Excellence from the Machine: ‘Deus Ex: Human Revolution’ Review

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Deus Ex amounts to a sacred text for video game enthusiasts. The 2000 release designed by Warren Spector and Harvey Smith changed the way that people thought about playing through a video game story.

Playing as UN anti-terrorist agent JC Denton, you uncovered a vast and centuries-old conspiracy that threatened the geopolitical stability of the whole world. The third-person action title incorporated RPG mechanics to let players carve out a play style all their own with elements of stealth or combat chosen at your discretion, while providing a multiplicity of routes to meet an objective. Also, the player’s conversations and decisions at key points affected the way the game progressed.

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Deus Ex wasn’t quite the first game to do these things, but it wrapped them up in a cyberpunk setting that made the whole thing feel ahead of its time. It felt like you were playing the way that games were going to be in the future.

That turned out to be true. Games as varied as Mass Effect, BioShock and Bastion all picked up on the design template of Deus Ex, tweaking it in ways that made it their own. Now, Deus Ex returns after a years-long hiatus, in a new game that serves as a prequel.

Human Revolution takes place 25 years before the first Deus Ex, and reveals the beginnings of the cybernetic augmentation technology that gave J.C. Denton his special skills. This time, players control Adam Jensen, a private security agent for Sarif Industries, a leading research company pioneering new methods of grafting man and machine together.

But Sarif headquarters gets attacked by purist militants who don’t believe that humans should use science to change the work of evolution. The terrorist strike kills Adam’s love interest Dr. Megan Reed and leaves Jensen at death’s door. But intervention by Adam’s boss David Sarif gives him state-of-the-art bionic implants making him faster and more powerful, but perhaps less human than he was before. The first order of business after Adam’s cyborg resurrection is to find out who’s behind the attack, but every clue leads him to bigger and bigger mysteries.

From a gameplay perspective, the best thing about Human Revolution is how it doesn’t penalize you for switching between stealth and combat. It feels like each tack holds its rewards and you still feel like as many possibilities lie ahead of you if one approach fails. It may not be true emergent game design—where things that aren’t scripted wind up happening on their own—but there are times where it feels close.

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One side mission has you allying with a street gang to take out their rivals to find out information about a person of interest to Jensen. When I decided to take out the my erstwhile criminal allies instead, another path—where I would have had to meet up with a police officer—closed. Turns out chatter from other characters in the world told me that he was out investigating my crime. That moment gave me chills.

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