Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an action game. There are fiery gunfights, explosions, heart-stopping moments of stealth and an arsenal of cybernetic enhancements that turn the hero into an ever-more efficient killing machine. Despite the cyberpunk setting, it is closer in spirit to Pierce Brosnan’s Bond with daring one-man missions, plenty of high-tech gadgetry, global conspiracies and no-expense-spared globetrotting.
One moment the player’s character, Adam Jenson, will be infiltrating buildings in Detroit via air vents and silently picking off unsuspecting guards with tranquilizer darts along the way. The next he’ll be in Shanghai exchanging machine gun fire with troops and hacking computers to steal secret codes. Rather than pre-planning these moments, Human Revolution recaptures the genius of its 11-year-old predecessor to let the player decide how to handle the missions. Each area offers multiple solutions to given tasks, and the cybernetic enhancements and weapons you give Jenson open up new options. The result is a tasty jambalaya of genres that expertly unifies first-person shooting, puzzle solving, adventure, stealth, role-playing and cover-based third-person shooting.
But Human Revolution also poses one of the boldest questions ever asked by a video game: ‘What does it mean to be human?’.
Set a mere 16 years from now, it envisages a world where rapid advances in prosthetics and nanotechnology have enabled people to gain superhuman abilities by fusing flesh with machine. Now this augmentation technology is becoming cheaper and safer, the ramifications of the imminent arrival of Homo sapiens 2.0 is inspiring both hope and fear across the world. Are the users of this technology human anymore? Will there be room for the flesh-only in this brave new world? Should the augmented be controlled or restricted? And who will profit from an augmented future?
It would be easy for Human Revolution to shove specific answers to these questions down the throat of players, but thankfully it doesn't. There are no easy answers, just the puncturing of idealism with Realpolitik. Philosophical and political conundrums are raised, solutions are discussed and dissected, but the player is free to reach their own conclusion all the way to the closing credits. It is also to Human Revolution’s credit that its philosophical leanings never interfere with its rip-snorting action as many of the details about the scenario are revealed in optional side missions and in discarded eBook readers.
With so much to discover and so much flexibility in how to approach the action, there’s also plenty of reason to replay the game. The overall trajectory of the story might be unalterable, but the ending and details are and discovering what you missed first or second time around often adds a new dimension to the game’s rich narrative.
And all this before we’ve even mentioned the fabulous Renaissance-inspired gold and black art style. It’s like a New Romantic take on Blade Runner, complete with ruffs and shoulder pads as the hot fashions of 2027.
Alas there is a disappointment: Adam Jenson himself. His own augmentation should make him an embodiment of the game’s big questions, but this six-billion-dollar man is really just another gruff special ops drone modelled on Metal Gear’s Solid Snake and Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher. In fact he's so needlessly cold that he huffily crosses his bionic arms like a catty fashion model when you ask him to empathise with a grieving mother.
But even a lead character as wooden as Jenson can’t undermine Human Revolution’s impressive merger of blockbuster action and intelligent storytelling.