Saturday, 5 January 2013

PC Game Review: Deus Ex - Human Revolution

Originally posted at Accursed Farms Forums on August 31st 2011.

Platform: PC (Steam)
Released: 2011
Genre: First Person Shooter
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Buy on Steam (Director's Cut Edition)

The story of Deus Ex, the original from 2000, is a very interesting one. After Ion Storm had received massive backlash for the Daikatana title (which in some ad campaigns stated it would make everyone who played it "John Romero's bitch"), it was a bit strange that anyone would put faith into the developer. However, perhaps it was only Ion Storm who could properly give Warren Spector the freedom he needed to develop his brainchild. Deus Ex, being as it was, came out at a perfect time. The millennium had just passed, and X-Files and The Matrix was all the rage and cyberpunk was coming back in full form, Deus Ex being a perfect amalgamation of the conspiracy theories in X-Files and the cyberpunk aesthetic of The Matrix. The game was a highly polished seamless action adventure game with elements from both the FPS and RPG genres, and focused more on stealth than on straight forward shooting. Indeed, the game in many aspects endorsed using stealth to achieve mission objectives and it was possible to go thru the entire game not killing anyone but a couple of essential bosses. This made the game stand out heavily from other shooters at the time, which of course mostly carried the id Software tradition of shooting everything in sight (no offense meant against id Software here). Even Half-Life didn't feel as elegant. So it probably came as no surprise the game won the Game of the Year award that year.

It is probably for the best that Deus Ex Human Revolution does not continue the story from Invisible War that while being a decent game in its own right, never quite lived up to the expectations set by the first game. Instead, Human Revolution is a prequel of sorts, exploring the origins of Deus Ex 1 and where the augmentation tech that was so prominently featured in the first game originated. In that aspect, it definitely succeeds. In Deus Ex 1 the mechs were always referred to as obsolete and seemed to stem from an age where the technology wasn't as refined. Deus Ex HR takes place in exactly that age where people are starting to become mechs in a way, more or less 20 years before JC Denton's adventure.

The story in Deus Ex HR is definitely one of the strongest aspects of the game and the main reason you should buy it. You play as the security commander Adam Jensen as he uncovers a web of deceit behind the company he works for after an incident in which he is killed, and also his beloved Megan Reed, his main goal being tracking down the killers. All the characters feel well developed in their execution, and in general you get a strong feeling of conflict between "purists", that is humans who rescent the augmentation tech and refuse to get the implants and be rebuilt, and the "augs", who are augmented people, that is people who have gotten these implants and cyberpunky prosthetics and so on. The twist is that it seems that in this early stage of the tech, the human body is rejecting the augmentations and so people have to rely on a drug called Neuropazine that negates the rejection temporarily. It's a very dark setting with a strong sense of cyberpunk about it, and in a lot of ways the game seems highly reminiscent of the 80's cyberpunk Paul Verhoeven movie RoboCop, which also happens to take place in Detroit and center on a character who gets brutally murdered and then rebuilt as a cyborg, basically. In fact, a rather hilarious moment occurs in the game where police officer Alex Murphy talks about how he's not into scifi when a colleague mentions aforementioned movie to him. The cinematics are all absolutely thrilling to watch and at times it felt like watching a movie, and near the end I had several moments that really made my spine tingle and my heart beat fast. The game is extremely well written and the execution is near perfect most of the time.

Aside from the gripping story, the gameplay elements are equally fascinating. While the game brings back delightfully familiar elements it also adds some new things. Mostly the augmentations are a trifle different from the first game in the sense that this time you don't rely on canisters that contain augs, but rather that you already have all your augs but that some of them has to be unlocked before they can be utilized and some have to be upgraded to reach max potential, an element which is explained within the game's story. You rely on what they call "praxis points" to unlock and upgrade your augs, and you achieve said points by either achieving experience points or by finding praxis kits within the game's world. Another familiar element is the same inventory screen from the first game which can be upgraded in size if you find it too limiting.

The game is very well designed in the sense that while stealth is heavily endorsed, you can also rely on combat, which includes taking cover behind things in which the game enters a third person mode or firing your gun in first person mode, all depending on your game style preference. The augs you choose influence which options you have to use during each mission, and what you are good at so choosing the ones that fit your character is obviously a very wise thing to do. Like in Deus Ex 1, you can go through the entire game not killing one person unless you count the mandatory boss fights. The game does have its share of glitches though, but none that detract too much from the overall experience. It does feel a bit unforgiving, and Deus Ex HR can be a very big challenge, even on the easiest setting, as Jensen doesn't take much damage before he goes down so once you are spotted, unless you have a very strong armor and a few painkillers, you're pretty much dead.

Graphically the game is a rather gorgeous affair, with a very warm and lush colour scheme that focuses a lot on the colour yellow, in contrast with the rather cold blue tone of Deus Ex 1. The game utilizes DirectX 11 so things like depth of field and soft shadows is used to make the game look very realistic, and tesselation is used to make the smoke look incredibly realistic as well. The characters themselves seem a bit cartoony and not too photorealistic, which I think makes the game look a lot better than if they tried to go for a more realistic approach. The cinematics also look great and are mostly prerendered, which is rather obvious as they are a tad bit darker than the main game. The sound and music both do a very good job, and the music expertly blends the organic and synthetic to fit the cyberpunk theme of the game. The sounds do a good job at keeping you immersed in the world, the voice acting being so good that it outright floored me at times, whereas the voice acting was one of the original game's weak points to be frank.

With a huge campaign that has enough side quests and challenges to keep you occupied for a good 20 hours, Deus Ex HR is a highly polished and addictive contender for Game of the Year 2011. No matter if you are into RPG's, stealth games or FPS's, purchase it. You won't regret it.

Other games recommended if you like DXHR:
Deus Ex
System Shock 2

- Alyxx

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