For some, this is a week they never thought would happen. For others, it might just mean one more action game amongst many clamouring for their attention and money. For the former, it’s emotional investment; for the latter, merely a financial one. For both, it’s totally worth it.
Human Revolution, the third Deus Ex game (in fact a prequel) is, like its revered predecessor, a sci-fi tale of dark conspiracies, human augmentation and, most of all, the freedom to choose how you play. Many will doubtless approach it as a straight shooter, others as a stealth game, and others still something in between. It all depends on how you like to approach videogames. Me, I’m a sneak, but simply not being seen isn’t enough for me. I need to take down everyone, explore every room, hack every computer, find every secret. I’m only making life harder for myself, because this means I’m exponentially increasing the risk of being caught, but that’s the challenge that works for me. Tasers , tranquilisers and non-lethal chokes are my weapons of choice, in an attempt to make it through the game without any loss of life, but I could have gone for a sniper rifle and a silenced pistol.
I could have gone with a rocketlauncher and a machinegun, equally. There’s going to be some argument about what approach the game most encourages (for instance, non-lethal stealth take-downs offer more experience points than straight-up kills), but the important thing is you’re free to choose. This even extends to the game’s events: there are a bunch of side-missions and background info to make your way through if you’re more of a completionist or invested in the game’s fiction, but you can just charge through. This carefulness not to bog down anyone who doesn’t want to be bogged-downed even extends to the lead character, Adam Jensen’s, own backstory. Take your time and you’ll discover enormous secrets about his past; blitz through and he’s just the guy trying to save first his employer and eventually the world.
Whatever works for you – though taking your time, soaking it in, means both more fodder for your eyes and brain and more experience points to spend on Jensen’s darkly superheroic augmentation powers. Again, you can tailor these to how you play – perhaps you want to be Arnie, perhaps you want to be a silent assassin, or perhaps you want the safe-fall or wall-smashing powers that open up new routes. While by late in the game you’ll have unlocked most abilities, the early and middle stretches will see you creating a character that’s very much your own, meaningfully affecting near every encounter you have and how to approach it.
As with the first game, the plot is complex and twist-packed, thus I must avoid almost all detail about it. However, it’s worth noting that it’s both a whole lot less silly and a whole lot less thought-provoking than the first game. It’s trimmed a lot of the fat, lost the really silly stuff like aliens and genetically-engineered mini-dinosaurs and made something that’s a whole lot more coherent and, frankly, far less nerdy.
It’s a better story all-told, though arguably spends too much time on corporate espionage, but while the game is littered with pop summaries of bleeding-edge scientific theory, it’s largely dispensed with the literate and philosophical underpinnings of the first game. Indeed, it actively fails to explore the biggest question its themes of technological augmentation try to raise – at what point does a human stop being a human? Jensen is strangely mute about so much of what he sees – more than capable of demonstrating melodramatic emotion and purpose in specific lynchpin cutscenes, but not batting an eyelid at critical revelations, enormous moral dilemmas and disgusting exploitation.
Add to that an over-reliance on samey offices as a setting, and not enough on the excellently sprawling, free-to-roam city hubs between missions, plus a trio of irritatingly stupid, retrograde boss fights that are completely at odds with the rest of the game, and DXHR just falls short of being the wondrous new era for mainstream action games that it otherwise is.
Still, given the weight of expectation and so many revered old elements to modernise, Human Revolution does an incredible job of not just restoring the Deus Ex name but also creating a slick, surprising and rewardingly long action game for a new audience. Pretty much anything else that slaps a targeting reticule in the middle of our screens this year is going to seem so depressingly pedestrian after this.