Xbox 360 Review: DEUS EX: Human Revolution

It isn't quite perfection but it comes close. You will soon forget any shortcomings as you delve into this meticulously crafted future world. Very few games this year will steal so many of your hours but every one will be worth it.

Firstly I must admit something, I never played the original Deus Ex. In fact I had never even heard of the franchise until the marketing push for Human Revolution. Still, while I will not be able to compare Human Revolution against the standard set by the franchise to date, I can deliver a review unhampered by nostalgia. Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the year 2027, on the fringe of a huge evolutionary leap for mankind. Human augmentation has caused a social panic but at the same time changed many people's lives for the better. You play as Adam Jensen, a private security officer at Sarif Industries, the market leader in human augmentation. Jensen is mortally wounded during an attack at Serif and undergoes drastic augmentation to save his life. Deus Ex plays out like an extended episode of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, featuring people being hacked and controlled like puppets, cyborgs with heavy artillery built into their limbs and political and corporate espionage. The story shocks and awes in equal measure as you peel the layers of intrigue away to reveal the rotten core. The opening minutes of Human Revolution set a scene of turbulence and civil unrest, creating a rich backdrop for the action. Action in Human Revolution is predominantly first person shooting however, the game also incorporates RPG elements such as non-linear level design, character upgrading and a Mass Effect style dialogue system. The elements sit comfortably and gel together into a satisfying system that feels natural and intuitive. The shooting mechanics are similar to the Rainbow 6: Vegas games, heavily relying on cover and tactics instead of running and gunning. This generally works well in most situations however, I found that during the boss fights you were vulnerable against more aggressive and powerful opponents. I would definitely suggest the body armour augmentations regardless of your playing style as the boss fights will be very hard to survive otherwise. The levels of Deus Ex are designed with multiple paths for progression, these usually result in a choice between combat and stealth. The most obvious path is usually the most confrontational, requiring fire power to progress. Even these heavily guarded open spaces can be travelled unseen with some skilful use of stealth and silent take downs but that option is certainly more difficult. The great thing about the level design is that no choice is a bad choice. There is no Metal Gear Solid style alarm when you are caught, you simply must react to the situation. The game does not punish you for being caught when you are trying to be stealthy, the only punishment would be self inflicted disappointment. During some sections you can put your social skills to good use and talk your way in and out of trouble, this is especially useful early on if you have neglected hacking augmentations. Hacking is the other way through restricted areas however, there are different levels of lock and many require upgrades. The hacking system is very basic and you can pick up consumables to aid hacking but it is really just a case of connecting the dots. Still, when you are doing it against the clock it does get your heart racing I can assure you. As you progress you can upgrade Jensen's body with an array of augmentations. These are designed to improve his performance in various areas of gameplay but how you upgrade Jensen is entirely up to you. The ninjas among us will naturally chose augmentations that will improve sneaking and take-downs where as a tradition FPS fan will opt for the combat upgrades. You do not have to chose a skill class or anything like that, you merely play as you see fit and upgrade according to your own taste. There will undoubtedly be specialists that play in extremes but I also expect many people will adopt a Jack of all trades approach. I often found my self augmenting to achieve a specific result during a level but the flip side of that is when something is blocking your path and you do not have the praxis points to upgrade with it can be very frustrating. The developers at Eidos Montreal have put in a lot of effort to create a distinctive art style for the game. The rich golden colour grade used is really nice, it is slightly mono-tonal but it works well with the genre. The characters generally look ok, Jensen is really well realised, his augmented limbs are glossy and his human features rugged. NPCs on the other hand tend to look slightly rubbery, with some odd facial expressions, especially around the eyebrows. The lip syncing is actually really poor and sometimes a short pre-rendered scene will cut straight into a conversation played out in the gameplay graphics and it really jars. The lighting never matches and the level of detail is drastically different which is a shame as it draws attention to the graphical shortcomings. There are also some very questionable character animations, characters are guilty of what I call Resident Evil Syndrome, by which I mean they have awkward and over the top hand expressions. I understand that Deus Ex is a large game but it is a shame that key moments weren't motion captured as the animation is not up to the standard we've come to expect from this generation. These are small niggles, but they are highlighted all the more by the bar set by the rest of the game. The CGI cut scenes are among the best I have seen, presenting a beautifully broken world. The concept and art direction are both heavily influenced by the Ghost in the Shell franchise, even down to the insect like battle tanks, but that was one of the things that got me so excited about Human Revolution in the first place. I love Ghost in the Shell and would love a Ghost in the Shell game to be made with this much care and attention to detail however, that will never happen and Human Revolution is a worthy substitute. The story is addictive and laced with conspiracy and it really makes you miss the game between play sessions. The dialogue tree gives you a certain amount of control over smaller events, such as whether or not hostages die or not. Some choices reward you at later stages with key information which can make a mission easier. Still the major scenes remain the same and deliver the meat of the narrative, which is engaging and interesting. Alongside the main missions there are also optional side missions which are surprisingly substantial. Rather than simple fetch quests, you are given a variety of tasks which will often lead you to new people who will in tern add to your work load. Once you have taken on a mission you are free to drop in and out at will and you can also have multiple missions going at once. Side missions will often be based in the same locations as the main missions, allowing you to multi-task. An early mission in a police station sees you collecting information on the terrorist attack on Sarif. The information you gain also helps you complete the main mission which is to gain entry to the morgue. It is simple but elegant and makes the side missions feel like a logical thing for Jensen to spend his time doing. It's the little details that makes Human Revolution so compulsive. Throughout the levels there are e-books that fill in historical and political information, news papers that feature current events and computers that have private emails. You farm information from people's inboxes and also learn more about the context of people's actions. I even discovered a spam email from a Nigerian investment banker. It is nice to have that level of depth and it really submerges you in the world of Deus Ex. It is also refreshing to be given moral choices without it being rubbed in your face. Too many games give you a moral choice system and then force your hand in its use. Infamous is a good example, where you must choose a moral alignment to unlock high level moves but the choices are so black and white it is really just a choice between being a knob or being a god, not really a very tempting choice at all then. Human Revolution doesn't use any of these cheap tricks, instead all you are presented with is consequences. Sure you can shoot an innocent civilian in the face but the cops will be looking out for you and that is a major pain in the ass. On the flip side the non-lethal take downs use energy which is a good argument for shooting people in the face. It is another example of the freestyle design, you actually make genuine moral choices based on your whims as a player rather than your desire to unlock gaming perks. It is probably the best moral system I have seen in a game because you aren't choosing between a devil and an angel on your shoulders, you are just being Adam Jensen. In fact it is so loose that you can barely call it a moral system at all, it is really just a very open game that lets you do what you want. The score in Human Revolution is very similar to the music of the Mass Effect games, with a hint of Hans Zimmer's Batman theme. It works nicely but lacks originality which is a real shame. I kept thinking back to Crysis 2, which had a fantastic score and wishing that I could swap the music around. The rest of the sound scape is solid, with excellent foley sounds and sound effects. The voice work is good, Elias Toufexis delivers a great performance as Jensen. It is smooth and just the right balance of stifled emotions and bad ass confidence evoking memories of an early Clint Eastwood. Other characters are not quite so well cast but there are very few duds among the lead cast. The background dialogue could have been better however, enemy dialogue is often repeated and some NPCs are stereotypical to the point of parody. One more thing to note is the menus, which are frankly excellent. The augmentation screen is great at highlighting what part of Jensen you are upgrading and how it will effect his performance. The item inventory is lifted straight from Resident Evil 4, giving you a series of item slots. Different items take up a different amount of slots meaning that you must keep an eye on your item hoarding. Some consumables can be stacked but sadly grenades cannot, which severely limits the amount you can carry. The limited amount of guns and ammo you can stash forces you to always think tactically even when focusing on combat. It is a shame that games like L.A. Noire and Uncharted 2 have raised the bar so high in terms of performance capture and character models that Deus Ex looks dated by comparison. The game delivers on everything that was promised by the developers, it is a huge game with a great deal of replay value that is somewhat tarnished by an unpolished finish. These are not game breaking flaws, far from it, but merely imperfections in what could have been a true masterpiece of gaming. With Arkham City, Uncharted 3 and Skyrim as competition it is unlikely that Deus Ex will be your game of the year but it is certainly capable of standing proudly as one of the best games of 2011 and of the current generation. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is out in the UK on August the 26th.
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