Deus Ex: Human Revolution by Square Enix review

It's here at last... the year's best stealth shooter RPG prequel
Photo of Deus Ex: Human Revolution by Square Enix
£49.99

Human Revolution is the third game in the Deus Ex franchise, but it’s actually a prequel to the original. It’s set in the year 2027, and explores the hopes and fears of humankind entering an age in which cybernetic prosthetics and brain implants are becoming a reality.

Titanium shoulders, knees and toes…
New hope is introduced for those who have lost limbs in accidents. A new pair of perfectly crafted titanium legs allow them to walk once more, and a new titanium hand ensures pickle jars will never again be a problem. On the downside, pub quiz cheats – who have stored the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in their brain implant – are much harder to spot.

More seriously, the mechanically augmented (or “augs” as they’re known) are feared as accidents waiting to happen when those chips malfunction – or even despised as abominations against the natural world.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The game’s protagonist – Adam Jensen, head of security at Sarif Industries – becomes an aug through no fault of his own when his body is mangled during an attack on the biotech firm’s research labs. Post-cybernetic enhancement, Jensen begins an investigation into the perpetrators, which leads to the revelation of government conspiracies and all sorts of intrigue that we won’t spoil for you here.

Suffice it to say that the plot is very smartly crafted, as is the entire world of Human Revolution. The starting location – the futuristic city of Detroit – looks suitably gritty and cyberpunk; a combination of high-tech monorail trains and plate-glassed cybernetic boutiques juxtaposed with dilapidated gangland turf populated by hobos clustered around fires burning in rusted oil drums.

All in the details
The game’s attention to detail is superb, with different news reports playing on the TV screens you walk past – even working newspaper vending machines from which you can purchase the latest rag to read up on the day’s events. Enter your home apartment, and the security system’s voice politely greets you as it automatically retracts the window shutters, revealing Detroit sprawling below.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

The game is hugely immersive in so many respects, with the dialogue also benefiting from painstaking care and attention. While dialogue trees are kept fairly simple, the script is of a high quality, and lines delivered complete with emotive facial expressions. You can read much from a character’s reactions – even more so if you install the social enhancer implant, which monitors and analyses personality traits. Moreover, it can also unleash bio-engineered pheromones to help influence discussions at crucial junctures.

The social enhancer is one of many cybernetic implants Adam can purchase using ‘praxis points’, which represent the character building RPG side of Deus Ex. Praxis points are gained via experience points and levels – although a limited supply can also be purchased as kits at cybernetic clinics for those with the wealth to speed up their advancement.

Have a hankering to carry more equipment in your inventory? Then you’ll be wanting a cyber-arm, which can also dampen weapon recoil, and give Adam the ability to pick up and chuck very heavy objects at his enemies. Need to breathe toxic fumes or shrug off gas grenades as if they’re nothing? Then sir might be tempted by a pair of cyber-lungs (which also let you smoke 60 a day with no ill effects…)

Read on for the full verdict.

More than human
Your choice of implants determines the way you work through Human Revolution to a fair extent. The aforementioned arms and lungs help the player who wants to take more of a bloody shooter-based route through the game. Stealth upgrades allow the sneakier player to better slip by his enemies, and hacking skills enlist technology as an ally when it comes to opening locked doors and turning off security cameras and turrets.

The reality of Deus Ex, however, is that it’s not meant to be tackled as an out-and-out shooter. Some measure of stealth is inevitably required, as your enemies nearly always outweigh your available ammunition. And the game isn’t about running and gunning, as the FPS action bases itself on a cover mechanic, with the protagonist having a realistically low tolerance for bullets.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Holding the Xbox controller’s left trigger causes Adam to hug a wall or other piece of cover, with the left stick being used to poke his head out in order to squeeze off a few rounds. It’s also possible to blind fire, and tap the A button to roll swiftly from one cover object to another. It’s an intuitive and excellent system that generates a genuine sense of being in an action movie, letting off a swift burst of fire before fluidly diving across a gap.

If there’s a weakness in the combat, it’s the occasional sketchy bit of enemy behaviour. The AI guards behave quite cautiously – and rightly so when ‘real’ bullets are flying – but their standoffish attitude can sometimes make them rather easy to slip away from. This is the exception rather than the rule, though, and they’re also capable of some advanced tactics, such as lobbing a flashbang before they advance on your position.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

One of Human Revolution’s many strong suits is its open-ended nature, which is pitched just right. There’s a good dollop of side tasks and optional missions, and numerous ways to complete objectives. If your hacking skill isn’t high enough to crack open a door, there’s always a security guard who can perhaps be persuaded, or an alternative route in (though unfortunately for you, it might be through a sewer).

That said, the game isn’t so open that you’re not sure where to go or what to do, as the environments are fairly compact, and objectives marked out with waypoints. The developer has struck a well-measured balance here.

Seamless and immersive
The whole Deus Ex experience is seamless due to the game’s lack of cut-scenes, which are kept to a minimum. When you report back to your boss at Sarif Industries, you land at the helipad, enter the Sarif skyscraper, walk through the office lined concourse – perhaps even engage in a side objective to search a suspected thieving co-worker’s desk – instead of just watching a cut-scene of the debriefing in his office.

Our sole quibble with Human Revolution is the time the game spends loading. Waits for saved game and level loads are lengthy across all formats, but particularly on the Xbox if you don’t install the game to the hard disk. Loading up a save can take 30 to 40 seconds in that case. The PS3 doesn’t have that problem, but only because it has a mandatory 3GB install.

Verdict
Is it art, or a computer game? Of course, it’s a computer game… but beautifully realised, and the best one we’ve played all year. Niggles in the loading time department don’t come close to spoiling a majestic and seamlessly orchestrated stealth-shooter with RPG elements.

Company: Square Enix

Website: http://deusex.com/

Positives
  • Depth of story and characterisation; seamless world with striking attention to detail.
Negative
  • Lengthy load times.