Well. I never really expected to be reviewing the third game in the ground-breaking Deus Ex series. When the first title game out in 2000, it was an instant hit, combining first-person shooter elements with role-playing gameplay, exploration, body modification, and a slew of other elements that combined to create what is still considered by some to be the greatest PC game ever. The second game was...not as great. With a lot of flaws, mostly due to the transition from PC platforms to the home consoles, it was widely criticized as a weak following to the original.
The developers of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (aka Deus Ex 3) have had two games, with good and bad elements, to learn from, so seeing how it could improve upon them was something I was certainly interested in. I had seen the previews, heard extensive talking about the four pillars of gameplay, seen brief segments of the game in action, but finally getting some hands on with the title was exactly what I had been looking forward to.
The game begins with Adam Jensen, somewhat regular guy and head of security for Sarif Industries, a large corporation that does work in augmentations in the year 2027. Things go bad real quick and Adam finds himself laden with enough augments to make himself a walking tank. Now, this isn't a world that accepts people with bionic arms readily into society. Things are grim, divided, and debated hotly. As you play, you'll see the way the world reacts to 'cogs', what society is like with these new social divisions, and you'll be given options to react accordingly. The options aren't always going to be a yes or no in a conversation. Sometimes, simply because you spent too much time before reporting for an urgent mission, people will die, and others will not forget to remind you about that.
The game plays out mostly from a first-person perspective as you run around and interact with the environment, shooting guns and people and what have you. You can also lock to cover which switches into third-person gameplay when you do, allowing you to pop up and shoot targets at your leisure. If you want to survive for any appreciable amount of time, cover is pretty much mandatory. Expect to see a lot of Jensen as you play.
Of course, as a Deus Ex title, there's a lot more to the gameplay than just shooting. Stealth plays a big part of the gameplay, and if you so desire, you can get through the entire game this way. Levels are set up to allow you to find hidden pathways, stay out of sight, and in general play like a ghost, hidden and never seen. You can also take down opponents silently, either with takedown attacks or silenced weaponry, hiding the bodies and slinking away without raising any alarms. The game is well divided between combat and stealth, and anyone with a preference in either will enjoy the balance provided.
Augmentations, obviously a big part of the Deus Ex lore, are front and center in gameplay. You start out with a few basic augmentations (such as being able to regenerate health), but there are dozens more to unlock. As you play the game, you'll gain experience - this can come from shooting enemies, takedowns, exploring, hacking, completing objectives, pretty much anything. Once you 'level up', as it were, you'll unlock Praxis points, which can be used to get new augmentations or adding more functionality to some you already own.
The augmentation system is varied and full of options - whether you want to take less damage, hack more advanced targets, fall from any distance without damage, run faster, or have more stealth information available to you, you'll be able to do it and more. With that said, however, I was a little disappointed with how the system is arranged. Things feel a little haphazardly placed: you see, each augment gets its own 'slot' in a list. To buy it takes two Praxis points, and to upgrade it takes just one point.
This opens up a lot of potential, but there are just so many augments that have only one or two upgrades, if that, and I have to wonder why they just weren't bundled with another augmentation. For example, the Icarus upgrade (fall from any height) is a standalone augmentation with no upgrades available, and I don't know why it wasn't an upgrade to legs instead of its own augmentation. Things like that make the system feel a little shallow (in literal terms, since you don't need to go 'deep' into the list to get the best upgrades) and subsequently there aren't any augs that feel like a challenge to get and a reward for pursuing a deep augmentation tree.
Furthermore, all the augmentations are available from the beginning of the game. There are arguments for and against this, but there it is.
There's also hacking here, though it's a little more complex than the multi-tools and lockpicks of the original. Keypads, computers, and other electronic devices can be hacked, as long as you have the sufficient augmentation level. It's a little complex to explain: there's a graph of connected nodes. Your job is to get from your starting node (the I/O node) to the registry nodes scattered around the graph, of which there may be one or more. This means making a path from the start, connecting to nodes, and finally reaching the goal(s). Depending on your ability, and the difficulty of the nodes, the capture times for these nodes are affected. As you capture nodes, however, there is a chance that the security system will detect you and start making its own way to your I/O node. If it gets that far, you're booted out and alarms (if any) will sound.
There are other points of interest in this graph of nodes: data storage nodes, square box-like in appearance, house rewards like XP, money, or code that you can run to stop the trace or capture nodes instantly. Other nodes can hold programs that, when taken over, can have effects ranging from slowing down the trace, changing the difficulty of nodes around you, or other effects. It's a neat system, though sometimes it feels a little frustrating when you just can get from node to node fast enough. Typically this means an augmentation upgrade is in order.
Aside from plot-related objectives, Adam will find himself running into a number of people who want his help. Lucky, Human Revolution does away with simple courier quests that just get you to run to point A and back; instead, the sidequests you'll find yourself doing are long, involving affairs that can take you across maps and through entire buildings that you may have ignored otherwise. One early sidequest that was found from an undercover cop posing as a hooker involved infiltrating a nearby gang's hideout (which was large), pretending to be a hitman, and breaking into an apartment in order to find incriminating evidence on a corrupt officer. This isn't what I'd call a fetch quest, and really the only downside to these is that you'll find yourself spending hours at a time away from the main storyline.
Human Revolution has a really unique style to it, represented in everything from the music, to the visuals, to even the clothing that characters wear. Everything is very stylized, inspired by a 'cyber renaissance' design, which is notable across the game. There are also tons of small details, like how things looked lived-in, with rooms full of stuff and small details that differentiate each of them. Overall, it's all done in a way that really brings you into the world. Character models are a little questionable, but overall the rest of the game looks quite nice. The music, too, adds some very cyberpunk atmosphere to a game already oozing with it.
One thing to watch for, and this is for the PC crowd: control issues may get you down, especially if you're the kind that dislikes console-like interfaces. Navigating menus is pretty clumsy, whether you're hacking or managing your inventory. Other stuff, like activate-to-use augments - which are in a cross-pattern on the console - don't change their location or GUI design, and use the function keys, which are fairly unintuitive based on the location of the powers. Console players just need to worry about the fact that controls can't be remapped at all - and the way they're set up is strange, to say the least (pressing the right stick for iron sights, L2 for running, and L1 for cover confuses the hell out of me).
The result? While there are certain elements that may not please Deus Ex purists (the cover system comes to mind), Human Revolution is definitely a winning title with a whole lot of quality. It's definitely a game to look forward to if you have even the slightest interest in the genre, or even some good characters, and I'd say that it's certainly a worthy successor to the franchise. Some very minor flaws are present in controls, on the PC and consoles, but these can easily be overlooked by most. In short, it certainly looks like one of the best games this year, so pick it up if you get a chance.