Every time someone asks me why games aren’t made “like they used to be”, my answer is always “because it’s an industry now”. And when something turns into an industry, money become the main objective.
Gone are the days with a couple of guys with an idea who started to program in their dorm room or garage to see if anything would come out of it, now we have studios with hundreds of employees and millions of dollars spent for development. Moreover, publishers have recently taking a liking to old licenses which for one reason or another didn’t make the transition into the modern age of gaming. Or, in the case of Deus Ex, they did so very poorly, with Invisible War as a prime example.
Honestly, Human Revolution was in pole-position to become a major fiasco: a new game from a revered series handed to a new studio which had to develop a game that would be compared to the first Deus Ex (it’s hilarious only thinking about it); as if this wasn’t enough, it had to be “trendy” as well, which meant it had to feature the game mechanics that have become the norm for the new generation of players: 3rd person cover system, regenerating health, pointers and visual aids everywhere so you won’t get lost and so on.
In fact, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least if this new Deus Ex would have bombed right off the gate. It wouldn’t have been the first and certainly not the last game created to milk some more cash out of the pockets of those who still knew what the X or Y franchise meant and had hopes that there are still people who get what it’s actually about. Fortunately, the team from Eidos Montreal had other plans.
Your body is a shell – change it
The first very good decision took by the producers was to make Human Revolution as a prequel. In other words, instead of trying to salvage what they could and continue the story from Invisible War, they decided to explore the events that lead to the ones in the first Deus Ex.
As a result, the year is 2027, when humanity is at a crossroads: bio-mechanical augmentations have become part of everyday life, but not everyone is ready to accept them, especially since human physiology isn’t 100% compatible with these artificial improvements. Basically, the body begins to reject these “prosthetics” after a certain period of time, and these adverse reactions can lead to certain death if you don’t take constant doses of a special drug created specifically to combat these problems. And this is where David Sarif and his team of researchers come in, led by doctor Megan Reed, which have discovered something that could revolutionize the augmentation industry as a whole.
But before they can show their discovery to the world, the Sarif HQ is attacked, Megan is killed along with her entire team, and Adam Jensen (ex-SWAT member entrusted with the company security and your alter-ego) is almost sent to the afterworld as well. Fortunately, David Sarif isn’t one to give up so easily and through substantial surgical alterations he manages to save Adam’s life, but with significant modifications to his body. From this point onward, the main mission will be to discover who (and especially why) attacked the company.
Considering it’s a Deus Ex title we’re talking about here, nothing is what it seems and you’ll need at least 20 hours to reach on of the four endings, depending on how meticulous you are. From this point of view, fans of the series (who will surely read every single email, PDA and newspaper) will be delighted to discover plenty of easter eggs, signs and portents of things to come, with everything being tied into the story very elegantly.
Your starting point will be Detroit, but you’ll also get to visit Hengsha, Singapore and Montreal, although only Detroit and Hengsha can be consider mission hubs in the true sense of the word (Montreal had to be cut down, alongside Upper Hengsha).
The location design is very good, regardless if it’s the city street or research labs, and the carefulness with which the levels were “populated” is evident everywhere, from the warning signs and cardboard boxes to the tourist attractions and the futuristic displays of the computer systems. Thoroughly exploring the places you’ll visit will be one of the main occupations, but even though you’ll spend quite some time in buildings, sewers and research labs, some of the vistas are just breathtaking.
The color palette (black and gold) was a main point of contention before release, but personally I consider it to be a breath of fresh air and an integral part of Human Revolution’s identity. Maybe after all these years when SF meant a sterile white and blue combination, any type of change would seem sensational, but here it tightly wraps around the idea of a world that’s going through a new Renaissance, but at the same time is a dystopian and unforgiving place.
On the technical side of things though things aren’t as “shiny”, with the look and animations for the secondary characters being the worst offenders (Wayne Haas for instance). While I can appreciate the fact that the design team went for a more comic-book style and not hyper-realism, some of the dialogues simply become comical when you see the characters gestures and face expressions, even though it should be a tense or emotional moment.
It’s true that the Deus Ex series never stood out from a technological standpoint (maybe just when it came to the poor optimization of Invisible War), but when you have such a great artistic design like the one from Human Revolution and you combine it with robotic animations and a lip sync that could have might as well be taken out completely… mhm, things just don’t feel right. Also, I didn’t really understand the need for prerendered cinematics (created with the game engine), but shown in a very poor resolution, especially since the engine itself seems more than capable of presenting them in real-time.
Fortunately, the voice acting saves the day somewhat, only Wayne Haas and Mei Shuen being included in the “Can I kill you? Can I, can I?” category, while the musical score composed by Michael McCann is simply outstanding, with tracks like Icarus, Sarif Industries or Return to Hengsha already being at the top of my personal playlist.