Square-Enix's idea to bring Eidos Montreal’s swell Deus Ex: Human Revolution to the Wii U over two full years after the game first saw light of day on Xbox 360, PS3 and PC is a curious resurrection, perhaps, but given the quality of protagonist Adam Jensen’s cyberpunk caper the title deserves as big of an audience as it can get. Now patched up, polished and fully augmented to take advantage of its new hardware home, a console whose interface-extending GamePad can itself be considered an augmentation by traditional console standards, the Wii U edition of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut stands as the definitive version of one of the best games of its generation.
Set in the year 2027, a whole 25 years prior to the original Deus Ex, the events of Human Revolution unfold during an incredibly exciting time in its cyberpunk world: Biomechanical augmentation is on the rise, and along with it comes exploration of the philosophical quandary around what it means to be human. Detroit’s Sarif Industries is one of the corporate biotech giants whose technology is among those leading the charge, and as it prepares to send its CEO along with a group of scientists to a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., the company suffers a deadly attack by a group of unknown mercenaries. Sarif’s head of security, Adam Jensen, is critically wounded and wakes to find himself having gone through severe augmentation in order to save his life. He is told that his ex-girlfriend, Megan, and her research team were killed in the attack, and CEO David Sarif wants answers regarding who was behind the strike and why. Given his new superhuman condition, Jensen is just the right guy to sleuth that out.
Thus kicks off Jensen’s 30-ish-hour trek across the globe, starting as a whodunnit in Detroit and developing into a full-blown conspiracy over the course of Shanghai, Singapore and Montreal, involving power struggles surrounding human augmentation technology, mind-control and, of course, the Illuminati. The plot doesn’t venture out quite so boldly into the deep end as the original game did way back in 2000, but Human Revolution nicely — and plausibly — tees up the series of events that will eventually lead to JC Denton’s infiltration of the Statue of Liberty.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is of a rare breed in that it allows the player to handle nearly any given scenario however they see fit. Typically there is more than one way to conquer a chevron, and Jensen’s chosen augments will determine the viable methods. Running up against a locked door guarded by security has several solutions. An excellent hacker might be able to disable the security system and waltz on over to the objective, or perhaps by poking around an earlier area you discovered the security password and can simply punch it in to the terminal to shut everything down. Outfitting Jensen with enhanced stealth capabilities can render him invisible to security cameras and drones altogether, removing the need to find the terminal in the first place. And, of course, there’s the shootbang route.
However, not all approaches are equally rewarding. Opting for sneaky stealth over blunt force is a far more interesting, challenging and downright fun way to approach a scenario. There is a great deal of satisfaction in sneaking around behind cover or through vents while observing sentry patrol patterns and waiting for the perfect opportunity to move, or knocking one out and hiding their body in the shadows while using an augment to see through the walls to eye other approaching dangers.
Indeed, stealth requires far more finesse than going loud, as alerting the enemy triggers absolutely braindead AI behaviour to fight off with an arsenal of unsatisfying weapons, for which Jensen is more than likely low on ammunition. Groups of enemy soldiers have a habit of awkwardly pacing back and forth in front of you, or predictably hiding behind cover and popping out from behind like clockwork. Human Revolution may be a first-person game but it is not much of a shooter, and the times in which gunfights are the only option the game loses some of the panache it works so hard to earn.
Certain upgrades allow Jensen to navigate environmental hazards, meanwhile, like walking through poison gas clouds or electrified waters unscathed; these can lead to otherwise inaccessible paths and shortcuts. Simply by mainlining the story missions Jensen can earn or purchase enough augmentation upgrades to tailor a specific style and reach the endgame. Diverging from the path often requires additional, arguably non-essential augmentations to explore new terrain that is perhaps down a deep drop, or beyond walls in need of a good smashing. And you’ll want to explore the world — each city you visit is an elaborate hub filled with things to do and items to grab.
In fact, exploration is handsomely rewarded in Human Revolution. In addition to growing stronger, thus enabling further exploration, world-building is one of the game’s great strengths. While you can get a firm grasp of events by white-knuckling through the core missions alone, a whole heaping wealth of information is tucked away behind conversations, hackable terminals, side missions, scattered newspapers and overheard TV reports to flesh out and provide background for the setting, its history and the motivations of characters. Poke around enough and you can even grab a rocket launcher during one of your first missions.
Human Revolution is quite the looker too, with a clean and sleek art style that pays its respects to cyberpunk without drowning in "homages" to Blade Runner. The blues of the original Deus Ex are now warmer golds, creating a rich signature aesthetic that gives Human Revolution an identity all its own. The subtle soundtrack is textured and non-intrusive but essential to establishing the darker, somewhat oppressive mood, but the voice acting is inconsistent in quality. Sarif’s gruff sleaze is pitch-perfect for the character, whereas Jensen comes off as a weirdly unenthusiastic Batman-type. Many of the smaller roles are stereotypical NPCs that sound as if they were recorded in a hurry.
Multiplatform releases on Wii U have a tendency to slap a map or inventory on the GamePad and call it a day. While Human Revolution does pick some of the lower-hanging second-screen fruit, it’s clear that Eidos Montreal and Straight Right (of Mass Effect 3 Wii U fame) took the time to make the GamePad not feel like an afterthought (let’s not forget that Wii U was, for a long time, the only announced platform for the Director’s Cut). Certain portions of the game, like hacking and inventory management, are actually easier and more intuitive to navigate with touch than an analogue stick, and when playing off-screen the HUD is re-jigged to allow quick taps on the sides to access specific subscreens like current mission objectives, the map or inventory. However, it can feel a little silly and needless occasionally during combat, such as when aiming down a rifle’s scope suddenly redirects your focus to the GamePad screen for no apparent reason. With rare exception, the GamePad is integrated in an organic way so as to make it feel essential in the world — so much so, in fact, that the game doesn’t support the Pro controller nor a Remote + Nunchuk setup.
Human Revolution doesn't have a traditional multiplayer component, but isn't strictly a solitary affair. Jensen players across the world can take screenshots, draw on them and record short audio clips to share with friends — ostensibly to share secrets and clues a la Dark Souls, although it feels more like an enhanced Miiverse than anything. Regular ol' Miiverse support allows players to share screenshots and whatnot, and those who want to auto-spam their feed every time an achievement is earned are able to do so as well. (But, you know, don't be that person.)
The Director’s Cut is intended to be the definitive version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and with plenty of tweaks and additions it warrants the designation. A chief complaint about the original game is that the boss battles are incongruous with the amount of player choice that the game offers elsewhere — there was no way not to engage in a gunfight with them — which the Director’s Cut tweaks by gently altering the arena in which these fights occur and including hacking/non-shooty methods of winning. The boss fights aren’t exactly re-invented, but offering somewhat more flexibility in strategy is welcome.
Now on the disc is the Missing Link DLC as well as a full strategy guide, and an excellent new commentary track allows the developers to offer great insight and anecdotes on how the game came together. A Making Of documentary further scratches that itch, and a New Game+ mode is included as well. All of this plus the excellent GamePad functionality makes a really strong argument in favour of the Wii U edition as the most compelling version of the game.
It may be a two-year-old game, but whoever's idea it was to resurrect Deus Ex: Human Revolution for Wii U deserves a slap on the back and a raise of the glass. The original game may not have had the GamePad in mind at all when it was released in 2011, but this Director's Cut feels completely at home with it in 2013. No, not everything is fantastic, and much of which was already an issue the first go out — combat still feels like a lesser play style, predictably dumb AI doesn't do the game any favours, and some wonky voice acting can confuse the mood — but the few blemishes can't overshadow the sheer number of things that Human Revolution gets completely right.
Organic second-screen support, lovely new features and some welcome, if subtle, tweaks to an already fantastic title put Human Revolution at the top of the Wii U food chain. There just aren't many games out there quite like it.