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The long overdue sequel we deserve

The Deus Ex series is one that may not have lent itself well to a traditional sequel. The first one is a beloved PC masterpiece that offered much in the way of choice and story, with some technical issues and graphical problems being but minor issues in a genre defining title. The second is almost universally reviled among fans of the first for the negative changes it introduced, and uninteresting story and quest system that never really went anywhere. It's been years since the last Deus Ex title, so does Human Revolution live up to the standard of the first game? Or does it falter and become another failed sequel to a one hit wonder that cannot be equaled? Well in a way, Human Revolution shows that sometimes change and time is a good thing that can allow a team to explore the universe in new and interesting ways, while appealing to both fans of the original and newcomers alike.

Players control Adam Jensen, a grizzled ex-SWAT who works as head of security for an important mechanical augmentation company in Detroit named Sarif Industries, after founder David Sarif. Jensen is maimed in an attack on Sarif Industries and is forced to undergo emergency surgery that outfits him with mechanical augmentations, paid for by his boss and using his company's newest and most expensive augmentations, letting him serve as a test subject to newer augmentations. This offers an interesting set up that allows players to be on either side of the moral debate on human improvement, and gives players an overarching conspiracy to keep their interest. The game does an amazing job of setting up the plot, with the various characters all having a deeper side to them with a level of humanity that keeps them from feeling like the bad guy or good guy, but simply a person with their own beliefs and interests that could cause potential conflict with your character (depending on how players choose to play Jensen). The writing is stellar and as a prequel to the first game set over 20 years before, it contains many references for fans of the universe to enjoy while being easy to follow for a new player, while the voice acting is believable and definitely pulls you into the story. The pacing and plot twists are well executed and there isn't much I can say against it, except for my distaste of the boss characters (though they are almost universally terrible in design, so their personalities' being nonexistent is just one more negative to add to them).

The gameplay is significantly different to any of the previous titles, but considering how radically dated they are at this point that shouldn't come as a surprise. Players now have much more in the way of combat options, and depending on how you play you can either go through the game as a Batman figure who is never seen and who never kills, a Rambo wild killer who plows through enemies with a bevy of weaponry, a dedicated hacker and social butterfly that can charm your way through most situations, or a mix of the playstyles. The dialogue options are available much less frequently to put them up there with stealth and combat as a full option, but the level design is very open and allows multiple paths through an area, with rewards for hidden areas or bypassed enemies giving incentive to try out various playstyles. Combat is a mix of first and third person shooting, similar to Rainbow Six: Vegas players can shoot weapons in a first person perspective or take cover and use a third person view to dispatch enemies. 

Players can even ignore weapons almost completely in favor of using their fists or avoiding confrontation altogether (though certain encounters make at least one lethal weapon a necessity in some cases). One big problem with combat is in the AI, which works well in stealth (aside from a hilariously limited view), but in combat they often stand out in the open or rush a player, which then opens them up to an instant take down. The take down system is also flawed, relying on your batteries to knock a guy out or kill them with your blade, while also freezing time which can lead to an encounter where you are spotted and can dispatch all enemies with ease by jamming on the take down button and eating an energy bar to raise your battery. It's not an overly easy game though, just a few shots or one explosion can kill Jensen and stealth to a degree is heavily emphasized, but it's still possible to play it as a shooter if you can scrounge for ammunition and are ok with potential character conflicts that can result from being too trigger happy (though this also opens up new dialogue options with NPC's and paints you in a different light, which is interesting and shows the importance of choice).

There is a lot of variety in settings and the pacing is fantastic, which keeps the story moving at a brisk pace while leaving room for side missions. The hub worlds change slightly as you continue through the game and the world feels very natural aside from some minor quibbles (Detroit streets are completely devoid of moving vehicles strangely). There are tons of NPC's to talk to, hidden areas to explore and items to locate in between story missions, and these areas are perfect for putting your dialogue options and exploration to the test. As you start unraveling the conspiracy you travel the globe in search of answers, and while only a few of the places you encounter have meaningful open areas, those areas succeed at giving us a look into the universe and painting an interesting and relevant society. As a bonus Jensen seems to have a lot of freedom within these hubs to do as he wishes, and despite his notable appearance it is easy for everyone to forget he was stealing valuable items earlier or that he killed a stranger in public (though the game does try to have some of these events become big deals, but they are generally more scripted).

The combat options work particularly well since the mechanics for each are polished and because the game is generally fun to play no matter how you go about it. Gunplay is tight and tense, stealth requires good timing and instincts, and you have to specialize your augmentations through Praxis (which you gain by leveling up and finding or buying Praxis kits throughout the world), which has you picking the way you would like to play. It is possible to get every augmentation by the game's end, but for the most part you will want to specialize in specific abilities that cater to your style of player. The game is decidedly more on the action side to the RPG side as a result of this, as well as in how the skills are implemented. Jensen can use any weapon from the start, with only small boosts to his recoil and accuracy (for all weapons), while his melee attacks are always instant and his main skill increases come from improvements to hacking and stealth or new abilities like the Typhoon Explosive System, Icarus Landing System, or Cloaking. These are great abilities that force you to think how you want to play, but it is decidedly streamlined and even with tougher enemies later on, abilities like the takedown and cloaking never lose usefulness which can create a balance issue if a player chooses to fully specialize in one area and uses it to completely fly through areas with a super hacking prowess or invisibility that never quits.

It isn't a perfect game of course, even if it is a very fun and well done game. As mentioned above, balance issues do persist in the augmentation system, while it doesn't allow much room for specializing since everyone can generally become the same character at the end in terms of augmentations with more focus on personality and combat methods. The biggest issue in the game is easily in the implementation of the boss fights, which shows that they were outsourced. None of the bosses have any real motivation to hate you so much aside from orders, while they all play as dull arena style battles with none of your specializations taken into account. You can carry nothing but a taser and be a hacking specialist, and that won't help when there is nothing to hack and your enemy can survive multiple shots to the head and avoid takedowns completely. It's an unfortunate blemish on a game that puts so much emphasis on choice, and with The Missing Link DLC you even get a good look at how these battles could have gone down. Even the dialogue confrontations with certain boss characters are much more thrilling and open, forcing you to choose wisely and giving you a boost if you have augmentations for dialogue (but still offering any player the chance to have it go their way if they are careful and stick to the proper dialogue options). The boss battles were definitely a missed opportunity, especially when they can show glimpses of humanity and then die in an unspectacular way that signals the level is over.

Overall, Human Revolution is not a revolution, but improves on the Deus Ex universe and brings it back from the ether. It embraces modern trends to good effect and maintains aspects from the first game to keep it feeling like a Deus Ex game. Whether you are a long-time fan or just enjoy good RPG/stealth action games, Human Revolution offers a fun game wrapped in a well told and highly relevant story that you should check out if you can push through the low points.

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