on Dec 21, 2011
How is anyone supposed to rate or even discuss this game objectively? It’s a sequel to a beloved and revered classic. (Whether or not the original deserves to be revered is a thorny discussion we can leave for another time.) This game is unlike the original in terms of gameplay and style, yet it preserves the original premise, tone, and continuity. (Or reverse-continutiy. Or whatever you call it when you make a prequel.) It’s not nearly as freeform as the original, yet it’s far more freeform than its current-day contemporaries. It’s smaller than the original, yet larger than most shooters. It has a slick, appealing aesthetic, yet that aesthetic doesn’t match the one in the original game.
Do we judge Human Revolution against the standards of today, or do we judge it as a sequel to Deus Ex? It seems like cheating to compare this game to a brown military cover shooter, since those games were never intended to offer open experiences with player agency and player-controlled dialog. Those games don’t aspire to be Deus Ex, and so saying Human Revolution is better than those other shooters is like pointing out that Wal-Mart has a better selection of housewares than Dominoes Pizza. At the same time, it seems really unfair to compare Human Revolution to the original, since it would be completely unfeasible and unreasonable to attempt to re-create a game of that size and scope using today’s technology. The game would take so long and cost so much to produce that it could never make money.
Months later, I still don’t know how to judge the game. Is it a masterful and cunning improvement on modern shooters, or a short, dumbed-down bastardization of its predecessor? It’s kind of both.
I will give the game credit for this: The story worked. This should not be praise. This should be the most basic, obvious accomplishment that a game can achieve. This should be like saying of a restaurant, “The food was cooked.” But as Fallout 3, Assassin’s Creed 2, and Fable 2, and many other games have shown, game designers can’t seem to keep even the most simple plots from falling apart into contradictory nonsense, and they can’t devise characters with any sort of coherent motivation. Yes, there were parts of Human Revolution I could nitpick. (And the boss characters were unforgivably horrible.) But on balance the writers managed to create a world that was both complicated (by videogame standards) and sensible. There were many sides to the conflict, they each had a unique viewpoint, and none of them were mustache-twirling “EVUL FOR TEH LULZ!” (Again, aside from the Boss Villains. I make no excuse for them. They were just shameful, and felt like they were grafted in from a much dumber game. The point is, the factions made sense and had interesting things to say.)
This is the first game I’ve ever encountered where the old cover-popup shooter mechanics just felt right. A lot of it is the idea of holding a button to get into cover and letting go to leave it. In other games, cover always feels “sticky”. I hit the cover button, nothing happens for a second because (say) my character is reloading. Then I hit the button again, just as he (and it is always a he) moves to cover, so then he jumps back out again. Then I hit the cover button, but he jumps into cover on the wrong side of the object, facing the enemy. Then he sticks there while I madly try and yank him free, only to have him leap to some other bit of cover when I want to start running away. When you’re in cover, you’re rooted in place like a potted plant. It’s always stiff and awkward and wrong. I’m sure you get used to it after a while, but getting used to something isn’t the same as it feeling good.
Human Revolution didn’t have any of these problems. It almost always picked the right spot for cover, it was responsive, and I never felt glued in place. I don’t know how it was on the consoles, but this is how cover mechanics should work on the PC.
In the end, I have to say I enjoyed the game. I played through it two and a half times, and was still finding small touches or bits of dialog that I’d missed. I especially want to support the game as a way of saying to the rest of the industry: More like this, please. Next time just leave out the boss fights rather than outsource them. And maybe ease up on the orange filter a bit. The point is: Good job.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.