Monday, September 5

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review (PC) - Design of the Decade

Until late last year, I'd never played any of the previous instalments of the Deus Ex series. I picked up both of Human Revolution's predecessors during one of Steam's delirium-inducing digital fire-sales after tiring from the numerous, pretentious rants that I'd read discussing the importance and influence of the original. Ten years after its release, however, proved to be too late for me to discover its magic. What I saw was ugly and unapproachable. I didn't even think to load up the sequel, Invisible War after that eyesore. Instead - shallow man that I am - I waited for the latest iteration, with enticing art direction and most importantly, rendered with all of the grandeur and beauty that I've come to expect from modern hardware. Read on to find if a prettier Deus Ex is more approachable or, at the very least, playable. 

The Good
Crack gaming - Deus Ex: Human Revolution is straight-up addictive. There's no sugar coating or sidestepping the fact: this game will cause you to lose sleep. Whether it was agonising over my next augmentation, wondering if I played that last conversation the right way, or getting lost in futuristic Heng Sha: I found it genuinely difficult to put my controller down and walk away. Even now after having completed the game, I still find myself going back to sneak up a storm.
Illuminating tale - Core to the game's addictive quality is its brilliant story that pushes to you question whether self-controlled evolution is the future of mankind or a propellant toward its demise. The central characters are all voiced expertly and some - like Pritchard - have an enjoyable chemistry with Jensen that evolves throughout the adventure. You can approach the story at your own pace and - in what I see as a master stroke - you're not obliged to experience it all. Not that I can see why one wouldn't want to comb through each of Detroit's dangerous streets and alleyways, but it's great that the game gives you the choice all the same. To give you an idea how deep the rabbit hole can really go, I highly recommend this piece from Rock, Paper, Shotgun. I found myself nodding enthusiastically in agreement.

Summon the funicular - Human Revolution's environments are dripping with cyberpunk intrigue. There may be a bit of recycling at play, but locations like The Hive and Picus Station are memorable and demand to be explored. I'm now halfway through my second playthrough and it's amazing how many new locations and conversations that I've found thanks to a different approach and a compulsion to collect everything. The various mechs, vehicles and augmented humans that you encounter are also impeccably rendered and designed. While not the most technically impressive release of the year, I challenge anyone to think of a game with more pleasing art direction. 

Who's your daddy? - Human Revolution's many influences are obvious, however, they are all treated with respect and in some cases, carried out better than in the source material. Conversations in this game aren't as frequent as they are in Mass Effect, but their outcomes are more ambiguous. The logs and literature don't contribute to the pervading sense of dread and calamity as effectively as those found in Bioshock, but they do give you a greater idea of the geopolitical landscape of the future Earth that Adam Jensen inhabits. The stealth mechanics are more fluid and forgiving than those from Metal Gear Solid 4, and discovery isn't tantamount to what the Penny Arcade team once described as sliding down a "shit-greased chute" for inept players. Human Revolution is a smoothie comprised of my favourite games.

Go your own way - I tried to go through the game without taking a life, but there was a time that I felt as though my hand was forced towards lethal weaponry. Not that I had to engage my foes, rather I decided that I couldn't walk away from this particular situation. After fifteen hours of using stun guns and my fists, I had to unleash the beast; or beasts as it were. Shotguns, revolvers, lasers, retractable blades: never has abandoning my principles been so much fun. The varied arsenal and tactics available to players affords a freedom that is almost paralyzing and there's more than enough to find and trial across multiple playthroughs.

Budgeting - I lost hours agonising over how to spend praxis points. Should I upgrade my strength to be able to punch through walls (in hindsight, yes!) or invest in my reflexes so that I can takedown two thugs at once? These choices are once again, a reason to lose sleep. A reason to keep you coming back and slaving away for more experience points. There were several times when I'd bought an upgrade only to then find an obstacle seconds later that could only be tackled with an augmentation that I'd opted to leave for the time being. This game taunted me on many an occasion, yet I still want more!

The Bad 
Corn bread - Last year, I commented that the voice-acting in Just Cause 2 was so heavily set on stereotypes that it was almost offensive. Human Revolution also features some regrettable voice direction with some African-American characters sounding like throwbacks to Gone with the Wind. Some Asian characters who speak in English are scripted with intentional syntax errors. I'm not saying that every Chinese hooker is going to speak English as though it was their first language, but at times it sounds forced and unnecessary.

Who's the boss? - As I've detailed in a previous post, the boss fights in Human Revolution felt alien when compared to the rest of the experience. They were often unforgiving and - worst of all - almost incompatible with players who choose espionage-flavoured augmentations (this Penny Arcade comic sums my experience up perfectly). One of these encounters can be made drastically shorter - to the point of farce - if you invest in the typhoon augmentation. The final two boss encounters actually bordered on enjoyable thanks to some of the choices I had made earlier in the game. It's a mixed bag for sure.

The Ugly
A litany of minor errors - As polished as the core action is, you'll come across a great many slight inconsistencies that can serve to lessen the sense of immersion you'll feel throughout the game. As per my lastpost, NPCs are sometimes completely unaware of some pretty big indiscretions that you'll carry out in plain view. There are also some big questions that certain play mechanics raise over sustained play:
  • How come I need to rest for as long as twenty seconds before I can punch another enemy (or civilian)?
  • Why would I upgrade my battery's recharge ability if it has no effect on depleted cells?
  • If I'm so advanced, how come I can only sprint for the in-game equivalent of five metres?
  • How come I can't fall a painfully-short distance without dying?

These are all petty in the grand scheme of things, but you'll easily get twenty hours plus out of this game, and such illusion-shattering queries are unavoidable (I'd strongly recommend you check out Bitmob's Mike Minotti's illustrated take on some of the game's flaws). For example, once I'd saved a game when I was sitting on top of an awning that was suspended about two metres above a tiny landscaped garden. Trying to engineer a non-lethal drop to said garden cost me more lives than all but one of the boss fights combined. I couldn't then reconcile the following ten minutes of goon smashing because if I couldn't survive falling from a one storey building, how could I cop a few bullets to the chest and still live to tell the tale? Sometimes, it's the small things that really detract from an experience.

The Verdict

There are scores of minor flaws and wrinkles that one would find in any given play through of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but after thirty hours of well written - though not always well-delivered - dialogue, slick stealth gameplay and varied locations, I'm still hooked. This game has sunk its augmented claws into my skin and I can't escape. Better yet, I don't want to escape. I'm happy to have a crack at every achievement, every weapon, every air duct and anyone that looks at me sideways.

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