I’ve put the finishing touches on Deus Ex: Human Revolution a few days ago. After marinating on the experience for a few days, I found myself thinking more about the game’s thematic elements more than the game itself. First off, this is a retrospective and not a review per se. So I will make reference to a few of the game’s key plot elements to better illustrate my points. But I will try to keep the spoilage to a minimal. But you have been warned. Following up on that point, this post assumes that the reader has played the game or, at the very least, is familiar with the product and what it is about.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution somewhat shares a similar legacy with Duke Nukem Forever in that they both were overdue and needed to meet a lot of expectations. Duke Nukem failed….terribly; Deus Ex didn’t. In fact, it’s been an overwhelming success, and rightfully so. Not being a huge PC gamer, I never played the original classic. However, I did play the follow-up sequel, Invisible Wars, and loved it despite the disdain received from fans of the original. Duke Nukem failed because it was a horrible game: generic gameplay, stale presentation, dated design, and so on. Deus Ex on the other hand, provides players with a fresh experience not found in many games today. But that’s not to say it’s not without it’s share of glaring flaws.
- Versatility / Level Design: This is the game’s major watermark. The degree of variety pertaining to how players approach the game is amazing. This goes beyond the typical stealth / combat cliche. Levels are designed in such a way that offer multiple alternatives of reaching a destination or completing a goal. I’ve played this game three times with each run exploring a different path while using a mix of stealth and / or combat. It’s this kind of foresight that keeps games fresh and delivers greater value to the final product.
- Presentation / Production: Right form the start, the level of polish and attention to detail is strikingly evident. In some way, the cutscenes pale in comparison to the actual in-game modeling. If it weren’t for the grossly atrocious loading screens, this would be one really slick game.
- Gameplay: At its heart, this is a stealth game. But the stable of augmented powers and weapons players have at their disposal make the possibilities almost endless. From a gameplay perspective, there is no one ‘right’ way to approach this game. If you want to be a ghost the entire game, you do so without killing anyone (minus bosses). Or, you can dispose of enemies in a variety of ways. The possibilities are endless.
- Linearity: While the gameplay mechanics and levels offer a mixed bag in its approach. You’re pretty much directed as to where you need to go from point to point. This kind of hand-holding really cheapens the experience. And in some ways in trivializes the story. Not to sound like a crotchety, old game,r but one of the things that made Invisible Wars such a great game was its open-ended, non-linear world. The game didn’t shepherd along your progression. The main plot was as clearly defined as all your other quests. Everything seemed to blend to together with an equal level of importance. Linear games are definitely not a “bad” thing, but this is a series based that’s been about choices, choices that extended beyond just gameplay elements. In previous game, you could kill off critical character early on changing the plot dramatically. It’s possible to finish some side-quests with a “good / bad” choice but that’s all really. Other than that, your path is pretty much set from start to finish.
- Shoddy Enemy A.I.: Finding the balance for good enemy A.I. is tricky. Now, I’ve been reading countless scores of people complaining about the games’s high degree of difficulty. Maybe I’m just a different breed of gamer; but I found the game to be relatively easy. Both my stealth & lethal combat playthroughs were a breeze. It’s too easy to take advantage of the enemy A.I. scripting. For example, if you’re spotted you can easily avoid pursuit by retreating to the previous / next room. Enemies appear to be confined within a certain area and will never move beyond that space. This makes it easy to set up easy head shots. Or you can wait until their alarmed status drops and try again. When you realize how it works, it makes the game terrible easy. Even if you do brave it out in the same area with alerted enemies. Retreating to hiding spots undetected or into a vent produces the same results. However, the boss battles are strangely incongruent with the rest of the game. They almost teeter on brink of being broken. It goes from essentially a stealth game to a straight, action romp.
The real meat of this game lies in the story’s theme of use and advancement of transhumanism or (H+) , a topic that’s becoming a serious controversial issue. There is plethora of supplemental material that provide scant perspectives of the topic; but none of it it really germane to the game’s completion. Being that this is a prequel to the series, I would expect there to be a larger degree of moral ambiguity present. Instead the game presents a needlessly, overblown tale of super-organizations and corporate conspiracies. I realize this fits into the wheelhouse of the previous games; but it feels ridiculous and rushed in this setting. They could have created a much stronger and richer tale had it been more grounded and explored the issues of augmentend vs. bioluddites. Which is shame, because they’ve created a very clever and intriguing world with probable issues: drug addiction for augmented people, whether augmentation is a lose or advancement of human evolution, etc. Some of the side quests do a decent job of touching on these issues; but again, it boils down to making a “good or bad” answer and not just plain solution. The game’s narrative fails to capture this, and practically trivializes it by packaging it up in four buttoned-up endings. Essentially, players never really have to deliberate about any course of action they take. All roads lead to the same destination, baring no effect to the end. Players can literally save right before the end and choice which ending to see. That just reeks of lazy writing and poor plot structuring.
Change Is Coming
Nitpicking aside, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great game. It raises the bar by presenting an engrossing, smart game that is simply a blast to play. I would highly recommend it to any gamer out there. And I definitely look forward to future iterations. Whether you’re a purist and welcome evolution with open arms; change is inevitable. It’s not a simple matter of “good & bad” or “right & wrong”, change just is. Although I don’t think this game is revolutionary by any means, it does lay down the groundwork for that revolution.