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Human Revolution is a game that carries a heavy burden.
Being a spiritual sequel to the 2001 success Deus Ex, the expectations of fans loyal to the original bear down on it from all directions. On top of that, it has to allow any newcomer to the series to dive straight into the universe and its characters. On both accounts, I’d say it succeeds magnificently. Being set nearly 30 years before the time of the first game, synthetic and robotic augmentations take the place of the more ambiguous nanotechnology that were the focus of Deus Ex. You fill the shoes of Adam Jensen, head of security for biotechnology firm Sarif Industries, who, thanks to your former lover’s research, are about to make the drug-dependence and rejection syndromes that have plagued mechanical augmentations a thing of the past. Sarif is attacked by mercenaries armed to the teeth with the very same augmentations the company produces for the world at large. Your friends are left dead and you very close to it. In order to keep you alive, your boss David Sarif replaces your arms, eyes and much of your internal structure replaced with the robotic proxies and augmentations that he designed. And thus starts your journey into the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of revenge, intrigue and bad-ass cyborgs.
Human Revolution is a smaller, yet denser, package than its predecessor. The city hubs and mission areas smaller and more streamlined in design, but also more varied in their dimensions and packed with conversations, text, items, and an enormous amount of detail. The gameplay is just as tight as the game’s design, (nearly) flawlessly integrating traditional first person combat with third person cover system, allowing you to shift between playstyles at the touch of a button. As in the original, the number of ways to approach any given situation is vast enough to encourage a second or third playthrough. Or you could take my approach, and mine the entire area for hidden paths and experience before moving on. Most challenges provide at least three or four ways to circumvent them, with the exception of the very Metal Gear Solid-esque boss fights. Both the guns blazing and sneaky-sneaky approaches are equally enjoyable, though towards the latter parts of the game choosing either one or the other becomes pointless from a gameplay point of view, as the skill-tree system ladens you with so many skill points that you end up with the vast majority of the augmentations available to you two thirds into the game. This far from breaks the game, but it could use a little more balancing out in relation to difficulty and how insanely overpowered you become.
As for the game’s story, it does a good job of holding up the atmosphere of intrigue the design aesthetic is built upon. Though some of the plot twists and character arcs announced themselves long before they were “revealed”, being strung along from one side of the world to the other, uncovering layers of conspiracy along with the protagonist Adam Jensen is, for the most part, an intesnse and enjoyable ride. The appeal of Human Revolution’s story comes more from the suspense rather than the reveal. Much to my delight, the “science” aspect of this science fiction game was not neglected in the slightest. Texts and emails providing detailed insight into the science of the augmentations that are the focus of the story from the start. This kind of context for everything from corporations, characters, historical events and scientific discoveries does an excellent job of giving the universe of DX:HR the verisimilitude that makes it so affecting.
It is also a game that borrows heavily from the many games that build the foundations of its gameplay and aesthetics. The level design and stealth gameplay are heavily evocative of the Metal Gear Solid series, the robotic and augmentation design leans very strongly on Japanese anime and manga, most noticeably Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell. The city of Hengsha, a two-tiered superstructure built solely by one of the in-game corporations, instantly bring you back to walking the streets of Midgar in Final Fantasy VII, one of publisher Square Enix’s shining beacons of light from a time fondly remembered. The Detroit of 2027 reminds so much of sci-fi classic Blade Runner that I expect the cars around me to rise up in a cloud of steam and synth. Some of the time, they do. All of these influences are present yet not overt enough to take away from the originality of the developer’s vision, making you feel right at home in the world they have created.