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PlayStation 3 Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

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There is something incredibly frustrating about a game which does so much so well but simply fails at the most important pieces.  Imagine a baseball game where pitching and hitting was terrible, but managing the team was perfect.  Imagine the next MarioKart allowed you to tweak the karts themselves in brilliant fashion, but the racing was strictly mundane.  Imagine a game which asks you to go around in a dystopian future and which requires stealth and gun battles where the upgrades are tremendous but the shooting, cover mechanic, and AI is dismal.  That, in a nutshell, sums up Deus Ex:  Human Revolution.

As this game is both a prequel and the first Deus Ex title in years, it is not necessary to have any knowledge of the two games which preceded it.  The game has you play as Adam Jensen, a private security specialist working for Sarif Industries, a big corporation which developments augmentations for the human body.  Essentially, you can get eyes that see really well (like through walls), legs that move really fast, and some other pretty fun (and nasty) stuff.  You, as Jensen, quickly find yourself augmented after a security breach at the facility and on the hunt for who is responsible.

I can’t lie to you, no matter how many themes and questions of what it is to be human the game may contain, it really is typical dystopian science fiction.   No one who has seen Blade Runner (or maybe even The Terminator) will find it terribly deep and shocking – you have your people who like the augmentation and see it as the future, and those who think that’s really incredibly detrimental.  You also have your greedy businessman and your greedy crime bosses.

I am aware that I have a tendency to knock videogames for their storytelling, and it should be made clear that Deus Ex really is no worse than the typical videogame.  In fact, I’m quite sure that it aspires to be better, but I don’t believe it should be given a pass for simply being as good as everyone else nor one for simply trying.  If you skip the cutscenes and fast forward through much of the in-game dialogue you’ll still have a pretty good idea of what is taking place, and if games ever want to advance, they have to do better than that.

Of course, you may want to skip the cutscenes anyway because the lighting in them is often completely and totally different than the in-game lighting.  It kind of makes you wonder as you flip from one to the other if you’re in a new place, if time has passed, or if something more nefarious is about to take place (darkening skies indicating a malevolent presence).  The fact that sometimes you are actually in a new place and then back in the old one once the cutscene ends doesn’t help matters.

As a side note, I quickly find myself slipping into the trap here of giving one problem after the next after the next for a game which I enjoy.  Yet I also find myself needing to continue.  Please make no mistake though, no matter what you read down below, Deus Ex:  Human Revolution is a good game with a whole lot of intriguing things going on.  It should have, however, been a great game and it isn’t.  My upset comes from seeing what should have been and knowing that it isn’t present in the final version.

Moving on, up next is the issue of combat, which must be prefaced with a brief discussion of the controls.  The game has an incredibly awkward control scheme where sometimes you tap and sometimes you push and sometimes you push and hold and sometimes you just get confused about whether you’re supposed to tap or push or push and hold so you end up hitting circle and decking the person you’re talking to (hold circle and you’ll kill them).  That usually causes all manner of awful things to happen, so thank goodness the game has a great autosave feature. 

Okay, combat… you don’t stay in cover unless you’re holding down a button, and when you are in cover you can’t look all around you even though the game indicates from time to time that you should be able to (so when guys circle around on you, you need to leave cover to shoot the guy straight in front of you, while the guy behind you—the one who was just blocked from getting you because of a barrier in the way—now has a clean shot).  Also frustrating is the fact that sometimes poor Adam doesn’t lean against the wall correctly for you to be able to see around the corner and you’re left having to let go of the cover button and hit again so that the game recognizes where you are.  Decide to melee with an enemy and you get a great cutscene (tons of fun to watch), the game then slides you back into the regular view but the camera angle’s changed so you’re going to get shot before you can reorient yourself. 

That (you’re getting shot because you’ve lost your orientation) is one of the few things the AI does well.  Enemy fighters have a tendency, if you hide, of kind of forgetting they were in the middle of a firefight.  If you’re hiding they actually often (not always) will turn around, forget that they were looking for someone, and allow you to pick them off.  They will sometimes do this even when they saw you take cover.  There are also some doorways which the AI won’t go through – you shoot a guy standing in one room, 12 of his buddies run up to you, you jump through an open doorway, and the baddies may just let you go after a little (repetitive) yelling. 

It is possible that you can avoid most firefights, and thereby avoid most of these issues.  The game likes to offer you the opportunity to pursue several different paths for various objectives.  You can choose to operate in stealth, by persuasion, or in an all-out firefight.  So, where one mission will send you into a police station for information, you can try to talk to the cops to get in, you can sneak in, or you can just kill every last one of them.

You are awarded XP based on your choices and that XP translates into Praxis Points which are then used to buy you new augmentations (why there needs to be a conversion is unclear, but it exists).  The game is very up front about the fact that you will never get enough points to buy all the augmentations.  You therefore have to make choices based upon your style of play.

Hacking computer terminals also plays an important part in the title, and that too requires augmentations.   The more advanced you are in hacking, the easier it is to gain access to what you need, and you can even learn to control enemy gun turrets and robots as well.  

All of this, the multiple paths and the great upgrade system are really what makes the game as good as it is.  If you hear people talking about Deus Ex and saying that you simply have to play, it’s not because of the plot or the action (or the graphics which are good, but not exceptional), it’s because it clearly and straightforwardly presents a number of ways to approach the same task. 

Go ahead and get Deus Ex:  Human Revolution.  Odds are that if you like a shooter or an action-RPG, you’ll enjoy what you get.  Unfortunately, you’ll also find yourself repeatedly frustrated by the game’s shortcomings.  One day, hopefully, we’ll get some sort of anniversary ultimate edition of Human Revolution, one where the controls are worked out and where the AI acts sensibly.  Without those changes, it’s a good game, but it’s also a game which should have been so much more.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, Use of Alcohol. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360 and PC.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://www.seriousgamer.ca Michael Prince

    Wow Josh, while I appreciate some of your comments on controls, AI and cut-scene/in game disparity I feel that you let those dominate a review and completely overshadows all the truly great things about the game.

    -The amazing sidequests
    -Truly fun hacking mini game that never gets old
    -the fun cat and mouse games you can play with soldiers
    -The heaps of easter egg jokes
    -The sheer amazing atmosphere of the game from the populated offices to the dirty streets and buildings
    -The reams of truly interesting information in e-mails, e-books and newspapers.

    Yes this game has problems, yes the boss battles suck, yes the cut scenes should have been dropped for in game footage. But by God no game has possessed me to just keep playing like this one does. Most people playing it are saying the same thing. I know you gave it 4 stars and I know you said you liked it, but the review really highlights all the faults heavily and fails to bring up the amazing moments and features that make this a game everyone should experience.

    Just my 2 cents