Review: Man meets machine in thrilling ‘Deus Ex’

If you could replace any part of your body with a more powerful mechanical substitute, where would you start? Do you get new legs that let you jump higher and run faster? New eyes that let you see through walls? Or skin implants that make you invisible for a few seconds?

Adam Jensen, the hero of “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” (Square Enix, for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, $59.99; PC, $49.99), can handle any of them. He doesn’t have much choice; in the prologue, he’s critically wounded by a bomb at a lab run by his employer, Sarif Industries.

Fortunately, Sarif is the military’s leading supplier of human replacement parts. And since Jensen is Sarif’s security chief, he needs to get back on his feet and hunt down those responsible for the attack.

He’s already half-man/half-machine, but you get to pick which parts of Jensen get upgraded ? and your choices will affect your approach to the story.

Almost every situation in “Deus Ex” can be handled in several ways. Faced with a warehouse full of armed guards, do you kill them all or try to sneak past? Or do you look for another solution ? say, hacking the security robots so they turn against the guards? In some cases, you can even try talking one of the employees into just letting you waltz right through.

Whatever strategy you choose, you need the right augmentations. If you’re trigger-happy, you’re going to need a dermal armor implant. Stealthy agents will want to invest in a sound suppressor and upgrade their hacking skills. And more diplomatic types will want the “social enhancer,” which lets you read other characters’ moods and bend them to your will.

I chose the sneaky path, mainly because good stealth games are much rarer than first-person shooters. And “Deus Ex” is very good, maybe the best in its subgenre since 1998’s “Metal Gear Solid.” The levels are cleverly designed with multiple routes that allow you to avoid detection; you’ll never look at an air vent the same way again.

If you do get caught, you can always blast your way out. “Deus Ex” delivers all the weaponry, from stun guns to rocket launchers, that you’d expect in a contemporary shooter. You’re never restricted to one technique; you can sneak through one level and blow up everything in the next.

The major exception to this freedom comes in the battles against major villains. Here, you have to depend on firepower, which can be tricky if you’ve been focusing on building Jensen’s spy skills. These boss battles aren’t impossible, they’re just unimaginative, a disappointing concession to a tired video-game convention.

While “Deus Ex” does trot out some techno-thriller cliches ? Jensen’s gravelly monotone becomes comical after a few hours ? its globe-trotting plot is twisty enough to keep you guessing. And its primary urban hubs, in Detroit and Shanghai, offer so many intriguing side quests that you can easily double your playing time to 30-40 hours.

“Human Revolution” is a prequel to 2000’s “Deus Ex,” and it has plenty of in-jokes for fans of that classic. But even if you’re unfamiliar with the original, do not skip this new chapter. It’s a worthy successor, and it’s revolutionary in its own way. Three-and-a-half stars out of four.




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