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  1. #1
    dR Dazzler
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    Jan 2010

    Default Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

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    The hype machine behind big games often mirrors the precarious Icarus myth - fly too close to the sun, promise too much, and you're just as likely to tumble out of the sky as deliver on your potential. Eidos Montreal have promised so much with Deus Ex: Human Revolution that it's hard to see how they could succeed, how they couldn't burn up in the harsh heat of audience expectation - of the potential assigned to a predecessor now more than a decade past. That heat already turned on one Deus Ex sequel, scourging it beyond all rhyme or reason. Playing the part of a better Daedalus, Eidos Montreal has given Human Revolution the wings to fly true - with just a few scorch marks to show for it.
    Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in a future you can see from here through half-lidded eyes. The world of Human Revolution meets somewhere between Blade Runner and Robocop - caught between the utopia of revolutionary scientific discovery and the dystopia of the people inevitably left behind. Protagonist Adam Jensen becomes swept up in a globe-spanning conspiracy hinging on powerful - and dangerous - augmentation technology. Adam's ********s sit on the cusp of a breakthrough that might fully "unlock" human potential, courtesy of a love interest from his past, Megan Reed. But before you can say "Alex Murphy," Reed is dead, and Jensen lays mortally wounded on an operating table, receiving an involuntarily hands - and legs, and lungs, and eyes - on crash course in humanity's future in the post-human era.

    The majority of Human Revolution involves Jensen's quest to unravel that conspiracy through missions spinning off of main city hubs all over the world. While each hub has a central plot thread carrying through Jensen's investigation, side missions populate each locale. These aren't the maligned fetch-quests of other RPGs. Each mission has several layers to it, several angles to be explored or not, several perspectives to consider, and several possible outcomes that often tie into the greater mission at hand in unexpected ways. This creates a well-realized sense of choice and consequence throughout Human Revolution.

    The most obvious choices you'll make involve your augmentations. As you play, you'll earn Praxis points, which allow you to unlock and upgrade new abilities. Augmentations are responsible for the biggest differences in moment-to-moment play between one player and another - the wide variety of abilities force you to pick and choose what you want to do. Do you want to hack terminals and discover the hidden secrets of some random guy's apartment? Then you might not be upgrading your sight to see through walls, or jumping ten feet straight up, any time soon.

    Eidos Montreal's prequel quickly establishes what the world of Human Revolution allows. There's a vocabulary of play that you'll learn quickly, and once you speak Human Revolution's language, if you can think of a solution, it's probably an option. There's room for stealth, there's room for guns blazing, and there's plenty of middle ground too.

    I never felt like the game punished me for particular choices in augmentation, or in my play style. There were advantages and disadvantages to my selections, but I was always given avenues to success - and I always, always felt like a badass. Eidos Montral brilliantly coaxes players into a space where experimentation is comfortable. It's fun to feel like you're outsmarting a game's rules. But Human Revolution provides a particular kind of satisfaction as it rewards you for it. Human Revolution incentivizes everything, as everything you do yields a reward, more or less. Whether that means playing the part of cold cyborg or tortured, empathetic ex-cop, or choosing between stealth and direct action, your choices define your experience.

    That experience comes wrapped inside a considered, cohesive presentation. Human Revolution takes cues from futuristic cyberpunk fiction, but it finds an identity in the past. The color palate eschews the blues of more pedestrian depictions of the future for a look that borrows from European painters like Titian and Rembrandt. There are visual references to the Italian Renaissance everywhere - from architecture, to fashion and body armor, and to the ornate construction of augments themselves.

    These artificial limbs don't look manufactured; they seem wrought by blacksmiths and artisans, crafted like the clockwork machina of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. There's so much care and consideration obvious in Human Revolution's look and style and execution that it's easy to forgive some of the game's genuinely uglier spots – see many of its less important NPCs and their botox faces, and a spotty framerate here and there, for example. You'll even pardon some occasionally stiff voice acting and awkward moments in the script amidst a phenomenal soundtrack.

    It's rare to see so much intention in a game. There's a striking unity of vision in Human Revolution that pulls you in. It keeps the story together and moving even as it pushes at the edges of plausibility at times, and it doesn't feel like any plot has gone missing or become a casualty to the inexorable push to ship the game on time. This is especially impressive given Deus Ex: Human Revolution's length; meticulous players determined to find everything, to hack every terminal and pry out every secret, might spend as much as 40-45 hours on their initial playthrough.

    In fact, the promises of freewill and experimental play that Human Revolution makes and keeps, and the palpable illusion of choice and consequence—call its shortcomings into glaring contrast, making objectivity difficult during the few instances where true player influence break down. While the gameplay maintains flexibility throughout, some major plot decisions are made for you, via cutscene and the like. And the "bosses," such as they are, yield comparatively disappointing and 'gamey' results, save one possible moment of turnabout late in the game.

    The free-form approach found everywhere else gets winnowed down to murder alone here. While you can experiment with the best ways to bring these augmented killers down, these points always signal the brief but blatant removal of your free will, an unexpected turn from the same game that allows you to make your way through the entire affair without killing anyone else, ever - except for those bosses. Even if you might want to let them live. There's no room for subterfuge, no room for mercy, and no margin for deviation from a very straight line story-wise.

    Other games do this as well. But few games encourage and reinforce creative problem solving and the importance of your own moral compass the way that Human Revolution does. To see that cast aside means little from a pure gameplay perspective. But as an experience, Human Revolution suffers more than any game I can think of because of it.

    Is it fair to punish Human Revolution holistically because of its inability to deliver on the logical progression of its promise? Probably not. But as the credits rolled, I contemplated that as much as I did the human existence-altering options I had to choose from along the way.



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