Sunday, September 25, 2011

Review: Deus Ex Human Revolution

After his recent ranty blog entry, David felt he'd used enough of the world's supply of words on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and so kindly asked if I'd like to post a review.  I would, and here it is.
Knowing the game was coming out, I downloaded the original Deus Ex through Steam and had only just completed it a few days before playing Human Revolution.  Considering that it's a twelve-year-old game and I loved every minute of it, the sequel (well, prequel as seems to be all the rage these days) had a hell of a lot to live up to.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a first person shooter set in 2027, some 25 years before the original game.  You play Adam Jenson, a soldier working for Sarif Industries.  Sarif make human augmentations - mechanical and electrical enhancements such as bionic arms, legs, eyes, spleens, eyelids etc, ready for implantation into rich customers.  The technology is new and there's understandably debate on the ethical issues attached to voluntarily having your legs lopped off and replaced with massive pistons.  Imagine the debate about Oscar Pistorius but with a bit more bile and a few more riots and murders.

Sarif Industries is attacked by, it's assumed, anti-augmentation activists.  Jenson is all but killed, but like the Six Million Dollar Man and Alex Murphy, he has various bits of metal and electronics implanted while he's in a coma and wakes up as an augmented human being.  The fact this was beyond his control is an interesting plot device, allowing you as the character to decide your feelings towards augmentation and whether it's of benefit to mankind or not. 
The city districts are impressively detailed

If you've played the original then you know the rest.  You travel through the game visiting various areas in an attempt to get to the bottom of the attack on Sarif.  World power, the Illuminati, media control and the rest of it.  It's all a bit clichéd but is done incredibly well and is mostly believable.
Eidos have done a wonderful job on the visuals and audio.  The city streets look grimy and realistic, the NPCs aren't just props, you can talk with them, much like the original.

Speaking of which, the game borrows an awful lot from its predecessor which is a good thing.  Some of the best parts of the game are similar, such as deciding whether to use deadly force or a more stealthy approach.  Whether to spend experience, or 'praxis points' as they're called (gained gradually as you gain experience through the game allowing  you to upgrade your own augmentations) on better armour, aiming, sneaking ability or hacking perks and so on.

The plot and side plots along with the general game mechanics are arguably the game's strongest feature.  I don't think any game has done it this well since the original Deus Ex, and that's saying something.  Quests are believable and (I understand) do have an effect on the game's conclusion, and judging by my conversations with David, some are easily missed.
The transition of the game from the old PCs of 2000 to the consoles of 2011 has not only retained the feel of the old control system but it's simplified it.   You use one button to use cover, and it works very well indeed.
Don't steal Adam Jenson's hotdesk

The AI is much better than the likes of Crysis 2.  I never saw a single man running into a wall.  Enemies don't just carry on milling about and forget they've just been shot in the leg after thirty seconds.  "Hmm, he must have gone.  Not my problem.".  YOU'VE JUST BEEN SHOT IN THE FUCKING LEG.  YOU ARE NOT LIKELY TO IGNORE THIS.  A body left in view of a camera or sentry will cause the alarms to fire up, bringing troops to that position.  Footsteps alert guards.  It's similar to the Metal Gear games, and it's done really well.  I suppose I should mention that the title screen is very similar to MGS: Snake Eater as well.  Very similar and again, very well done.

The ditching of skills from the original and simplifying augmentations however has reduced how valuable upgrades feel.  By three quarters of the way through the game I'd done pretty much all I wanted to do with my character.  By contrast, when I'd completed Deux Ex a few weeks ago I'd only maxed out three skills and three augmentations out of a total of about 25.  There's far less emphasis on exploring in the new game, and two upgrades will allow you to jump as high as you can and lift whatever you can enabling you to access any hidden area blocked by a physical barrier.  Basically it's a no-brainer what to use your first couple of praxis points on.  I didn't like this, but it only really bothered me when I had to decide what to upgrade.

A major part of the game is the hacking into computers and security systems.  Now I always thought that hacking involved sitting at a computer in a dark room in your pants surrounded by empty pizza boxes and pop cans.  Apparently not though, it involves keeping your clothes on, pressing a button on a computer then moving a cursor around a series of nodes and pressing another button to capture them.  A bit like the end of the Adventure Game but with no Gronda Gronda.  I suppose you could do this in your pants if you like.  This hacking mini game is possibly one of the weaker aspects of the game for a couple of reasons.  Firstly because of the ability to save anywhere it's not that tense, so if you wanted you could save the game right before you attempt a hack and not worry if you fail it.  The second thing is that even if you don't need to hack into a security alarm, for example, or you already have the code, you feel compelled to hack it anyway as you gain experience for doing it.  I suppose a third thing is it's not that difficult to hack when you've upgraded a bit.

There are a number of throwbacks (or throwforwards?) to Deus Ex.  Radios play music from the original, and there are a couple of familiar characters (Manderley, Debeers).  The end credit music is the original opening music from the first game, this made me smile geekily for a good minute, and the posters for FFXVIII made me smile too.
Many areas are well designed to suit a stealthy approach

The game apparently allows you to judge NPC's characters and manipulate conversations to suit.  This excited me, but after having upgraded this augmentation I was left scratching my head.  There are very few times you can use it, and even after those I hadn't got a clue what was going on.  Lights flash under 'Alpha, Beta, Omega' and there's a little graph and icons pop up, there's another gauge under that, more flashing lights and spinning 3D pictures.  It looks like one of those faux-science CGI parts of a shampoo advert crossed with an aeroplane dashboard.  I can't fly a plane, I'm losing my hair and I can't understand the Deus Ex: Human Revolution social enhancer.  I even started writing down responses and codes on a piece of paper to try figure it out.  I couldn't.

I don't want to really say much about the boss fights, save to say they're shit and pointless.  After sneaking about, upgrading my stealth and buying only non-lethal weapons I don't want to be locked in a room with a man with a big gun who doesn't seem to be affected by a tranquiliser rifle (which had been working fine up to this point).  That particular boss successfully threw a grenade at a wall and blew himself up on my tenth attempt.  Thank fuck.  If anyone from Eidos happens to read this, then my advice would be that if you have to outsource a team to do your boss battle programming then maybe you should consider why you want bosses in the first place.  If you must have them then take a leaf out of MGS: Snake Eater and make it possible to knock them out.

The experience as a whole is brilliant.  Walking past street gangs in a dimly lit car park or crouching behind an office desk as guards scour the room following a failed hack attempt.  The game is thoroughly enjoyable and looks amazing.  The niggles above are little compared to the overall feel of the game, and don't spoil it.  I enjoyed playing to the point of staying up until the early hours this morning in order to complete it, something Fran was well chuffed about (note to self: half four in the morning is not a good time to talk to your fiancée about computer games).  I give this game 36 Druids out of 41.

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