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The original Deus Ex is a game that means different things to different people. For some it's an immersive stealth experience with plenty of exploration and puzzle solving, for others an explosive combination of cool weaponry and stunning set pieces. From an outsider perspective Deus Ex: The Conspiracy was something else entirely. It was, quite literally, a revolution for the FPS (first person shooter) genre that used RPG (role playing game) aspects to give the gamer the experience they wanted. By allowing the player to upgrade their own character with a varied choice of augmentations the game enabled players to build a character class that could end up being anyone from James Bond to Robocop. The follow up Deus Ex: Invisible War let people down by simplifying the augmentation system and unifying ammo. That game lost some of the immersion and is frowned on to this day despite being a fairly cool game in itself. It is for this reason that this new prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution has received a somewhat sceptical build up. Well I am here to tell you that Human Revolution is the follow up we have all been waiting for.
Human Revolution is set in the year 2027 (25 years before the first game) and sees a technopunk near future where cybernetic upgrades are fast becoming the norm. These cybernetic upgrades are far more visually apparent than the Nanotechnology of the first game so controversy abounds. Some in society believe that they are an affront to nature, while others cry out for stringent controls to be in place. The corporations meanwhile think that everyone should be able to buy and sell as they please.
You play Adam Jenson. Jenson is a security guard for one of these top companies who is mortally wounded during a violent attack on his employers. Most of their top scientists are killed in the attack, but the company manage to preserve Jenson's life through a series of drastic augmentations. His arms and legs are hacked off; his heart and lungs removed, and all of them are replaced with mechanical variants. However because his body might reject such a massive change only the key systems have been activated. Jenson is enabled to activate his other abilities gradually as he gains experience through his investigation into the attack. This is an investigation that will lead him to the far corners of the world and carry him into the heart of a global conspiracy.
How Jenson responds and how he carries on his investigation then is up to you. Early on you will be given a string of dialog options that enable you to make Jenson's personality bitter, pragmatic, or hopeful depending on how you yourself view his position. On top of that; if you can get yourself immersed in the role playing experience of it all, you will be able to upgrade his abilities to enable solutions that your personal character would choose.
It works very much like an RPG. Everything you do (from hacking computers, shooting suspects, knocking people out, and even finding new areas) grants you praxis (experience) points. Get enough points and you can activate a new system (level up). Once activated these systems cannot be deactivated so choosing your abilities wisely is important.
For instance on my first play through I wanted to play as a slightly bitter man with strong moral convictions. This meant that throughout the game I shied away from any form of killing whatsoever and always helped people out when possible. So as I gained more and more experience I started activating abilities that helped me accomplish that. I started out strengthening my hacking skills, and then looked at abilities to let me jump higher and survive any drops. This meant I could find extra entrances to places by skulking around the rooftops out of sight. Later levels enabled me to do all kinds of things from soundless movement and even turning invisible momentarily. On a second play through however I decided to play a much more pragmatic character with ambivalence toward other people. So I upgraded my character with the ability to carry more weapons, aim straighter, and sustain more damage. It made everything much quicker as I could walk through front doors, but at the same time I found the Uncharted style over the shoulder shootouts were just as well done as the stealthier levels I had played through first time.
Now the fact is that this is nothing new. Lots changed in the last 11 years and a lot of games have copied the Deus Ex formula. Yet what makes this game so immersive is exactly what it has carried over from the original. It is the way the game gives you the feeling that you are walking through a living, breathing world that makes it so good. Police walk their rounds while citizens wait for trains, and people sit and have conversations that have nothing to do with you. You can even break into peoples offices, hack their email accounts, and find nothing more than a spam email from some foreign bankers promising millions of credits in exchange for someone's bank details.
Sadly there are some of the little things that are missing this time around. In the first game you could find little things like a ball to throw, or litter you can put in a bin. This was for no other reason than to show off the physics engine but made the world feel more natural. Sadly all you have here is a random abundance in cardboard boxes. Then again it also has a better sense of humour than the first game as shown by the aforementioned email, or a memo from a head of security asking his technician why there was an open vent leading into the computer cores. I always enjoy a bit of self-referential humour and Human Revolution gets the tone spot on.
Still, it has to be admitted that a lot of the series trademark faults are still present. If you've never played one of these games then there are a few things you should know. The main problem would be with the A.I of the enemy combatants. For instance while you are playing as a stealthy character you will find air vents very useful. Not only to avoid being seen but because if you are seen guards will rush to the vent and stand there looking for you. Not once will they think to follow you in, seal the vents, or even duck down to see inside. They just stand there while you shoot their legs with a tranquilizer dart and then take a nap. Likewise when playing as an action man you will find these guys will just stand there soaking up bullets rather than taking cover, and can be stopped in their tracks by a discarded cardboard box. This may have been acceptable in 2001 but these days it really should have been fixed.
Then there is the problem that the graphics are not the sharpest. They are certainly an improvement on the originals (which was pretty ugly even when it was released), but they just do not compare to the rest of the PS3's library. There is a lot of clipping and popup during action scenes, the lighting effects do not stand out, and the characters themselves look a little blocky. As you look out from the rooftops you will notice that the vast urban enviorements do not span out very far before hitting a horizon, and inside you'll encounter the same indentikit rooms in every appartment or office complex you encounter. It would not be bad for an early xbox360 game, but in the age of Mass Effect 2 and Gears Of War 3 it just looks embarrassing.
Other problems unique to this game include unavoidable boss fights that take out the freedom of choice. Playing as a stealthy character you will be ill prepared for these powerful foes, and while you can use your brain to get around this the option of not killing them is always taken away.
Another annoying point is the way the game gets you to take down guards when you are avoiding gun play. In theory take downs are simple. Press circle to knock someone out, and hold circle to shank them with your bladed arms. However in practice you need to keep your power level topped up to use these take downs. It makes no sense that augments are required to punch someone in the face, and the fact that said punch uses up as much power as an explosive ark from your chest is insulting. Imagine if in Final Fantasy a slash used as much magic as summoning Neo Bahumut and you will know what I mean. It also draws you out of the experience when you use this take down on one guard and everyone else freezes to a statue while the lengthy cut scene plays out.
It is a credit to the game that it is defenitely worth playing despite these faults. A large part of this is down to the immersive soundtrack that sets the perfect atmosphere for the game. It has this wonderfully relaxing techno beat as you are walking the city streets, but picks up pace whenever you hit hostile territory.
Obviously a large part of the game's apeal lies in the way that the flow of the story can be affected by your decisions. However it's mainly in the way that the story draws you into its debates on the morality of augmentation and forces you to take a side, and that approaching these debates in different ways can give you a refreshing experience through multiple runs.
So there you have it. If you would like to play a stylishly scripted thriller that makes you feel for your character, and can be replayed multiple times over, then check out Human Revolution. It's well worth it. It may not do much that the last game didn't, but it does everything Deus Ex did right and does it well.