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Critical Consensus: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

A worthy sequel to the 2000 classic - just don't mention the boss battles

The doubt hanging over Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn't so much that it wouldn't be good, but that it would fail to live up to the reputation of its lauded ancestor. To a certain type of gamer, the release of Deus Ex was an epoch-making event; a startling treatise on the power of player choice, and a largely ignored suggestion that cut-scenes probably aren't the best way to tell an interactive story.

However, to that same certain type of gamer, its sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, was a troubling example of the value of leaving some things well alone. Time has soured the general perception of Invisible War, and while nobody wrote off Human Revolution, exactly, most have been guarded in their excitement.

One thing was always certain, though: every single review was bound to start by comparing it directly to Deus Ex.

So it is with Edge magazine's largely glowing appraisal, which opens with a pleasingly counter-intuitive parallel to Eidos' classic original.

"Human Revolution begins clumsily and in at least that sense it's a true successor to the first game. Whereas 2000's 'thinking man's shooter' dropped the player off at a terrorist-occupied Statue of Liberty with barely more than a pat on the back, Eidos' prequel over-eggs the orientation, locking the player into a series of technobabble-filled cut-scenes and on-rails sequences that hurriedly set the scene."

The scene is Detroit of 2027, around 25 years before the events of Deus Ex. The world is on the brink of a transhuman explosion, where people will be able to recreate themselves with biomechanical augmentations. The player takes control of Adam Jensen, a security guard for Sarif Industries, one of the world's key biotechnology companies.

Unfortunately for Jensen, a terrorist bomb leaves him horribly wounded. Fortunately for the player, the same bomb leaves him in dire need of some serious augmentation, and on the trail of a vast conspiracy.

"The story is, dare we say it, probably a better yarn than that delivered by the first game," Edge's usual anonymous drone writes. "Its themes are certainly more relevant. While Deus Ex was more consciously a pastiche, starting with the premise that every conspiracy theory is true and spiralling off into hysteria about aliens, Human Revolution focuses on more immediate and credible issues surrounding transhumanism - its effect on morality, the vast social inequalities it will create and how the powerful will seek to subvert its potential to their own ends."

Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell is also impressed, awarding Human Revolution a warm 9 out of 10. Importantly, while comparisons with Deus Ex are initially unflattering, the confluence of its richly detailed environments, weighty themes, free-form gameplay and detective narrative make it a similarly compelling experience.

"Human Revolution is its own game too, and it doesn't take long before you're scraping the bottom of every hackable inbox to find out more about its global conspirators and the debate on bio augmentations, and scavenging as many credits and as much XP as possible so you can buy more of those augmentations to jump higher, punch harder and hide for longer. By then, you've stopped playing spot the difference and you're just writhing in the thick mud of chaos and conspiracy, and having a lot of fun working out how to wiggle your way through it."

"The world around you is exactly the sort of place where all of this makes sense, too. Caught somewhere in the thematic crossfire between Blade Runner and Metal Gear Solid, every person, discarded eBook and billboard poster is obsessed with augmentation, and every architect is obsessed with latticeworks of underfloor ducting, vents and open-plan offices overseen by walkways."

"It's one of those video game worlds that's so comfortable being a video game world and so good at it that it feels confident enough to mock itself from time to time."

Joystiq's Ludwig Kietzmann admires Human Revolution enough to chip in with a score of 4.5 out of 5; another 9 out of 10 for all the mathematicians out there. He swoons over the faith Eidos Montreal places in the player to carve their own path through the game's missions, even if there isn't quite the level of choice the available options would suggest.

"If there's one caveat to Deus Ex's strategy-through-augmentation approach, it's the inherent bias towards stealth and hacking," he writes. "The ability to grow out of it as you upgrade your armour and modify weapons with wonderful things like laser sights and armour-piercing capabilities is definitely one of the game's strengths, but you'll find Jensen to be slow and made of glass if you start shooting with no moderation."

But when the physical and virtual shelves of the games industry are buckling under the weight of so many shooters, the need for the player to experiment with more creative strategies is no bad thing. Human Revolution shies away from almost every hand-holding trope in the designer's toolbox, and it's all the more rewarding as a result.

"Human Revolution has too much integrity and subtlety to put a giant DANGER arrow over a hostile area. If you see gun-toting guards marching about, you should know to approach with a lower profile. Beyond some isolated, plot-specific locations, there are no demarcated levels and no sections that go "Shush!" when it's time for stealth. Every element of the game is contiguous to the next and part of a fantastic, coherent whole."

Except for one glaring exception: despite all of its good work creating interesting gameplay systems that produce tense moments of emergent drama, asking the player to quickly devise a new strategy so they can bask in the hard-won glow of their own genius, Eidos Montreal decided to chuck in a handful of unbalanced, uninspired, shoot-the-red-bit boss battles anyway.

Every reviewer took issue with this most baffling of design choices, but The Telegraph's Tom Hoggins wins the award for Most Impassioned Condemnation.

"Four abysmal, trite and utterly inappropriate boss battles against heavily augmented bad guys threaten to undermine everything the game stands for," he writes. "There's no choice or planning, only a ballistic war of attrition in constricted chambers against foes far more powerful than you. If you went the tank route with your augmentations, maybe you will be okay. But given the game seems to gently nudge you away from that path, the boss fights are a bizarrely anachronistic contradiction."

"And they're horrifically designed, frustrating and not in the least bit enjoyable. Only the final encounter seems to offer an alternative path, but is delivered in such chaos you won't know you've chosen it until the fight comes to an abrupt end."

With Hoggins offering fulsome praise for virtually every other aspect of Human Revolution, it's entirely reasonable to suggest that, without the boss battles, it would have earned full marks rather than 4 stars out of 5. Nevertheless, if you can grit your teeth and endure, Human Revolution manages that rare trick of a game that rewards both viscerally and intellectually.

"As a piece of fiction, Human Revolution extrapolates the fears of today into a future imperfect, of economic collapse, of riots in the streets and the gulf between rich and poor widening to critical levels. It's a startlingly relevant piece of work."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.
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