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Deus Ex: Human Revolution review – Vir et apparatus

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It’s 2027. Revolutionary advancements in science allow the augmentation of human beings with mechanical neuro-prostheses and limb replacements that allow for enhanced physical and mental abilities. Who wouldn’t want to be super-human?

As with most human vices there is a downside; the body rejects these enhancements making Neuropozine, a controversial and expensive drug that prevents that corporal upheaval, a lifetime requirement.

Sarif Industries, headquartered in revitalized Detroit is a leader in human augmentation research and development. On the eve of presenting groundbreaking new research, the research laboratory is savagely attacked by augmented soldiers leaving many of its key research personnel dead. The slick, gravelly-voiced Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT leader and newly-recruited head of Sarif’s security is left critically wounded.

Augments save his life.

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Six months and two prosthetic arms later Jensen returns to duty. Unsure how he feels about his new mechanical features (except for his retractable head-mounted sunglasses, which he clearly adores); the conflicted Jensen must stop another attack on a Sarif site. This time, it’s the apparent work of Purity First; a radical, overzealously anarchic (and dangerously armed) group who believes that augmentations are the first steps on a long walk to irredeemably lost humanity.

Things are not what they appear, and Jensen is lead on an international manhunt of social and political intrigue for the very people who left him nearly dead a year and a half ago.

In a particular encounter on the rooftops of lower Hengsha, China, Adam Jensen is overwhelmed by a task-force of augment-addled and heavily armed soldiers. Too many to take out with his slow-to-reload, non-lethal stun gun and he’s out of ammo for his upgraded with laser-sights combat rifle. Instead, he jumps from the rooftop – and unseemly plummets to his death.

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Maybe he should’ve activated that dormant Icarus landing system, a leg augmentation that would’ve let him glide to safety. Perhaps he should’ve invested in the resource-hungry GLASS cloaking system that bends light around him, making him invisible. Dermal armour, had he not frivolously used up all his upgrades on the ability to punch through walls, would have shielded him just long enough to escape.

He could have, had he surveyed the site properly, have found a vent big enough for him to crawl through, allowing him to avoid the confrontation entirely.

This is Deus Ex Human Revolution, and it’s a game of variables.

Serving as a prequel to the idolised Deus Ex (considered by many to be the finest example of emergent gameplay), Human Revolution is a first-person game, but its visual point of view doesn’t mean it’s a gung-ho, gun’s blazing shooter – but it can be, if you wish to play it that way.

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Its clever cover system that shifts to a third-person perspective, allowing you sneak around and past enemies coupled with augmentations that reduce your movement noise, render you un-seeable and give you detailed analyses of enemy movement and countless hidden paths doesn’t mean it’s a stealth game – but it can be, if you wish to play it that way.

The open-ended gameplay mean that in all likelihood, you’ll find yourself regularly switching switching up your play-style, making the game as difficult or as easy as you want it to be. Tired of creeping through the shadows avoiding enemies? Whip out your hand-cannon and blast them in the face. If you’re inclined (I am!) You could even hack a turret, and if you’re sporting the augment that allows you to do heavy-lifting, pick it up and carry it with you, like a hilariously dangerous companion cube. Experiment and you can come up with some delightfully convoluted solutions to every scenario. Be aware though, that the AI is both aggressive and adaptive.

Social interactions can wholly change scenarios. Speaking to the right people at the right time – and going down the right conversation path can help you avoid messier situations, aided by an augmentation that allows you to subtly read, and even influence people’s reactions.

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Gun-play is excellent, with all of the upgradeable weapons packing a suitable punch. The same third-person trick that allows for stealth also makes the game a spectacularly polished cover shooter. It might take your average Call of Duty player a while to adjust, because squeezing on the left trigger doesn’t aim down the sights, it pulls you in to cover, with the right thumb-stick extending your barrel Instead. Poking out from behind cover allows you to blind fire, or more likely, sneak in an accurately placed shot to a patrolling guard’s unprotected head.

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Melee combat in Human Revolution is reduced to contextual takedowns; if you have available fuel to power your augmentations, a simple button press will knock out a single enemy in an ephemeral third-person display of hand-to-hand combat. Holding the button does the same, but makes it gloriously bloody. An augmentation enables you to take out two foes at the same time – and there’s a certain recurring charm to driving twin blades, drawn from your arms, through two enemy skulls at the same time.

Hacking

Hacking, wholly intrinsic to Deus Ex, is presented as a smart capture-the-flag mini-game that requires genuine strategy and becomes trickier and more heart-poundingly, nerve-wrackingly tense as you race against detection. Do you try to buy some time by fortifying a network node, or upload a virus that makes your intrusion undetectable?

Even more of your deliberation will be put towards the game’s augments. With over 60 of them, and a limited supply of the Praxis kits that allow for augmentation, it’s tricky to decide exactly which enhancements will best suit you in the long-run.

The environments the game takes you through are suitably impressive. Featuring a near-future Blade-runner aesthetic, the visually distinctive city hubs that feed you your missions and side-quests are large, imminently explorable with each intruded upon apartment offering up scraps of information that flesh out the already complex and intricate story. Your story kicks off in Detroit, but later takes you to Hengsha, a Chinese metropolis that impressed me not only with its verticality, but also with its rather accurate use of the language. Deus Ex Human Revolution is smart, sexy, cool – and polished to sheen.

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If I have to levy a complaint (and I do!) it’s in the game’s four rather annoying, completely unavoidable boss fights. I don’t know why game designers stick to this trope of insisting that progress in a game is measured by boss fights, especially discordant for a game that allows, and even encourages you to avoid confrontation. There’s also an issue of long load times (mitigated somewhat, on the 360 version at least, by installing the game) that break the flow of the game, sacrificing immersion.

That I have so little to complain about is testament to the overall, consistent quality of Human Revolution. It’s a game that captures the spirit and continues legacy of the original Deus Ex, all while maintaining its own character  – making it everything a Deus Ex fan could want in a game.

Scoring

Gameplay: 10/10

With its its open-endedness, and combination of the the game’s “four pillars;” Combat, Stealth, Social interaction and Hacking, the game plays however you want it to.

Design and Presentation: 9/10

Beautifully designed and stylised, and wholly absorbing.

Value: 9/10

A single play-through can take as much as 40 hours for the intrepid explorer, but is one enough? No, no it’s not. There’s no multiplayer, but who cares? This is single-player gaming at its finest.

Overall: 9.3/10

Deus Ex Human Revolution is a triumph, obviously created by people who understand and love the original Deus Ex. Incredibly well crafted, it’s a smart game for smart gamers.

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Author:Geoffrey Tim

I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.


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