We all have choices. Every time I sit to write anything, be it a grocery list, hate mail or a preview of the latest installment in one of the most colossal game franchises ever, I face the problem of choice. How do I approach it? Do I get straight to it guns blazing? Do I pepper it with arty-farty references such as transhumanism and the theory of evolution to seem like a total turd? Or do I just try something completely irrelevant to make a point? This time, it’s none of the above, simply because the game in question is all about choice. It isn’t the in-your-face red-is-bad-blue-is-good variety, but rather has more to do with the consequences. There’s no label tagging you as good or bad enough to get a blue alien chick in the sack. Welcome to a meta intro.
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The question of choice plays a huge role in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Early on, you have to choose if you should spare the life of a terrorist or not, with a hostage thrown into the mix. Sure, it’s very Jack Bauer, but it sticks out because of the way it plays out. This extends to the gameplay too. Everything is done to have you in the centre of it all. It is 2027, and humanity is embroiled in a raging debate about whether it would be wise to replace parts of our body with biomechanical upgrades. You can jump higher, see better and be completely invisible if you have enough money to fund it and your body doesn’t reject such “upgrades”. There are factions who believe this is a bad idea as this would destroy mankind’s “purity”, and there are others who think that this is the greatest thing since Kanye West trolling the MTV awards.
Taking place at Sarif Industries, a controversial company that deals in human augmentations and government defence contracts in the city of Detroit, you find yourself playing bodyguard to a bunch of scientists. It’s an almost snooze-worthy opening, with a few on-rails sections to boot. Once you’re done with it, the game gets very interesting, because you’d be augmented by then. Your name is Adam Jensen. You had to undergo said augmentations to save your life after trying to prevent a terrorist attack that made short work of your scientist ex-girlfriend and her entire crew. As mentioned earlier, in terms of gameplay, there’s a lot on offer. From augmentations that allow you to hack doors and security panels to those that make you bullet-proof, there’s enough to upgrade and choose to suit your style of play. Unlike Deus Ex and Invisible War, Human Revolution doesn’t give you sleepless nights by forcing you to choose one augmentation over another. It’s nice to know that some developers let you have your cake, eat it and let you guzzle an entire can of whipped cream while you’re at it.
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One of the newer abilities that caught my fancy was a social aug that allows you to gauge a character’s personality type during a conversation. The NPC could be alpha, beta or omega. You’re not explicitly told what personality you’re dealing with. Rather, you have to watch a few bars on the top left corner of your screen light up during a chat to figure out what you’re dealing with. After that, you have the option of releasing pheromones correlating to a particular personality to gain the edge in conversation. You might end up with a variety of outcomes that may or may not work in your favour. My playthrough had me pissing off a cop so much that he promised revenge. Such conversations do end up changing certain facets of the plot. It’s a sweet way of dealing with things, because it’s an extremely dynamic, almost natural, approach to plot progression.
Hacking has been reworked too, similar to the mini-game on the Sarif Industries website. You have power-ups that allow you to roam networks undetected and slow down detection; it’s very well done and very involving. Some might cringe at the additions to the combat, namely a cover system and one-hit kills, but they actually work quite well. While you can’t always run away from a fight, you will find yourself up against some very tough foes or being swamped by an entire gang of them, ensuring that being in cover is handy. Weapons handle well. Earlier games in the series had you as a fresh recruit; here you’re ex-SWAT, so you can handle a pistol without any shaking and there are an ample number of upgrades, from laser sights to silencers, to make your killing a lot more convenient. You get experience points for every kill, and you get a little more if you silence enemies non-lethally, so think twice before you decide to put a shotgun to the face of a drug dealer.
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If you’re the sort who likes to go all pre-Conviction Sam Fisher, you can stealthily finish off your foes with some well-placed stabs or a non-violent take down, both of which deplete energy that powers your augmentations. Stealth is nicely implemented, forcing you to do more than just avoid visual detection. Sound travels and the game makes full use of it. I found myself invisible amongst a bunch of enemy troops, only to bump into a carton that ended up in me being riddled with bullet holes. There’s a radar that tells you of the level of your foes’ awareness too. An alarm gets triggered if you’re responsible for a failed hack attempt in enemy territory or if you’re detected by cameras. It’s cohesively done in a way that keeps you on your toes, should you choose the stealth approach.
Completing missions gives you experience points and if the way the game played out is any indication, in the words of Stan Bush, there’s more than meets the eye. With being a near-future bionic man comes oodles of freedom. You’re free to pursue missions, be it shutting down corrupt cops or tracking locked down evidence; there’s a lot to do. And if you’re the sort who prefers sticking to the main story, there’s much more to plough through thanks, in no small part, to your boss, David Sarif, who has you on the prowl for those responsible for attacks on the company. Throw in a heady film noir vibe that goes very well with the cyberpunk feel the game imbibes, and you feel more like a 22nd century detective than a hired gun. There’s a wealth of adventures to discover and get tangled into, making it very easy to get lost in the vibrant, conflicted city of Detroit. You never feel that you’re doing a mission so that you can get that specific aug to make you irresistible to women; you actually feel involved in the story and its nuances.
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What struck me hollow during my playthrough weren’t the little references that would make old timers in the crowd jump in glee, nor was it the fact that the heavily modified TRU engine is good enough to tango with the best that Unreal has to offer. It ran great on my ageing Core2Duo machine, chugging along at around 40-50fps at 1440×900. A word of caution though; it doesn’t look as gaudy as these press screens make it out to be, which is a bad thing if you’re obsessed with gold. Instead, it was quite remarkable that Eidos Montreal have managed to create an atmosphere that isn’t at all intimidating for newbies and yet packs enough of fan service for the oldies. They’ve skilfully created an environment and a narrative that makes it easy for both audiences to feel right at home without being disrespectful to either.
We’ve seen developers take the aspect of choice and turn it into glorified binary – yes or no options, and we’ve seen them reduce it to a mere selling point at the back of the box, but we’ve also seen them entrust us in more ways than one. Human Revolution falls in the last category, combined with insane immersion, sweet abilities, both old and new, and a potentially killer plot. This could be worth looking into. Then again, the choice and its consequences are yours.