Deus Ex: Human Revolution review

Tom Francis at

Like Deus Ex, Human Revolution is still a linear series of levels. But also like Deus Ex, the levels themselves feel like places. When there’s a facility to infiltrate, it feels like a real building, with multiple floors and wings to explore in whatever order you like.

There are two differences, one positive and one negative. The positive one is the city hubs: both games have large, open urban areas you return to after several missions. Human Revolution’s are bigger, more complex and far, far richer with things to do and secrets to find. They do have in-game advertising, but I can't say it bothered me in context.

The negative one is more subtle. Quite a few missions in Deus Ex, including the famous first level on Liberty Island, let you explore the grounds of the mission location before entering the main building. Only a couple allow this in Human Revolution, so it doesn’t always have that same dizzying level of freedom the original did.

There are two other areas where Human Revolution doesn’t entirely pull off what the original achieved. Firstly, the direct approach is a little too effective. While there are bots and turrets to hack, gas barrels to blow open, and photocopiers to throw at people, subversion and improvisation are rarely the best way out of a situation. Shooting someone in the head with a silenced pistol is more consistently viable here, and that can undermine the pleasure of coming up with a brilliantly convoluted solution.

'He's behind me isn't he?'

The last problem only comes up four times in the whole game, but it’s an odd one. There are boss fights. They are terrible. And they cannot be avoided. The game is so conflicted about this that there’s even a Steam achievement for completing it without killing anyone, which apologetically adds that boss fights don’t count.

Yes they do, guys. Not for the achievement, maybe, but if you want to play stealthily, evasively, or cleverly, there are four times in the game when you just can’t. It’s completely incongruous with the rest of the game.

That’s it: those are the only three things that really bothered me. If all Human Revolution did was capture that much of Deus Ex’s genius, with so few flaws, it’d be incredible. But we’re only just getting started. It adds masses more to what Deus Ex started, polishing its roughest edges and adding new ones that fit with them beautifully.

The cover system immediately improves the two main things you spend your time doing: hiding and shooting. Deus Ex made stealth viable by making your enemies hilariously short-sighted. Human Revolution makes it viable by pulling out to third-person every time you hold the cover key to hug a wall. It shows you exactly which directions you’re hidden from, and lets you see out from your hiding spot without exposing yourself. It’s not realistic, but it means stealth works all the way through a game where enemies are sharp, aggressive, and can kill you in a second.

This is not how human pyramids work, Jensen.

Combat then becomes a tough but polished cover shooter. You can blind-fire or peer out for an accurate shot, and enemies intelligently find their own hiding spots and do the same. Almost every weapon feels punchy and satisfying – particularly the spectacular knockback of the nonlethal PEPS gun – and there’s a lot to choose from for any play style.

Until I knew enough about the plot to know who deserved to die, I stuck to non-lethal weapons. This became a problem when a key conspirator sent a dozen armed guards at me in a dead end. Bullshit, I thought – there’s no non-lethal way out of this. All I really had was a puny close-range taser and a lot of grenades.

Hmm.

I was killed, brutally, but on my next attempt I had an idea. The moment the guards flooded in, I threw a concussion grenade at the left hand side of the group. Concussion grenades do almost no damage, but send people flying. Everyone on the left was flung into everyone on the right, piling them all up in a small area. Which is when I threw a riot gas grenade into the centre of the clump. No one got up.

Augmentations make both combat and stealth more interesting. And cleverly, most of the stealth augs do it with pure information. With the right upgrades, you can see the fields of vision of everyone nearby on your minimap, the radius of every suspicious sound made, and the positions of all nearby enemies, bots and security terminals.

I honestly had more fun with a pure stealth approach in Human Revolution than with the entirety of Splinter Cell: Conviction. It’s heart-skippingly tense, deliciously high-tech and slick to control.

'We now regret not bringing weapons!'

Combat augs cater to a lot of different styles, but melee is where it gets fun. Any time you’re close to an enemy and have at least one cell of energy – your aug-fuel – you can kill or knock them out with the press of a button. In third-person, Jensen does swift, forceful, terrible things to people with his robot fists – or his robot fistchisels, if you’ve held the button down for an execution.

I’d imagined these moments of cinematic pain-porn as a necessary evil to make a smart game sell in today’s mainstream market. I’m not sure what it means about me, but I ended up finding them the most enduringly satisfying and hilarious interaction in the entire game. I was still watching them with a contorted mix of horror and delight right to the end. The moves are so jaw-hangingly violent that the switch to an external perspective doesn’t jar: you’re actually glad of the distance.

There’s even an augmentation that lets you take down two enemies at once, which makes planning an attack a fascinating logic game: “If I stand here when I headshot that guy, I can take both his friends in melee, then run to his body and drag it through the door before the camera looks back.”

When that takedown involves physically picking one guard up and throwing him on top of the other to skewer them both at the same time... I’m not proud of it, but this is might be my entire concept of fun.

Page 2 of 3. Next:Globe-trotting and word-fighting.