Last Level Press

Nutshell Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Reviewer: Cliff Davenport

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the successor and prequel to the classic Deus Ex title of 2000 fame, is the action-RPG tale of Adam Jensen, a disgraced-cop-turned-private-security-advisor who unwittingly receives extensive cybernetic augmentation  in the aftermath of a terror-attack which rendered him mortally wounded.  Determined to make up for his failure to prevent the attack, and for the subsequent death of the woman he loved, what starts as Adam’s straightforward investigation into the incident swiftly spirals into an intricate tale of dark intrigue and vast conspiracy.  

Candid storytelling sheds a piercing philosophical light upon no small number of pressingly relevant modern quandaries throughout Human Revolution, and alongside the tumult of a world reeling to cope with technology’s inexorable advances, Adam’s own life takes on the role of microcosm for a world forced to rediscover normalcy amid changes it never asked for.

“You just couldn’t resist, could you?”

Right off the bat, I want to meet Jonathan Jacques-Belletête, the lead visual artist who worked on Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  I want to shake his hand, give him a medal, buy him a coffee, do something to express just how much I enjoyed the visual presentation of this game.  It may be the same sepia-tinted, neon-lit megatropolis we’ve all come to expect from the cyberpunk genre, but Human Revolution’s detailed setting and atmosphere are anything but run-of-the-mill, doing glorious justice to its ground-breaking progenitor.  With cutscenes living up to Square-Enix’s best, a beautifully crafted, multicultural game-world, and character designs and performances that are simultaneously unique but relatable, immersion and storytelling are the orders of the day.

That said, the technical vehicle by which Human Revolution’s gritty, grey-area story is delivered leaves a bit to be desired.  The game’s controls are stiff and sometimes downright ungainly, and the gunplay is more or less on the low end of standard for contemporary action titles.  The action’s most significant highlight is both its greatest strength and most disappointing shortcoming.  I’m talking, of course, about the melee take-downs.  As a practicing martial artist, even I cringed with impressed delight at the animations for these miniature set-pieces.  They’re varied, they’re contextual, and they’re brutal, as they should be.  

It would seem phereplomacy has failed.

The problem is, the player is forced to limit their usage of them to a discouraging degree, relying upon a quickly depleted energy meter to not only engage enemies in melee, but to activate other augmentations that players unlock as they gain experience.  This limitation is rendered doubly aggravating by the fact that the game does gracefully encourage players to take a stealth approach to combat and exploration by limiting ammunition and resources in the level environments.  Run out of your scarce ammunition and your (I’m not kidding here) cybernetics-charging candy bars, and you’re pretty much rendered unto a walking, talking, pheromone-spraying Ken doll.   It’s understood that this game unapologetically punishes strategic failure on the part of its players, but this limitation single-handedly disarmed a good deal of its combat’s tension (the right kind, anyway) and immersion, and in fact had the reverse effect of its intention, encouraging players to simply hone accurate twitch-reflexes rather than taking measured, stealthy approaches to enemy engagements.  

And after all those El Bo Fu seminars, too.  Such a waste.

Unfortunately, that’s not all.  Remiss would I be to neglect the elephant in the room that is this game’s boss battles.  For a title so rooted in choice and tactical forethought, the very inclusion of forced, arena-style boss encounters is thematically antithetical to begin with, but disregarding even that, their execution is just plain bad in this title.  Where Adam and other enemies can withstand only brief bursts of gunfire before dropping, Human Revolution’s bosses absorb bullets enough to make a CONTRA fan blush, then kindly ask for another by the time their fights are over.  And don’t even bother trying to hide from them, engage them in melee, or put them down non-lethally.  GRIP Entertainment, the studio which Eidos Montreal outsourced these encounters’ development to, clearly wasn’t prepared to factor those elements into their battle plans, and renders them temporarily useless.  Because plot.  Yes, really.

Combat aside, the remainder of Human Revolution’s gameplay experience is solidly squared away.  The dialogue system in particular is engaging and very well-polished, especially once social augmentations come into play.  Likewise, Human Revolution’s hacking mini-game and other puzzle-solving elements are equally smooth and challenging, successfully managing to keep from interrupting or distracting overmuch from the immediate narrative.  On the subject of said narrative, Human Revolution doesn’t pull any punches.  From the main storyline to the briefest of side missions, there’s often no clear right or wrong decision to be made; everything hinges upon players’ philosophical stances and choices, and in a Deus Ex title, that’s exactly how things should be.  Note, however (and I’m in agreement with the critical community’s general consensus on this), that Human Revolution’s ending is disappointingly weak, given its buildup.  “Deus ex machina” is, ironically, a spot on term for the handling of the climax, and not in a fitting, thematic sort of way.  

Overall, I’m just not sure that Deus Ex: Human Revolution knew soon enough what it wanted to be, because it falls short mechanically as a shooter, as an RPG, and as a stealth-action title.  The story is as thought-provoking as they come, if a bit anticlimactic; actors’ performances are almost universally outstanding; and again, every frame of this game is beautiful to look at.  Unfortunately, it’s just not that much fun to control, and that’s a regrettably damning flaw in an interactive medium like video games.  

Rating: 6.8

Visuals: 9

Audio: 7

Controls & Mechanics: 5

Atmosphere & Experience: 7

Entertainment Value: 6

“Maybe I should lay off the Kit-Kats.  

I think I’m getting moody.”

  Consoles: (PC), PS3, Xbox 360

  Developer: Eidos Montreal

  Publisher: Square-Enix

  Release Date (U.S.):  Aug 23, 2011

  Release Date (U.K.):  Aug 26, 2011

  Release Date (JP):  Oct 20, 2011

Final Verdict:


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