Deus Ex: Human Revolution gave us a game-over screen seconds after the opening credits, and we loved it. We were about to tiptoe into our first mission—deftly defusing a hostage crisis—when we encountered a trio of friendly SWAT guards. “Good guys,” said our brain. “No can hurt,” it concluded in caveman. There is, however, a certain comedic appeal in watching large objects bounce harmlessly off people’s faces, so we assisted a nearby garbage can out of earth’s pesky gravitational pull. THWACK. Immediately, the three future musketeers whipped out their firearms and turned us into cybernetically enhanced Swiss cheese. That’s when we knew: It was love at first murder.
Human Revolution may sport a shiny, modern coat, but make no mistake: Underneath all the pretty lights and robo-sunglasses beats the heart of PC gaming’s most revered classic. See, unlike other shooters, Human Revolution actually assumes you have a brain. So let’s say the obvious paths to your goal—stealth, hacking, shooting, talking, punching holes in walls, and about a million other things—just aren’t panning out. Well, why not try making your own Tower of Babel out of boxes and awkwardly scrambling right over your troubles? Where other games reply, “Invisible wall, filthy ground peasant,” Human Revolution politely says, “Go right ahead.”
Really, that’s Human Revolution in a nutshell. Sure, it’s a series of linear missions—separated, mind you, by a few absolutely gorgeous hub areas—but you’re granted an almost absurd degree of freedom within those bounds. Most games try to erect a giant baby pen around the experience—to say, “No, don’t do this crazy/stupid/everyone’s-on-fire thing because it’s not precisely how we want you to play the game.” Human Revolution, on the other hand, assumes that you will be crazy and stupid and set everything on fire. It gets you drunk on power, rolls out its finest red carpet, and says, “Here, vomit all your zaniest plans onto this.”
And then everything goes horribly wrong. Even with solid shooting, a generally excellent cover system, and a dazzling array of super-powered “augments” to suit just about any play style imaginable, you’ll still find yourself cornered and “augmented” with a few hundred extra subcutaneous bullets. In fact, truth be told, there’s quite a bit of trial-and-error in Deus Ex. Each area is basically an extremely open-ended puzzle, and—odds are—you won’t get it right on the first try. Occasionally, it’s genuinely frustrating. A large part of the game’s excellence, though, stems from that experimental spirit. Sure, you died, but what did you learn in the process? What did your brain sponge up—aside from bullets?
Hell, even Human Revolution’s conversations will have your mind firing on all cylinders and your heart thumping out of your chest. These aren’t simple “good or evil or snarky” affairs. You have to get inside people’s heads—understand where they’re coming from—or else, say, an innocent civilian might get their head blown off. In a way, these wars of words are almost boss fights, which makes the game’s inclusion of actual boss fights all the more perplexing. Really, those four infuriating, keyboard-flinging encounters are the ugliest blemishes on an otherwise incredible game—especially if you’re normally a stealth player. Other flaws like inconsistent AI and occasionally silly writing look positively minor by comparison.
That particularly painful belly flop aside, though, Human Revolution is one of our favorite games to come along in quite some time. It’s that rare franchise revival that manages to nod knowingly in its predecessor’s direction while boldly blazing new trails of its own. Gaming industry, take note: More of this, please.