Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Article Index

Eschalon: Book II

Publisher:Square Enix
Developer:Eidos Montreal
Release Date:2011-08-23
  • Action,Role-Playing
Platforms: Theme: Perspective:
  • First-Person
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The New Generation

While Deus Ex was founded on the notions of freeform gameplay, strong character development, and a genuine attempt to create a game out of the best parts of many divergent genres, Human Revolution finds itself in an interesting grey area, not just between the console and PC audiences as Invisible War did, but also between the old and new generation of gaming. Simply put, it's both a nostalgia trip and a product of its time, and, if there is any strong critique against the game, it's going to be leveled from one of those two sides. Where Human Revolution most deviates from the tradition of the series is in a number of additions which have, no doubt, been made as a result not so much of any real gameplay need, but because of the time at which it's been released. These changes are, overall, a mixed bag, and while not inherently bad, definitely warrant some discussion.

The most obvious changes are those that have been made to the combat. In a thoughtful move, Human Revolution has been transformed into a pseudo-tactical shooter, at least as far as gunplay is concerned - and everyone knows that combat was one of the weakest aspects of Deus Ex, so the attempts to overhaul gunplay are welcome. The main way this has been accomplished is in the addition of a cover system - Jensen can duck behind cover, blind-fire over it, aim more precisely, roll from piece to piece, and so forth. Though my thoughts on cover-based shooters are generally less-than-amicable, in Human Revolution, it's handled with a degree of thoughtfulness that isn't always seen with this type of mechanic - using cover isn't an automatic "I win" button, and blind-firing in particular borders on useless. Next to other cover shooters it definitely feels a little bit on the clunky side (Gears of War this is not), but it certainly gets the job done. Thankfully, though, the cover system is never forced on you, and the game can be played as a straightforward first-person experience as well, so if you have a terminal hatred of such mechanics, you can simply ignore the feature and not miss out on anything - I rebound the cover key to some far-off region of my keyboard and never felt combat suffered for it.

On top of the cover system, and what significantly changes combat over the original Deus Ex, is the addition of a regenerating health system. A lot has been made of this, but in practice, I actually didn't find this to be too much of a problem. Once again, it's another design trend borrowed from more modern games, and surely it exists to appeal to fans of that trend, but, even on the normal difficulty, combat is challenging enough that a couple of stray bullets are enough to end Jensen's life, and the health regeneration itself takes quite a while to kick in, meaning that health-boosting items like painkillers still have a use when the going gets tough. Much of the resource management inherent in more traditional health systems has instead been shunted off to the energy that powers special abilities; limited numbers of energy-restoring items and a natural recharge of only a single energy unit ensure that even the most powerful of abilities don't become a crutch. While I suspect many fans will lament the loss of medkits and the need to heal individual body parts, nothing about the game's design led me to feel such an old-school option would have significantly improved the game, despite that I'm generally a proponent of medkits over regenerating health. In other words, yes, there's regenerating health, but it doesn't turn the game into Call of Duty, or even Mass Effect 2.

Related to combat, but also perhaps more so to stealth, is the fact that melee fighting has been, for the most part, removed, in favor of one-button takedowns. Takedowns are, of course, accompanied by the requisite third-person animation sequence, and while these are satisfying to perform, eventually end up being just a little bit overpowered, considering that it's rare for you to be thrown into a situation with more than a handful of enemies at any one time, and even the most powerful of human enemies can be felled with a single punch. Likewise, the Stun Gun, the game's replacement for the Stun Prod, finds itself in the limelight as one of the most effective weapons, despite being non-lethal. I'm not sure if takedowns and the Stun Gun were created as ways to make pacifist gameplay a bit more satisfying, but they end up feeling overpowered in the end, even if they are ultimately limited by energy requirements - a one-hit knockout is still one hit.

Another new-school design trend that has appeared in Human Revolution is, I think, one that should have been severely reconsidered, and that is the presence of boss fights. Throughout the game, your control will be apprehended, and you'll find yourself inevitably forced into single combat with a foe, usually an augmented enemy of some plot importance. While these boss fights are not, at least fundamentally, poorly designed, they allow for absolutely no options, save for "run around and shoot the bad guy in the face for 10 minutes until he/she falls down." When you've been spending your time ghosting your way through the entire game, only to be forced to plink away at a suddenly super-human foe with nothing but a pistol, all while being taunted by said foe in the most aggravating way, I really started to question if I was playing Deus Ex. Adding insult to injury is that, no matter how smart, suave and skillful your version of Adam Jensen might be, in cutscenes, Jensen is reduced to an aggressive, thick-headed clout who stumbles into traps and allows himself to be manipulated by the most obvious ploys. For a game that prides itself in giving the player freedom, it makes absolutely no sense why players are then forced into these tedious, save-scummy boss fights, with no way to make circumvent them; it makes even less sense to reduce Cutscene Jensen to a bumbling incompetent. Had these boss battles been the result of gameplay decisions rather than cutscene kidnapping, and the enemy health bars cut down by 70%, I could live with the fact that they're mandatory, but as it stands, they have the sole distinction of being a rare example of poor design in what is otherwise an extremely well-made, well-thought-out game.

A couple of final additions to the game involve some generally well-executed mini-games, related to hacking and to persuasion. The hacking mini-game, revolving around the capture of nodes and control points, is well-considered and enjoyable, but, like most mini-games, tends to grow tiresome halfway through the game, especially once you've maxed out your hacking skill and can effectively deal with any system you come across. Persuasion takes on a more interesting approach - while it resembles the regular conversations, instead it revolves around analyzing a character's physical and emotional reactions to your words, and can be further augmented with an upgrade, that allows for greater control and influence over the outcome over the conversation. These are well-written, well-acted and well-animated, and in addition to making dialogue feel interactive and natural, they actually lead to Jensen being given different abilities and information, and can change the course of the story in some interesting, albeit subtle ways. Simply put, they're some of the best human interactions I've seen in a videogame - it's just unfortunate that not all conversations are quite so good.