Saturday, March 24, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution review

    Deus Ex is considered by a lot of people to be the greatest video game of all time. This is a somewhat irrelevant statement because there's countless ways of measuring greatness. Pacman, for example, might be considered the best for the fact it started the  ball rolling. Still, I love Deus Ex.

    The first game touched upon themes of transhumanism, spirituality, conspiracies, and other high concepts. I found it incredibly fun to play. Sadly, it hasn't aged very well gameplay wise and I'm more inclined to tell people to watch it on You Tube than sit down to play it.

    The first game ended in a way which, not to spoil, conclusively ended the series. That didn't keep the developers from making the wholly unnecessary, but still well-written, sequel Deus Ex: Invisible War. Now, there is a prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolutions. While I am an avowed hater of prequels, I was willing to give this one a shot because hey, Deus Ex.

    So is Deus Ex: Human Revolution awesome? Yes, yes it is. Is it as awesome as the greatest game of all time?

    No, no it's not. Is it close? I'd say it's amongst my favorite video games of all time but it's down there, like seventh in the top ten. I'd put Skyrim, the original Deus Ex, Dragon Age: Origins, Silent Hill 2, and Mass Effect 1 and 2 over it. Still, that's pretty high praise. It beats out Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and TIE Fighter. The Darkness 2 is about 11th on my list, which is why I rated it so high when I reviewed it.

    Part of what hurts the narrative is Deus Ex is it's a relatively short game. The graphics, gameplay, and world-building are so intricate that there's only so much you can stick on one disc. It's a peculiar form of criticism that a game needs to have more of its awesome content but I guess I still felt "hungry after my meal." At about seventeen hours, I could have gone for another nine hours or so.

    Amusingly, this is almost exactly what "The Missing Link" DLC provides and I wish they'd found a way to stick it into the game proper.

    I have a few more complaints about the game, but they're very minor. The fact that energy bars don't regenerate past the first level is one. I also resented the fact that I missed one of the side quests because there was no option to return to it after a counter-intuitive conversation with the protagonist's boss. Finally, felt the ending could have used some work. Compared to the overhyped Mass Effect 3 ending controversy, it's only a minor issue, however.

    Now for the positives of the game. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the few genuine cyberpunk works to come out in recent years. I say "genuine cyberpunk" because while the tropes of the genre are common as dirt, a lot of cyberpunk is actually far too optimistic for the setting. The original Deus Ex, for example, is ultimately a Christ-story with the most obvious ending being about humanity's redemption through technology.

    Here, it's much more clearly about technology being used as a tool of control and perversion. It's not that technology is evil but it's being manipulated to make the world even worse than it already is.

    Class warfare is a big theme of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. David Sarif wants to be the benevolent King of Detroit but he's not rich or influential enough to make the entire city prosperous. The Illuminati, revealed in the first thirty seconds of the game, are still working to keep humanity under their thumb. Virtually the entire game is set in horrible slums or beautiful towering spires. Wealth, rather than cybernetics, is the guiding force of the world.

    The writers go to great lengths to examine how issues of wealth and cybernetics interact. One of the things I really liked was the inclusion of the Harvesters. These organ-thieves are created in exactly the sort of way actual thieves are created. There's an opening in the market that unscrupulous people can take advantage of, so they do.

    Speaking of which, I agree with Angry Joe, why was Adam never targeted by these organ thieves? You'd think as a walking tank with hundreds of million-credit Augments on his body, someone would attempt to mug him for them. It feels like a missed opportunity that no one ever does.

    The voice-acting in the game is incredible and I loved all of the characters. Adam Jensen is a wonderful protagonist, nicely redeeming the kind of '90s Antihero' archetype he obviously springs from. I could see Christian Bale playing him, though there's no physical resemblance.

    David Sarif, mentioned above, is plain awesome and I hope to see more of him. Likewise, I absolutely fell in love with the game's romantic interest, Megan Reed. Quite possibly my female favorite character in video games, I really believed in Adam and Megan's relationship.

    Realistic romances are some of the most difficult things to write in video games. Here, in a very short amount of time, they manage to really sell the bond between the pair. While events separate them in Act One, the shadow of Megan Reed hangs over all of Adam Jensen's ensuing actions. If they ever do a sequel, I hope they can write any future romances with the same degree of authenticity.

    Now for the gameplay. The gameplay for Deus Ex is based around four basic modes of play: stealth, shooting, takedowns, and hacking. Unlike the Metal Gear and Splinter Cell franchises, I *didn't* hate stealth in this game. There's enough vents to crawl around and boxes to hide behind that I never felt I was being shoved into a kind of gameplay I loathed. Sometimes, though it was rare, I even ended up shooting my way out. The game is sparse with ammunition and death comes after only a few shots, so the combat sequences are quite intense.

    If I had to applaud the developers for anything, it's the takedowns. Nothing is more fun than sneaking up behind a mook and promptly laying him out in one of the seemingly hundreds of martial arts animations Jensen possesses. You don't even necessarily have to creep up on your  opponents, you just have to get close enough to beat them up. The option of playing a cybernetic Bruce Lee was too good to pass up so I ended up leaving most of the mooks alive, brutalized but alive.

    Hacking is something I'm iffier on. The minigame for hacking took a while to figure out and got tedious in places, but it served its purpose. Honestly, if I had to recommend an ideal build for Adam Jensen, it would be emphasizing hacking and faster energy recharge time for more takedowns. There's enough experience in the game that you will be able to make whatever sort of Jensen you like, however.

    I could talk about the game all day, really, but there's really nothing more to say. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a well-crafted and well-written game set in my favorite genre. I suggest people purchase a copy now that the price has gone down a bit and download the DLC, "The Missing Link" for their first playthrough.

    Bravo guys, good game.


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