When Deus Ex: Human Revolution was first released, it rightfully won a spot in our hearts and heads for its canny world-building, player agency and intellectual rigour: in short, for recreating the qualities we’d loved in Ion Storm’s original over a decade earlier.
But that was 2011. Back then, games were still in black-and-yellow. Now, in the dystopian near-future of 2015, the sense of surprise that this sequel succeeded at all has faded - and Human Revolution’s Director’s Cut is most striking on the occasions it eschews the vents to stride boldly out of cover and do something for itself.
The changes wrought by last year’s Director’s Cut are not all immediately apparent. The textures are a bit nicer: if you weren’t a fan of the game’s honey hue four years ago, the upgrade isn’t going to endear you to it. On the other hand, you’ve a new excuse to study some of those elaborate ceilings if you needed one.
More tangibly, Eidos Montreal have spliced Human Revolution’s sole DLC release into the main game’s reel. The Missing Link now occupies a space just before the final act.
Temporally, it makes sense - the extended mission is set during a period when, in the 2011 game, Jensen went dark and the plot jumped forward. Pacing-wise, it’s a problem.
The Missing Link was an extra helping served two months after the first wave of Human Revolution buyers had played it to completion - and in that context it was sensible to strip Jensen of his augs and let players rebuild their protagonist in the way they saw fit. Included as part of the main story, however, it doesn’t half take the wind out of the story’s sails.
That said, it’s as strong a playground as any other in the game. The Missing Link invokes Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory - either because it’s tightly constructed for stealth-action, or because it begins on a ship in a storm - and that’s no bad thing.
The Director’s Cut also fiddles with those infamous boss fights - outsourced before the 2011 release to another studio and publicly denounced by Eidos afterwards. And they are better: no longer simply exercises in emptying ammo into the game’s Metal Gearish cast. When fighting electrified slide-tackler Yelena Fedorova, for instance, hackers and sneaks can now turn turrets to their will or guide toxic gas into the room.
But ultimately, they remain jarring - estranged from the open ethos adhered to elsewhere. The first boss fight, with beefy Barrett, still ends with a cutscene in which your arm-blade goes through his jugular. It’s a blow to the throat, too, for anybody who’s spent the previous hours doing their utmost to avoid killing their enemies.
By contrast, The Missing Link’s boss fight was designed in Montreal - and provides a more optimistic view of what to expect in a sequel. “There’s no way off this base except through me, Jensen,” insists psychopath military man Burke. But pacifist options exist - defences can be disabled, goons dodged, and Burke himself knocked unconscious rather than knifed.
Do you remember the set-piece conversations? Playing today, that’s one aspect of Human Revolution that feels genuinely new and unique. These are the game’s real boss fights - lavishly animated chats conducted in uncomfortable close-up with key characters. The player is aiming to extract information or help, and their subject usually attempting to steer them away from it.
The NPC arguments are picked from a pool of pre-written phrases, but their exact order is unpredictable. In practice these meetings are less like verbal combat than curling matches. As Jensen, you do your best to nudge the conversation in a persuasive direction.
The right augmentations will allow you to see the workings of the system, or wear (presumably) a comedy flower full of pheromones and bypass the whole affair. But it’s far better to leave the cogs in the background and try to work your way through to a character’s empathy chip, or ego, by watching their reactions and responding accordingly. These days, gaming’s allies and villains are regularly rendered in three-dimensions - but we’re rarely asked to consider their motivations under the microscope like this.