Long before I started playing "Deus Ex: Human Revolution," I plotted in vain about how I'd behave in the game.
Maybe I'd be a stealthy ninja, killing from the shadows, I thought. Or maybe I'd be a hard-charging, in-your-face warrior, brashly taking on all-comers. Or I'd be a quiet pacifist, avoiding combat wherever possible and using only non-lethal weaponry when forced to subdue someone.
But when push came to shove, my plotting was useless.
Situations in the game — after the first hour or so, at least — force the player to react organically. It's one thing to plan to run around guns blazing, but what if you encounter an enemy who wants to talk, an enemy who can be convinced to let his hostages go without violence, if you handle him right?
Yeah, suddenly things aren't quite so simple, are they?
"Deus Ex: Human Revolution" is a game about action and reaction. Picking a course and carrying it through. Finding a way forward, even if it's not the way you wanted to go.
In this game you are Adam Jensen, security chief for Sarif Industries, a Detroit-based biotechnology corporation. Thanks to a "terrorist" attack on your offices, a whole bunch of scientists are dead and you — sorely wounded in the incident — have got a new mechanically "augmented" body, a la "The Six Million Dollar Man."
However, don't think that makes you something special. The year is 2027, and such human augmentation has become fairly routine, even if it is the subject of political activism on the part of human "purists." What does set you apart though is the fact that your enhancements are high-end, military grade.
Even so, at the beginning of the game, you are far from your full capabilities. Because you've been brought back into the field before you've fully recovered from the trauma your body underwent, most of your upgrades are offline at first, activating themselves slowly as you adjust to your new condition — or quickly if you can afford to buy special "Praxis" kit software to override your built-in safeguards.
I find it's a nice narrative rationale for inclusion of the typical leveling-up system.
What's more, it's a way of allowing the player to custom tailor Jensen's abilities to his play-style. For instance, a player who wants to concentrate on sneaking around and avoiding direct conflict will direct his upgrade points to enhancing Jensen's camouflage, radar, noise-baffling and energy systems. A straight-up brawler, on the other hand, will want to concentrate on dermal armor, aim and recoil compensators, and the Typhoon internal weapons system.
I went a jack-of-all-trades route, focused on computer-hacking expertise, social manipulation of others and environmental survival. In other words, I could infiltrate the tightest electronic security with relative ease, talk people into doing what I wanted and walk unfazed through toxic and electrified environments.
As far as combat and stealth went, I decided to rely mostly on my own skills in those departments — though I did get the Typhoon upgrade. It's a great tool for mowing down a group of assailants at close range.
As to why all these enhancements are important, it goes to the very nature of the game. Even though you'll largely be following a linear storyline as you pursue the truth about the attack on Sarif Industries, the world is built so that you can approach each situation in a manner of your own choosing, whether you prefer to launch frontal assaults or sneak into buildings through back doors and air vents.
However, your choices — and their consequences — go far beyond picking a playing style. For instance, talking a former comrade into letting you into a restricted zone might come back to haunt you later. Or saving a roomful of hostages — or their captor — could pay unexpected dividends down the road. You won't know until you make some choices and see where they take you.
I think that's one of the things I like best about "Deus Ex: Human Revolution": the game you experience won't necessarily be all that similar to what I went through.
As far as other things you should know about "Deus Ex":
— If you want to fully grasp the narrative — and make your life easier when hacking open computers and electronically sealed doorways, — you'll be doing a lot of reading. Security codes and computer passwords you'll need are often hidden in emails and personal "pocket secretaries." On rare occasion, however, you'll find someone's password written on a post-it note tacked up at their workspace; I love that touch.
— Weapons can also be enhanced, with kits purchased at weapons shops or found in the field. Basically, you can improve their damage potential, clip size or reload speed, as well as add silencers, laser sights, etc.
— It's much easier to be a killer — most of the time. The nonlethal armaments you can select — a stun gun, tranquilizer gun, etc. — aren't built for the rigors of fast-paced combat, requiring a reload after every shot. Playing as an angel of mercy requires a vastly different approach than the normal. However, aside from a few boss battles, it's possible to make it through the entire game without killing anyone. That is one of the more difficult challenges one can attempt. But it's a rewarding one.
Now, I'm not going to tell you that "Deus Ex: Human Revolution" is perfect. It relies a little too heavily on a few standard video game conventions for my taste.
Most notable: the air vent. I'm sorry, but how does a 6-foot-tall fellow made largely of metal alloys crawl comfortably around in a building's air vents, especially while toting guns and grenades? How does he not get covered with dust, cobwebs and mouse droppings while doing so? How is it that the sound of his clambering about doesn't echo throughout the building?
It would make more sense to me if players had to unlock air-vent traversal augments, with animations showing Jensen's body folding into an odd, vent-friendly shape. But it doesn't happen, and the unreality of it leaves a bad taste in my mouth, especially as the game's designers go to extremes to convince us of the plausibility of the story's conceits.
I also find the game's hacking puzzles to be overly repetitive. It makes sense to me that when breaking into a computer's files, the task is Internet-based. In other words, you can use email-spam servers and viruses to keep network security from catching you. But why use the same puzzles to represent the security on office doors, wall safes and storage garages? Not only does that get repetitive, but it doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Why would a safe's security be tied to the Net? I'd think that would make it less secure, not more.
Basically, what I'm trying to say is that the hacking puzzles get old fast, and didn't have to.
Nonetheless, the game as a whole is fantastic, a cyberpunk thriller that will raise cogent questions about what it means to be human in the minds of players. I highly recommend it.
"Deus Ex: Human Revolution"
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC. Reviewed on PS3 using free copy sent by publisher. (New FCC regulations require that I specify if I got the game for free; it's a good idea, I think.)
Price: $59.99 consoles, $49.99 PC.
Rating: M for mature.
Recommendation: Even though it's single-player only, there's so many possible paths to take that it offers a decent amount of replayability. I recommend either a purchase or rental.
Images courtesy of Square-Enix
First: Adam Jensen, right, confers with his fast-talking boss David Sarif, about the investigation into the attack on Sarif's biotechnology company.
Second: The player isn't the only person who'll be taking cover in a firefight.
Third: The game's hacking puzzles are far too repetitive, especially when compared with the rest of the title's vibrant game-play.