Upon its release more than 11 years ago, Ion Storm’s Deus Ex was considered by many to be one of the finest PC games created. To them, the level of immersion, environmental interaction and open-ended, plot-driven adventure was without peer.
Taking the action-RPG to new heights these days takes a monumental effort and developers presently have a large workload if they hope for their title to be well received.
Developing a Deux Ex title, then, is a particularly fraught process. The much-maligned Deus Ex Invisible War pays testament to the fact that any instalment in the series will be measured against the efforts of Warren Spector and company, and, if found wanting, will be judged poorly.
Conversely, the failures of Invisible War only serve to accentuate the successes of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Invisible War’s perceived shortcomings didn’t tarnish the reputation of the series. Instead, gamers were left out in the dark until a worthy successor (or predecessor, as the case has proved) was created.
Set against a near-future, cyberpunk New York, the original title saw players weaving through narrative twists and double-crosses as they controlled an agent augmented by nanotechnology, one capable of leaping tall shipping containers in a single bound or hacking through the government’s computers like they were so many British celebrity voicemail boxes.
In Human Revolution, the developers have taken the rich world of Deus Ex and built a beautifully detailed precursory environment, riddled with subtle winks and nudges to the future of the previous game.
Adam Jensen is a security expert employed by a monolithic biotechnology firm. The opening passages of the game task the player as Jensen with performing the security and espionage requirements of an enigmatic employer. The set-up is familiar, but the minor plots and driving theme of humanity versus science keeps things tense and immediate. As with the original, the multi-threaded narrative unravels as the player interacts with the characters and the world. The satisfaction brought on by witnessing the impact of these choices is immense. It’s something Invisible War lacked.
With that said, story-telling in this medium has advanced dramatically in recent years and while Human Revolution’s arc is compelling, some may find it doesn’t measure up to other new releases. It’s probably not the grandest tale ever told, but the writers have impregnated the existing canon with superb skill.
The conspiracy begins with Jensen receiving nano-augmentations he didn’t ask for at the request of his boss, compounding the sense that things are not quite right in 2027.
Speaking of the current crop of games, Human Revolution has appropriated a few tricks from recent history – especially console shooters. A cover system has been implemented, and while it feels strange at first, it quickly becomes intuitive. Peeking around corners or deftly darting between pillars and doorframes makes the game’s stealthier elements much more user-friendly. Bunkering down for a fire-fight is equally painless. As well as cover, Jensen has the ability to quietly dispatch an enemy from behind with either a lethal or knockout strike. Not only do these look and sound impressive, they add another option to the arsenal. Dragging bodies has become more realistic: before you know it you’ll be stuffing corpses into air conditioning ducts like an old pro.
Rooting around lockers and crates for medipacks is also a thing of the past, Human Revolution features regenerating health; a potentially controversial addition that simply makes sense and saves time.
J.C. Denton was a man with robots in his blood – true nanotechnology made him the killing machine he was. As this title is a prequel, Human Revolution focuses on the emerging social and political minefield that is mechanical augmentations. Much like the original’s Gunther, cops and crooks alike have been supplemented with savage mech components: unwieldy sockets jut from flesh and there’s an unquenchable need to replenish their precious energy.
Much of the conflict in the early stages of the game comes from so-called purists – humans who see mechanical augmentation as an abomination unto a higher power. As the intensity of the global conspiracy heats up, the myth of Icarus comes to the fore. Was man meant to fly this close to the sun? Indeed, there’s a rough symmetry between the Purists and the anti-UNATCO terrorists from Deus Ex, something that leads to a wider criticism of the game.