Monday, August 29, 2011

Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Platform: PS3 (also on Xbox 360, PC)

Developer: Eidos Montreal

Publisher: Square Enix

# of Players: 1

ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

Official Site

Score: A

Eidos Montreal had a lot to prove with Deus Ex: Human Revolution and thankfully, the long development cycle has paid off with an exceptional single player story driven role-playing game that's an instant classic. Fans of the original will find this prequel sets up events to come flawlessly while those new to the franchise will absolutely want to play this one and seek out the two other titles just so they can see how well the game fits into the trilogy. For those who crave non-stop action, you have the choice to go in guns blazing all the time if that's your thing, but you'll definitely want to see how the entire story unfolds because it so well done. As in previous Deus Ex games, you're also able to play through the entire game without killing anyone (except a handful of mandatory bosses). No matter how you play, every action or conversation has a consequence that reverberates through the story in one way or another. Some minor presentation hiccups and a bit of age-old boss battle issues aside, what's here is a brilliant game no true gamer should miss.

In the game, you play as Adam Jensen, an ex-policeman turned security guard for a rather huge corporation making major advances into controversial medical technologies that involve augmenting humans with assorted implants and artificial body parts. An attack on the corporate labs leaves Jensen near death, but he's saved thanks to some of that technology that's turned him into a more than human mix of RoboCop, The Terminator and The Six Million Dollar Man (which would be about sixty million in adjusted 2027 dollars). A tense hostage situation at a warehouse has Jensen pressed into service for the corporation with only six months of recuperation after his surgeries and it's here where the game really takes off. There's no right or wrong way to go through the adventure, but things can get challenging if you're going for a certain style of play and the game throws a few curve balls at your head. If you're clever enough (and save frequently in a few slots), you can actually explore a few different means of problem-solving from pacifistic to straight up violent

Right from the beginning, the game impresses with a solid blend of excellent visual design, superb writing that makes you think and gameplay that will keep you engrossed as you dive deeper into the story. As Adam has been augmented without his knowledge or consent, the game manages to weave that aspect into the plot nicely and makes one think about real life applications of corporate versus individual will. I'm sure we all want to live as long as possible and have amazing powers, but what if you were put into a situation where both were forced onto you in an emergency? That and many other moral/ethical issues are explored as Jensen's investigation sends him across the globe to a few areas fans of the older games will remember. The game also drops in a number of references to the two previous entries (and more than a few in-jokes worth tracking down), so fans should be thrilled that the dev team did their homework so well and stayed true to the DX framework.

Key to the HR experience are the difficulty settings and four gameplay "pillars" that can be mixed and matched to create a different game depending on your choices. New players can dive in at the Tell Me A Story difficulty and enjoy the ride with some helpful visual highlighting of interactive objects and weaker enemies, while core gamers can go for the harder Give Me a Challenge or Deus Ex modes. The four pillars, Combat, Stealth, Hacking and Social are paths you can choose to stick to or take skills from each to enhance your Adam Jensen the way you like. The game has multiple endings based on your actions, so there's no "perfect" pathway to walk on your way to the conclusion. As to that conclusion, how you feel about it depends on what you're experiencing as you play and whether or not the story has you hooked in. Some will love it, some won't, but it's a case of understanding how everything fits together and trusting the developer in the way you'd trust the chef at a fine restaurant. In English, don't go into the game "expecting" it to fit how you want it to conclude and you'll more than likely be pleased.

Whether you play as a stealthy, silent ghost or a stone cold killer, controls are fluid and responsive and the different weapons all look and feel great. press up against a wall or other object for cover and the camera switches from first to third person allowing for you to check out guard patrols and security cameras, target enemies or even blind fire if needed. RPG elements come into play as you gain experience for every successful task completed. Leveling up gives you Praxis Points to spend at any time on upgrading your augmentations ("Augs") and enhancing offensive and/or defensive skills. You won't be able to upgrade everything to the maximum in any play through, but this is a great thing as replaying the game in different ways allows for you to tinker with new skills each time. By the end of the game, you can be a hacking master that can crack any computer you see or get through any locked door, a wall-smashing powerhouse or even a silent ninja-like killing machine.

One element that does detract from the fun no matter how you play your Jensen is how the game's boss battles take place. There's no way to avoid fighting these enemies to the death and worse, you're stuck in closed off spaces and have to do a bit of old-school "watch the pattern" combat that's a lot less fun than taking down standard enemies any way you see fit. Granted, the game does set up each fight so that the need for violence is unavoidable, but it would have been great to see the dev team make advances in this age-old gaming tradition. It's still satisfying to survive each battle and you'll find that you may go into one or two of these fights under prepared if you chose a stealth approach. Fortunately, you can find weapons and ammo in these sections that will take down a boss or you can reload a save and pick up gear elsewhere before you venture into trouble.

While there's no morality system in the game, you can actually maximize your potential experience by taking down enemies without killing them, finding hidden passageways through levels and successfully navigating key dialogue sequences. While you can be an angel of Death, killing off every enemy and raising hell wherever you go and a total jerk in conversations, threatening everyone with all sorts of potential harm, you'll find that getting more Praxis Points is trickier this way. You can still complete the game as a bad-ass, mind you, but there are times when you may want to tone it down just to reap the rewards. No matter how you play, careful exploration is key in tracking down rare weapons and items. Eavesdropping on the occasional conversation and hacking into computers pay off as well as you'll discover even more items and learn more about the world the game presents.

Speaking of presentation, the visuals are stellar as are the music and sound design. The uniqueness of the color palette and art direction in each area give the game a decidedly different look than other first-person games and recall Syd Mead's brilliant work on Blade Runner. While the majority of character animation is solid, the in-game cut scenes feature some awfully jittery digital actors that look as if they've had a few too many Red Bulls. In addition, the CG movies in the game tend to be darker and lower resolution than the in-game movies, but neither problem takes away from the impact of the story. Much of the voice acting is great, especially the principals and most of the characters you meet who you need to carry on extended conversations with. There are a few questionable accents here and there, but there's nothing that should have you running from the room with fire pouring out of of your eardrums. Unless of course you dislike mature dialog in your games. Fair warning: the writing doesn't skimp on the curse words. However, if you're an adult who can appreciate the proper application of the vernacular in any narrative situation, this shouldn't be an issue at all.

My only other real quibble is with the lack of more interactive objects in the game world. Cardboard boxes, small crates, trash cans, lockers and a few other highlighted objects can be interacted with, but don't expect to be throwing office chairs, potted plants or lab equipment at enemies. At least the game allows you the option to boost your strength in order to lift heavier objects as well as smash certain walls later on. Of course, I can fill a page with games that are a lot less interactive in terms of both story and gameplay elements, but I won't (this time). In the end, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a must-buy/must play game, period. Eidos Montreal has created a more than worthy prequel that's as enjoyably deep as the other entries and absolutely one of the best games this year hands-down. Kudos to Square Enix for yet another great game that proves they're much more than the house that Final Fantasy built. 

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