Deus Ex: Human Revolution review
Adam Jensen, the perfect cyborg, is wrestling with a vending machine. It’s not refusing to serve him orange drink, it’s refusing to fit through a door.
He is, as I play him, the worst chief of security in the world. He works for Sarif Industries, the company who make his robotic arms, and indeed the company who gave him his robotic arms after he failed to protect the company from a major assault and got himself shot in the head. Why this caused his arms to fall off is not yet clear.
Jensen finally gets the vending machine out onto the roof. He has a plan: “Maybe if I throw this vending machine off the roof...” The plan ends there.
He’s inside gang territory, trying to make it to a door at street level. He decides to use the surprising development of a vending machine falling out of the sky to distract the gangsters, so that he can drop down and get to the door without attracting attention. A sort of pepsi ex machina.
Jensen hurls the vending machine arbitrarily and tumbles off the building after it. His Icarus Landing System kicks in, floating him safely towards the street below in a dazzling ball of golden light. When the vending machine crashes to the ground, the armed gangsters nearby all look at it in surprise. Then they look at the dazzling ball of golden light floating down to land across the street, and they draw their guns.
Jensen gets up, looks at them for a moment, and dives for cover. As he draws his custom-modded silenced 10mm pistol, the nearest gangster walks over, looks down at him and says “Hey. Get lost.”
Jensen holsters his gun and walks sheepishly to the street-level door.
The Deus Ex games are first-person shooter RPGs that let you approach your objectives in a way that suits you: direct violence if you enjoy it, stealth if you don’t, and throwing heavy objects around if you like getting caught, beaten and shot. Despite a sequel in 2003, the first is still considered by me, this magazine, and a lot of our readers as the best game ever made.
Human Revolution is a prequel: a global conspiracy thriller set at a time when replacing your body parts with high-tech prosthetics is a violently controversial new trend. It is, I guess I should mention, the best game I’ve played in four years.
So I’ll talk about it in three parts: firstly, everything that Human Revolution recaptures about the original Deus Ex (quite a lot). Secondly, the few things it misses (not that much). And lastly, what it does better than the first game ever did (amazingly, loads).
The main thing Human Revolution gets right is giving you options: every mission gives you a labyrinth of ways to get to your objective. The man-sized air vent is a cliché, but honestly, it never stops being satisfying to bypass a locked door or a group of enemies.
The pleasure of that freedom is that it leaves major elements like pacing, challenge and variety up to the player. If stealth gets too hard, you can find an easier route. If you’re bored of vents, you can open fire. And if your ears are still ringing from the last gunfight, you can slip through the next area quietly.
And these are just the routes the developers have planned. The soul of Deus Ex is in its systems: simple sets of rules with no scripting, no exceptions, and no accounting for what the player might do with them. If you can pick up a box and stack it to reach an alternate route on the first level, you can stack every similar box in the game and reach anywhere physically possible.
Human Revolution has that exact system – though the more cluttered levels mean it takes a while to learn which objects you can move. It makes up for that by interlocking it with other systems in entertaining ways: the slick, surprisingly natural third-person cover system lets you hide behind any vertical surface, including the ones you’ve placed there yourself. The AI in friendly areas now has a flimsy concept of suspicious behaviour, and you can build a hilariously conspicuous cardboard-box secrecy fort around a security terminal to hide your criminal hack. Even turrets are now physical objects that can be picked up, moved and thrown.
I called mine Gunther. I was only able to get to his control console by shuffling past him behind a cardboard box. Cardboard doesn’t block a turret’s bullets, of course, but it does block vision. In a potentially fatal game of What’s the Time Mr Wolf, I’d shuffle the box a few feet closer to Gunther each time he swivelled away, and duck behind it when he looked back. Once I hacked into his controls over the shoulder of a sleeping guard, he was my friend for life.
I carried Gunther into his own control room to let him mow down the guy who should have been monitoring him. Then I sat him at the top of a ramp to pelt fire at a whole gang, while I snuck up behind them and extended the fist-chisel blades of my robot arms.
When a minigun guard destroyed Gunther a few fights later, it hurt. Because he exploded, and I was using him as cover at the time.
Page 1 of 3. Next:Where it falls short, and what it does better.