Human Revolution has been on my mind as of late, and in anticipation of its release (at which point I may have a computer running on something other than prayer) I decided to make a quick run through the original for the sake of refreshing my memory. Two days later, still jittery from the caffeine and finding myself suddenly despondent at the nature of man's foolish arrogance, I nonetheless felt a faint smile paint itself onto my face as I pondered the trip down Nostalgia Lane.
Hit the jump for the full review!
The game begins in New York, during a time in which a lethal pandemic called "The Grey Death" has scourged the world, and NSF (National Secessionist Forces) terrorists have stolen a shipment of the Ambrosia vaccine -- the only known treatment for the virus. As one might guess, things are not so simple, and soon enough you will find yourself entangled in a web of conspiracy as shadowy organizations compete for power behind the public eye. You follow JC Denton, an agent of UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) and one of the new "augmented" line of super-soldiers. If Deus Ex has taught me one thing, it is that in the future we will be cyborgs. Further still in the future, we will be less obvious, more aesthetically pleasing cyborgs. Nanotechnology rules the roost, and "augmentation," the nanotech successor to mechanical implants, serves an integral part of the gameplay. Each augment gives JC a new ability (altered vision, increased speed, and health regeneration to name a few) and each can be upgraded, but you have a limited number of slots, so you'll occasionally have to choose which augment better suits the kind of character you want to create. In addition, you accumulate skill points for accomplishing different objectives, which can be spend on abilities such as weapons, lockpicking, or hacking.
The game was released in 2000, a time when conspiracy theories were all the rage. The Matrix was still fresh in the minds of us youngsters, The X-Files was still on the air, and the backwoods of Kentucky were teeming with concerned citizens/hillbillies donning their camo gear and hunkering down in makeshift barracks in preparation for the UN invasion. It was a time of uncertainty for America, and many of our uncles warned us that within ten years we would be chained to tables in cooperative factories making boot laces for the Chinese military. Terror, hidden agendas, the ever-creeping specter of one-world governance; Deus Ex takes cues from each of these and runs to an extreme that, despite being pulled right from one of Glenn Beck's night terrors, is well-realized and ultimately very compelling.
Much to my surprise, the graphics don't hold up too badly. While the age definitely shows upon close inspection (particularly during dialogue sequences), character models look pretty decent on maxed-out settings. The music works well, providing an ambient backdrop throughout the game that occasionally kicks into high gear during combat sequences. The environments are large enough to permit for a good deal of exploration -- there will usually be a few ways to accomplish your task -- and the overarching world is vast in scope, finding you traveling to multiple continents over the course of the story.
Deus Ex tries to part ways with the standard murder spree that characterizes most FPS games -- in theory, you could go through the game without killing unless absolutely necessary -- and to that end it adds a couple fitting elements. You can take down enemies with the stun rod or tranquilizer crossbow, or simply avoid enemies altogether. One of the more interesting touches comes from gathering intel. You'll eavesdrop on enemy soldiers who occasionally engage in everyday conversation, and while hacking email accounts you'll come across messages from friends, family, or significant others. This tries to instill in the player the notions that his or her enemies are not simply anonymous soldiers -- that the people in your gunsights have their own stories. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite take. You'll only a be rewarded a couple of times for using non-lethal force, and even if you do go out of your way to avoid crushing your foes like so many ants, practicality becomes an obstacle. The majority of weapons and ammo you'll find are catered toward lethality, and the few effective ones rely on ammunition that proves increasingly scarce as the game unfolds. Should you feel desperately compelled to tread the less "bang, scream, thud" approach, you can always resort to bashing your target into unconsciousness with a police baton. Your adversary will no doubt admire your strong moral principles as he unloads several rounds into your chest from his far less delicate assault rifle. Balancing issues aside, the game designers do at least make the non-lethal weapons silent, giving you some incentive to pursue the more stealthy course of action -- and Deus Ex is a stealth game through and through. If you're one who, like me, developed in earlier FPS games a wanton urge to lay waste to all that is beautiful, you'll find yourself dispatched in short order. The game's easy and normal modes are reasonably forgiving, but should you venture into hard or "realistic" mode, don't expect to take more than a few shots before being killed.
The game's voice acting is very well done, even without the sliding scale usually applied to video games. JC sounds suitably stoic, support characters are largely well-voiced, and emotion is conveyed without sounding terribly cartoonish -- far above average for the time in which the game was created. English-speaking NPCs are a mixed bag, but for the most part they're par for the course. Why note "English-speaking NPCs," the man with no foresight might ask? In short, the foreign accents are as bad as they get without technically being racist. Each Chinese NPC sounds like he was plucked out of some World War II-era film reel with a title like "The Oriental: Understanding the mind of an honor-bound savage," and the other members of the "foreign" cast are no better. They're awful, but in a charming, entertaining way that adds a bit of levity to an otherwise deathly serious game, and nothing is more entertaining than listening to the conversations of two members of the Chinese Military Police, one of whom is inexplicably speaking in an American accent. Every now and again you'll come across the odd bit of tacked-on dialogue -- running into the occasional "shopkeep by day, political philosopher by night" NPC -- but it's very well written and doesn't detract from the overall flow.
The game has a few endings, each of which is quite satisfying and brings the game to a suitably chilly and open-ended conclusion. The experience is one that certainly bears repeating, and for only ten bucks on Steam, it's quite a bargain.