Set in a not-too-far-off future of 2027, this prequel to the innovative title from 2000 takes place in a world where human “augmentation” (replacement or improvement of various human biological systems) is just beginning to see widespread usage. The player assumes the guise of Adam Jensen, a security specialist for the firm pioneering the practice, who involuntarily has his arms, lungs, eyes and legs replaced with cybernetic versions after a horrific attack by a group dedicated to preserving the “purity” of the human race.
Moving through the game, you can play in whatever style you choose. You can become stealthy and sneak through locations, taking out your opponents silently (and stashing your unconscious targets in a quiet place where they won’t attract the notice of other enemies), or you can play the full-frontal assault style and go in with guns blazing. The game allows you to control the specializations to your augments to more fully cater to your own personal playstyle.
This bit of freedom is very refreshing, and makes the few times when the game forces you to play a certain way all the more disappointing. You can play the entire game without actually killing anyone else. But in those four instances, you have no choice and the game developers have forced you to play the game in a very narrow, unyielding manner. It’s disappointing, and in stark contrast to the freedoms allowed through the rest of the game.
The storyline is engrossing, taking cues from cyberpunk and espionage genres, and still touches on topics relevant to society today. Not only will you be dealing with the moral questions such as “Just what makes us human? If we replace a limb due to accident we’re still ‘human’, but what about if we replace unmaimed arms to have stronger, faster robotic ones?” and touching upon the way media and politics can drive each other, but you’ll also be uncovering a conspiracy that worms its way into the highest levels of power: corporate, media and political. Expect your first playthrough to take between 20 and 30 hours. The complexity of the gameplay and the ability to alter your playstyle bring a lot of replay value to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
The story is part and parcel of every piece of the game’s world. From Detroit (where, I recognized several landmarks including One Detroit Center, the Guardian Building, the Renaissance Center, pieces of the Highland Park Ford Facility, and more) to Shanghai, you’ll find eBooks to read, email accounts to hack and peruse, newspapers to scan and TV News reports to assess. The story practically invites you to get lost in it, as you delve further and further into the globe-spanning conspiracy.
The game sets up the story for the original Deus Ex beautifully, and it’s easy to forgive the occasional rough graphical edges, and the sometimes emotionless voice-acting (though the soundtrack is superb and suits the game very well). While the fact that the game rewards you for creative thinking –sneaking unseen through a building’s ventilation shafts instead of attacking the front doors — is refreshing, the removal of freedom for a very few select opponents is disappointing.
In the end the action, stealth, dialogue and most importantly the story, all combine to become something greater than its parts. Is it as revolutionary as Deus Ex was in 2000? Not quite, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a revolution in a genre of shooters that seem to be mindless retellings of Middle-East conflict.