In the year 2000, Ion Storm unleashed the perfect marriage of futuristic shooter and skill-based role-playing in Deus Ex, a game so unique that even its own sequel couldn't replicate its success. Can any follow-up possibly do it justice?
Deus Ex: Invisible War took the award-winning formula established in the first game and dumbed it down to the point where even Mass Effect 2 fans could play it. Players that reveled in the complicated skill advancement of the original were offended. Game reviewers were disappointed. It felt like the end of the Deus Ex series. Judging by the review scores rolling in for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, we're lucky that wasn't the case.
You can read a chart, so you can tell the game is good, but why is it good? For that we turn to the assembled (as in brought together, not manufactured from parts) video game reviewers.
Deus Ex is one of those franchise titles that's never had a great showing on consoles. The PS2 port of the original wasn't very good, and the Xbox port of the sequel was equally disappointing for me. Thankfully Human Revolution, the third game in the series coming from Eidos Montreal, doesn't follow suit. In fact, it's a pretty damn good prequel to the Deus Ex world in general, and an exceptionally well made game to boot. Like most, I was a bit hesitant to think that anyone could capture what I enjoyed about the original Deus Ex nearly a decade after its release. The sequel in '03 certainly couldn't do it, and if Duke Nukem Forever showed us anything, it's that maybe some old franchises are better left dead. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked Deus Ex: Human Revolution though, and I think a lot of gamers will be as well.
Sometimes, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is just the best Deus Ex tribute act ever. You can still save the world by crouching behind desks and hacking into people's email if you want, but it doesn't judge you if you want to do something else for a bit. In fact, it rewards you. It gives you an XP bonus for not being seen, but it also gives you an XP bonus for brutally incapacitating two guards on patrol with the same takedown. There is no wrong kind of progress, there's just success. It would be nice if more of the games that wished they were Deus Ex treated us like that.
While the Mass Effect series sheds its stats and inventories in favor of forging an intelligent, emotionally driven shooter, Deus Ex: Human Revolution examines and embraces the structure of Ion Storm's 11-year-old classic, Deus Ex: Didn't Have a Subtitle. Environments don't exist to funnel you through perfectly scripted events — they're complicated, multi-tiered stacks of obvious and hidden pathways. And Adam Jensen, a stoic security manager who returns from dramatic near-death as a grumpy cyborg, can warp himself biologically to accommodate those routes. There is perhaps no greater proof that this is a role-playing game, however, than the ability to conclude just about every conversation by punching your quest giver into an unconscious rag doll.
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.
Even Bethesda's RPGs, with their malleable skillsets and open worlds, rarely allow players such dominion over the environment – even if, with Human Revolution, that dominion is often prescribed in the convenient design of ventilation systems. But it's the way that your larger decisions trickle down through these low-level choices that makes the game remarkable and unique for each player. A decision to help a victim of extortion means that we end up spending half a day experimenting with different non-lethal methods to neutralise pockets of security without alerting the entire Heng Sha police force, just so we can break into a few lockups without harassment and find funds for the side-mission. Our multi-stage solution involving the split-second juggling of tranquilliser darts, dual-takedowns and invisibility is obscenely cool, a heist sequence of such fluidity and audaciousness that it would look the part in a Chris Nolan film, although we suspect he might have got the action in the can in a smaller number of takes.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, like its augmented hero, is a step above its mundane peers. With its flowing, open approach to mission structure, thoroughly engrossing story and gorgeous visuals, this is the kind of game that all others should strive to be. While there are some elements that don't feel quite as developed as they should have been, and augmentation is more Hobson's choice than true choice, Human Revolution provides a level of quality that only the most adamant cynic could fail to be impressed by. More importantly, it is everything a fan of Deus Ex could want in a game, and it effortlessly embraces the arduous task of living up to the legacy, standing next to its 2000 predecessor and holding its head up in pride. This game is truly deserving of the name Deus Ex. In fact, there's no other name it could have had.
It's a revolution in long-awaited sequels!