By Stephanie Gutowski. PC screens and gameplay by Dave Oshry
I’ve never been this enraptured by a game so far outside my comfort zone. Beyond the combat, dialog, and other seemingly inconsequential mechanics, lies an experience that bent my paradigm. I wanted Deus Ex to challenge what I knew, to capture me completely– it did, and it never let me go.
I have to preface this review with a disclaimer: I’ve never touched a Hitman, Splinter Cell, or any game within the Deus Ex series. I have virtually no experience sneaking from point A to point B because I simply don’t enjoy it. I run and I gun. I shoot things and I expect them to die. Being ordered to do otherwise simply isn’t tolerated. Human Revolution put an end to all this. It taught me a new way. That being said, once I understood the shift of intentions, the world opened up for me and I discovered one of the most engrossing games I’ve ever laid eyes on. It would challenge not only my skills, but my ethics…
The world is on the verge of a social and scientific revolution and the developers at Eidos Montreal did a masterful job of painting this picture. This is, by far, one of the most intelligent and engrossing stories I’ve ever come across in a game. Sarif Industries is at the forefront of the tech race, pushing humanity to accept augmentations (robotic enhancements) as the norm. As one of these augmented, you experience first-hand the benefits of said augmentations and the intoxicating sensation of systematically stripping away your physical limitations as you level up and progress through the game. You hold great power, but are not obligated in a any way to use it responsibly. Those blessed with these mechanical augmentations are simultaneously cursed to rely on a drug that forces their bodies to accept these foreign entities. Not only is this drug painfully expensive, but you’re required to take it for the rest of your life, or else your artificial components will stop working entirely. These “augs” litter the streets and alleyways, penniless and stuck with the machines that their bodies have rejected.
Cue the moral dilemma. You are Adam Jensen, chief of security for Sarif Industries and the victim of a terrorist attack that mortally wounded you. In order to save you, Sarif Augments you… hard. You are never given the choice. Now, you live as a piece of a once-whole man dedicated to discovering the identity of those who destroyed your world. The company you work to defend granted you life, but robbed you of your choice. You’ve been given a second chance, but at what cost?
This theme pervades the entire game and creates one of the most conflicted settings I’ve ever come across. Though I played this knowing very well that my objectives all revolved around defending Sarif Industries from the terrorists and “Purity First” activists, I remained torn. These people claiming to fight for the integrity of humanity may come off as petty criminals, but there’s a third dimension to each and every person. One of the earliest missions has a fairly obvious outcome, but if you take the road less-traveled, you’ll discover that nothing in this world is black and white.
There’s so much to be said about the nuances of Eidos’ story telling and the tangible pulse of this dystopian world on the verge of unraveling, that it almost feels like all the technical mechanics of the game itself don’t deserve to be overly scrutinized. I was so preoccupied with the mystery of the attack on Sarif Industries that I didn’t spend much time picking out issues with save files or the combat system. Frankly, there wasn’t much to complain about anyhow and I’m grateful for it. Excessive technical issues can’t be tolerated when you’ve got this kind of story on your hands. Then, there’s the world itself. The game is comprised of hubs, each sprawling and intricate, but your map will only offer you so many hints. Street signs and landmarks are your guides, and you’d better keep an ear out and a dime out for street gossip– it might just save your life. From the luminous screens promoting the evening news to the concert flyers hanging off chain link fences, every piece of artwork is thought-out and believable… and when I entered Jensen’s apartment for the first time, I could almost feel my heart sink as I saw just how bleak his life truly was. Cardboard boxes half unpacked, medicine bottles strewn about, and a shattered bathroom mirror with a fist-shaped hole all came together and conveyed such an intense sense of misery that I was almost speechless. It’s not melodramatic in the least. It’s raw, gritty, and overflowing with salty language.
This isn’t to say that these technical elements aren’t worth talking about. Combat is comprised of first-person and third-person elements, which you switch between smoothly. Human Revolution wants to nurture your ninja side, so it’d better have some solid stealth elements, right? Right. There’s nothing really out of the ordinary here. Crouch, walk slowly, and avoid enemies’ lines of sight. Those are the elementary laws of sneaking. Then you’ve got to deal with cover, noise, and remaining inconspicuous while snapping a gang banger’s neck. More often than not, there’s an air vent just around the corner (a staple of the Deus Ex series) that can help you avoid any sort of conflict. In fact, the game wants you to go this route and it’ll reward you handsomely with experience points if you do so successfully. One of the side quests involves you infiltrating a gang hideout and discreetly neutralizing them. Fatalities won’t be tolerated– there’s a king pin in there and you need him alive. This forces you to re-think your entire strategy. You may decide to mod that tranquilizer rifle with a laser sight rather than your machine pistol. You might hold off on that arm strength augmentation upgrade in favor for improving your stealth. No matter what, you have to think. Evaluate all risks and utilize everything around you. Choice and consequence, you can have it. You will have it.
Vital information can be gleaned from multiple resources. Computers conceal data caches, countless e-mails that reveal pass codes, secret locations, or requests for a rendezvous. These messages often hold the key to completing quests, pointing you towards the next objective. Digital newspapers highlight your accomplishments and chastise you for shortcomings. You’re somewhat infamous in this world and your actions will not go unnoticed. If you save a handful of hostages, the front page will sing your praises. Fail to rescue these people and you’ll be reading about your disastrous encounter for days.