Stealth. Some games make it work, others are less successful. Some people find it interesting and challenging, others think it’s a pain in the ass and would rather just get a massive gun and plough their way through whoever stands in their way. Deus Ex clearly pitches its tent in the stealthy camp, and between an impressive cover system and satisfying numbers of possible routes through the game’s huge locations this is one of those rare games that actually makes it work. If you want it to, anyway.
You take the role of Adam Jensen who, as a result of being nearly killed, has had several human augmentations plugged into him. As you make progress through the game, several strands of storyline begin to unravel which twists and turns depending on various decisions you make. Most things you do have an effect later on; do you hunt around to find computer passwords and doorcodes, or risk pissing off the locals by hacking into stuff? Do you kill someone who’s taken a woman hostage, or take pity on his situation and let him go? Even seemingly insignificant decisions can make a difference, something which is made all the more possible by the number of ways that you can not only make progress, but make successful progress.
To give an example needs some more explaining. The aforementioned augmentations allow you to enhance various aspects of your character, giving you the choice of seeing through walls, falling a long way without damage and improving your aim. There are loads of options, letting you flex your RPG muscles and build yourself up to be a silent assassin or bass-ass gun expert. These augmentations are bought with Praxis points, awarded as you level up or bought from special clinics dotted around the place. Buying them isn’t cheap, so saving money is important. So when you need to buy an expensive membership to get into a club, do you splash out or find another route? There’s usually more than one way through a situation if you’re willing to experiment a little. Stack some boxes to reach a higher level or buy the super-jump augmentation? Sneak past a few guards or just blow them up with a grenade? As with most things here, it’s your call.
Personally I kept forgetting just how flexible the game is. I found myself taking the most obvious route, much of the time getting spotted and finding myself embroiled in a firefight that I was ill-equipped for. It would only be later, after negotiating a series of heavily guarded rooms that I’d find the other end of an air vent that would’ve taken me past all the trouble without a blank of the eye. The open nature of Deus Ex is key to deciding on a more or less stressful life, and if you’ve geared yourself up as a quiet, stealthy type these alternative routes will be vital.
If you’ve gone the quiet route though you’ll find frustration with the bosses you’ll meet. Coming across the first boss – a man-mountain with a gun the size of Brazil – is a tough break when you’ve spent hours tip-toeing round with nothing but a tranquilliser gun for company. But let’s not forget, this is Deus Ex. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and even someone with no weapons or ammo in the slightest will eventually figure out how to beat him without needing any firepower. It’s tough, and a little out of place, but it’s not unfair.
Looking back at the original Deus Ex, the one thing that I remember vividly as I wandered round Liberty Island was the sounds. The sweeping, subtle music and sounds of distant boats and seagulls made everything feel so real and natural. Human Revolution is, brilliantly, just the same. While indoor locations are slightly more sterile, when you’re outside and amongst the run down cities everything feels so lifelike. NPCs have their own conversations, the general background noise of a pissed off city buzz all around you and, if you’ve got some decent noise-cancelling headphones to block out next door’s yapping dog while you’re playing, you’ll become totally engrossed in your surroundings.
And that’s the best way to describe Deus Ex: engrossing. You’ll find yourself holding your breath as you hide behind a crate, inches away from a patrolling guard. You’ll hunt around for that cunning way into a locked office, and panic when you bugger it up and set the alarms off. In fact the only things that try to break it is the slightly wooden character animations which probably would be less noticeable had I not recently played LA Noire. But Human Revolution is a great game, there’s no denying that. The varied choice in approaches mean you could easily play through this a couple of times to see everything there is to offer, although you’ll need to put a hell of a lot of times aside to do several play-throughs; the sheer number of side missions and exploration opportunities makes sure of that.
But Deus Ex is a great experience, and every bit what I’ve been hoping for since hearing of the game’s development. It’s a great reminder how stealth should be done and manages to make it fun and engaging to boot; you owe it to yourself to dive into the world of Deus Ex, you won’t regret it.