It may have a great legacy, but let's face it: the Deus Ex brand is as much a burden as it is a boon. The original classic is one of gaming's most revered sacred cows among the hardcore, heralded for its depth and complexity that expanded the perceptions of what a first-person shooter could be. It was also a game with a high barrier of entry that, while successful, never really won over mass audience. It would be quite an understatement to say that the franchise is a challenging first assignment for Eidos' new Montreal studio.
In order to succeed, Eidos needs both a base of new players from the mainstream console audience and the loyal following of hardcore fans that revere Deus Ex and the many games it influenced. It seems, at first, to be an impossible task. With two groups of such opposite needs, any attempt to reconcile the two would seem at best to be a compromise, and at worst it could alienate both sides.
There are tons of very interesting augmentations, far more than in any of the older games.
But the mainstream audience has grown quite a bit since Deus Ex: Invisible War. In a world where Mass Effect, BioShock, and Fallout 3 are mainstream hits, it's no longer necessary to dumb a game down for the masses. Today's audience is primed for the undiluted depth of Deus Ex in a way it simply wasn't six years ago. The developers have indeed made thoughtful changes to the game in order to make the game accessible to a wide audience, but they've been careful not to sacrifice any of the sense of choice that is so central to the game's appeal in the first place.
To welcome a new generation of players to the (convoluted) saga that is Deus Ex, Eidos has effectively rebooted the series, dialing the story back to the near-future year of 2027, two-and-a-half decades before the events of the first game. Medical science has just begun the mass marketing of "augmentations," radical surgeries that range from implanted computers that interface with the brain to artificial limbs - primitive and unsightly precursors to the nanotech enhancements of the later games. The controversial procedures are the center of much ethical debate, as well as class-based tensions between those who can afford them and those who cannot.
The gritty world of Human Revolution is dripping in atmosphere. Its grimy inner city environments are still built on a foundation of worn, 20th Century structures, alongside gleaming modern skyscrapers: pillars of might whose impressiveness matches the power wielded by the corporations that own them. Eidos' fantastic art direction is positively dripping with cyberpunk atmosphere, and is really one of the best realized worlds I've seen in the genre.
You'll get to explore these urban landscapes quite a bit this time. Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes on a more RPG-like structure this time, with large hub levels that play home to much of the action. These areas are packed with side quests, as well as secrets, goodies, and shops. While none of these elements are exactly new to the series, the way they're used to bridge the non-hub missions is. Coupled with a map system and mission markets that highlight your goals, the whole structure feels more like an RPG than a first-person shooter.
That isn't to say there haven't been a few concessions to modern shooter design, of course. Perhaps the most controversial of these is the regenerating health system. Like most mindless modern shooters, Human Revolution allows players to refill their health by simply staying out of the line of fire for a few seconds, thus eliminating the need for health packs and streamlining out a major element. This has been done more to avoid a design where players can dead-end themselves than it has to simplify the experience, however, and it ends up not being that big a deal. In fact, the game brings back the PC RPG-like grid-based inventory of the original, and has a host of consumables ranging from power ups to ammunition that all need to be rationed. This even includes some health items for those too impatient to wait.
Also included is a cover system like the ones found in so many shooters today. While this system does allow for blind fire and comes in handy in combat, it actually ends up being a very powerful addition when avoiding detection. While stealth was always an option and often effective in Deus Ex, it can be used almost exclusively for those so inclined in Human Revolution. Using silenced weapons, stealth augmentations, and quiet, non-lethal takedowns, this game can be played almost like a Metal Gear title.
In fact, Eidos has gone to great lengths to balance the different play styles so that there is no wrong way to play. Stealth and combat are both equally effective and both yield experience bonuses. Every stage also packs alternate physical routes, allowing players to sneak in via air ducts or sewers, should they be unable to talk or shoot their way in through the front door. Human Revolution never tells you how to play and, while a few tools like lock picks or breaking doors have been dropped, its scenarios really seem to pack just as many options as the original game's.
As the game goes on, you'll be able to unlock more and more abilities that will give you new options. These modifications range from strength-based add-ons that allow you to smash through weakened walls to mental augmentations that help you to read the mannerisms in dialog sequences. There are tons of very interesting augmentations, far more than in any of the older games. These are unlocked on an RPG-like skill tree with "Praxis Kits" that can be purchased, found, or earned by leveling up. You'll never be able to earn enough experience in the game to get all the upgrades, forcing players to make some permanent decisions that will affect their play styles.
It seems strange to say that the stealth, shooting, and RPG elements of the game have all been beefed up without favoring any one of them, but they really have. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is careful not to play favorites, or tell players "no" when they get an idea. As a consequence of this design, this installment is considerably easier than its predecessors. This means that the enemies have to be dumb and blind enough for a stealth game, even during the shooting game, and that almost any area can be accessed if your hacking is leveled up, but these concessions do result in a more open gameplay experience. You're simply less likely to be painted into a corner and that's not as much of a challenge, but it also offers plenty of opportunities for fun.
Mainstream gamers aren't dumb, they just need to be brought up to speed. Human Revolution is a perfect beginner's introduction to Deus Ex, but ultimately opens up into an experience that will please even the most hardened fans of the original. While polished, streamlined, and easier to jump into, Eidos Montreal has kept the focus on the idea of choice and player freedom that was the heart and soul of Ion Storm's original. They've created not only a worthy successor, but a new classic in its own right.