Often, developers like to throw around the words ‘player choice’ as a means of exciting gamers into thinking that the journey they are about to embark upon is their own. The term has become somewhat meaningless in past years, as ‘player choice’ is usually just an illusion; a way of making a linear game feel divergent. No matter what the player chooses to do, the game will always course-correct somewhere down the line to ensure everything runs the way it’s supposed to. Deus Ex: Human Revolution has found a smart way of bypassing this contradiction. By crafting nearly every gameplay scenario around multiple pathways or tactical strategies that depend upon personal preference, Human Revolution feels like it can be played the way the player wants to, not how the developer intended it to be played.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution presents a world in the not-too-distant future that is experiencing a technological boom, mostly in the form of biological enhancements known as augmentations. It’s a (mostly) vibrant, futuristic world built on cyberpunk, in which ethical discussions on genetics and body modifications are all the rage. There is a lot of fear surrounding people with augmentations, who are treated like they aren’t really human, despite being advanced beyond normal physical abilities. There are debates of unnatural versus natural evolution, corporate espionage, conspiracies, and a whole whack of other ‘big issues.’

The game’s plot bites off a lot, and is mostly able to chew and swallow it all in a satisfying manner. It takes itself a bit too seriously, and the protagonist (Adam “I Never Asked for This” Jensen) is unintentionally hilarious every time he puts on his best Batman impression to deliver ‘deep’ dialogue. Speaking of the dialogue, the stiff, plastic facial animations really clash against the clean, detailed (and very yellow) aesthetic granted for the rest of the world. Only Adam Jensen himself doesn’t look like a plastic doll.

The hub city of Detroit (and later, China) is fun to explore. There’s always something to hack, or a hidden pathway that leads to a weapon stash, or some new information about the world and its inhabitants to find. Snooping through people’s e-mails was always a nice treat for the creep in me.

This all grants experience the player can use for upgrading their augmentations. These RPG-lite elements allow you to customize your character to fit your play style. If you’re more into hacking and stealth, you can upgrade abilities that will make those things easier. If you’re more into running and gunning, you can make yourself stronger and more adept at wielding weapons. It’s this freedom that makes the game feel open-ended and begs for multiple playthroughs to experiment with different augmentations.

As mentioned earlier, there’s a true freedom of choice in approaching almost every situation. Deus Ex is a great stealth game for people who, like me, are bad at stealth games. If you get caught sneaking around, it’s not an instant game-over. There are plenty of options to get out of tight binds. In fact, some of my favourite gameplay moments happened when I had made a mistake and was forced to adapt to an ever-escalating situation. Of course, you aren’t forced to be stealthy at all times. You can play the whole game like a cover third-person shooter if you want, or mix it up on the fly as you see fit.

It’s not all shooting and stealth though. Human Revolution’s side missions, which are entirely optional but highly recommended, offer everything from family drama to straight up sleuthing. Sometimes, they feel as fully fleshed out as the main missions. They can also develop in interesting ways. Often, the seemingly simple objective at the beginning of the mission will evolve into something more complicated, offering the player different paths on how he or she wishes to complete it. A simple request to destroy evidence that could be used to blackmail a friend could turn into a quest to save an honest man’s life from drug dealers. Morals and values are often the guiding light, but if you don’t have much of a conscience (or don’t invest in the game’s characters and story), you can just go with whatever path is easiest/offers the best rewards.

Choices extend to dialogue, but it’s not quite as in-depth as something like Mass Effect. You don’t control everything Jensen says, but I did appreciate how it displayed exactly what he would say depending on your choice. There are even moments, when you get into arguments, where you can directly influence the outcome of a conversation by reading people’s emotions and personalities. I’m not sure exactly how much of this system is window-dressing, but in the moment, your choices feel very responsive and consequential.

Parts of the game really remove that player choice, and thus, they are unanimously the worst parts of Human Revolution. Namely, the boss battles. They suck, plain and simple. They’re awful because they take away that freedom and force you into situations your character may not be properly prepped for. You made a stealth build for your character? Too bad, the first boss fight is pure shooting. In fact, most of them are. Good luck.  Not to mention how they are just generally uninspired or poorly designed. They involve a whole lot of running around and hoping the clunky shooting mechanics work in your favour. Like a bad actor in a good movie, every time a boss battle popped up, I cringed. As Adam Jensen himself would say, "I never asked for this." 

I mentioned that I am bad at stealth games, but there’s a reason why I managed to get through all of Human Revolution with this approach. The AI is pretty unaware of their surroundings. You can take down a guard by breaking his arm literally five feet away from another guard, who won’t notice anything’s amiss. The sound of a bone breaking is pretty loud, dude. Depending on how you play the game, you may not notice this much, but for stealth purists, it will detract from your enjoyment. Personally, I didn’t care, and had many good laughs at clearing a heavily guarded room one moron at a time.  


Player choice is what makes Deus Ex: Human Revolution fun. The removal of that choice is what brings the experience to a grinding halt. I will likely replay the entire game with different augmentations and pick different outcomes for the side missions just to see what happens, but I will dread those static boss battles with every fiber of my being. Maybe they’ll be easier with a more shooter-centric build. See, that’s the joy of Human Revolution: The game is your own to toy with.

 

Final Score: 8/10


 

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