The last installment in the famed Deus Ex series, Invisible War, came out in December of 2003, and what a wait it has been since then. After an initial announcement in 2007, the third Deus Ex title, Human Revolution, is finally in sight with a due date of August 23, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on it at E3 this year.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel, taking place before the events of the original Deus Ex. You take control of Adam Jensen, a security officer with Sarif Industries, a company that specializes in human augmentations. The demo I played had me defending an augmentation center from the attacks of so-called “purists” who don’t believe in augmentation. Part of what made the Deus Ex games so great is that they have featured excellent storylines, and Human Revolution is no exception.
On the whole, the game looks pretty solid, but I did find that some of the visuals are a little rough around the edges, literally; the edges of certain models found in the environment tend to look a little jagged. Some of the weapon models (like the 10mm) were on the bland side too, but other than that things looked pretty slick, and I enjoyed the edgy, steampunk visual style that the game employs.
Much of the essence of the original Deus Ex has remained intact in Human Revolution in terms of gameplay. The idea that there are multiple ways to go about a mission — granted, it’s rarely more inspired than, “I’m going to blast my way through” or “I’m going to sneak my way through” — is still a big part of the game, with my demo starting out with me making that very decision.
Needless to say, I chose the Rambo route, at which point my commanding officer took that one step further and asked if I wanted to take my enemies out from afar or up close. He qualified this question by basically pointing out that there is no wrong answer; the warehouse parts of the plant were wide open spaces, he said, while the hallways were tight quarters. I said that I preferred to get up close and personal, so he equipped me with a high-powered revolver (and, in true Deus Ex fashion, only a handful of rounds for it).
Because of that choice, I didn’t get to see what weapons were given for choosing the stealthy path, nor did I really get to see how drastically that gameplay differed from my run-and-gun choice. So bear in mind that I can’t speak too well to the stealth aspects of the game, other than the fact that I was able to successfully sneak past a couple of guards on a couple of occasions when I was woefully short on ammo. The level design always gives you the option of taking stealthy paths (even if you didn’t choose the stealthy approach at the start of the mission) and offers XP bonuses for doing so, so sometimes it’s worth it and usually not too challenging.
Upon landing on the ground and actually starting my mission, I was instantly rewarded with a handful of Praxis points, which are basically stat points that are earned by gaining XP and can be used to unlock any number of cybernetic augmentations (categorized as Combat, Stealth, Technology, or Social). The concept of augmentations is not new to the series, but the types made available to the player in Human Revolution vary substantially from those found in the other titles.
Augmentations are special perks and abilities that run the gamut from basic stat boosts — like armor bonuses or “social augmentations” that modify your dialogue choices — to far more inspired skills, like acquiring robotic arms that let you do ridiculous things like punch through walls or, you know, faces. Personally, I chose the ability to see through walls and a high-powered move that required a minimum amount of space around me because I would smash my fist into the ground and unleash a circle of explosions around my character. It was as insanely awesome as it sounds.
But, like with any special powers in just about any video game, there’s a limit to the usage of abilities acquired through augmentations. The game’s equivalent to mana comes in the form of batteries, and the amount of power used depends on the augmentation that is being engaged. Finding my enemies through walls was a slow drain on my two-battery reservoir, but a single use of my circle of explosive death cost me an entire battery instantaneously. Your first battery will recharge automatically, but if you have more than one (I started out with two in the demo), any of those batteries past the first will not recharge if depleted completely. Partial drains will allow batteries two, three, and so forth to eventually recharge, but blow them out like I tended to do with my abilities and the only way you can refill them is by finding or purchasing energy bars.
Careful usage of a resource as precious as batteries in Human Revolution is just one of many gameplay tactics you have to bear in mind if you hope to succeed. Deus Ex is a thinking man’s shooter, one in which you can’t just jump out Call of Duty style and just cut down seven heavily armed foes and escape with your life. Even if you choose to tackle a mission with an aggressive approach, you still need to be smart and strategic, something I learned the hard way after sitting on a well-placed grenade (I should also add that I was playing on the easiest difficulty, which made this all the more embarrassing).
Even if you have designs to kill your foes, you can use the element of surprise to your advantage and take some out before they notice you. Or, you can choose your battles and just sneak right past some, a behavior that is rewarded with extra XP, as I mentioned. And even if you end up in a firefight, don’t just stand out in the open and exchange fire. Instead, do what I did (eventually) and take cover using the excellent, excellent cover system that is so good I don’t know why all games don’t use it.
It’s the same cover system found in the Rainbow Six: Vegas games, where you just need to hold down a single key while near cover (or, in the case of console gamers, the left trigger) and your character hugs the wall. He only stays there so long as the key is held, so no more frustrating moments where your opponents flank you and light you up while you’re glued to a wall until you hit whatever hotkey is necessary to get you off of it. To top it off, you can leap/roll from cover to cover, giving you even more ways to fight smart.
Still, even if you get in trouble, you have a little more leeway than you did in the previous Deus Ex games. During my playthrough, I was shocked to see that I had regenerating health that could restore itself so long as I could find a good place to hide and give myself a few seconds to recover. It made things noticeably easier and is quite a deviation from form; so much so that I decided to do some research online about it. I found that a developer said that the decision was made so as to avoid having players get stuck with low health and subsequently needing to backtrack to scrounge for medpacks. An understandable line of reasoning, but I was still very surprised to see that in the demo.
With that being said, combat is fun, engaging, and challenging, but easily conquered if you play your cards right. The only thing that really slowed me down while I was engaged in combat was the clunky weapon equipping system. You can carry up to four weapons at once, but only two can be equipped at any given time. You can switch between these two weapons with a single button press, but if you want to use any other weapon, you need to hold the button down, select which weapon you want to put in which equip slot, and then go change it. It’s a tedious design and it took me a little while before I could figure out how to swap out my grenades for the 10mm pistol I had just picked up so I could actually use it.
While I’m on the subject of complaints, there was one other quirk that really drove me mad. For whatever reason, I couldn’t pick up ammo from my enemies’ dropped weapons by walking over them. I had to stop and look down at the gun and hit the interact button to pick up the ammunition, which proved to be a real pain when I was in the middle of a heated firefight and running low on ammo (something that, once again, is common in a Deus Ex game if you haven’t been playing long enough to stockpile your ammo over time).
But overall, I thought Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a blast. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was unable to complete the demo as I died towards the end and needed to leave. But from the generous taste that I got, I liked what I saw. Human Revolution comes off as a modern-day, polished and updated version of the original Deus Ex, taking the elements that made it so great and tacking on enough — like some of the awesome augmentation powers — to keep it feeling fresh and, more importantly, fun.