Deus Ex: Human Revolution Impressions

No High Scores

Last night, I put about 2-3 hours into Deus Ex: Human Revolution. As first impressions go, it would have been hard for this game to make a better one and it’s certainly not hard to believe the high review scores this is getting are on the money (currently an 89 at Metacritic). On the PC the controls are tight, the visuals largely fantastic, and the feel of the game is very, very Deus Ex. Here’s some notes I’ve scribbled down as I’ve gone about playing through the initial pair of tutorial missions (the initial pre-augmentation set up and the “Typhoon” mission that follows)…

First, anything I think significantly spoilerific is done in white text that you can highlight to see.

– It’s not unusual, when a game is leading you around by the nose in the name of getting you acclimated, for an NPC to tell you to hurry up over, and over, and over again. Yet I still thought it was awesome when I stopped to read Dr. Reed’s computer that she said, “Hey, stop reading my email.” The game appears to have a very real awareness of what you do. Talking to Brandon earlier in the day, he evidently waited too long around HQ before going to rescue the hostages and recover the Typhoon and the hostages were dead by the time he got there. Nice.

– You get different experience point bonuses based on how you accomplish tasks. For example, a Ghost bonus if you complete an area without having been seen. A Traveler bonus for taking a “hidden” route like an air vent. Getting Things Done bonus for completing a task. I haven’t (and probably won’t) test to see if the bonuses balance out, say whether the experience you get for killing or tranqing people equals out to the same amount as what you get for ghosting pasting them instead.

– Attention to detail in the game is marvelous. A squad of terrorists not just standing guard in a warehouse, but actually rifling through boxes looking for stuff. Sarif, your CEO boss, has a picture obviously inspired by Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lecture of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp hanging in his office. How perfect a choice is that? The lens housing on a close-up of a security camera has the same sort of markings you’d see on a Nikon or Canon lens. The books you find in various places have titles that fit the type of place where you’d expect to find them. When I arrived back at Sarif industries after a mission, it was after hours and there were fewer employees about with multiple custodial workers actually doing custodial work. There’s some serious attention to small details at work here and it pays huge dividends for the game world.

No High Scores

– Along similar lines, use of language. You’re working for a company who specializes in advanced biotech. You’re working around the most brilliant minds of their era. This is not an easy thing to sell in the confines of a video game. So it helps a lot when you see jargon not only being thrown around, but thrown around in a believably authentic way. Some of the legit terms and techs I’ve already seen thrown into their mythos: fractal mathematics, neuropeptides, carbon fullerene nanotubes, SCSI, and Neuroplasticity. And, of course, there’s some made up stuff too -scitometer (tricorder?), chaos model genomatrix (derivative of chaos theory, I assume), AISO:23000 manufacturing standards (think ISO standards)- but when you surround that with legit jargon it works so much better than when it’s left to support imaginary science on its own.

No High Scores

– The PC interface is solid with one exception, which I’ll get to. Do you know how long I’ve complained with games like Mass Effect where if you’re using a terminal you can’t use the mouse wheel to scroll? In this game the mouse wheel will scroll down a screen (or advance a page of text). Thank you! The movement controls are also tight and logical and have plenty of room for customization. One customization I think I will need to make, however, is using a rifle scope. Here’s the deal: The left mouse button shoots. The center mouse button is a scope toggle. The right mouse button uses cover (must be held) if it’s available. To aim a shot over or around cover you have to use one of the WAD keys and you can’t activate the scope toggle until you do. So, if you’re trying so snipe somebody (there is a tranq rifle with scope) you have to hold down the right mouse button to get into cover, press and hold up to shoot over that cover, click the middle mouse button (which can be awkward on a wheel), and then line up your shot and fire with the left mouse button. Maybe it’s 37 year old reflexes, but that only works for me if the enemy AI has no alert status. If they’re on alert and trying to find me, I cannot manage effectively. It’s too easy to accidentally let off one of the held buttons and then you’re at square one again.

– Speaking of enemy AI, it’s a bit variable, but seems solid overall. There was a guard approaching my location (where I had cover) so I peaked out and fired off a shot that hit, but didn’t kill him. He didn’t come charging at me, but rather started backing away. Now, he did so too slowly and I finished him off, but I thought it was cool that he retreated at all. Guard patrol patterns can make it a challenge to sneak around them. They’re also a bit too “on” and “off.” A Detroit cop (friendly status) said something snippy to me so I picked up a cardboard box and threw it at him. He and his partner didn’t blink before they both started unloading at me. I guess the D-town po-po’s are a touch sensitive. It was a cardboard box, dude. Shake it off and grumble or something. At least give a warning. What happens if I accidentally hit one of these guys in a firefight? Speaking of which, more than once I’ve seen the AI shoot an ally who was between them and me. It wasn’t even like some, “whoopsie” moment. In one instance a guy practically put a clip into his buddy’s back.

– There are a lot of games that make a decent show of being multicultural and all, but this is among the few I’ve seen (that take place in the US) where the person you talk to is as likely to be something other than Caucasian as not. Yeah, the main players have primarily been white so far, but this game takes place in Detroit and it’s gratifying to see some genuine diversity and not seeing it divided up along class lines. (Note the following shot isn’t there just to show, “hey, no white people.” Their expressions and bearing are utterly perfect for the moment they’re in.)

No High Scores

– Speaking of which, more games should take place in Detroit. Just say’n. Tigers for the pennant in ’11, baby!

– Perhaps most importantly, it’s legitimately Deus Ex. The variable level design. The ability to avoid killing. Hell, even the raspy voice acting. The way the soundtrack and camera work are done. It’s all Deus Ex. Throughout the intro I kept thinking of the the Deus Ex intro in the halls of UNATCO. (Or was it FEMA?) It has that same feel. Hopefully it continues.

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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