Deus Ex - Human Revolution

December 3rd 2012

I've been discussing Deus-Ex with a couple of colleagues, and those who've played it agree that its an incredibly flexible game where the whole really is better than the sum of its parts. But, before i comment on the 3 things i liked / disliked about the game, i wanted to spend a moment talking about the structure of the game.

It begins with choice
The great thing about deus ex is that it fundamentally encourages experimentation with each of its core game modes. As i saw it,it was more a very clever illusion of choice, that gives you a lot of variety, but is actually fairly repetitive. You see, you've got 3 main "types" of gameplay, and 3 main ways of playing through each, the story, exploration and combat. And you can pretty much play each of these game

1. Soldier (i.e. first person / 3rd person cover based action)
2. Stealth based (sneak around)
3. Blend i.e. take out emenies by stealth / run away / use sniper rifles etc

Role Playing (i.e. the plot and your role in it)
1. Good (i.e. generally accepting of people, want to see the best in the characters)
2. Bad (i.e. be badass, give people a hard time)
3. Smart (i.e. use the social interaction mod and really try and play the debates / complex moral dilemmas)

1. Pay no attention, just progress the plot of the game forget trying to find random hidden areas / side quests)
2. Hack your way through - focus on upgrading hacking skills, disable cameras, make exploration easier
3. Use your Body - upgrade your jumping, strength and vision, make exlproing and finding stuff easier

The clever bit is of course that you are rarely faced with one of these gameplay components at a time, they all infact overlap and gave the game its feeling of enormous flexibility, albeit within predetermined rules.

About 1/3rd into the game, there is a moment of realisation where I was finally good enough at combat and taking out enemies quietly, that I started to try and explore a warehouse. Then i realised that i needed to upgrade my hacking skills to access an area, so i did. Next thing i knew, I had bypassed a whole pile of enemies on patrol, hacked a local security terminal and turned all the drones on my enemies, saving me a pile of ammo and hassle. This is a farely common occurance in the game - you frequently get the chance to mix up your own way of playing and are never penalised for it - you can be pretty much competent at everything major at the end of the game and still find interesting ways of solving what could have easily been routine problems.

Deus ex really does bend over backwards to accomodate multiple ways of approaching the game - and when i say that its more that the sum of its parts, this is specifically what i am referring to - the combat is not as strong as GOW, Resident Evil or even Mass Effect. Nor is the role playing as developed as Skyrim, Mass Effect (again) or Final Fantasy (in fact, the while the story here is good, its the pacing of it is strange). Finally, the exploration is particulary limited, despite early promise of having cities to explore. However, put them all together and you get a great and varied role playing game with enough interesting takes on pretty regular components to make it easy to recommend.

So what did I like and dislike? I'll keep this fairly short, given how much i've already said on the game itself...

1. The action is always satisfying (except for boss fights)

The combat may not be as great as Gears of War, but boy is it fun. Once you get out of the first 4 hrs, the game lets go and you have enough toys to play with to ensure that routine action is plenty of fun. You get a healthy arsenal to shoot with (tranquilize or kill) including a shotgun (of course), a couple of fun rifles, grenades (which of course can be turned into mines), but you also have 2 swords up your arms for bloody death dealing to unsuspecting guards. Combine this with varied settings (both in design and layout) and you get a pretty enjoyable single player action game.

2. The Setting
Put simply, the scenery is great in Deus Ex with its orange hue throughout, it has plenty nice touches that make it feel like a believable dystopian (?) future. Also, Jensen your character looks like a ludicrously clothed badass when killing people. its so OTT, that its funny.

3. The Conversation Combat & Ambuguity
I'll not spoil either, but conversation combat (or "social duels") are a real highlight. You have to use what you know about your adversary and use your wits / words to take down a foe. The game gives you a spot of practice with this early on, and at several key moments employee's it expertly. Regarding the plot, while good, what makes it really interesting is the amount of ambiguity (with one exception - see the end, below), where there arent many clear cut decision. In fact, the game is littered with plenty of debates that are well structured and interesting to listen to. Where the FF games can be weighed down by their overly played out storylines, Deus Ex, true to its form gives you the choice as to how much you engage with it. You can read a good selection of PDA's, E-Books, Notes, Emails etc and hear interesting dialogue debating the ethics behind genetic modification & enhancement of humans. For the most part it is excellent and both well acted and written.

1. The Boss fights
Enough has been said about this for me to not need to repeat it, but believe me, these are the least interesting parts of the game by far. All I'll say is that they reduce any choice from the scenario, and you a required to shoot the crap out of a heavily armed bad guy. Also, weirdly, the bosses get easier as the game goes on too - the first one is super hard if you've not really been paying attention to your augmentations (see below)>

2. The Pacing
The designers made some really weird pacing decisions. For a start, the bosses get easier - be this by by product (as you are just generally "harder" by the end) or a deliberate choice, it really hurts the overall flow of the game. The first two bosses are very punishing (especially #1) and if you have been playing as a light footed stealth character with little emphasis on guns, you're basically screwed. For me, it felt more like they were shoe-horned in to present natural climaxes in the plot.

3. The Inventory Management
For a game so slick in look, feel and general execution of ideas, my god did the skip a beat with the inventory. I can only assume the designers did this to keep the "challenge" in the game, but it is just so fiddly. Not only are you limited in space, you've frequently got to drop weapons / items to free up enough space just to upgrade / heal / equip new items. Its just a bit of a pain, but not enough to ruin the experience.

So there you have it - dues ex human revolution is a great game to play with an interesting and well developed plot and varied gameplay. It is sometimes frustrating, but always has enough breadth and depth to keep you entertained and interested.

The last thing I'll say is the weird mis-step at the end. I'll not spoil it, but there are 4 different endings, and you have to make a choice that decides the fate of mankind. However, rather than this choice made overlooking some epic vista, or having any tension or urgency, you are plonked infront of 3 buttons, each of which has 1 distinct outcome (the 4th choice is unlockable if you've done something during the game). I literally made a save game and watched all 4. It totally removed all emotional impact the endings could have had as you can literally just play the 2 minute video sequences for each. Sure, they are interesting, but dont feature any real character resolution and the whole 'bit at the end' feels like a cheap CG ending at the end of a hollywood horror movie when you were expecting something truly epic.

Overall - B+

Thats it - interested in your thoughts!