The original Deus Ex remains a beloved PC game, so the fact that sequel Invisible War was hobbled by console-based development became one of the real tragedies of gaming. The third entry, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, has been developed by an all-new team, which saw its publisher merged into Square Enix and then had its game delayed. Fans had little reason for hope.
But something amazing happened. Square Enix sent the press a 10-hour preview version of the game, and early reviews were glowing. The content leaked, and that caused even more gamers to take a second look at the game. Developers emphasized the PC version of the game and brought in an outside company to ensure that the game supported DirectX11 features and that mouse and keyboard controls worked perfectly. The press received the PC version as the official review version—a rarity in this business.
All the effort paid off. Not only is the game an amazing return to form for Deus Ex, but the PC version does nearly everything right.
The human augmentations being sold by Sarif Industries can save a life, or at least improve one dramatically. Soldiers can get mechanical replacements for limbs lost in war; neural enhancements can save people from degenerative diseases. You play as Adam Jensen, who knows enough about second chances. After being a part of a police action that went wrong, he’s now head of security for Sarif Industries, reporting to David Sarif himself. Still, Jensen isn’t sure about the technology he works to protect. If so much good can come from this work, why do so many of the augmentations have military applications?
Others share his misgivings about a future that might be more machine than human, but they have more violent ways of expressing their thoughts. During an attack on Sarif Industries, people he cares about are lost. Despite an impressive aptitude for both hand-to-hand fighting and firearms, Jensen is broken and left for dead. Sarif isn’t done with him, though, and has a brutal solution to his host of physical problems: keep Jensen alive by pouring every available augmentation into his body. When he wakes up, he’s something new—and vastly ahead of the curve. He also has a strong motivation to find the people who attacked his boss, his loved ones, and in a very real way took his life. Jensen begins to travel the world with Sarif’s support in order to put things right.
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
CPU: Intel Core i7 2600k processor, Hyperclocked
RAM: Patriot 8-GB 1600-Mhz PXD38G1600LLK Memory
Video: EVGA GTX 580 1536-MB 015-P3-1580-AR
Motherboard: Asus P8Z68-V Pro Motherboard
Storage: Patriot 2 x 120-GB Wildfire SATAIII SSD PW120GS25SSDR in RAID 0
Optical drive: LG UH12LS28 BDROM/DVDRW
Fans can take a deep breath: they will get what they want from a Deus Ex game in this release. The story is dense, complete with twists, interesting characters, and far-flung locations. Large hub sections allow you to talk with people, pick up side quests, and search for hidden surprises and goodies. You’ll gain experience for everything you do, from finding new locations to taking down enemies. The game has no traditional leveling system; it simply gives you a point to upgrade your augmentations when you reach 5,000 experience points, then takes your experience level back down to zero.
Depending on how you upgrade augmentations, you can be an armored tank, a stealthy assassin, or something in between. You’ll never be told how to complete a mission, you’ll merely be asked to accomplish a goal and then set loose on it. My personal advice: Beef up your hacking skill early, as it’s the easiest way to unlock many opportunities in the game’s opening sections. It doesn’t hurt that the real-time hacking mini-game is genuinely enjoyable and can provide some tense moments when you need to break into an area quickly.
The weapon system is likewise refreshing. You have limited slots in your inventory for weapons, items, and ammunition, and the only way to upgrade weapons is to install a series of kits that give you bigger clips, silencers, and laser sights. This makes juggling inventory space interesting: if you need to drop your assault rifle to make room for something else and then you move to the next area, that gun you’ve upgraded is gone. I loaded my handgun with upgrades and turned it into a silenced, laser-sighted killing machine. I kept it with me throughout the entire game, and it began to feel like my personal sidearm instead of a generic weapon or throwaway upgrade. You’ll also find or recover everything from stun guns to sniper rifles, along with some increasingly exotic weapons.
And oh, the gunplay. By holding the right mouse button, you switch to a third-person mode to use cover, and you can slink along walls or duck behind barriers, blind-firing to clear the way or popping up for a moment to take down an enemy with a clean shot to the head. While your health does regenerate, it hardly matters given the brutality of the gun battles; bad positions usually have few ways out. You’ll die often, and before you beef up your character with augmentations, death takes only a shot or two.
The gunfights in Human Revolution aren’t quite chess, but they’re a long way from checkers—especially when you learn to move silently and take down two enemies at the same time, by hand. The third-person cover system wasn’t shoe-horned into the game, either, and it makes sense in a deep way. Depending on play style, Human Revolution feels like a great action game or a slower-paced role-playing game.
The game doesn’t just grab you during its opening hours, it staples you to your seat. The first few scenes are marvels of effective, economical storytelling. We are introduced to characters and concepts, and then we begin to question things we thought we knew. It helps that every game mechanic, including gunplay, stealth, hacking and social interactions, is handled with confidence and grace. I played this game in five-hour chunks and it never became dull. I packed it in for the night because it was three in the morning, not because I was ready to stop.
After playing an early Xbox 360 version and a newer PC version, I don’t think there’s a bad choice. But if you have a decent gaming rig, the expanded graphics options and better controls offered by the mouse and keyboard make the PC version superior. I have yet to play the game on the PlayStation 3.
While you can choose to do good things for the people you meet, the game offers no morality system; you will just as often be rewarded for doing violent things as you will for doing the “right” things. A bleak sense of dread settles over your actions like a heavy fog. Just when you think you see the fingers of your enemies, you realize the hands are already wrapped around your throat.
Despite the sense of alienation and calculated determination in everything these characters do, the game isn’t all dystopian chill. A series of optional side quests provide a great deal of context for who Jensen is and where he comes from, and the story ends with a conversation that I found hard to follow due to the dampness in my eyes (I’m going to blame a dust mote). If you rush through the game, or even mess up one of the interrogation-style conversations, you could miss this entire aspect of the character. In fact, after playing through these sections and sharing the information with another writer who didn’t take that path, I began to wonder what I had missed. This game doesn’t just reward multiple play-throughs, it all but demands them.
In fact, that’s one of the strongest aspects of this game. When I had finished the game I sat down to compare story notes with another writer, and we were both pleasantly surprised by how differently the game reacted to our decisions. Neither one of us felt slighted, as both versions of the game seemed like the “right” one, but different approaches to the game’s many set pieces shone light on different facets of the densely packed story.
The game’s uncanny ability to give you multiple ways out of situations is carried right through to the final encounter, and the game even ends with an important decision. Every option you’re given before the credits roll is attractive in its own way, though at the same time, none of the choices truly provide comfort. Human Revolution can be oppressively bleak at times, but it earns its tone.
Although the game world has plenty of room for more stories told by future titles, this story comes to a very definitive end. That’s something rare in big-budget games today, especially when they take place in an established franchise. But a real conclusion just confirms why this game deserves so much praise: by the end of the game’s impressively long run time, you’re left satisfied by the story and the characters within it.
This is the Deus Ex game we’ve been waiting for.