Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a marvellously detailed character-based shooter that combines classic concepts and modern technological wrinkles. “Classic” suggests there were once more games like this; in reality, there have been few other than Deus Ex. In 2000, Deus Ex blended shooter concepts, RPG character development, and a story that genuflected deeply toward William Gibson. The game might have become an industry-defining benchmark. That never happened, and a hobbled 2003 sequel suggested Deus Ex was a beautiful anomaly. This prequel, however, beautifully revives and expands the ideas that defined the original.
In 2027 Detroit, where millennial angst festered instead of fading, Sarif Industries is pushing augmentation technology—essentially semi-affordable cybernetic implants. An unknown group savages Sarif with an attack, quashing its latest tech push. Security chief Adam Jensen, critically wounded in the attack, awakens laden with augmentations and a task: ferret out the attackers’ IDs and motivations.
Large, multi-level city hubs are the crown-jewel levels. While the cities are static, they’re enthralling, thanks to an overwhelming abundance of hidden pathways. Deliberate, tactical combat and a highly adaptive (though not infallible) AI ensure exciting, violent encounters.
Superficially, the game narrative is linear and not exactly surprising. But there’s a ghost in the machine, and your choices do affect the narrative in ways both grand and subtle. Combative conversations keep the script interesting, even when the characters and voice acting are stock, even stereotypical.
Post-augmentation Jensen can be configured as code-ninja, gun-toting tank, assassin, or endless variations between. Augmentations, purchased or earned with experience, activate physical strength, stealth abilities, hacking skill, and other quirks. Familiar game tropes all, but the sheer variety of combinations allows for a character of impressive practical depth. (This may also be the first game to imbue the oh-so-rote electronic hacking minigame with tension, risk, and reward.)
Big questions—where does “humanity” end, and what defines it?—nestle within a familiar techno-conspiracy narrative. DX:HR eschews a mortal judgment system, but choice remains a core philosophy. Players aren’t castigated or rewarded based on specific actions; objectively “bad” actions can provide useful bonuses. Translate that core philosophy to “freedom,” and Deus Ex: Human Revolution becomes the rare game in which theme and gameplay harmonize.