Deus Ex: Human Revolution review
Hacking is immediately smarter and more involved than in any previous Deus Ex game, and it plugs cleverly into the aug system: it’s genuinely tough to decide whether you’d rather extend your time limit, or reduce the risk that the system will detect your intrusion in the first place.
In general, too, decisions about how to upgrade yourself are agonising. It’s like picking a superpower – each one of the 60-odd options seems like it would solve all of life’s problems. Cyber lungs? That could revolutionise my balloon animal career! X-ray vision? I’d never eat an orange Revel again! One even helps with the new conversation system, scanning brains and releasing pheromones to help make you more persuasive.
With or without augs, dialogue in Human Revolution is a game. You’re trying to talk everyone from thugs to world leaders into revealing a conspiracy they’re all complicit in, and there’s a knack to that.
This is conversational combat, where you choose between three possible responses at every stage, depending on which you think will be most persuasive to them. It’s not about light side/dark side: you have to pay careful attention to exactly what you’ll say, and whether your argument really makes sense. It’s absolutely possible to lose, forcing you to find a different route to your objective and permanently depriving you of useful information.
Those stakes, and the heart rate spike they trigger, make these feel like the real boss fights. When you face the final villain, your options aren’t which glowing weak spot to shoot – they’re ‘Appeal’, ‘Critique’, and ‘Extrapolate’.
The full story is vast and complex, crammed into every corner of Human Revolution’s world. Every apartment you break into, every secret room you find, every rooftop you clamber across has little scraps of personality and history to read and interpret. It’s a story-junky’s blissful overdose.
There’s a piece of information to be found in the first room of the game that isn’t explicitly revealed to you until the end of the game 27 hours later. And more than a few times, one word in an email will trigger a headtingling revelation about the hundreds of subtle ways Human Revolution sets the stage for the original Deus Ex.
Human Revolution’s world is also one that reacts to you. There are a few times when critical characters can’t be killed, but I was more often surprised when they could: when an experimental keypress caused me to put my fist-chisels through my ex-girlfriend’s mother, for example. Conversely, the seemingly inevitable death of at least one major character can be averted, and some decisions made in the middle of the game don’t play out until the end.
The places your missions take you are gorgeous. You start in Detroit, a dim vision of an industrial city collapsed and revived one too many times. Later, the Chinese metropolis of Heng Sha is genuinely like visiting a new country. It’s a hazy mess of neon, a half-vertical city with no distinction between rooftops and streets – large, bewildering and excitingly foreign.
The game could do with one more city hub to flesh out its vision of the future – we glimpse the dazzling utopia of Heng Sha's upper layer through windows, and the dense skyline of Montreal from a helipad, but never quite get immersed in either. What we do see is uniquely beautiful, though: each art style bold, clean, and distinctive enough to be worthy of Mirror’s Edge.
It’s ridiculous that a game which captures so much of the original Deus Ex’s genius has also managed to combine it with an exquisite art style, elegant polish, and such an easy cinematic cool.
Is it as good as Deus Ex? Not quite – that slight shift away from improvisation and wide open spaces stops it just short. But it is absolutely the Deus Ex of our age, a genuinely worthy prequel, and a game that puts almost everything else in the genre to shame.
It’s also a game built with a respect for its players. At every stage, Eidos Montreal have asked “What if the player wants to do this?” And instead of answering with “Put an invisible wall there to make sure they can’t,” they’ve kept working on it until you can. They’ve kept working on it until you’re rewarded for original thinking, instead of slapped in the face and shoved back on the tracks.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been waiting a hell of a long time for a game like that. I’ve been humping low walls, shooting NPCs and trying to smash down locked doors for eleven years, and every game has broken, buckled or refused to react until now.
The reason nothing has replaced Deus Ex might not be that no one understands it. It just wasn’t a huge commercial hit, so how can anyone justify such a big investment in something so open-ended?
Eidos Montreal’s spit, polish and fist-chisel punches have found a way, and I hope we won’t let it be the last time for another decade. I’d love to see Human Revolution show that smart can sell, and that gamers love freedom more than they love firing assault rifles at the Middle-East.
A dark, cool and beautiful revival of an incredible game. smart, substantial, funny, creative, and endlessly entertaining.