A game review by Bobulous
The great thing about the original Deus Ex, way back in the year 2000, was that you could approach your objective in several different ways. If you wanted to play the game much like every other FPS then you could use earned skill points to upgrade your firearms skills and simply charge into enemy territory with guns blazing. But the game was unusual in that characters close to you urged you to seek non-lethal ways of achieving your objectives. If you decided to avoid carnage then you could upgrade stealth abilities and sneak through hostile ground without being detected, silently knocking enemy foot soldiers unconscious when confrontation was unavoidable, and using lock-picking or hacking skills to avoid the direct route altogether. Even though your movement through missions was still basically linear, the variety of ways to move through each mission made it very satisfying. Plus it was backed up with a huge and fantastic plot full of just about every conspiracy theory going.
A disappointing sequel in 2003 deflated the franchise, so there was no guarantee that the prequel Human Revolution would do justice to the original.
Set twenty-five years before the events of Deus Ex, Human Revolution takes place in 2027 when the ability to replace injured or inadequate human body parts with artificial augmentations has split society in two. Those who rely on augmentations to do their job or to replace limbs lost to war or illness vigorously defend their right to choose what they do to improve their capabilities; while those who fear a social divide between an augmented elite and a natural underclass furiously denounce augmentation.
You take control of Adam Jensen, head of security at Sarif Industries, a company which develops advanced augmentations, many of which are produced to meet military contracts. After a brief introduction you are thrown into action when unknown agents invade Sarif headquarters. This stage acts as a handy tutorial, offering tips about moving around and making use of cover to avoid being spotted by enemy soldiers. At the end of this short stage you encounter the leader of the invading force, and he hurls you through enough metal and glass to leave you almost dead.
Fortunately for gaming longevity David Sarif has Jensen's broken, comatose body upgraded with every top-end military augmentation that Sarif Industries has developed. And so Adam Jensen awakens to find himself very different, and pretty keen to find out who was responsible for breaking him, and for killing dozens of Sarif employees during the raid. Despite having trouble adjusting to his new body, and despite Sarif's doctors warning that Jensen is not ready to return to work, six months after the initial raid David Sarif calls on Jensen to rush to the scene of another raid on a Sarif factory. On the way to the factory, David Sarif offers you a choice for your first weapon: lethal or non-lethal. And then it's on with the action.
You start off without anything but the most basic augmentations unlocked. Every time you dispatch an enemy soldier, hack a computer, find a route that avoids the direct approach, or discover an out-of-the-way area, you earn XP. When enough XP have been accumulated you can unlock one of the many augmentations fitted to Jensen. The choice is impressive, and the game lets you know that you that you won't be able to unlock every augmentation throughout the course of the game, so you have to choose carefully. Your choice will determine what options are open to you when overcoming challenges, so ought to be driven by how you intend to play the game.
If you want to meet enemies head on then you can unlock dermal armour which reduces the damage you take, upgrade your arms to reduce weapon recoil, upgrade your retinal implants to avoid susceptibility to flashbang grenades, or unlock the Typhoon explosive system which turns you into a human claymore mine. If you want to avoid enemies altogether you can unlock the smart vision augmentation which lets you see through walls, enable a cloaking device which makes you invisible for several seconds, upgrade your legs to provide silent movement, or upgrade your arms to allow you to smash through weak walls and create an alternative route to your objective.
For gaining access to locked computers and rooms, you can unlock advanced hacking augmentations. If hacking doesn't suit you, you might be able to persuade someone to permit you access by using a social enhancement augmentation that gives you clues to saying just what a person wants to hear. Or you can dispatch enemies and hope one of them is carrying the password on their Pocket Secretary. To reach out-of-the-way areas you can upgrade your legs to allow you to leap three metres up over walls and fences or onto rooftops, upgrade your arms to allow you to move heavy objects to clear the way to air vents or create a step up onto a raised surface, or enable the Icarus system which lets you fall safely from any height. If you want to take an unguarded alternative route to your goal you may need to unlock immunity to toxic gas or electrical/electromagnetic hazards to avoid being killed on the way.
Many of these augmentations are passive, always-on upgrades. But others are manually activated and drain power from energy cells built into your torso. Even though you can unlock upgrades which give you up to five energy cells, and upgrades which reduce the time it takes to replenish partially depleted energy cells, there is no upgrade which causes empty cells to be automatically replenished, the exception being that your first energy cell always replenishes itself. The only way to replenish the other energy cells is to consume an energy bar (basically a candy bar). So you need to keep a stock of these candy bars handy the whole time, just in case you want to perform several takedown moves (each of which depletes a whole energy cell) in rapid succession. If you try to perform a takedown without at least one full energy cell, you'll hear a buzzer warn you that you're out of luck and then you'll probably be shot by the enemy you had hoped to dispatch. Similarly, if you run out of energy while using the cloaking device, you'll suddenly become visible to all.
If you decide that the only way to your objective is through an enemy soldier, you have plenty of options. Lethal or non-lethal? Long-range, close-range or hand-to-hand? Strike silently or crash like thunder?
Lethal weapons include pistols, combat rifles, crossbows, shotguns, sniper rifles, rocket launchers, heavy rifles, laser rifles, plasma rifles, fragmentation grenades and fragmentation mines. The pistols and combat rifles can be upgraded with a silencer, and the crossbow is already silent, but the rest of the lethal weapons are loud enough to attract a lot of attention. On the up side, once you kill an enemy soldier, he won't get up again. Occasional weapon upgrade kits let you reduce reload time, increase damage, increase ammo capacity, or assist with accuracy.
Non-lethal weapons include stun guns, tranquilizer rifles, PEPS guns, gas grenades, concussion grenades, and EMP grenades (though an EMP blast will cause robots to explode). The stun gun and tranquilizer rifle are silent, and the range on the tranquilizer rifle is unlimited (though the darts are affected by gravity, and with scope tremble it becomes very tricky to hit distant targets). The tranquilizer rifle can be upgraded to reduce its reload time and another upgrade kit adds an aim-ahead targeting reticle to help with moving targets, but that's all that's on offer in terms of upgrades for the non-lethal weapons. The PEPS gun is a weird item, vaguely similar to the weapon in Minority Report which hurls a projectile that explodes on impact to release a non-lethal shockwave. There's a slim chance of it knocking one or more targets unconscious, but usually it just knocks them off their feet and alerts the whole neighbourhood to your presence.
More fun, in my opinion, than the weapons are the takedown moves. Once you get to within about two metres of an enemy soldier you can perform a takedown. With one press of a button you are treated to a third-person view of Adam Jensen attacking the target. In a non-lethal takedown Jensen will silently choke or batter the enemy soldier into unconsciousness. In a lethal takedown Adam Jensen will use huge blades concealed within his augmented arms to brutally slice and puncture the enemy soldier. Whatever your preferred outcome, the takedowns are very satisfying because you have to close in on the enemy to execute the move. Whether you do this by sneaking up to them, dropping behind them from above, or simply charging through heavy gunfire to close the distance is up to you.
If you do choose to charge into enemy fire, be warned that even though your augmentations kick in automatically to slowly replenish your health back to 100% when you're injured, gunshot wounds and grenades will kill you very quickly if you don't avoid them. You can use consumable hypostims if you have any, which will boost your health instantly, but it's generally best to avoid being out in the open when enemy soldiers know you're coming.
You get more XP for using non-lethal methods, which allows you to unlock augmentations more quiclky. But on the down side an unconscious enemy can be woken up by one of his comrades if you leave the sleeping body where it can be found. To avoid this, and to avoid detection generally, you might find yourself dragging enemy soldiers' bodies into air vents. For some reason the enemy never go into air vents, so these are a very handy place to hide yourself, and to hide bodies. Not very realistic, but the provision of safe areas does give you a helpful break. Just be warned that even though the enemy won't go into an air vent, they are keen on hurling grenades into a vent if they spot you.
The only exception to the choice between lethal and non-lethal is the boss fights. These, bizarrely, can only be completed using lethal brute force. This is annoying if you've chosen augmentations that are designed to let you sneak past enemies, and weapons which are non-lethal. This quirk in game design means that you probably need to keep a heavy weapon clogging up your inventory, just so you can kill these arch villains without struggling impotently. It would have been nice if the game offered alternative ways to progress past these confrontations, but it certainly doesn't ruin the game.
Thinking through the game, I reckon it's entirely likely that you could complete the game without killing or knocking out a single enemy soldier (ignoring the compuslory boss fights). When you move into cover you get a third-person view that lets you peek around corners and over desks to survey the scene beyond. If you avoid being seen or heard by the enemy you can pass through a room full of soldiers without a shot being fired. Get it wrong, though, and an alarmed soldier will shout for help or trigger an alarm and then you'll have a hail of bullets, grenades, soldiers and security bots heading your way.
To aid the sneaky traveller, the game is full of that architectural feature you only see in PC games: the adult-human-sized air vent. Most areas have several air vents that help you to skirt around trouble, and you often get XP for using air vents to move about, especially if the vent is hidden or difficult to get to.
If an alternative route isn't available, and cover isn't going to be enough, then you can use the cloaking device augmentation to become invisible and simply walk past the enemy. They'll still hear your footsteps, so you might also unlock the silent movement augmentation. Cloaking and silent movement combined will deplete your energy cells very quickly, so this is only an option for short bursts unless you have an inventory full of energy bars.
Other augmentations designed for stealth include the wall-penetrating imager which lets you see all enemy soldiers, security panels and computers within twenty metres regardless of walls and solid objects. This is very handy for avoiding trouble, or for timing your attack so that you move into a room when an enemy's back is turned. You can also upgrade your radar display to show which way enemies are looking, and how far your noise is travelling.
Security hubs are definitely a target for the sneaky player. Once you login or hack into a security hub you can disable security cameras, which is handy because if a camera spots you it will sound an alarm. And with further hacking upgrades you can also use security hubs to disable sentry turrets and security bots. Even more fun, you can flip the allegiance of turrets and bots so that they attack the enemy for you.
In 2027 it seems that no one in urban environments uses traditional metal keys. All doors are secured by numeric keypads and office computers and security hubs are protected by passwords. No problem if you've obtained the code or password by rifling through the pockets of a downed enemy, or through polite conversation with a friendly figure. But if you're not in possession of the code you can always have a go at hacking your way in.
The hacking interface starts off calmly enough, presenting you with a set of nodes that you can capture, warning about the chance of detection if you proceed. If the target system detects your presence you have a limited number of seconds to capture all the nodes between your start point and the endpoint before the system traces your start point and disconnects you. Being detected and traced by the system is bad for two reasons. Firstly, you only get a certain number of attempts at hacking a particular target before it stops being an option (at which point only the correct password or code will let you in). Secondly, if you're in an enemy building and get traced during a hack attempt, the alarms will be triggered and the enemy will know you're in the area. Cue the hail of bullets and the security bots.
If hacking is your thing you can unlock augmentations which let you hack devices with higher security levels, augmentations which decrease your chance of being detected, and augmentations which let you better defend captured nodes to slow down the trace once you have been detected. Hacking is often worthwhile even if you have the password or code for a system, because you earn XP for successfully hacking a system, and you can capture datastores on the system which often contain money or additional XP.
If hacking is not your thing you can use a disposable Automatic Unlocking Device which will unlock any hackable interface no matter what security level it has. These devices are relatively rare, so are best saved for hacking only the most important systems.
When not in hostile territory you can engage important characters in conversation. For instance, when you're in Detroit looking for clues to the raid on Sarif Industries, you can attempt to talk a former police colleague into giving you access to the police station. If you succeed in persuading him that he owes you a favour, by choosing the right things to say, then the door is open and you're free to walk in. If you fail to pick the right argument or the right turn of phrase then he'll tell you to get lost and you'll have to find a sneaky way to get into the police station (and you'll be considered an intruder, which makes moving around much trickier).
The conversation interface is pleasingly simple. At each juncture in the conversation you'll be presented with a choice of attitudes to take in your response, and hovering over each will give a summary of what will be said if you select that option. For instance you might offer a sympathetic or empathetic response, or choose to say something detached, insulting or threatening instead. The options will depend on the situation and your choice will determine how the conversation flows and how close the opponent is to being persuaded to help you.
The social enhancer augmentation can help you out if you take conversation seriously. With the CASIE unlocked you get an overlay during conversations which picks up on the opponent's personality, and gives you hints about whether they are an alpha, beta or omega type. Then it gives you hints as to which sort of response will win over the opponent. It also gives you the ability to release pheremones which make the opponent more susceptible to persuasion, and shows you a line graph which indicates how close to being persuaded they are.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a huge game, with pleasingly large and detailed urban maps in the tense streets of Detroit and the sweaty, multi-storey Lower Hengsha. While the progression through the missions is basically linear, the freedom to choose how to get through each level is very satisfying and a welcome change of pace from the majority of action games that offer only gun play and slaughter.
Using cover to avoid being spotted, sneaking up behind enemies to perform takedown moves, disabling security systems, and even escaping from gun battles when things go awry are all great fun. Outside of combat, the system of conversation and trying to win over people through speech is engrossing, especially when you have the social enhancer telling you how they are reacting to your choice of words.
The game does have problems, though they are minor. Occasionally a takedown won't occur when you expect it to (or a single takedown will occur when you were expecting a double takedown) and this can leave you in the lurch. And the energy cell system is somewhat unsatisfying, as you find yourself rationing candy (energy bars) because only the first energy cell recharges itself. I would have preferred to see all of the energy cells recharge, each one more slowly than the previous, and have candy bars as an option to speed things up. As it is, I found myself simply leaving all but the first cell unused except in very demanding circumstances. Finally, it would have been nice to see an alternative to the fight to the death required in every boss fight, as this is ill fitting in a game that lets you take the non-lethal approach at all other times.
Overall, though, the game is superb, with a great a depth of character and a plot which focuses on politics, business and media manipulation. I played the game with the Explosive Mission Pack which adds an extra mission, and my playing time after completing the game was 45.8 hours, even though I'd missed a couple of side missions. Total playing time after completing the game a second time (this time without killing any non-boss enemies) was 86.3 hours. It's impressive to see a story-driven single-player game last this long.
Anyone who enjoys action RPG games ought to get a lot of enjoyment from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
If you're playing the game on Steam and you're trying to earn the Pacifist achievement (which requires you complete the game without killing anyone except boss characters) then these tips might help.