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Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Steve Butts | 22 Aug 2011 22:10
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In this prequel to 2000's Deus Ex, you play as Adam Jensen, a security specialist working for a company specializing in radical, artificial augmentation of humans. Naturally, there's a sizable percentage of the population that doesn't think this is such a good idea, and the game begins as these tensions explode. The player is caught up in a vast conspiracy of shady corporate interests and social justice when the line between idealism and terrorism is as thin as a razor. When Jensen is catastrophically injured in a raid on his company, doctors save his life using the very augmentations that sparked the controversy to begin with. Now, armed with superhuman powers, he has to sort out the details, finding out not only who's behind the attack, but also whether or not his employers can be trusted to do the right thing.

The augmentations help you define what you want to be good at, but if you're like me, what you thought you wanted to be when you started isn't what you'll end up playing. I had thought initially that I would play it like the first Deus Ex, where combat was primary, hacking was a nice back up, and stealth was a last resort. But after I made my initial decisions on augmentations, I found that hacking was much more useful than I had originally thought, and that some of the combat powers I had chosen had opened up interesting mobility options. Since I liked those, I got off the combat track and invested heavily in movement and hacking powers. Still later, I found more directions to grow in. The great thing about Human Revolution is that it gives you enough time and opportunity to try out different things without feeling like you regret the augmentations you already purchased.

If there are issues with the gameplay, they have to do with the sometimes inattentive AI and the game's tendency to drift towards combat over the other play styles. On the AI front, you can sometimes fling a refrigerator right in the middle of a group of guards only to hear them ask each other, "Did you hear that?" Other times, you can take a loud step and immediately have three guys rush out of a nearby room to investigate. Personally, I don't mind the emphasis on combat because that's the way I tend to play; even when I'm trying to sneak around, it often ends in a messy firefight. Players who really like to dig into stealth may be disappointed to discover the few moments where this game forces you into direct combat, particularly in the boss encounters.

I was pleased to find that flexibility extended to my involvement in the overall direction of the story. In the very first mission, I actually let one of the terrorists go. In the world of Deus Ex, it's not always easy to tell the victims from the villains, and since I had just been victimized myself, I decided to spare the guy. He popped back into the story quite a bit later in a very significant role and it really made me wonder, what would have happened if I had killed him right at the start? How would the story have played out then? There's another sequence where one of my most trusted allies got killed, and I'm pretty sure it was because of a mistake I made. That lingering doubt that I might have been able to do something to save that person was powerful. I was tempted to reload to see if I could change the outcome, but I didn't. The idea that my character had to live with that guilt and doubt was compelling and it wasn't something I wanted to give up for the sake of unlocking extra content or getting an extra achievement.

These moments of moral decision were much more compelling to me than the confusing global conspiracy ever could hope to be. When the game's story focuses on motivations rather than machinations, it becomes relatable on a scale that the conspiracy stuff just can't match. You learn in most cases that the villains are really just victims of circumstance. Jensen, himself a victim of circumstance, gets to choose how, and even whether, he helps people whose lives are being driven more by their situations than their own willpower. It gets especially tricky when bad choices, like the theft of a drug or hiding a character's background or even murder, are being made for good reasons. At that point, who cares about the murky cabal that's supposed to be behind it all?

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