A few months back in my review of Hardcore Henry, I promised that eventually we would get around to writing about the 2011 prequel to the widely beloved 2000 classic Deus Ex. Well, it’s time for me to pay the piper. With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided just down the road, let’s take a look at one of the gems from the earlier part of the decade. Some call the original Deus Ex the best game ever made. The calling card of the series is the ability to tackle missions in any way that you’d like, whether that be through stealth, hacking, smooth talking, or brute force. To be honest, I wasn’t convinced at first. What I had seen from the game didn’t scream masterpiece to me, and similarly to the first Witcher game, I didn’t understand what the big deal was supposed to be. But once I decided to give it shot, I got invested in the story and leaned into the free-wheeling gameplay system. I could finally see why people love this game almost as much as the original, even 5 years later.
Violence: Unless you’re playing completely non-lethal, then you’ll be seeing some blood and some neck-breaking action, as well as the occasional electrocution for good measure. But as far cover-based shooters go, this ain’t Gears of War. Despite it’s M rating the violence is relatively tame. The notable exception are lethal melee take-downs. When you’re close to an enemy, you have the option of doing a lethal or non-lethal take-down. Non-lethal is a little faster and makes no noise, so there’s almost no reason to go lethal unless you’re genuinely worried about the enemy being found and woken or that’s just the way you roll. If you do go lethal, things can get pretty graphic as Adam makes full use of the blades hidden in his arms.
Sexual Content: While there are no sex scenes, you will spend some time in a brothel and around prostitutes. There’s no nudity in the game—just the implication of sexual acts.
Language: While the use of harsh language out side of “d***n” is infrequent, it still occurs. You’ll encounter a handful of the harsher curse words over the course of the game. The aforementioned ladies of the night also will often throw some innuendo your way as you pass by.
Alcohol/Drug Use: You’ll find plenty of alcohol on your journey which offers a health boost in exchange for your screen blurring for a short period of time, with the health boost/drunken haze being more or less intense depending on the type of alcohol. You can also buy it from a few bars in the game. Additionally, augmentations require the use of a fictional drug in order to make sure the body doesn’t reject them. The game uses this fact to play with morality issues in some of the side quests and dialogue, so I would actually count it as a positive, at least in regards to storytelling.
Deus Ex takes places in the near future of 2027 where humans have access to life-altering body augmentations that can range from giving amputees legs again to security agents eye implants that allow them to see through walls. During the events of Human Revolution, augmentations, or “augs” are still a very controversial subject, with their use sparking protests by “pro-humanity” forces. You play as Adam Jensen, the chief of security for a biotechnology company at the forefront of advances in augmentation called Sarif Industries. On the night of the game’s opening, Sarif’s chief scientist (and Adam’s ex-girlfriend) Megan Hunt is about to present a breakthrough that will change the future of augmentation. Before Megan and her team can leave, Sarif Industries is assulted by unknown and highly augmented forces. Megan and her team are killed, and Adam is brought to the brink of death. To save his life, CEO David Sarif has Adam rebuilt using the latest in top-of-the-line augs (cue Six Million Dollar Man theme). You awaken as Adam after six months have passed, and you are called in to come back to work early when anti-aug terrorists take over an offsite Sarif facility.
This first mission back is the first clue in what turns into a globe-spanning conspiracy, with layers of shadowy figures hiding behind slightly less shadowy figures. There’s murder, betrayal, twists you see coming a mile away, twists that will genuinely surprise you—the whole nine yards. The major plot points are pretty set in stone, but a lot of the more minor things, as well as the ending, are up to you. Certain characters can even live or die depending on the actions that you take, though you might not know it at the time. Similarly, you can open up or close off side quest depending on what you leave in your wake. The game also has you meeting a wide cast of characters with distinct personalities, even if you only encounter them for a very short time. Notable is that contrary to my expectations and perhaps the impressions given by the first 3rd of the game, Adam is not a blank slate when it comes to character. You have dialogue choices, but whatever you choose you’re still getting grumpy guss Jensen. Adam also has a mysterious past for you to discover more of as you dig in to the main plot of the game. It’s nice that a game with a story this deep has, like The Witcher series, a character that you can play the way you want to while still being the character, rather than a projection board for the player à la Fallout.
Human Revolution is a first person RPG/shooter. It’s main feature, however, is that you can interpret that any way that you wish. If you had the patience and the self-loathing, you could play the majority of the game without firing a single bullet. Hacking and conversation are both fully fleshed out systems in the game, both requiring their own augs, items, and strategies. You can change the layout of your objectives if you pick the right dialogue options, and hacking can frequently even the odds against opponents who vastly outnumber you. There really are lots of ways to play the game. If you want to be a sneaky assassin type, slipping through enemies to your objective without anyone knowing you were there, you can do that. if you want to turn your enemies’ systems to your advantage and hack your way to victory, you can do that. If you want to go loud and shoot your way through, throwing mercy and caution to the wind, you (despite a painful abundance of bullets) can do that. It’s likely that’ll you be doing a mix of all three.
You can upgrade Adam’s augmentations through the use of Praxis points, which can be found in the world or obtained by leveling up. This can range from upgrading your eyes to allow you to see through walls to enhancing your lungs so you can sprint endlessly or upgrading your legs so you can jump 12 feet high. The game throws enough of these at you that you’ll most likely be able to get every aug that you want, allowing you to tailor your playstyle both to your mood and to the situation that is presented to you. For instance, most of the time, I played very stealthily. I made it through missions without ever raising the alarm, and for the first few, I avoided killing anyone. But sometimes I would get frustrated, which is when I would pull out my impossibly powerful silenced 10mm pistol and start taking names. Sometimes I would clear rooms using laser precision, and sometimes I would hack a turret so that it targeted enemies and use it as mobile cover. This variable approach to combat extends to how you handle missions. If you’re a smooth talker, maybe you can save yourself of sneaking in and walk in to your target fully credentialed. And if you have the right augs and enough ingenuity, you can find a completely different route to your objective. The world is your oyster…
…except when it comes to boss fights. With the exception of the boss in The Missing Link DLC, which comes with the Directors Cut version of Human Revolution, you don’t have the option of going nonlethal. The Directors cut adds options of killing bosses that involved hacking and stealth, whereas in the base game you’re stuck with straight up combat, even if you haven’t put any Praxis towards those abilities because you thought you wouldn’t have to. Even so, your options still feel very limited when compared to the rest of the game. Another sticking point is the inventory management system. As you start to build up an arsenal, you’ll need a large one if you’re spec-ing for head-on combat. Your inventory will start to feel extremely cramped very quickly. Even with all the inventory upgrades, I couldn’t carry everything I wanted to into battle. Ammo for the heavier weapons, which predictably take up a lot of space, take up almost as much space as the weapons that they feed, leading to players having to go very lean when it comes to carrying any other equipment into battle. I had to cut down to only a few energy recharges and pretty much had to forego healing items altogether as I approached the game’s end. The game also gives less ammo as you go anyway, forcing players to get creative and pick their shots carefully. Despite the issues, the open ended approach to problem solving allows for every scenario to be as fun as you make it.
Graphically, Human Revolution is pretty good. You can certainly tell that it’s 5 years old, and I wouldn’t say it’s one of those games that flexes the hardware available, but it’s serviceable in conveying how much care was put into the design. Depending on the importance of the character, character models can range from almost lifelike to looking they’re from 2005. Overall, they’re decent. There is, however, tremendous beauty to be found in the game’s art direction. The near future of Human Revolution eschews both the grays of Gears of War type distopias and the colorful palettes of Halo, opting instead to use deep browns and yellows for the mean streets of 2027 Detroit. While the colors remain the same as you visit different regions across the globe, each hub area feels distinct in its decoration, layout, and even fashion. Something really cool is that many augmentations look almost organic, like the matte black extensions of humanity they want you to believe them to be. Also on display is the film-like direction of the game. From cutscenes to conversation to combat, the game makes use of different camera angles and points of view to make the events seem very cinematic. It plays very well with the games conspiracy themes, so that it’s almost like you’re watching a spy thriller.
The music in the game is often very beautiful, especially in the hub areas, where the overtures fit well as companions to the game’s transhumanist themes. The plot is woven with such themes, and takes the time to confront issues like poverty and, of course, what it means to be human. The dialogue can be pretty cheesy at times but for the most part it is competently done. The quality of the voice acting varies from character to character, with some delivering lines with confidence and gravitas and some pulling out ridiculous accents or completely phoning it in. Things actually trend toward the former, but when the latter occurs it is very noticeable. As far as things like glitches and framerate dips, I can’t recall running into any. The can occasionally drag on, but for the most part they aren’t too bad.
I never played the original Deus Ex. I’ve got no attachment to this series, and I’m not comparing this to something I hold on a pedestal. That said, Human Revolution is amazing. Even 5 years later, the game offers a remarkable amount of freedom not often scene even among fellow RPGs. There is almost always at least a few other ways to solve any problem that you’re confronted with. No matter what your playstyle, the game will provide you with tons of fun. Despite hitting some familiar beats, the story is layered and complex, with surprises that you genuinely will not see coming. The game made me care when I thought I wouldn’t, to the point of replaying missions over and over to keep certain characters alive. The music and the art direction are absolutely beautiful, and the game feels like a cohesive package, with everything from the art to the music to how you play tying into the game’s themes and the questions it wants you to ask. This is a game that asks you to replay it, to find new secrets, try new ways of playing, and make different choices. And you are definitely going to want to jump right back in. 2011 was a pretty great year for games. Batman: Arkham City, The Witcher 2, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, to name a few, all came out that year, vying for that coveted Game of the Year spot. Human Revolution certainly deserves to be in that conversation and, like those games, still stands tall as a brilliant game, even when compared to all those coming after in the past 5 years.
Note: the only version of the game available on Steam is the Director’s Cut. As such, this review does not compare the game with its original release.