First impressions: Deus Ex – Human Revolution

The downside to being addicted to both Steam sales and game modding is that I have oodles of games in my library that I’ve never even played once. Feeling that familiar pang of guilt, I finally fired up Deus Ex: Human Revolution today. 

At first I was relieved that most of the keyboard mappings were sensible, and then more relieved that there were self-explanatory difficulty settings. “Give me Deus Ex” allows players the brutal experience of the original game; I picked the easier “Tell Me A Story”. Even so, the “easy” setting is not that easy – I still got killed a few times.

As well as a list of video tutorials in the start-up menu, you can also access them in game. There’s an opening chapter to ease you in, after which the credits roll and you’re mostly on your own, taking orders via your headset. The UI is explained as your cybernetic implants, and it’s generally unobtrusive with some helpful features such as indicators as to which way your enemy is facing (useful if you’re sniping from cover).

I should mention the graphics and animations, because they are awful. I mean, this was released in 2011, but it’s not much above the functionally similar Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. At first glance, I assumed it had been made in 2005 and stuck in development hell for a few years, but apparently it wasn’t even announced until 2007. The game does feel very old fashioned – again, similar to Vampire TMB – but at least it has a cover system so you’re not quite in the Stone Age.

So, the much-hallowed plot begins in 2027, a few years before the original game. Adam Jensen is an ex-SWAT hired as a security chief for an ultra-powerful biotech company. The building is attacked by terrorists, and the mostly-dead Adam is rebuilt with bionic limbs and implants. So far, so RoboCop. He’s soon back at work, caught in the middle between “purists” and tech-worshippers keen on augmenting themselves with all sorts of implants.

I haven’t upgraded anything yet, but I’m heeding the advice that the game is basically unplayable if you don’t throw a ton of points into hacking. The gameplay aspects I’ve tried out include stealth exploration (you don’t loot bodies but you can pick up weapons); regular combat and conversation. The dialogue choices are handled Mass Effect style where you just indicate your preference of two one-word prompts (“reassure” / “challenge”) and then sit back while your character argues your case.

The voice acting all seemed fine and there’s little to fault so far in terms of story. My one gripe would be that it seems fairly linear in a Half-Life 2 sort of way: there’s the illusion of choice, but you’re mostly railroaded into a particular direction.

There’s enough here to make me want to come back and play more, but I am surprised that such a sorry-looking, old-fashioned game garnered the level of acclaim that it did. They say that the story is the selling point, and that’s not something I can comment on after only a couple of hours’ play. That said, the setting and characters are interesting enough that I want to continue and find out more.

It’s hardly revolutionary, but its humanity commends it.

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