Adam Jensen is the chief of security at a medical research centre. The centre specialises in researching augmentations- nanomachines and replacement limbs to help humans become more than human. A terrorist group attacks the centre, where Jensen gets brutally beaten to within an inch of his life. Here we get introduced to the main theme of Deus Ex's gameplay- free will. Jensen is augmented against his knowledge or consent when he was unconscious in an effort to save his life. How you choose to react to this is entirely up to you. Each time it's brought up in conversation you can be happy about it, angry about getting changed against your will or simply uncaring. However, this freedom isn't restricted to some dialogue trees. Each mission can be approached by a variety of methods.
Almost every area has multiple entry points that depend on how you upgraded Jensen's augments. For example, a guard is patrolling a hallway with a security camera looking over it. If you've got the right hacking upgrades, you can disable the camera and perform a takedown to knock him out. If you went the strength route, there's a vending machine you can push out of the way to reveal a vent shaft to avoid the corridor. If you've got the battery power, you can always trying activating your cloak and walking right past him. Or you can just shoot both the camera and the guard then deal with the reinforcements as they come. You're not locked into any one approach either- you can switch from stealth to all out assault without penalty. It's also possible to complete the game without killing a single person (except for the boss fights) if you want. Some games promise freedom of choice and multiple routes, and end up just having a few set areas with multiple paths. Deus Ex delivers though.
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. The environments are richly detailed; the character models look great and have decent facial animations. There are some bugs with character models getting stuck in scenery or glitching slightly while walking, but nothing that severely takes away from the game. The music and voice acting are both top notch, although it has to be said that the best part of the music is hearing the original theme after all these years. There's not a great variation in NPCs or enemies, but the main cast all have personalities and unique designs.
Hacking has been given a huge overhaul from the original game, and requires strategy. A series of nodes must be captured, ending with either capturing each registry or capturing the security servers to gain access to the system. Each node has a probability of setting off the security server when it's captured depending on its rating. If the security server is activated, you'll have to race against time to finish hacking or risk setting off the alarm if it reaches your starting node. There's several support nodes that can lower other nodes rating or slow down the search. You can also fortify a node, which can raise its ranking to hinder the server. On top of this, you can also find or buy Nuke and Stop programs for one time helps during the hack. It's fun, and each computer has a different node layout to keep it fresh.
Most players will end up buying a lot of the hacking upgrades simply because it's one of the most useful skills available. Each successful hack nets you XP, along with several computers having bonus XP/credit nodes. Almost every room has at least one computer, and you'll stumble across several office areas with multiple computers. It's also worth hacking to unlock the e-mails (and exploring to find PDAs). These range from useful (access codes or locations of items) to just interesting reading. They add a lot of depth to the game world; not to mention good for a few chuckles. One example is an e-mail circulating on several computers about a guy in the office having animal porn on his desktop. Further searching will reveal the guy's computer. Hacking that shows he'd e-mailed the security team complaining that they're not stopping his co-workers from messing with his computer. Later on, you'll come across a security terminal and find out what the security team have doing about it. You can also come across these in reverse order, depending on what route you've taken. It is little details like this that really add to the game.
This is definitely a worthy successor to the original Deus Ex. However, some elements have been lost from the original. Weapon specialisation is gone- instead, weapons can be customised using various modifications such as target tracking, faster reload speeds or explosive rounds. There are a lot of weapons to choose from, and all are varied. There's everything from a standard pistol to a crossbow or plasma rifle. Each one can be upgraded differently depending on your play style. Jensen's augmentations have a combination of useful ones to completely worthless ones- not to mention customised to suit your playing style. However, while the missions can be approached in several different ways, it ultimately has little bearing on the plot. Stealth or all out assault, saving characters or letting them die; all these choices are for nothing when the game boils down to you deciding which one of four buttons you press and a mildly different voiceover on a mildly different cutscene that differs on your playing style. For all of the free will and choices the game gives you, it stunned me to finish up with the way it did.
The game isn't perfect though. Jenson's inventory is fairly limited in space, even when all the slots are upgraded. You have two options with your equipment- keep them on you or drop entirely. There's no "chest" system to stash weapons or equipment to retrieve later. It does become frustrating in later levels, where you'll find yourself forced to drop a lot of your collectibles. Shops are almost non-existent in the middle of a mission (bar an NPC I found that was willing to sell me some ammo) and the latter portion of the game will have you loaded with cash but nowhere to spend it. The game does have open cities that act as each hub, but as you progress through the main story you'll find that you'll get locked out from further exploration as the area becomes unavailable. It's a shame, because the sidequests are fun and are a lot more interesting than the standard "fetch" quest most games give. However, it's a shame that there's only a handful of sidequests available.
The boss fights are probably the most memorable, if some of them for the wrong reasons. Each of the bosses has different weapons and attack styles, but all of them require you to actually kill them to defeat them. Players picking the stealth/hacking augmentation route will have a tough time against the first boss. Takedowns are impossible, and all the non-lethal weapons are worthless. However, if you spent time hacking the locked rooms and exploring you should have come across a rocket launcher not long before the fight. The game may be unfair with the boss fights but the developers will always throw you a bone.
Fans of the original and newcomers alike will definitely be happy here. There are several references to future events and characters (Human Revolution is a prequel to the original) without alienating new gamers, the story is solid and the gameplay mechanics are spot on. It's not quite as deep and not as long as the original (but it will still take a few days to complete), but there's more than enough here to make it a memorable experience. Well worth playing, and despite its flaws (and the disappointing ending) it still is one of the best games out this year.
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