Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a cyberpunk game about the ethics of augmenting humans with machine upgrades.  As far as AAA games go, it’s definitely a gamble plotwise.  But where the game really shines is it’s play-how-you-want gameplay.

The game takes place in the not too distant future, and people can be augmented, becoming part human part machine.  There’s a massive divide in society between those who have been augmented and those who haven’t.  Those who have been augmented are upper class citizens.  The augmentation is done by private corporations.  You are Adam Jensen, an ex-SWAT police officer working for one of these corporations, Serif Industries, in security.  Your girlfriend, Megan, discovers a breakthrough in human augmentation and gets kidnapped by a competing organization that wants the research for their own.  

It’s not that the plot is bad, it’s the delivery of the lines, and the lines themselves.  The writing is just so poor.  This really stands out, as it’s in contrast to the last game I played, Shadowrun Returns, which has some of the best writing I’ve ever read in a game.  In Human Revolution, every line is delivered with the utmost seriousness.  I don’t remember a single joke.  Also, the characters are generally unlikeable.  The writing often resorts to swearing to increase the impact of the lines, which strikes me as lazy.  If I hadn’t just played such a well-written game, maybe I wouldn’t feel so strongly, but I was often eager for the characters to stop talking so I could get to the good parts of the game — the gameplay.

The gameplay is not nearly as bad as the ham-handed story.  You can play the game like a cover based shooter or you can play it like a stealth game.  There are times when an area is flooded with enemies, and your best bet is to take them out one by one, using your hands, and hiding the bodies.  Other times it’s better to just shoot at everyone until the floor is clear.  Ammo is pretty scarce, so that influences how you decide to play.  Choosing how to go about getting through an enemy infested room is one of the most fun things about Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  Enemy AI isn’t that smart, and generally gets into a routine of getting closer to you and farther away when they know you’re in the room.  Because of this, you can sort of line them up like ducks and take them out one at a time.  There is some complexity though.  There are robots, that take a lot of ammo to take down (and as such, are best avoided) and patrol the floors.  There are also heavy guards that don’t go down easy.  You may get the Game Over screen a lot, but you can make it through each level once you get the enemy move pattern down.  Later in the game, you can do cool things depending on how you upgrade your character, like knock down walls or walk on an electrified floor.

So… there’s an upgrade system in the game.  Basically, you can enhance your augmentations, so you can, for example, lift heavier objects or carry more items.  These are the (here it is) RPG-elements of the game.  If you do all the side quests, you should be able to upgrade quite a bit, as that gives you the experience points needed to do so.  Sadly, toward the end of the game, I was required to have at least one upgrade I didn’t have to make progress, and had to reload an earlier save to get the XP needed to go down that upgrade path in order to finish the game.  It could have been a lot worse, but that certainly isn’t great game design.  Also, the game heavily favors those who upgrade their hacking ability, as hacking things is a major part of the last third of the game.  Again, I would have liked if this were handled better, like rewarding all upgrade paths more evenly.

Boss fights are generally pretty challenging.  I found it helped to save early and often after making a bit of progress during a battle.  Most of the fights involve hitting the enemy with as much ammo as possible until they fall over.  If nothing else, boss fights break up the monotony of taking out guards.  That said, the boss fights are really nothing special.  I understand the fights were outsourced to another studio, which may explain why they don’t live up to the rest of the gameplay.

I played with a Steam Controller (a trend in my recent gaming history) and it worked out great.  The developers of the game included support for the Steam Controller, and this is the first game I played where that was the case.  Controls feel natural, as a result.  Also, despite the game crashing on me a couple times, this is a most excellent PC port.  My machine is sort of like a high end version of a previous gen console, and I experienced no slowdown or major buggy-ness.

Despite poorly delivered dialog, and also my general distaste for shooters (all those slain bodies!), Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a good game.  It can’t possibly live up to the legacy of the original game (which is still on my backlog, despite hearing wonderful things), but for those itching for an action game with RPG elements and a cool aesthetic, I can recommend Deus Ex: Human Revolution with a thumbs up.



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