Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

written by David Steffen


The original Deus Ex game was one of my favorite games of all time. That one came out in 1999, and was a first person shooter (FPS). At least, the basic format was FPS; really it allows a much more versatile gameplay experience. In that game you played nano-augmented anti-terrorist agent JC Denton. Each mission of the game involves specific objectives, but those can be reached in a variety of ways, whether by playing the usual FPS blast-through-the-front-door strategy, or shutting down the security system by hacking, or bribing a guard, or through stealth. You can read an article I wrote about it here.

Then, in 2003, a sequel was published under the name “Invisible War.” I’d rather not talk about that one. It was a huge disappointment after the great first one. If you see a cheap copy, save it for something else instead.

Then “Human Revolution” came out in 2011. This story takes place in 2027, 25 years before the first game in the series, before nano-augmentation is available, in the age of mechanical augmentations (think hydraulics and dermal plating instead of nanites in your bloodstream). Your character is Adam Jensen, head of security for augmentation designer Sarif Industries. In the opening scenes, Sarif industries is attacked by a team of supersoldiers. Adam is severely injured in the attack, losing several limbs. The only way to save his life is through augmentation. Six months later, while he’s still recovering, Sarif calls him back into duty. The company has been attacked again, and they want to make use of his new augmented abilities to handle it.

The overall gameplay is similar to the original Deus Ex, with the versatility of gameplay allowed, and with augmentation upgrades.

I’ll have one section with a general spoiler-free review, followed by one that has spoilers (including help with the boss battles).

Spoiler-free Review

Human Revolution is much better than Invisible War. It sticks much more to the gameplay and style that made the first game so popular. As is often the case, it doesn’t quite recapture the novelty of the original. For one thing, part of the appeal of Deus Ex was a plot full of conspiracy theories, involving every popular theory from Area 51 to the Illuminati to the Knights Templar, and so on. I don’t know if they just used them all up for Deus Ex, or what, but I felt like it lost a little bit.

The augmentations are still fun, and they’re a completely different set. Some are cooler than the original game, some less so, so there’s plenty of new room to explore in that area. Some abilities are definitely improved–especially auto-regenerating health as a default augmentation. In Deus Ex, if you got injured, you’d have to just search for med kits, and there would not be much you could do if you couldn’t find any–you could easily get stuck in an area with only certain death awaiting you.

One thing that’s quite a bit different is the hacking abilities. In Deus Ex, improving your hacking skill just gave you a time limit while in a hacked system. Improving your skill was choice, but it took no real strategy or skill. In this game, every time you hack, you have a layout of network nodes. To break into the system, you have to break into the node of the computer that holds the passwords. To get into that node, you have to break into other nodes to get to it. With each node, there is a chance that the security system will catch on, and will start tracking you, at which point you have only a short period of time to finish your hack. So that adds some extra challenge and strategy. And there are plenty of opportunities for hacking, from doorways to PCs to security hubs, and so on.

Really, there’s only one thing that’s wrong with the game: the boss battles. Apparently they outsourced the programming work, and you can tell, because the boss battles are almost entirely unlike the rest of the game. I get the impression that they gave the game engine and set of weapons to the third party and told them nothing about the rest of the game. Tough boss battles in a standard FPS are expected. In most of those games, you are expected to play as a killing machine and the bosses are built to be a challenge for that kind of tough character. But in this game, it is completely valid to play a nonviolent stealthy style of gameplay. So it is a very unpleasant surprise when you hit that first boss battle and you have an inventory full of non-lethal slow-loading weapons, and a set of augmentations that only help you be sneaky. In Deus Ex, there were fights that were like boss battles, but there were always other ways to resolve them without an actual firefight. I did manage to beat all the bosses in Human Revolution, so read the next spoiler section if you want to know how I beat each of the bosses.

Spoiler Section

I took the nonlethal approach through most of the game, though I did slip into violence in 2 or 3 places where I was cornered by large amounts of armed enemies. Non-lethal, slow-loading weapons (some of which are short range) aren’t so good in such situations, so I tried to keep a shotgun in my inventory.

Through most of the game, I kept the following in my inventory (I upgraded my inventory size to the max very early on):
–stun gun (short range non-lethal)
–PEPS (cone of effect non-lethal)
–Tranquilizer rifle (long range non-lethal)
–shotgun (lethal, very effective at short range)
–revolver (lethal, upgradable to exploding bullets, compact with explosive power)
–gas grenades
–EMP grenades
–ammo for all those weapons, as much as I can carry

And I usually use the non-lethal takedown augmentation which is pretty much free to use, whenever I can get close enough to use it without being seen.

There are a couple big experience bonuses you can get if you play the way that I do:
Ghost–No hostile sees you on your way to the objective
Smooth Operator–You don’t set off any alarm on your way to the objective

Boss Walkthroughs

Barrett–This first boss fight really caught me off guard. I admit, I went to look online for some times. None of which I found particularly helpful. This boss fight starts in a particularly irritating way–with a cut scene that leaves you standing in plain sight in front of the boss. Barrett is a tank of a man, slow moving but with an automatic weapon grafted onto his arm and packing a heavy arsenal of grenades. Don’t bother trying a takedown on him, he will pick you up and take a big chunk out of your health in the process. The room is medium size, with plenty of pillars to hide behind, and a couple offshoot rooms. Since you start the fight in plain sight of Barrett, hiding behind the pillars doesn’t make him forget where he last saw you. Just because he’s built like a tank doesn’t mean he’s that stupid.

So, after dying about 50 times in an hour of gameplay, I finally found a strategy that I could make work. It helps that the room is well-stocked with equipment, but first, you have to get Barrett off your tail so you can get a second to put something together. Keep in mind, too, that after you kill Barrett you will still be in the room until you choose to leave, so if you want to drop some of your inventory to make room for other equipment, feel free to do so (this is true for any of the boss battles).

Okay, so here are the steps that I took. For this to work, all you need to take into the room is a stun gun with a few darts:
–As the fight starts, duck behind the pillar to the right to get out of Barret’s line of fire.
–In that corner you’ll find gas barrel. Pick it up, wait for a gap in Barrett’s firing pattern, and throw it at him, hitting him directly if possible.
–The gas will throw him for a loop, while he’s disoriented duck into the corner room that was on the far right side (from where you started). If you’re quick he won’t see you go back there and he’ll just wander around the main room shouting at you.
–Back in that room is a weapons locker with a shotgun (thank goodness!) and some shotgun ammo. Pick those up.
–Outside the room is an explosive barrel. Peek around the pillars, wait until Barret is nearby and facing away and hit him straight on the back with the explosive barrel.
–From here, the stun gun is your friend. Don’t get too close–he will throw you down. Just get close enough that your targeting reticle turns red, then zap him. He’ll be disoriented for a few seconds.
–Quickly use the quick-inventory button to switch to the shotgun. Fire off 3 or 4 shotgun blasts to his head.
–Switch back to the stun gun and zap him again, repeat with a zap and several shotgun shells. Three or four zaps with shotgun blasts to follow should finish him off.

Federova–I learned my lesson from the first fight, and started toting the shotgun and revolver. Also, it’s a very good idea to get the dermal plating augmentation that gives you electricity resistance.
Federova is the stealthy one of the group. She has a cloaking augmentation, she has some hard hitting attacks, and she loves hit-and-run attacks. But, the stungun-shotgun combo works well on her too. The fight takes place in a server room with a thin layer of coolant on the floor, which is handy because when she cloaks and runs away from you you can follow her rippling footsteps. She tends to attack, and then try to avoid you, to recharge her batteries, so if you can catch her, that’s the best time to attack. Or, you will usually get a voice warning from Eliza (another character in the room) when Federova is going to charge you. Either way, zap her with the stun gun, fire a few shotgun headshots, run and regroup.

Oh, and that electricity augmentation is useful because she can zap you through the coolant.

Lather , rinse, repeat, and you should have no problem.

Nammir–This one is BY FAR the hardest boss fight. Especially if you make the same mistake that I did in an earlier quest. As the game goes on, your augmentation glitches get worse, with your head’s-up display keeps twitching. You were given the mission to go to the LIMB clinic to update your biochip. You better hope you avoided that mission or this fight will be much, much harder. That biochip has a backdoor in it that lets the bad guys shut off your augmentation. And that’s ALL your augmentations, even the ones that you started the game with. That means no health meter, no ammo display, no takedowns, no radar. And it happens when you’re fighting the character that is easily the most augmented person in the game.

It took a while to get the hang of this, but I found a strategy that seemed to work pretty consistently. One little extra bit of help is that you can carry a turret into the fight area to help you a little bit. In the main area of the level, there’s a turret in the middle of one of the streets. Behind is a security terminal. If you hack the terminal, you can turn the turret against enemies, and if you have the strength augmentation you can carry it to the fight area.

Before you leave the area, get your biggest gun ready, and frag grenades if you have them. I used my revolver (with exploding bullet upgrade), and I had two frag grenades. You have a moment at the start to get off a few attacks. I tossed a frag grenade, and fired off a couple shots, then I got out of the center of the room. The center of the room is the most dangerous, that’s where you’re most vulnerable. Get to the outside wall and just start doing laps. Luckily, his strategy is pretty easy to counter. He doesn’t fire while he’s giving chase; he chases, fires off some shots, but not while he’s chasing. If you see him ahead of you, fire off a few shots, then turn and run. If you hear explosions or sounds behind you, turn, find him, fire off a few shots, then turn and run. Repeat, you might want to keep a few saves if you can get the occasional breather. I think that your health regeneration aug still works, but it is a little hard to tell since your health display is faulty.

If you can make it through this fight without augs, you have made it through the hardest part of this game, by far.

Hyron–And the game finishes on the easiest boss fight. Which is at the end of the easiest level of the game. The only enemies in the final level are dumb zombie-like humans that rely only on melee attacks and only charge directly at you.

The real target that you want to kill in this boss fight is behind a wall of bullet-proof glass, so you first have to take out the security system. The security system consists of three human drones that are in pods around the central pillar. The pillar is protected by three turrets that are on a rotating track that runs around the pillar. Everything becomes significantly easier if you take out the turrets. I did so with the revolver which has an exploding bullet upgrade. Each turret took maybe 4 or 5 hits. Now the room’s unprotected for the moment. There are three computers in the room which you can hack to open each of the pods. You might have found the login passwords in the level, in which case you can use those, otherwise you can hack them like normal, then blast the drones as they are revealed. When each one is opened, some zombies will come out and attack you, but they’re easy pickins. Once all those are out, then the floor will electrify in intervals (which you can ignore if you have the electricity immunity upgrade). A few security bots will come out, so if you have some EMP grenades or explosives you’ll probably want to take those out. Eventually some explosions will shatter the bulletproof glass, and then your target is unprotected.


Niche Game: Deus Ex

Niche games: Âwe’ve all played them. ÂThey’re the games that you remember for a long time because they’re so unique. ÂSometimes they’re the only ones ever made like them. ÂOther times they were trailblazers for their kind of gameplay. ÂBut what they have in common is the bravery to try something new, allowing them to rise above the imitators. ÂEven though there might be newer games with shinier graphics, these games are still worth playing mecause they’re something different, something special.

Deus Ex is one of my favorite single-player games of all time. Many others have promised to provide the same things this game provides, but every time the others fall short. It is really that good. The game was released back in 2000 by Eidos for Windows computers, and has been released for Macintosh and Playstation 2 in the meantime (under the name Deus Ex: The Conspiracy).

The year is 2050. The world is in a state of chaos. The Gray Death plague runs rampant, ripping through the populace. There is a vaccine, but it is in very short supply and is primarily used for the rich and famous. Riots occur everywhere, and anti-government groups are becoming more and more prominent. To combat this, the United Nations has formed a worldwide police force called UNATCO, the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition.

You take on the role of JC Denton, a rookie agent for UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition). You’re one of the prototypes of a new kind of enhanced agent. Instead of bulky and dehumanizing mechanical body parts, like your fellow agent Gunther Hermann, you are nanotechnologically enhanced. The title is a short version of “Deus Ex Machina”, which means “God from a machine”. This is a plot concept introduced in plays many centuries ago, where an apparently unsolvable situation is suddenly and miraculously solved by the unexpected intervention of a deity. The god was introduced to the stage at the time by lowering the actor mechanically from above the stage, thus coining the name. The title “Deus Ex” is particularly apt. The nanobots give you super-human abilities, which is one aspect, and also your character is the deus ex machina introduced to solve the world’s problems.

The game starts with your very first mission, which has been assigned to you as a test. UNATCO headquarters is on Liberty Island, the location of the statue of liberty. Terrorists occupy the statue with soldiers patrolling all over the grounds except the small portion of the island occupied by UNATCO. Sure, the UNATCO troops could mop these guys up with no problem, but they’d rather see what you can do.

The most unique aspect of this game is the way the missions are set up to allow multiple approaches to every scenario. These choices affect what you’ll want to carry in your inventory, how you want to interact with people, what skills you want to develop. This makes for enhanced replayability, because you can play it again with different tactics and have a very different gameplay experience. For instance, you can charge in the front door with guns blazing in classic FPS style. Or you can use lockpicks to sneak in a side door, only confronting enemy units when absolutely necessary. Or you can rely on your hacking skills, turn enemy turrets against their owners, unlock all the doors and just walk in.

Another thing that made this game great is the interweaving of dozens of conspiracy theories into one cohesive plot. The Illuminati, the Knights Templar, Men in Black, Area 51 and many others are all tied into the plot.

As you go through the game, there are so many incentives to explore. By picking a lock into a hotel room, you might find a note with an ATM code on it, a stash of money. You might find information. You might find a man with a gun ready to shoot intruders. Or you might find nothing of interest. You never know until you try. Not every area is hostile territory, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t break into shops, find contacts to buy black market goods behind hotels. You visit major world cities along the way, such as New York City and Hong Kong.

There are numerous ways to customize your game, which can make it different every time. First, you have upgradeable skills. At the beginning of the game, you’re given a set amount of skill points which you can allocate across a wide variety of skills. Many of these are weaponry skills: enhanced skill with pistol weapons, rifles, explosives, etc… Others are more general use, such as swimming skill that will help you hold your breath for longer underwater. But, to me, one skill trumps them all: hacking. Hacking is so versatile it’s useful for any situation and the more you upgrade the skill the more versatile it is. Every skill has four levels, each ascending level costing an increasing number of skill points to upgrade. At the lowest level, you are unable to hack. As you increase the skill level you’re able to affect more things when you hack, as well as have more time to do so. You can break into people’s personal computers and read their emails. You can hack into ATMs and withdraw money from other people’s accounts–although the ATMs do tend to malfunction after a single hack, never working afterward. Occasionally you come across ATM codes in emails and memos, so use the legitimate codes before hacking to maximize your cash intake. Most importantly, you can hack into automated security systems. From within the security system you can open security doors, disable laser triggers, and sometimes even turn automated machine gun turrets against their owners. You gain skill points by doing various things, such as completing primary or secondary objectives, and you also get them for unlisted objectives, such as exploring new areas to get “exploration points”

One of the things that makes this game the most unique is the upgradeable nano-augmentations. At the beginning of the game your augs are pretty basic. You have an infolink that gives you a popup comm window on your screen at anytime. Your targeting system can tell you if a person is a friend or a foe by color-coding the cross-hairs. And you have a light that you can use to see in the dark. But it uses up your battery systems, and enemies can see the light.

When you find your first nano-augmentation canister, that’s when things really start to get interesting. Each augmentation upgrades a specific aspect of your body, and can provide one of two enhancements, but once you choose one of the two, the change is permanent, and you can never go try the other one. One of the canisters, for instance, upgrades your eyes. You can choose “vision enhancement”: night vision at level one, infrared vision at level 2, short-range sonar at level 3 (see through walls), long-range sonar at level 4. Or you can choose targeting, which increases your accuracy and weapon damage as well as giving you info about your target, the higher the level the more accurate and the more info. Other upgrades throughout the game include the ability to heal damage, to walk more quietly, and invisibility. Choose wisely! There are two kinds of canisters, the augmentations which you have to choose between the two types, and upgrade canisters. The upgrades can be applied to any of your augs, but remember that these things aren’t just lying around everywhere–you’ve got to choose which augmentations are most valuable to upgrade.

Another way you make the game your own: inventory choices. You have a limited (though large) amount of carrying space. You can’t carry everything you come across, nor even every type of weapon. Myself, I like a wide an array of weapons to use in different situations. Others might like to tote around bulky heavy weaponry. Whatever you do, keep in mind that you might want to hold onto each weapon as long as you can, because of weapon upgrades. Each weapon can take numerous upgrades that can affect magazine size, reload rate, and the like, so once you’ve upgraded a weapon you may want to keep it around. Some items are must-haves: med kits, LAMs (like grenades), energy canisters, to name a few, luckily these things take up only one space in the inventory and are stackable (more than one of the same type fits in the same square). Lockpicks are a worthwhile tool as they are often an investment more than a cost, and you can use less of them if you upgrade your lockpick skill.

The difficulty of the game all depends on your decisions. I’ve heard it’s possible to complete the game without killing a single human being. That would be very difficult. There are several non-lethal weapons such as the tranq. crossbow and the stun prod, but tranqs are so slow-acting that the enemy often gets to an alarm button, and the stun prod requires a direct melee attack. And what augmentations and skills you choose to upgrade all affect your available strategies and the difficulty thereof. If I wanted to make the game harder, I could skip the hacking skill entirely, but for me that would make the game much less fun, because there’s nothing quite like the rush of turning an enemy’s trusted security system against them.

Also, you can save anywhere anytime, so if you constraint yourself in this ability, the difficulty will be raised. Otherwise you could pick every lock and just re-load an old game just before the pick if you don’t like what you find. While there’s nothing in the game to prohibit this, it does take much of the challenge out if you take this strategy.

There are multiple endings to the game, though luckily the objectives for each of them are given to you. You just need to choose which ones to complete. You’re not locked into any of the endings until you perform the final task for them, so if you keep some strategically saved games you can see all three endings without having to replay the whole game.

The graphics in the game are quite good, nice textures. My only complaint is that the faces, particularly the mouths, look blocky as people speak. The music is great, and the voice acting is superb. Some have complained that JC’s voice is too deadpan, but I think it’s appropriate given his character.

Hungry for more? There is a sequel, Deus Ex 2: Invisible War, but don’t expect much from it. It has some interesting ideas, but the core principles that made the first one great are dummied down to appeal to a wider audience. In addition, the graphics engine is needlessly vamped up. I ran it on a computer above the minimum specs and it would frequently stall as it tried to handle the rag-doll bodies and dynamic shadows. Those were fun effects, but reliance on pretty graphics is merely settling when looking at a Deus Ex game. Supposedly a Deus Ex 3 is in the works, but I don’t have high hopes for it. Warren Specter, the man that is given much of the credit for the first game, is not involved in this one, and that always makes me think it’s going to subpar, and usually I’m right. I hope I’m wrong. I really do. Hopefully I will be able to write up a separate Niche Games article later about how great it is. But I wouldn’t hold your breath. There have also been talks about movie rights, but again, I don’t have high hopes for anything worthwhile to come out of that.

If you want to find this game, it shouldn’t be too hard. A quick eBay search finds copies under 20 bucks, well worth the price of this one. Deus Ex has something for everyone. You will not regret it. Go buy it now, and enjoy!