Every now and again a game shows up and promises to change everything about a genre. 2000’s Deus Ex was one of those games, and truly delivered on those promises. After Invisible War, a decidedly lackluster sequel in 2003, there was a long delay for the next installment. Human Revolution was again presented as a groundbreaking stealth-action RPG where you choose how to develop and what you do. While solidly a great game on its own, Human Revolution falls short of changing the way I think about the genre.
For starters, gameplay itself isn’t really anything new. The action part is quite similar to the Metal Gear Solid series in that areas are loaded with fairly stupid guards who walk along fairly short patrols that are repeated ad nauseum and it is your job to get to the other side of the area, either by sneaking or taking them all out. Most areas have an excellent selection of paths, ranging from super stealthy to guns blazing. Many times I would look back after sneaking to the finish line and notice that there was a significantly sneakier way to get there.The RPG part is pretty close to the Mass Effect series, with dialog trees, level progression and skill upgrades. Dialog trees in Human Revolution are not as deeply involved as in Mass Effect, but persuasion events are certainly more interesting. When in a situation where you can persuade your target, you must pay attention throughout the conversation for personality traits, which are tracked by a meter on the screen. At a key part of the conversation, you can choose from one of three persuade options, and you must choose based on personality.
You are Adam Jensen, security chief of Sarif Industries. Early in the game you’re injured in an attack. Because of the extensiveness of your injuries, you’re given powerful mechanical augmentations and your mission becomes tracking down and dealing with those responsible for the attack. As you search for the truth you may not like all that is revealed by your investigation. Technically, the game plays as a first-person shooter, but as soon as you stick yourself to a wall the camera pulls out to a third-person view. Because I played through for stealth, a good portion of the game was played from a third-person perspective, which was odd for a game marketed as first-person. While a bit strange, I think this perspective change worked for the most part and didn’t take much away from experiencing the game as Adam Jensen. You get into the main plot right away and meet the big bads pretty early on. The game does keep you guessing as to who these people are and who they are working for, keeping the plot interesting.
Lethal and non-lethal are both valid and effective ways to get through the game, and you can change your mind on a case-by-case basis if you want. You do receive a little extra experience from non-lethal takedowns, but ammo for non-lethal weapons is a bit sparse in the early levels. The difficulty you set it on (easy, medium, hard) affects the amount of life your enemies have and how much damage they deal, but that doesn’t matter much on a sneaky playthough. Until the boss battles, that is.
Oh, the boss battles. I wasn’t exactly ready for these, having not known they were coming. And when they do come, it’s pretty much out of nowhere. There isn’t any workup or warning, just boom – you’re locked in a room with a walking Final Fantasy VII allusion (guy with a machine gun arm named Barrett.) All the boss battles feel out of place and are somehow both too hard and too easy at the same time. They are far too hard if you try to stand there and shoot at them. You will die. Quickly. On the other hand, the stun gun with about 20 cartridges will make short work of most of the bosses, keeping them stunned long enough for you to reload and fire again. Then there are usually clever little ways to kill them with something in the room with you, but that’s a lot of work for the same outcome. These battles feel rather tacked on by the developers and didn’t really fit in a game that stressed playing it your way, because the boss battles are made to be played their way.
Throughout the game, you are presented with decisions like whom to listen to or how to solve missions/sidequests. Most are simple either/or type choices, but a few have three or four to choose from. Human Revolution was presented as a game where all your choices had consequences, but like so many times before, falls short. I suppose it’s true in the most technical sense: Someone will mention what happened, or you’ll get a candy bar for choosing X instead of Y, but none of it feels like it matters. This in and of itself is not a problem; they had a story to tell, and they told it. But don’t tell me I can make all my own decisions and then give them exactly zero weight on the outcome of the game. Even the final decision, which should have held enormous gravity, feels empty. For example, you have the option to save someone who works for your company at the end of the first mission. It gets played up throughout that one of your missions is to save her. I didn’t. Not on purpose; I just screwed up the persuade event. What happens when you screw up? Nothing. Her death is mentioned in passing once, maybe twice, and then nothing. I didn’t miss anything.
That brings up another point. During cutscenes, Adam has scripted lines. Often, these lines were nothing that my Adam would say. Most of the time, this was OK. I got over it. But for the final decision, it’s not OK. I could rationalize most of the options to myself, but the bits of monologue Adam delivers after choosing feel trite and pretentious. That’s not my Adam. That’s someone else’s Adam, and I want to know what he’s doing in my game. Also, I feel like the end was missing one crucial option: to do nothing. You are presented with the ability to change the world in a various number of ways. What if I don’t want to? What if it’s not my right? There is a similar option to “do nothing,” but it was not something I would consider, because my Adam would not consider it. In a game supposedly about choices, this seems like a bit of an oversight.
All told, Human Revolution is rife with story and character. And this is enough to make up for most of the issues I have with it. I suppose it’s not easy to live up to the legend that was the original Deus Ex, but we should still demand such quality from every game we buy.
The Good – Engaging story and characters; fun gameplay
The Bad – Load times were often 30 to 45 seconds, only shortened by a little if installed to the Xbox 360 hard drive
The Ugly – No fornication. Maybe I’ve been ruined by too many Bioware games.