Okay guys, you can exhale now.
No-one could believe the Eidos Montreal studio’s sheer audacity when it announced that it was producing a new Deus Ex instalment without the involvement of series mastermind Warren Spector. A truly visionary, ground-breaking and highly influential work when it was released back in 2000, Deus Ex already had its legacy somewhat tarnished by a disappointing sequel, and the announcement of this prequel seemed downright sacrilegious.
It comes as a relief, then, to find that Human Revolution is a triumph: an intersection of inspired design and breathtaking style, built on the still-progressive foundations of the original game, but appropriately evolved for the current generation.
Set in the year 2027, the events of Human Revolution revolve around the matter of augmentation – humans enhanced through mechanical means (think Bionic Six or Man van Staal, if you’re old enough). You assume the role of newly-augmented Adam Jensen, security chief extraordinaire, and follow his quest to uncover the true nature of the terrorist attack in which he lost many of his limbs and miscellaneous bits. As the mystery at the root of the game’s plot expands and branches out into a labyrinthine, many-layered and far-reaching conspiracy, it is supported by an astoundingly rich backstory.
Key here is the broad spectrum of information sources you encounter, from overheard conversations through dozens of collected eBooks to NPCs’ hacked email accounts, Nigerian scam emails and all. What makes this rich narrative tapestry even more impressive is its focus on- and exploration of the ethical- and philosophical issues faced by its world. The result is a story that is – by videogame standards – uncommonly intelligent, mature and believable.
It helps that the world is draped in an alluring future-noir aesthetic that borrows equally from The Matrix and Blade Runner, but it’s by no means just window-dressing: Human Revolution’s level design is consistently brilliant, offering environments that are detailed, intricate and complex enough to always beg thorough exploration. This helps during missions, as many tactical advantages, shortcuts and other bonuses are discovered whenever you veer from the obvious path.
This design approach perfectly complements the gameplay, which is all about the individual choices you make, all of which have significant consequences. While you can tackle Human Revolution as a shooter and swagger your way through it with bombast and a shotgun, the game becomes infinitely more rewarding when you apply a bit of finesse and stealth, properly assessing each situation before deciding on one of the many approaches available to you. A deep and robust upgrade system affords you the chance to handpick the set of augments that define the playing style which most appeals to you, but you can also keep your abilities general enough to ensure that you always have multiple courses of action available. It is commendable that the RPG mechanics are deep enough to satisfy stat-snobs, but never serve to encumber and slow down what is ultimately a thrilling action-adventure.
Also deviating from typical RPG trappings are the missions, which are diverse, complex and multi-tiered enough to keep boredom well away for the full thirty-odd hours you’ll be playing. The side-quests are an especially welcome surprise: instead of the dozen simple fetch-quests per chapter that’s often so typical of RPGs, Human Revolution presents you with a smaller number that rival the main missions in scope and depth, and which always contribute meaningfully to the overall story. This is one of the few RPGs where you simply won’t want to skip anything.
Well, anything except the boss fights, that is. These represent the only times when the game ceases being utterly fantastic, and the inclusion of these uninspired, awfully conventional and just-plain-frustrating sequences boggles the mind. Its sole saving grace is the fact that there aren’t many – just a handful over the course of a pretty long game – so while it somewhat detracts from the overall experience, it’s still forgivable enough to warrant a definite purchase and losing yourself in one of the very finest games you’ll play this year.