I suppose I should reveal from the outset that the original Deus Ex game is my favourite of all time. The amount of hours I've sunk into it do not bear thinking about, especially when I wasn't even pursuing the main storyline most of the time, but rather attempting to break the game physics or cause hilarious cut-scene blunders. However, rather than biasing my review, I feel this instead made me much more critical and demanding of Human Revolution, and thus pretty well qualified to discuss the merits of the game.
From the very beginning I was expecting this game to be a complete disaster. A sequel to Deus Ex had already been attempted in the shape of Deus Ex: Invisible War, and the outcome was a universally detested, unplayable, uninspired catastrophe, abhorred so much by the fans of the franchise that they'd prefer it not to be considered canonical. Words really cannot properly describe how disappointing Invisible War quite was. Voice acting and character cameos aside, the two games seem to share absolutely no DNA whatsoever. Thus the stage was set for Human Revolution: would it continue the descent of the franchise into the mediocrity abyss, or could it somehow salvage the Deus Ex name and outshine all challengers in the already overcrowded FPS market?
The game is a prequel to the events of Deus Ex and your character, Adam Jensen, is a security officer at a major augmentation developer, Sarif Industries. After a research breakthrough which may allow universal access to body augmentations without the risk of immune rejection, your HQ is raided, the science teams are slaughtered, and you're left fighting for your life, only surviving thanks to a plethora of experimental augmentations that bring you back from the precipice of death.
For this game to have any chance of impressing, they had to get the protagonist exactly right; we want a character that can live up to the high standards of heroics established by JC Denton in Deus Ex. To this end they haven't strayed too far from the original 'silent but deadly' badass prototype, and Jensen is your typical deep voiced, cold-hearted, muscular killing machine with retractable shades. I've seen this cliche used as a criticism, but compared to the whining, simpering moron that you were lumbered with in Invisible War, I'd take Jensen any day.
As a prequel to Deus Ex, the story focuses on the effects of augmentation on the human race, rather than nano-technology. Like previous games, various newspaper and book articles can be read to garner extra information about what is going on around the planet in relation to this revolutionary new technology. These clippings, along with rolling news bulletins which often report the outcomes of your actions, provide an extra level of depth and create an immersive world populated by real people with deeply involving issues. I always felt a sense of urgency to proceedings, and no matter where I looked it felt like the human race was bubbling up to breaking point with its mass disenfranchisement. It's a classic dystopian trope, but it makes the world fun to play in.
Another theme that is maintained is that of 'choice' offered to the player. You can choose to infiltrate areas in supreme stealth, talk your way into certain locations or just wade in and leave no man standing depending on your playing style or mood. Any fan of Metal Gear Solid will instantly recognise that the stealth aspect of this game is pretty much lifted from the MGS series verbatim, and as a result it is uncomplicated and sometimes too easy to sneak your way through enemy hotspots if you're a pro with Solid Snake. I found myself routinely sneaking through a level only to reload from a former save point just to find another way of doing it, I didn't want to miss a beat.
If I was mining for criticisms of this game, I could come up with a handful, but none that really affected my overall enjoyment of the game. There are much reviled 'boss fights' now which force you to kill your opponent before the game can progress. Although being forced to kill is a massively contentious issue for Deus Ex players, and setting up boss battles is often a conceited process that erodes immersion in FPS games, I didn't think they were handled badly here. In fact, although not on the same scale of epicness, at least one boss fight reminded me of an extremely memorable battle from Metal Gear Solid 2, which brought forth a rush of nostalgia.
Perhaps the only other murmur I had about the game was quite how 'literal' the final ending decision was. You simply walk into a room and are presented with three or four options which decide the final FMV. Without such a similar concept in the original Deus Ex game, I wonder if this 'choice' would have been included at all. However, I think the most overwhelming compliment I could pay this game is that it feels like a Deus Ex game and there's not much more I could have possibly asked for.
A few more short hand pros/cons:
+ Cinematic Takedowns!
+ The fact that most NPCs can be killed
+ Vending machine ownage
+ Hilarious cut-scene rebuttals
- The game is not long enough!
- Inevitable rush of DLC that will follow
- DLC advertisements during game loading screens