The original Deus Ex, released back in 2000, has something of a cult following (its less impressive sequel, “Invisible War” is rarely mentioned). Praised for its multiple solutions for every problem, a multitude of secrets across sprawling levels and engaging storyline, Deus Ex set a high standard for the latest chapter in the series. Released at the end of 2011 on Windows and consoles, Human Revolutions was well-received, with a Mac version following some 6 months later (and winning a coveted Apple Design Award in the process).
The setting is 2027 (actually making it a prequel to the original), with cybernetic enhancements starting to become a booming industry, if not quite morally agreeable. Protagonist Adam Jensen is the security officer for Sarif Industries, one of the leading players in the fledgling field. Before long, Jensen gets caught up in an attack on the facility. Barely alive, he is given surgery to save his life, implanting him with cybernetic augmentations in the process. Once recovered, he gets embroiled in a series of events and conspiracies that see him travel to a number of places across the globe.
At the heart of the game is an RPG. Taking control of Jensen, you’ll manage an inventory, earn experience point and level up to unlock new augmentations (through “praxis” points awarded through levelling and found in certain places). But more than that, it’s a game about choice, a notion which permeates every mechanic in the game. Frequently you’ll have to gain entry to secure locations, and there are always multiple ways of doing so. There’s the brute force approach, whereby you just butcher everyone in your path with an arsenal of weapons (although I suspect if that’s your preferred approach then you won’t find the game particularly satisfying). There are more stealthy options, observing and then exploiting guard patrol patterns to slip in unnoticed. And there are other options, looking for alternative routes over rooftops or through air ducts, hacking locks (the hacking minigames are particularly well done in this game) or in some cases, smooth-talking your way in. Each of these different approaches will net you an amount of experience points, and best of all, each of these different styles have a corresponding set of augments and items that will enhance them.
Most likely though, you’ll have to combine different approaches. On my first play-through, there were many points where I could see how to get into a specific area but did not have the requisite augments to allow me to do so. For example, a vending machine might block a gap in a fence, which I’d have been able to move if only I’d spent the praxis points required to unlock the strength augment to enable this. And so, as I was to accumulate praxis points, I developed a tendency to hold onto them until I was faced with an obstacle requiring an unlock, as opposed to spending them on more appealing augments. In this respect, I found I was making choices based on arbitrary things within the game environment, rather than being able to stick to a particular style.
Other things preclude you from truly making choices. It’s almost always worth going into an air duct for example. You see them everywhere, and going into them will always give you a superfluous experience boost and allow you into new areas with ease. Whilst you can opt for lethal kills of sentries, again there’s no benefit to doing so, as you’ll get less experience points than a non-lethal kill, with similar results (some higher-tier augments will make more of a difference, but even so). You’ll also use up “energy” for performing a “takedown” on an unsuspecting victim, and at the start of the game, you can only perform two such takedowns before needing to replenish the energy through “nutrients” (i.e. candy bars or other consumable items), which makes for an awkward added layer of inventory management.
At times, the game feels at odds with itself, unable to reconcile disparate gameplay elements to form a cohesive experience. Jensen himself for example is a company man through and through. Yet he’ll happily crawl around the air ducts at his workplace, breaking into his colleagues’ offices to steal their candy and read their email. Similarly, it’s utterly incongruous that someone so high-up in a company that manufactures cybernetic prosthetics is unable to have a steady supply of nutrients needed to power the ability to knock someone out, and so has to carry a stash of pep-bars with him when he goes trespassing.
But most unforgivable are the “boss” sequences. After hours of crawling around undetected, conserving tranquilliser darts and avoiding being seen, the game will throw you into a completely different game, and not let you back until you complete it. These segments feel like something out of Borderlands, where your only option is to just run and gun until the enemy is dead. It’s as if the developers decided that they more-or-less had the engine to power some Gears of War style action, and they had better use it. That’s all well and good, but after spending a significant time analysing the environment and contemplating options, it’s not much fun to then replay the same section over and over until you find the right places to stand and shoot at an enemy’s weak spot.
The different “hub” areas of the game (of which there are around a half-dozen) are detailed, sprawling multi-level things, and are a true joy to explore. Human Revolutions does an exceptional job of making the game feel alive with incidental narrative everywhere. Whilst making your way through an apartment block, you might eavesdrop on a couple having an argument, or more deliberately smash through a wall into the middle of a drug deal. At one point, I was actually overcome with the sensation that I was doing the impossible “oh wow, I’m actually sneaking around inside a military base!”
The game is big, in every sense of the word. There are many, many different rooms to find, each of which is littered with in-game “ebooks” that touch upon the transhumanist backstory and science, and the resulting ethical and socio-political themes. The size of the maps can sometimes present a problem, as there’s a great deal of tedious backtracking (there’s no “fast travel” option) and revisiting an area might mean making your way through a sewer that you’d forgotten about. The game will take many hours to complete, even if you avoid the side-missions (many of which are fairly weak, at least from a narrative point of view), but it’s all thoroughly enjoyable.
Human Revolutions is best described as a contemplative experience. Thinking about the best way to breach a fortified compound, thinking about how to respond to and influence characters, thinking about the divisive nature of this future technology, and getting absorbed in the sights, sounds and cultures of the game’s environments, are all things that the game encourages, making for an experience unlike any other.
Performance & Quality
The performance of the game is decent, even when compared to the Windows version. There are some occasional instances of frame drop, but these seem to occur regardless of the (well-stocked) graphics settings, and are not particularly game-breaking. There’s some texture tearing (most likely due to the lack of vertical sync option). The only real issue is that the cut-scenes (which are otherwise extremely well done) appear to have been rendered at a low resolution, and appear pixelated when running at 1920×1080 or higher. The audio is extremely good, providing much of the game’s atmosphere, and a cinematic soundtrack accompanying you throughout.
The controls work well for the most part, with the game seamlessly slipping between first-person and third-person perspectives. Controlling the third-person view can get a little awkward, with Jensen repeatedly opting to pop out from behind cover rather than inching along it if the camera is not correctly aligned. Previous issues with Logitech mice drivers seem to have been resolved, and there’s a “raw mouse input” option that can be disabled if you experience any problems.
Also note that it is not possible to load save games from the Windows version.
This “ultimate edition” includes “The Missing Link” DLC, which adds a new set of missions, and the “Explosive Mission” and “Tactical Enhancement” expansion packs, which add extra starting items.
Also included is a 44-minute “making-of” documentary, a 40-page book of design and concept art, motion comic, a soundtrack composed by Michael McCann and three trailers.