Deus Ex: Human Revolution
(16/09/2011) Some games are RPGs. Some are shooters. And some shoot for the stars – spanning genres far and wide and combining elements from across the gamescape, aiming to become some sort of mega-game, an experience that defies genre with expansive grandeur.
The original Deus Ex is amongst the first of these grand hybrids; it’s most recent successor, Human Revolution, matches itself against the likes of Mass Effect, Bioshock and Fallout. And even with such stiff competition, it stands out as a unique and gripping experience, and presents a world well worth investing time in.
|2027 is breathtakingly imagined.|
The issue that occurs whenever a game promises to explode genre staple is that there’s always compromise. It’s impossible for a modern game to be a great shooter, and a great RPG, and a great open world game, and a great story game. Parts of the gameplay invariably suffer in the bid to balance these often conflicting elements.
And balance is something that Human Revolution excels at, possibly more so than its peers. While no individual element can match a dedicated genre game – as a shooter, it’s stiff yet functional, as a stealth game, it’s somewhat shallow – it displays a masterful hand at combining these elements into a cohesive and engaging whole.
In short, there were very few points where I found myself wishing it was better, something that can rarely be said of similar cross-genre experiments.
Player choice is the fulcrum of the Deus Ex experience, and it’s this sensation of freedom that is Human Revolution’s strongest individual feature. It’s not a massively open game in the way something like Fallout 3 is; instead, it presents you with many fixed situations, each with countless different ways to tackle them. Sneak in, hack the security system, and climb out through a vent, or talk the guard on the door into simply letting you stroll through? Almost every mission feels charged with countless possibilities. This focus on player choice and experimentation is refreshing in a gaming environment that seems bent more and more on restricting the player’s impact on their own gaming experience.
I get the impression that a lot of this choice is not in fact as sweeping as it seems while playing, and certainly as the game moves on the artificial nature of its apparent openness becomes more obvious. Vents are conspicuously placed, boxes of just the right jump height are noticeably snug to troublesome walls, and once you’ve fully upgraded your hacking abilities the whole thing becomes a trial of patience rather than skill, and you move slowly through the game hacking everyone and everything with ease.
More impressive is how the game adapts to your style of play – at one point fairly late in the game, having tired of sneaking everywhere, I decided to simply waste everyone in sight. Once the somewhat dumb AI adjusted to the shock, the game adapted easily from a tight stealth game into a surprisingly solid cover shooter. The robust formula encourages players to experiment, and while the game displays a definite favouritism toward the stealthy player, it does reward any style of play, something I don’t think another game has done so well since, perhaps, the original Deus Ex.
|Gunfights are rarely the only option.|
|You will get used to office infiltration.|
Then there’s story, which builds a compelling and believable 2027 only to spiral down through countless sci-fi clichés and nonsensical plot-twists to end in a convoluted mess. This is compounded by the fact that major plot points are often skimmed over in painfully brief pre-rendered cutscenes, leaving me checking my mission log to find out what was actually going on.
And of course it doesn’t end well. Following in the footsteps of Bioshock and Fallout 3, Human Revolution falls apart in its final hours. Freedom, choice, basically everything that makes the game great are stripped away, ending in a bizarre and misjudged boss fight followed by little more than a slideshow and some exposition. It’s certainly more whimper than bang.
All of this dampens the overall experience, but doesn’t stop Human Revolution from being a great game. Despite some poor story beats, questionable boss fights and a limp ending, for the vast majority of its playtime Human Revolution is grand, confident and enthralling. It’s a rare game that offers real freedom for experimentation while suffering little of the crippling compromise that often plagues games of such scope.