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OnLive passes its first test as a cloud-based Deus Ex: Human Revolution shines (review)

[Alert: small spoilers]

Deus Ex: Human Revolution — a sci-fi first-person shooter game from developer Eidos Montreal — is one of the first few high-profile titles to launch simultaneously on OnLive, the PC and gaming consoles Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. There are a lot of questions as to whether OnLive would take off, much less be able to handle a game launch like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Well, you can put those fears to rest. Human Revolution is the first in what looks like a series of fantastic blockbuster titles on the launchpad this fall. The game looked gorgeous and blazed along at something north of 50 frames per second on OnLive — slightly better than the kind of performance you’d expect from a high-power PC or an Xbox 360. There were a few glitches — which is natural for a newer service — but they did not really get in the way of the gameplay.

I’ve spent the better part of the week blitzing through the game using OnLive, a cloud gaming service that runs games on remote servers and streams them through a web browser like a YouTube video. The service can run triple-A titles like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood on computers and even on tablets that don’t have a lot of processing power. You need a decent Internet connection to play the games, but that’s not too difficult to find.

The game not only plays like a dream on OnLive, but goes out of its way to reward you for being creative and finding interesting solutions to problems and staying alive. When I first picked up the controller for Deus Ex: Human Revolution at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show in Los Angeles, Calif., this year, I was incredibly skeptical. The first title in the series, Deus Ex, came out in 2000 and holds a special place in my heart for introducing the idea of an open world with choices and multiple paths to an end.

But as I powered through and really got a better taste of Human Revolution, I was treated to an experience that doesn’t necessarily match the original Deus Ex but comes very, very close. And it has the added benefit of a decade of sophistication and evolution that video games and first person shooters have enjoyed.

OnLive actually included codes for a free copy of the game in retail versions of the game. The move actually frustrated game retailer GameStop, which instructed its employees to pull the codes out of the physical copies of the game because it promoted competition with GameStop’s own reported cloud gaming service. (The company later reneged on the move and is now offering free gift cards for players that didn’t get a code.)

You play as Adam Jensen, a security specialist that was gravely injured in a fight trying to protect a piece of technology in his company. Doctors used prosthetics and cybernetic enhancements — called augmentations — from his company Sarif Industries to restore his limbs and keep him alive. He returns to work shortly after being nearly killed to uncover the story behind the attack and quickly gets caught up in a feud between augmentation companies.

It’s a near-term dystopia where humanity is on the cusp of unlocking the species’ true potential through the use of augmentation. But it’s littered with problems as the human body over time begins to reject augmentations and you need to take a drug called Neuropezyne to stop the rejection. It leads to addiction and a whole host of problems for people who can no longer afford the drug. That leads to riots and the emergence of political movements to try and halt scientific advancement in augmentation.

It’s a Deus Ex for a new generation, and it’s a blast to play.

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