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Feature Review: Deus Ex Human Revolution

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So it’s been about a week and a half since Deus Ex hit the shelves and I would like to say I waited this long before reviewing it to give you guys time, so I wouldn’t be ruining anything. The truth is, I only finished it at 3am last night (due to social/fiscal responsibilities) and so I’m typing this out a little over-tired and a little under-motivated. But at least one thing makes writing this review easy: the game was pretty damn good.

I’ll tell you straight up: I never played the original Deus Ex or Invisible War so I walked into this with a batch of half-cooked expectations and a mind-full of all the glorious sequences in the cinematic trailer. What I found was, understandably, not what I was expecting.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution plays like the lovechild between Crysis 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction. Except the storyline is more on par with semi-RPG shooters like Mass Effect 2. Gun-totting killing sequences transition with heavy stealth areas and then there is a break in between, where you get dropped into a (fairly) well developed city area and the game basically says “do what you like”.

I guess I should start from the beginning. Straight off the bat I could tell that Deus Ex inherited a lot more from games like Doom and Half-Life 2 than from more modern FPS titles. Don’t buy this expecting to grind through waves of enemies, you are much more likely to steal your way past three and then stab one with your sword-arms (you heard me. Sword-arms.) before retreating into a vent and hiding the body.

And when you do find yourself in battle a few things are instantly noticeable. Firstly, oh fuck he did as much damage to me when he shot me as I did when I shot him (sometimes he even does more :S). Secondly, oh fuck I thought I would have more ammo than this? Surely those guys had more than 6 bullets left in their clip when they were unloading into that pillar beside me?

This isn’t Halo. You get shot, a lot of the time you die. And ammo isn’t neatly stacked around every corner, most of the time you have to work for it. And that means juggling around weapons a lot more than you would prefer, not just carrying a sniper rifle because you might find ammo for it. Personally I found I kept maybe two weapons as constants in my inventory (pistol, rifle) for the early game, and the rest I picked up based on ammo. Later on I managed to up this to 4 (pistol, rifle, revolver, shotgun), but the juggle element was still a big aspect.

But the bit that really surprised me? I loved it!

For a game where you are a “super-soldier” (like Crysis 2) I usually expect to march in and steamroll 5 guys in .5 of a second. In this game, I walked around a corner in the first level and two soldiers managed to kill me before I got down either of them. Granted, I hadn’t fully understood the cover dynamic yet, but a surprise nonetheless. And yet, severely limited by ammunition, health and an energy system which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence (why don’t my batteries recharge past one unit /sadface), I found myself inspired to do things I wouldn’t have thought of.

I embraced the Deus Ex legacy I had read about from the original title, I tried my utmost to think outside the box and I could literally feel the game rewarding me for it.

But it’s not all good news. The story can be a bit formulaic, the characters a little unbelievable in places (I’m looking at you Letitia) and the cinematics are for the most part god awful. There are some repeated environments, expect a lot of labs inside buildings, and the loading screens would put Dragon Age II to shame so I would install the game if you are playing on a console.

But these really are small niggling details when you look at the diversity of gameplay this game can offer. Imagine Mass Effect 2 if it was freeroam and your talent trees actually did things (did things more? I dunno, they never impressed me).

I’m running out of space so I’ll try and cover some of the great aspects concisely to let you know if (or how) they worked.

Multiple play-style level paths: We’ve all heard Deus Ex is the multi-path, choose your game experience title of the year. And well, that seems like a half truth to me. Yes, there are bits where stealth and run-and-gun are equally effective. And there are far more places where stealth is superior. Yes there are places where exploration yields bonuses and even ways around groups of enemies. But far more often exploring just lead to more places where you could stealth (stealth easier maybe?). Basically, if you hated Splinter Cell I wouldn’t buy this game. You will have flashbacks.

Augmentations: This was head and shoulders one of the best talent systems I have ever come across. They are dynamic, diverse and you almost always feel the difference when you spend a point. After the first few I found myself analysing every talent for 10 minutes before choosing one – every single time I got a new point. In short, they made the game for me. But as for the lack of  respect (repick) option? You will get to choose around 70% of the talents before the game (maybe 60% on a quick play through) so I wouldn’t get too fussy.

Hacking: If you thought Mass Effect 2’s hacking minigames were good, they are children’s toys compared to what Deus Ex offers. Seriously this is a deceptively deep, simple game which is fast paced and can be extremely difficult at the high end. It basically involves capturing nodes and defending systems, trying to get additional bonuses or just the quickest path to the information you need before the system locks you out. In short, it got to the point where I was hacking anything I could find just to play the minigame. And since they all give experience, that’s not too bad an idea.

Conversations: Have you played L.A. Noire? If so you will recognise their “response trinity” of conversation options. A character will talk to Jensen (sometimes for a couple of minutes) before you are given three lines of dialogue with disclosers like “Absolve, Ruthless, Empathetic” and you have to pick the right ones for the character you are talking to. Personally I never failed a conversation, my trick was to follow up points with similar ideas, instead of taking it on a wild tangent. Apparently when you make sense, the characters dig it.

The Weapons: There are somewhere around 14-16 weapons in Deus Ex (depending on version) and they are as effective as they are varied. From things as handy as a laser rifle which shoots through walls, to things as simple as a revolver or a frag mine. They aren’t obvious though, so exploration is your friend if you want to be using anything more sophisticated than a rifle or a pistol in the first half of the game (only exaggerating slightly :S).

Conclusion? This game isn’t perfect. But it’s probably about as close as anyone is going to get this year, and maybe for a few years to come. It’s not for everyone (listen to me FPS fans) and there are parts which could be improved – but it’s smart, innovative and very enjoyable. I’ll be starting a second play through tonight, and so far this is my nominee for game of the year.

Also I hate robots now. Especially robots who look like T3-M4

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