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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

10:0612/09/2011Posted by Dave StuartOne Comment

In many ways videogames are all about the illusion of choice. After all, any outcome, path or solution must be thought of, accommodated and predicted by the designers – the trick is in hiding it. In the first person shooter genre it has become a common complaint that the experiences being provided are being ever simplified, funnelling the player down increasingly impressive but restrictive paths; a rollercoaster of action that leaves little room for individual inspiration and invention. A result of this is these games become impersonal experiences; to know that millions of others watched events play out in the exact same way as you, that you influenced nothing, can be an unsatisfying experience.

All this, in a roundabout way, brings us to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a sequel in more than just name to Ion Storm’s 2001 hit Deus Ex, whose mix of shooter and RPG elements is still revered by many as one of the most important (and best) PC games of recent times. Deus Ex was revolutionary at the time (and sadly remains so) in its ability to offer the player real choice, and a distinct lack of direction. How you went about your objectives was up to you, even deciding which objectives you completed and how you completed them, making each play through memorable and different. Human Revolution is obviously heavily influenced by this template and somewhat surprisingly manages to effectively combine many of the elements that made Deus Ex matter in the first place with more modern gaming conventions to create a more streamlined experience that still feels like a real, genuine Deus Ex game. And that is something that feels mighty good to write after all these years.

Set in the year 2027, Human Revolution centres around Adam Jenson, a former SWAT officer who has taken up a security position at a biotech company, Sarif Industries. On the eve of the company’s big unveiling of its latest augmentation technology its headquarters are attacked with key scientists being killed and Jenson left for dead. He is re-built with a host of new augmentations and sets out on a mission to find out who perpetrated the attack and why. It is a neat and engaging setup and one that is effectively told through a prologue sequence. In fact the storytelling throughout Human Revolution is strong, creating memorable characters and a complex but largely grounded plot.

After whisking you away for your first mission you are left with the first of the game’s central hub-like areas to explore in downtown Detroit. Just this simple act of controlled freedom is something of a revelation; it is clearly a cleverly designed self-contained area but with enough variety of locations and hidden side missions, tasks and secrets to mostly disguise that fact. It is here, when the game pauses and lets you loose, that the atmosphere and feel of the game world comes into its own. Whilst Human Revolution may not technically be the best looking game around (character models aren’t the strongest and the frame rate can stutter) it more than makes up for it with its fantastic art design and attention to detail. The obvious influences can be pegged (Blade Runner) but Human Revolution, with its heavy use of Teal and yellow as key colour indicators, manages to distinguish itself from the pack and its dystopian future is removed enough from typical sci-fi to feel fresh and exciting. It is a shame though that the bustling signs of life, so evident on the streets, are not replicated in any of the games residential locations which are too sterile and impersonal.

Thankfully the NPCs that inhabit the world are, on the whole, interesting and well crafted with struggles that are relatable. In fact one of the biggest surprises I had with the game was the infrequent conversations that you get to participate in with key characters in the game where, by paying attention to character types and through careful use of the correct phrasing, you can influence outcomes in a way that feels very natural and emergent. It is a shame then that occasionally the game is let down by some poor voice acting and stilted delivery. I got used to Jenson’s gruff intonation early on, but Pritchard (who fills the somewhat clichéd role of techie with a chip on his shoulder) has a real habit of grating throughout. Thankfully many of the main story characters do not suffer in this regard and the writing is strong enough throughout to navigate these performance road bumps.

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One Comment »

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