One of the premiere genre-melding gaming franchises returns after a near eight-year absence to suck players into a prequel to its cyberpunk adventures in Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Square Enix and Eidos Montreal, reviewed for the Xbox 360, rated M for Mature, $59.99).
It's 2027, and a player, as security specialist Adam Jensen, exists in a world that's in a state of collapse, torn apart as those trying to retain man's purity of form struggle against corporations pushing breakthroughs in human cybernetics.
Bionic augmentations have brought Adam back after a near-death encounter with terrorists who killed his researcher girlfriend and tried to wipe out his bosses' prized biotechnology.
Sporting a black leather coat, retractable sunglasses and plenty of high-tech upgrades, Adam is on a one-man crusade to control (or unleash) chaos, unravel conspiracies, find his true love's killers and protect Sarif Industries' interests.
If someone was making an interactive movie stew, this blend of first- and third-person action, puzzles, cover-based combat, and role-playing elements such as social interactions and inventory management would make for a tasty dish.
Now add the pop-culture spices of a character with the eventual powers of a refined RoboCop or human Terminator (voiced in a young Clint Eastwood style) and place him in a Philip K. Dick novel. The potential of the game is irresistible.
The end result requires a player to commit to hours of strategic and extensive exploration of such run-down urban sprawls as Detroit, Shanghai and Montreal where choosing when to fight and when to hide is as important to success as remembering to read a PDA entry, dragging dead bodies into tidy piles or searching a terminated enemy for some cash.
Gamers will need the patience of Job as they unravel threads of plots throughout the world triggered by extensive discussions with characters and interact in hostile situations meant to direct a moral compass and play out the heavy-handed plot.
For example, I often could stealthily reach my objectives though the clever nuances of slick cover mechanics and quiet takedowns of foes. (Choking never looked so stylish.)
However, I found it way more satisfying to mock the developers' finesse and, in the case of looking to steal an item from a dead body in a morgue, single-handedly kill every officer in the Detroit police station to reach my goal.
I still snuck around through a maze of vents and hacked the occasional office door, but the result was a deadly ambush reaped upon Detroit's finest.
With that stated, simply going, gun blazing, into any event leads just as often to a quick death of dear Adam even with health-regeneration capabilities.
Basically, nothing can be taken for granted in the evolving combat of Human Revolution. Although you may have purchased the finest selection of upgraded weapons, you are always low on ammo and always very vulnerable to dying from just a few bullets.
Luckily, developers offer some complex hacking puzzles (probably the most intelligent I have seen in this type of game) to open doors or control security systems and avoid encounters.
More important, the player accesses a branching menu of upgradeable augmentations to turn Adam into a superhuman.
Collecting Praxis Points through reward or purchase opens a wide variety of powers tied to his cranium, torso, arm, eye, back, skin and legs.
Just keep in mind: Choose wisely, tough guy. The cool factor of enabling a cloaking device, having the ability to see or punch through walls or launch miniexplosives in a 360-degree arc should be tempered against the equal, though less flashy, importance of a simple upgrade to easily hack more stuff or create more space in an inventory.
Now, if I can fault anything in the game, I found it too pedestrian to have to deal with the cliches of multiple boss battles.
Surely, Eidos Montreal could not have created such a lofty cyber-universe filled with infinite interaction and open-ended wonder, only to let me get stuck in a room with some heavily armed mercenary thug repeatedly punching my lights out and causing me to sit through painful load screens to try again?
Also, though the dreary locations and many design pieces were stunning, such as a perspective viewed from a helipad in the dual-layer city area of Shanghai's Heng Sha (catch the skyscrapers light up the second level of real estate anchored above them) many of the character models were just plain ugly.
Ultimately, Deus Ex: Human Revolution stands above most titles for its depth of design and open-ended choices.
Though it's not quite a revolution, pitted against such franchises as L.A. Noire, Mass Effect, Splinter Cell, Grand Theft Auto and Fallout, it should be a welcome addition to a serious gamer's library.
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