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EGM Review:
Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Posted on September 6, 2011 AT 07:01pm

Choose your evolution wisely.

Born of murder, malice, and a healthy dose of misdirection, the world of Eidos Montreal’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution is no place for the faint of heart. The cruel streets of 2027 are plagued by high-tech gangs, would-be revolutionaries, and white-collar terrorists, clamoring for a hero with nerves of steel and the muscle to match. Enter Sarif Industries’ security chief Adam Jensen who, after an unexplained attack that claims the lives of the nanotechnology outfit’s top researchers, finds himself unwillingly thrust into a quest to bring a group of augmented operatives to justice.

Fortunately for our protagonist, his benevolent employers see fit to save him from a slew of near-fatal wounds and rebuild him in their image, loading him up with a pair of bionic limbs and more “augs” than you can shake a praxis pack at, giving him the mechanical means necessary to hit the streets and find the answers he needs. And what are praxis packs, you ask?

As Sarif Industries sells ’em, these helpful little handouts are the engine of human evolution, but for all practical purposes, prax packs are the upgradeable fuel for a considerable arsenal of augmented abilities that empower Jensen to tackle things his way…or, more specifically, your way. And, in the spirit of the Deus Ex titles before it, Revolution’s built on this sense of choice, flaunting five “pillars of gameplay” that drive the experience—and the game lives and dies on this sense of freedom.

Luckily for publisher Square Enix, the development team does a solid job of facilitating Jensen’s amorphous abilities through thoughtful level design and enemy encounters that grant a real sense of empowerment. Each new encounter offers an enticing web of options, allowing you to seamlessly shift between roles as a silent assassin, brash warrior, or clever politician in your efforts to unearth more of the underlying mysteries. If anything, the game offers a bit too much choice here; I would’ve appreciated a better sense of progression in the early going, as the plethora of tasks in your way don’t really encourage or discourage any one path, which also means they don’t really “teach” said paths, either. It’s a minor quibble, given the game’s lineage, but it’s worth noting that a little more guidance would’ve gone a long way toward helping you determine the type of hero you want to be. As it stands now, you have feel your way around, which makes the learning curve a bit stiffer than necessary. Considering the plethora of side quests available later on, Eidos may miss the boat on more casual gamers, as it took several hours to really get a feel for all the options and the style of hero I intended to play.

Speaking of the pillars, it’s important to note that, despite liberal loans from the likes of Gears of War, L.A. Noire, and Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex is an unabashed cyberpunk RPG at heart. The game projects a distinct kinship to old-school offerings like Shadowrun and Syndicate, but its true triumph lies in the game’s ability to weave the requisite dialogue trees and fetch-questing with the aforementioned action elements in a way that gives each room to breathe and bloom alongside the game’s engrossing plot. You’ll engage in frantic firefights, hijack sentries, crack cold cases, hack into heavily fortified networks, perform hits for the less capable, enter into debates with high-powered politicians, slink past elaborate security systems, and much more—and, for the most part, it all works very well, despite a questionable control scheme in desperate need of some alternatives.

There’s obviously a lot of functionality packed into the controls, given everything you can do, but many of the primary actions are mapped to odd buttons (iron sights to R3 instead of the left trigger, while the primary action button uses “X” instead of “A”) Thankfully, these annoyances fade into the rear view as you dive deeper into the plot and obsess over your role as a new-school cyber-cowboy, but when you couple this with the considerable aug-related learning curve, I’m really hoping Square Enix patches in some options soon after release, because it’ll definitely frustrate some folks used to control standards set by most major titles.

But, surprisingly, the controls aren’t my biggest beef with Human Revolution. That dubious honor’s unquestionably extended to an apparent lack of attention to another unspoken standard: load times. The game’s environments are almost a character in and of themselves, alive with gossip and grit befitting a tale of this ilk, but the quasi-open-world structure is stifled by painful pauses between 30 to 40 seconds each time you enter a new zone. But you’ll often accidentally encounter one of these areas while sneaking in and out of air ducts, adding a couple of hours to the experience over the course of play. Frankly, I’m kind of surprised to see a technical failure of this magnitude in a final product, regardless of the detail provided in this future Earth, and I would’ve demanded better if the rest of the experience weren’t so damned good.

The thing is, when you finally get a feel for all it has to offer, Revolution is that good. The first time you flip on your cloaking device, descend silently amidst a crowd of well-armed thugs, and hack into their heavily fortified base without making a peep, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Or, maybe you’ll uncloak, unleash a typhoon blast, and smash a hole in the wall instead. The point is, you write your own story here, and that’s what makes it sing. Some may scoff at its technical snags, and others will still take issue with a missing mechanic here and there, but on the whole, this is the type of game we need to see more often. Artful, adult, and awesome in ways that few games dare to be, Revolution is an excellent blueprint for ambitious alternative RPGs to follow, and if cyberpunk is your thing, you have to play it.

SUMMARY:Artful, adult, and awesome in ways that few games dare to be, Revolution is an excellent blueprint for ambitious RPGs to follow. If cyberpunk is your thing, you have to play it.

  • THE GOOD: Cyberpunk vibe, freedom of choice
  • THE BAD: Chain-smoking NPCs are not helping me quit
  • THE UGLY: 30-to-40-second load times between zones

SCORE: 8.5

Brandon Justice, Executive Editor
Brandon Justice spent the last 17 years in the game industry wearing hats as an annoying retail weasel, an overly opinionated journalist, and game-development ninja—until he got tired of the all the caviar and groupies, returning to the ring as a rowdy, rambling writer in 2010 for EGM Media. Follow him on Twitter @jokeontheworldMeet the rest of the crew.

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