Deus Ex: Human Revolution: The Kotaku Review

I opened the box, and within it discovered a sheaf of love letters. There I was, hunched in the corner of my attic storage space, the afternoon light taking on a voluminous, golden quality as it cast rays through 10 years' worth of dust. The box had been pushed into the back corner, and it looked old, hinges rusted and green-tinged.

As I pried it open, the lock snapped like brittle glass, flakey bits of metal sticking to my skin. I pushed open the lid, and there they were: letters on letters, an era's worth of ink-stained adulation.

Dear Solid Snake,

My name… well, my name's not important. I just wanted to write you because you have been such a huge influence on me over the last several years. The adventures we've undertaken together, the journeys and their terrible destinations. I still remember stealing aboard that military ship, hard rain sheeting onto the deck; the panic of the guards as the militia attacked…

The letter continued like that, detailing the thrill and mechanical satisfaction of the Metal Gear series, how its convoluted story at once beguiled and charmed us, how its sandbox levels let us experiment with so many complex, varied systems. I was struck by the author's enthusiasm and skill for recalling the smallest details—minor characters I had forgotten, techniques and tricks previously relegated to the deepest recesses of Metal Gear fan forums.

I put the letter aside and thumbed through rest of the papers, each one much the same as the last. This person loved the games that I loved, and more than that he understood them; he had lived through them in much the same way that I had. As one recollection stacked on top of the next, I realised that he was dancing about the edges of some sort of looming, universal truth, a recognition of how and why we enjoy certain video games as much as we do. It was there at the margins of his letters, too big to bring into focus but impossible to ignore.

***

"Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a Deus Ex game." It's a simple sentence — pointedly, ironically simple, even. Of course it is a Deus Ex game, you may be thinking. It's right there in the title.

But much like the game to which it is referring, that simple sentence is far more complex than it seems. Within those nine words lies a raft of connotations and promises, shortcomings and hopes that only a specific group of people will understand. Namely, people who played and love Deus Ex.

Human Revolution doesn't make gaming history so much as re-create it note for note.

Released in 2000, Warren Spector and Ion Storm's seminal game created a complicated, singular template that influenced a decade of titles in its wake — a combination of complex first-person exploration like that found in System Shock and Thief, the action-filled gunplay of first-person shooters, and the deep CRPGs of the late '90s. The finished product was at times a lumbering and ugly thing, but also a sublime work of design — each level was a playpen of interweaving paths, immaculately designed and wonderfully responsive.

Eidos Montreal's Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a true sequel, then; but not just to the original Deus Ex, but to that game's various progeny, too. Conversations get a dose of Mass Effect, negotiations take on a touch of Heavy Rain. The stealth mechanics are brushed up with a hint of Crysis and more than a hint of Metal Gear Solid 2, and combat and cover are helped along with a lift from Rainbow Six: Vegas. And yet Human Revolution is also something more than the sum of its storied, well-regarded parts.

***

I spent the next 27 hours reading through every letter, each valediction leaving me more engrossed than the one before it. The unidentified author took great pains to illustrate and recreate the myriad things he loved about every single game, and as I read his words, I began to feel a kinship with him. The ache in my lower back faded, and I fell into a sort of tunnel vision, poring over letter after letter, ignoring my discomfort as I relived the past.

Dear Mr Fisher,

I hope this letter finds you well. In fact, I hope this letter finds you crouched in a shadowy corner, poised to incapacitate some hapless North Korean soldier! I wanted to write you to say hello, and to introduce myself. But more than that, I wanted to thank you...

Dear Commander Shepard,

I don't think I can put into words what your saga has meant to me…

Dear Mr Chavez,

Hi there. You don't know me, but I've been following your exploits for a long while, from your time in the Army Rangers to your recent missions in Rainbow Six. I wanted to write because...

Dear Garrett,

Remember the time, with the guard…

Hours bled into one another, and when I looked up, today had become tonight, and then straight on into tomorrow.

***

Midway through my first playthrough of Human Revolution, I found myself awake at 4am. I had been exploring the rooftops of the sprawling hub level in China's Heng Sha island for the past seven hours, lost in the satisfying *snap* of video-game pieces fitting together. I contemplated forgoing sleep to continue playing: It was only 4, I told myself. I can catch a nap tomorrow afternoon.

It had been a long time since I'd had that particular conversation with myself, and it felt good and bad in equal measure.

Eventually I did go to bed, and upon returning in the morning, realised that I was not so much playing a game as an entire collection of games, bits and pieces reworked into an interlocking pattern that was at once intoxicating and terribly addictive. To play Human Revolution was to indulge in a rich stew of my deepest gaming memories, and for a good long while I couldn't get enough.

I even found myself enjoying the game's flaws — the AI can get a little bit weird, but without occasionally weird AI, it wouldn't feel so much like Rainbow Six. The stealth is overly punitive, but as a result it hits a trial-and-error rhythm that hugely evokes Splinter Cell. The boss battles are out-of-place and odd, but the dread and frustration they inspire recalls Metal Gear Solid 2 to a surprising degree.

Human Revolution's story, ambitious though it may be, eventually replaces its focus on character with a broadly interesting but ultimately vague stew of technobabble and proclamations about evolution and mythology. But more than so many similar games before it, Human Revolution isn't a game about broad narrative scope; it's a game about details. A broken mirror. A gas station sign. A hidden email conversation. An inappropriate ladies' room visit. The clocks you didn't know were ticking, as the game measures your every action… or simply allows you to think it is.

And so to enter the world of Human Revolution is to discover a dusty box filled with letters and love, a collection of correspondence painstakingly addressed to a dozen of the greatest games of all time. It's fitting, then, that the game it channels most of all its own progenitor Deus Ex, the one that set the rest of them in motion. The strengths and flaws of its design and story become interlocked to the point that they are oddly indistinguishable. Human Revolution doesn't make gaming history so much as re-create it note for note, a transcription so flawless that my appreciation of it is as much about the quality of the recreation as it is about the contents of the work itself.

Ten years of sneaking and hiding, of mastery and progression, of unfolding conspiracies and dark-hued sci-fi have come to fruition. The question of what's next goes unanswered. But for now, it's enough that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is in every way a true Deus Ex game.

What more could we have asked for?


Comments

    This perfectly sums up my experience of the game. I think I'm very close to finishing it, and I honestly can't remember a game I've played this compulsively.

    My biggest gripes are gravel throat and spotty face, the former because it's such a bad cliché, and the later because the voice acting is so incredibly awkward HUGE SPOT ON YOUR FACE GET IT OFF AUGH!

    Yeah, overall pretty trival downsides. Get this game, it's awesome. Like, "Hopefully will wake up the game industry and make decent games the norm again" awesome, not just "COPY ME COPY ME COPY ME", though that would still be a step forward.

    This game gives me so much joy, I'm glad to see it's doing well!

    My copy is sat on the shelf patiently waiting for me to get over the dread of knowing I'm going to lose my nights, my days, my life in general until I've sucked every last experience out of this game.

    Such a great game. My fav of the year so far without a doubt. Im at work now & im thinking about playing it right now. How should I approach my next mission? Which upgrade do I want to unlock next? Why is this game so friggin good?
    This sort of crazy rambling is a sure sign that this game has more than met expectations. And I cant remember the last game to have such an effect on me!

    I never asked for this- Wait, yes I did.

    One of the things I love about Human Revolution is the dialogue - mainly that every choice you have "sounds" like a correct dialogue choice. In other games, such as Mass Effect, Alpha Protocol and the like, there are some dialogue choices that have a certain "feel" to them, in which one is a correct answer and another one is wrong, and obviously wrong.

    In Deus Ex, no matter what dialogue you choose, I've found that Jensen actually has *reasons* for saying it. For example, the Neuropozine sidequest. When confronting the man who is doing the blackmailing, You have one option in which Jensen is sympathetic and is all "You're doing the right thing, I'll look into having you go through the proper channels for doing this". With the bad reaction, in any other game would just have the character be a gigantic ass for the sake of it, but Jensen -justifies- his stance, saying "You coerced and blackmailed someone into committing a crime, no matter what way you spin it, in my book that makes you a piece of shit".

    It's that sort of "every choice is a "right" choice" is what makes that game special, in my opinion.

      This is a really good point!!

      Congratulations should be given to the game writers for making every comment option sound like the right choice. I hated it in Mass Effect when my Shepard suddenly came off sounding like a dick and it made me feel like I had little control over what he would say.

        I think a big part of this is that what you tell Jensen to say is what he actually says. I hate the Bioware "feels like" system, because it often is way off what I thought it was.

    Very well written article and I agree with you on pretty much every point. I love Human Revolution, I think it's even surpassed The Witcher 2 as my GOTY. I am only about halfway through but I can't get enough of it, I've spent so many hours just exploring.

    I also spent a night up too late when I should have gone to bed. But it was the final stretch to the end of the story. Bed at 3:30, had to wake up at 7:00. But the game had gotten into my head, and I really don't know if I could have gone a whole day knowing I was close to the end.

    Was a really awesome game, I couldn't put it down either and literally spent 8 hours on it one day. My only gripe was that it was too easy, apart from a few key segments that I had to retry until I got my desired outcome. I was playing on the hardest setting, and it kind of felt like a medium for me.

    Anyway, a small gripe for such an awesome game.

      I'm finding it difficult to get through the game being stealthy, I keep getting seen, or tripping an alarm and then have to shoot my way out. I've never been good with being stealthy though.

        I was the same, most of the time I did alright, but yeah, it did come down to having to shoot my way out a bit of the time. Fully upgraded silenced pistol (although I never found any fire-rate upgrades?) was very handy.

        Mind you I never got the stealth camouflage aug, didn't really feel the need for it.

          I'm trying to do a pacifist play-through, and there is at least one part you can't do it without the stealth mode. Otherwise, I found it to be kind of crap.

    This game is every part as good as the previous in the series.

    Refreshed and simplified even, the core experience is remastered and very accessbile. A smart move all round.

    I too am finding myself awake at 2.30AM a couple of nights in a row. This world just sucks you in.

    Usually side quests in games are boring and feel tedious to advance your character enough for the next challenge.

    This is where Deus Ex HR shines, become a hacker and get all the goodies from there or buy from the limb shops or use side quests to advance. The options are completely up to the player.

    Again it's about player choice and letting the player's style/choices truly be the driver of the game. This I love.

    It also makes me want to replay the game and go a different route, balls out shooter badass vs. sneak & hack vs. alternate route finding etc.

    Every situation hsa multiple approaches. Buy your way in, talk your way in, find a vent in, drop or stealth unexpected routes using augments to your advantage. There are so many ways to tackle just about every AI, room or quest. It's fantastic really.

    I want to see how the game plays out in another 2-3 play throughs.

    Very few single player games achieve that sort of wanting from players.

    I've been playing for 5-6 nights now on the 'give me deus ex' difficulty and I'm still going on my first run through. Impressive game world really.

    I give this game a 9.5/10 so far.

    I've been watching a friend play, and one of the little things that struck me as being totally awesome was the fact that it had an oldschool grid-based inventory system but it LET YOU ROTATE ITEMS!

    Seriously! Every RPG has needed this forever!
    How many times have you not been able to fit that last piece of armour into your inventory because you couldn't switch it from occupying a 2x3 space to a 3x2 space?

    I suspect this will be right up there with Total Annihilation's command queuing capabilities and Spellforce's group command system in terms of major efficiency boosters in complex interfaces that get completely ignored by most other developers!

    Probably the best review I have ever read.

    Will be getting this very soon. Professional commitments bar me from enjoying this much anticipated title - the true progeny of one of my favourite games of all time.

    The next 2 weeks of waiting are going to be hell. I've tracked this title for a long time, and to finally see it revealed, to such high praise across the board fills me with a strange sense of pride, and anticipation. Pride in the sense that I have been a major supporter of Deus Ex and all its feats and flaws for so long, to finally see a game that lives up to that expectation and validates my appreciation of the original seems to validate me.

    Here's to wishing the next few days fly by, so I may lose myself in exploring endless secrets within secrets.

    I'm on my second playthrough. Fist one was a semi-stealthy hacker, this one I'm just being a complete tank. Killing everyone, upgraded assault rifle, screw stealth.

    Also, Funny thing: I was in hengsha on my second playthrough, and the first thing I did when I got there was jump off the brothel roof, and landed directly outside an apartment room. I went in, "accidentally" slaughtered a guy and a prostitute in the shower (Double lethal takedown, he pulled a gun on me.), and then I grabbed the Tai Yong medical access card right off the dresser, which was a mission item for *much* later on.

    Adam: "Malik.. you think a Tai Yong access card will be useful in the future?"
    Malik: "Err, maybe. why?"
    Adam: "Just thinking ahead."

    !!

      Also, ((Slight Spoilers))

      I met Zeke in the jail cell after he got captured by the police, and put a bullet between his eyes. I'm waiting to se if that affects the game later on.

    Excellent review. Very creative. I give it 10/10. As for DXHR, I'm still waiting for my copy to arrive. All week I pull up in the driveway when i get home I can see if the postman has dropped anything off. Dissapointment everytime. :( maybe today.

    "trial-and-error rhythm"? It might build a rhythm if not for the long loads between attempts. Other than a few bothersome technical and design issues though the game is pretty damn gratifying. Within a few minutes of Adam's rebirth I'd realized it felt like Deus Ex. Nice work.

      If you are on PC the early patch really should have fixed this immensely, that as well as the 'v-sync trick' should make loads times a breeze. The v-sync trick is to turn it off as during the loading times it's still running causing alot of load time lag.

      As for the game I honestly haven't been this excited and anxious to keep playing! I find myself at work during lunch searching for tips and tricks, reading up on weapons and mods and planning my 'aug path'. I shudder to think what will happen to me when I finish the game, I worry still if I'll have a girlfriend! Lucky she's away for long enough for me to finish it! *fingers crossed*

    Don't forget Hitman; great review

      Exactly, I can't believe hitman escaped your list. The mission in hengsha where you had to kill the brothel owner and make it 'look like an accident' was agent 47 to a T

    I downloaded the steam version on p.c. and it has major technical issues with horrendous stuttering making the game almost unplayable.The steam forums have got multiable threads on the matter some up to 28 pages long.It seems to effect many different set ups(amd,nividia,I7,sshdd.dx9.dx11 etc..) and no official answer from the publisher.
    Nome of the reviews I read mentioned this but it seems widespread so if your goona buy I'd go console.

      It must be hard to read this on your 1999 CRT screen.

      Have you tried turning the graphics down? Disabling v-sync? Updating your graphics card drivers? I had some stuttering issues myself when I first loaded it up, but after following the logical steps I was able to fix it.

      The PC is an enthusiasts platform, be prepared to have to tinker around, as well as update your hardware once every ten years or so, for that optimal experience. If you can't be bothered maybe you're better off on a console but for me, the smug feeling of self-satisfaction I get when my in-game graphics look better than pre-rendered cutscenes is priceless :D

        Thanks for the "advice" BTW my computer is a core 2 quad at 3.6Ghz and 2X nividia 460 1GB in sli and when not stuttering it runs at 50 to 60 fps so I don't think lack of grunt is the problem also using latest drivers was the first thing I tried.And I've been building my own systems for over 20 years.

    This is such a creative framework for a review.

    Instead of doing the whole

    Gameplay N/N
    Visuals N/N
    Sound N/N

    You went deeper and explained how you felt when you played this game. And I love a lot of the games you refer to I can understand this metaphor.

    The only flaw I've found is a small easily patched one with dragging unconscious bodies around.

    They love doing the "malfunctioning ragdoll dance" on me, gluing themselves through walls and floors. Not good with little time.

    Aside from this, 9.5/10 game!

    how are there articles like this next to articles riddled with spelling errors and sentences that don't make sense? good read, can really tell the author has a connection with the franchise, something i love to read about

    I really like Human Revolution so far as I've played it... but it's also making me jump to other games, many of which were mentioned in this awesome review of the game, just to go back and play them and feel them and say "Yeah, this is what it's about"

    Deus Ex, Thief, the entire Metal Gear series... I'm having a grand time being reintroduced to all these old games I haven't touched it too long while at the same time enjoying this new game bit by bit :)

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading that.

    Recently I've been extremely jaded towards video games. DX:HR has reignited that passion and restored my faith that good singleplayer games exist.

    I've only started the China level but so far it has exceeded my expectations.

    Beautifully conceived review, and almost exactly how I feel about it so far as well. I lost 13 straight hours to this game when I first let myself put it in (I let it sit for a couple days knowing, as a commentator above mentioned, that it would steal my life) and I only did the first two missions and a few side quests!

    Like the Gamespot review noted, no individual element here is 'top of its class,' but the whole is far in excess of the sum of its parts... just like the original Deus Ex. Human Revolution is a true sequel so far and i'm overjoyed.

    Again, amazing review.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now