By SHAUN A. NOORDIN
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a videogame with a lot of grand ideas about story and gameplay, and it executes them perfectly.
OUR greatest achievement in Deus Ex: Human Revolution wasn't how we infiltrated and neutralised an entire building full of terrorists without a single casualty. It wasn't the way we convinced a gunman to release his hostage in a tense standoff. Nor was it the time we eliminated an entire squad of heavily armed mercenaries (and their military robots) to protect an ally, all in the span of 60 crazy seconds.
Nope. Our greatest achievement in Human Revolution was the way we actually managed pull ourselves away from such an engrossing game long enough to actually write this review.
Human Revolution is the prequel to Deus Ex, an FPS/RPG hybrid that was (aptly, given its futuristic cyberpunk elements) ahead of its time.
Human Revolution not only carries on its predecessor's grand ideas of cybernetic enhancements, conspiracy theories, and flexible, creative gameplay but it also refines those concepts to a near-perfect polish.
In the year 2027
The story of Human Revolution is set in the futuristic year of 2027, in a time when the controversial new technology of mechanical augmentation is redefining what it means to be human.
You take the role of Adam Jensen, a security specialist working for one of the world's largest biotechnology firms until a terrorist attack devastates his company, robs him of his girlfriend, and leaves Adam with life-threatening injuries.
This turn of events is quite unfortunate for Adam Jensen; but as far as you're concerned, getting half-killed just means your character's resurrected into a half-mechanical avatar of pure awesome, hell-bent on uncovering the reason behind the attack and bringing the people responsible to justice.
That's right, the mystery terrorists made a classic action movie villain mistake: They left the hero injured but alive, meaning he comes back as a cyborg with enough firepower to kick their asses ten times over.
But hey, just because Adam Jensen's now a cyborg doesn't mean you have to play the entire game as an angry action hero, running around and punching people to death with your new robo-arms. Human Revolution's central principle is that of choices, and this applies to both its story and its gameplay.
Sneak or stab
You could, if you wanted to, treat the game as a plain ol' shooter. You can grab the nearest assault rifle to start blasting your enemies, utilising the game's ample cover system and regenerating health mechanics to keep you alive.
There are plenty of weapons that you can wield, and if you feel fancy you can even upgrade your favourite guns to pack a bigger punch.
On the other hand, a more intelligent approach would be to utilise stealth tactics to avoid deadly confrontations, use silent takedowns to neutralise guards without alerting their buddies, and engage in hacking minigames to turn your enemies' own security systems against them. The choice is entirely up to you.
One of the early levels of the Human Revolution brilliantly demonstrates this gameplay principle.
A factory in Detroit is overrun by anti-augmentation extremists, so you're sent in to secure an experimental piece of technology developed there and, if possible, rescue any hostages.
You can fight your way to the factory entrance, sneak past the guards patrolling near the entrance, or ignore the front entrance altogether by discovering a hidden roof access.
Once inside, you'll discover that the rest of the level is similarly laid out in such a way that encourages exploration and alternative routes.
Better, stronger, faster
The options available to you get even more varied - and exciting - once you earn enough experience points to level up.
Adam Jensen's mechanical augmentations have skill trees that unlock various abilities and, like all the choices you make in Human Revolution, the upgrades you pick have a significant impact on the way you experience your game.
If you're having trouble with guards constantly detecting your presence, there's a whole suite of stealth upgrades, including a cloaking system that renders you invisible to enemies and lets you slip past laser systems.
Alternatively, if wholesale destruction is more your style, the Typhoon Explosive System will pretty much eliminate everything and anything in a small blast radius around you, including robots and bosses. Lethal!
The interesting thing here is how well Human Revolution balances the upgrades; there's no such thing as a "correct" or "the best" build for Adam Jensen.
You might find it impossible to complete certain levels without the Hacking ability fully maxed out, whereas your friend might swear on the efficacy of the see-through-walls upgrade. (Note: your friend might be a pervert.) You'd both be right; it all depends on how you want to play your game.
While we really enjoyed the flexible gameplay of Human Revolution, the game wouldn't be as fantastic if it weren't for its excellent writing.
The world feels alive; the choices you make have consequences (so think carefully before you help or antagonise the characters you encounter); the chatter of civilians add an extra degree of believability to gorgeously designed city streets; and the various e-mail messages and e-books strewn across the game world add a lot of flavour to the technologically advanced world of 2027.
The conspiracy-laden main story and highly philosophical central debate of pro-humanity versus pro-technology advocates are compelling reasons to keep playing all the way into the wee hours of the morning.
We can personally attest to this fact, especially after the third time we came to work wishing somebody would install a real Anti Sleep Deprivation upgrade into our cranium.
Additionally, Adam Jensen's a really engaging protagonist, whether you play him as reserved pacifist or a lunatic who punches people to death through walls. (No, really, you can do that.)
He has the stoic attitude of a true badass, and, if you pursue certain sidequests, you'll find that he has a character arc that really develops his personality.
We really can't talk about the story/social aspect of Human Revolution without mentioning our favourite parts of the game: The "dialogue bosses."
Every now and then, Adam will find himself in various conversations (read: verbal throwdowns) that have significant consequences to the story.
It could be anything from boldly accusing a public figure of criminal charges on live TV, to convincing a suffering man that suicide's not the answer; get it right and you just might save a life, but screw it up and you might end up vilified by the public.
There's often a lot of tension and drama during these moments, so much so there's actually a mechanical upgrade that lets you swing these "social battles" in your favour.
Okay, you can call us nerds who just enjoy a well written story, but we found these talking sequences even more exciting than the physical combat.
Unfortunately, we can't say the same about the actual, combat-centric, boss battles.
Like a boss
In a game where you can go through entire levels without firing a single shot or getting detected, it's strange that there are boss fights that cannot be avoided or resolved peacefully. Really, Eidos Montreal? You let us create a pacifist character who successfully completed the last four missions with nothing but a stun gun, and then you suddenly lock us in a mandatory deathmatch with a guy who has a chaingun for an arm?
If Human Revolution is like a 5-star restaurant that offers a wide selection of delicious meals, then a boss fight is the equivalent of the waiter coming up to you and jamming a raw steak down your throat. It's completely pointless and adds nothing to the experience.
The boss battles are our only real complaint about Human Revolution, but we suppose that if we really wanted to nitpick, we could also argue that the final level of the game lacked the same level of polish of the others, and that there were some hilariously illogical inconsistencies, such as guards not noticing you punching his friend into submission two metres away.
But you know what? All those things don't really matter. Even with the irritating, unavoidable boss fights, Human Revolution is still an excellent game, and in fact, we're really keen on playing through it again.
This time though, we're going in as a full-on, gun-toting commando. No, wait, maybe we'll try the pacifist route, killing absolutely nobody (except the bosses). Or hang on, we could upgrade our stealth skills early and attempt to go through the entire game undetected... Gah, so many choices!
Deus Ex: Human Revolution may be one of the best games to come out this year. Its gameplay is innovative and intelligent; its writing is extremely engaging; and it's just fun to play.
That said though, what makes Human Revolution so memorable isn't just its flexible game mechanics or its conspiracy-filled story; rather, it's the gaming stories that it allows players to share with each other.
Not long after the game was released, we were already exchanging exciting tales of our in-game exploits with our friends. "Man, you should've seen how we Typhooned all the guards in the TYM facility!" we'd exclaim, while a friend would regale us with the story of how he sneakily completed the same level without tripping a single alarm.
Another friend would then tell us how he opened up a new route altogether, one we weren't aware of, because he purchased different kinds of upgrades.
We continued our gleeful exchange of stories for hours; we'd be talking about the same game and the same levels, but never the same experience.
Now this is a sign of a very engrossing game: We're excited about Deus Ex: Human Revolution even when we're not playing it.
In a game that's rife with options and alternatives, only one choice is clear: This is a game that you really, really need to play.
Pros: Excellent mix of combat, stealth and RPG; cyborg powers kick ass; engaging story.
Cons: Whose bright idea was it to put boss fights in this game?
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
(Square Enix/Eidos Montreal)
Computer role-playing game for Xbox 360, PlayStation3, PC
Price: US$59.99 (RM180) for Xbox 360/PS3; US$49.99 (RM150) for PC