Deus Ex: Human Revolution is, hands-down, the best cyberpunk videogame made to date. The new Director’s Cut not only proves that all over again, but it also manages to improve it.
There’s a reason 2011’s Human Revolution was met with such overwhelming critical acclaim. For anyone even an eighth in love with the cyberpunk genre as I am, half of Deus Ex‘s appeal is its setting, which feels as though it’s been pulled right from the pages of the very best cyberpunk fiction—novels like Neuromancer and Altered Carbon, works that took what Ridley Scott built in Blade Runner and with words painted worlds unrestrained by visual-effect limitations.
The 2027 imagined in Human Revolution is more than a collection of set pieces. Locations are slices of a world that somehow manages to feel simultaneously vibrant and bleak, from the neon-soaked architecture of Sarif Industries, the biotechnology firm where Jensen serves as head of security, to streets populated by poor and policed by cybernetically enhanced thugs. The game’s two hub cities—Detroit and Hengsha, a fictional Chinese city set on the Yangtze river—are so densely packed with air vents, back alleys, sewers, and multistoried buildings housing shady arms dealers and corrupt government employees that exploration is its own reward, let alone all the immediate benefits gained from completing the bevy of side missions that complement the main narrative.
Protagonist Adam Jensen’s globetrotting adventure takes him to other exciting locations, too, of course, including places as close to Detroit as Montreal and as far flung as a man-made installation embedded in the Arctic region. But the hub cities are the heart and soul of Deus Ex, where the essence of cyberpunk is best captured. It’s in Detroit and Hengsha that player agency is at its best, where guns can be holstered—supposing you aren’t playing as a mechanized murder machine—in favor of hard-boiled detective work that requires players to initiate a myriad of social interactions and navigate the seedy underbelly of the cyber renaissance.
Though there’s no shortage of options afforded to players during combat scenarios, either. Jensen, by way of augmented abilities unlocked through Praxis points, is a human smorgasbord of playstyle options. Two years ago, I went with a guns-blazing approach and poured Praxis points into augmentations that made me a more efficient killer. But now, as I find myself more and more put off by needless violence when it can be avoided, I pumped those Praxis points into augmentations that lent themselves to stealthy avoidance of confrontation. That there exists the option to choose one or the other—and everything in between—and still be rewarded with new powers to unlock (not to mention choose those powers based on what best suits how you want to play) is a large part of what makes Deus Ex so special.
What Deus Ex lacked in its original incarnation, however, was that same sense of choice during boss battles. One of the chief criticisms lobbied against Human Revolution was how these fights—which were farmed out to developer GRIP Entertainment—limited the number of options available to players. There were no non-lethal approaches to take, no creative solutions to explore. The only choice was to face down the Tyrants—a paramilitary group that Jensen goes toe-to-toe with several times throughout the story—headfirst and discharge round after round into their chests until achieving catastrophic organic failure.
Eidos remedies this with the Director’s Cut. Now, not only are non-lethal solutions available, but also ones for players who would rather use their hacking skills to “solve” a boss encounter like a puzzle, making the boss battleground feel like an area worth exploring rather than simply an arena for killing. This makes boss confrontations in Deus Ex feel more in line with The Missing Link DLC developed entirely in-house by Eidos Montreal (which is included in Director’s Cut, embedded into the narrative when it chronologically takes place), and, in and of itself, arguably warrants attention from established fans of the franchise, let alone the few other additions thrown in.
Normally, I’d dismiss second-screen support as something silly and gimmicky, and to some extent, it is in the director’s cut of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I get why throwing a map on the second screen is such an obvious choice, but honestly, it’s more of a chore to look down constantly (especially for a game as navigation-heavy as Deus Ex) than the quick flick of the eye it takes to look to the bottom-left corner of a screen you’re already staring at. But parts of its integration prove neat, useful, and—in one instance, hacking—more intuitive than the original design. Moving between the nodes that serve as capture points is far more elegant on a touchscreen than sliding between them using an analog stick, and hunching over to look at the Wii U’s GamePad makes the minigame feel slightly more immersive, as if you’re actually using some slick sci-fi gadget.
A few minor problems still plague Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but not in any way that hurts the experience. Picking up items can be cumbersome, especially when there’s a bunch grouped together. Isolating the one thing you want when it’s behind two other items without being forced to pick them up and then drop them back out of your inventory elsewhere can make item management feel like even more of a chore than it inherently is. But this is an infrequent problem at best. And Adam Jensen, as a character, is less than interesting or engaging, with about as much personality as Keanu Reeves whenever the whoa-bro is onscreen.
But you know what? These are, in truth, minor complaints nestled within what is otherwise a game that touts solid storytelling, a compelling narrative, absolutely excellent world design and level construction, the illusion of choice, and the right amount of developer-built player freedom.
|Developer: Eidos Montreal, Straight Right • Publisher: Square Enix • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.22.13|
Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut artfully blends the action-oriented appeal of first-person shooters with the tension of a solid stealth title and the exploratory wonder of role-playing games. Honestly, it’s a rare gem, and one that offers a little something for everyone without compromising on any one aspect—both the sum of its parts and yet greater than.
|The Good||Excellent level design, an engaging narrative, a Detroit that’s actually sexy in a sci-fi kind of way, and an admirable sense of freedom and options.|
|The Bad||Spending an extra minute or two finding the right angle or way to look at an item until the pick-up option appears.|
|The Ugly||However many cigarettes Adam Jensen had to smoke to achieve that impossibly stupid, wannabe Batman voice.|
|Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut is available on Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Wii U.|