Tong with his matter-of-fact speech, often putting you, aka Jensen in his place. Another aspect that elevates the game is the fantastic music. It got a “glorious”/religious theme to it. Painful wailing combined with modern synthesized instruments, and it plays like honey for the ears. It truly hits the theme home that you are part of something grander, standing at the threshold of a pivotal moment for mankind – and you are there to witness it all happen!
I highly recommend Deus Ex: Human Revolution to anyone that likes a good story with excellent free-form gameplay. The hubs are an enjoy to explore, and well put together, and I still find secrets and new ways to enjoy this game after three full playthroughs. Now, this game, or well, playing the game comes with some issues if you don’t already own it. In their infallible wisdom, they decided to stop selling the original release, so now the only way to buy and play the game on PC is to buy the Director’s Cut. But, as I said earlier, this version is inferior. It looks worse, runs worse, and this is mostly because for some reason they based this version on old code. They also removed the yellow filter, removing a large part of the thematic storytelling from the game. You can still find sites that sell codes for the original release digitally, or you can try to find a sealed PC copy, but it’s a hassle for something that should be easy. I only mentioned this as a warning and as a disappointment in the publisher. Anyway, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great game, and one of my favorites when it comes to AAA gaming. So it’s a big shame the sequel Mankind Divided couldn’t live up to this game, but that is for another time.
Thanks for reading.