18 September 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

TL;DR: Highly recommend the PC version to old school PC gamers, fans of FPS looking for more plot/dialogue/RPG mechanics in their games, and anyone who likes a little ethical ambiguity or sci-fi in their games.

I spent most of my free time this past week playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution on PC.  I wasn't terribly excited about it until very near it's release when it started to get several positive reviews.  Did Eidos Montreal truly resurrect the spirit of the original Deus Ex?

Beats me! I never played past the second mission of the original.  However, I did play the first level something like five times, so I have some concept of what the spiritual successor should look like.

I was impressed by most design decisions with the exception of the stealth gameplay.  I was quickly sold on the game's atmosphere, audio design, voice acting, plot, and gun play in the opening sequence.  They're all good... at least, what you'd expect from a brand new AAA title. Not going to elaborate.

I found the stealth gameplay to be sorely lacking.  Is this really where we're at in terms of stealth AI and game design? No, thankfully we have games like Metal Gear Solid to modernize this classic game archetype.  I just couldn't believe that the stealth culminates with static guard paths and security cameras.  Seriously? That's all you have to offer?  As soon as you get the optic camouflage augmentation, the game gets laughably easy.  If I were to play the game again, I would either do a total no-kill, no-detection play through or go crazy with the gun play action side of it.  I weep for the future of Thief 4.

Some dialogue scenes are more significant than others.  They are significant in that the game's missions change because of the conversation's outcome.  I thought the developer team did a great job with these scenes.  I always felt engaged and conscious of my dialogue tree options.  The situations were consistently more intense or intriguing.  I *wanted* to get the information or outcome that *I* was looking for and made sure to carefully consider the dialogue tree options to anticipate how it would turn out.  If you haven't played the game yet, I urge you to convince yourself not to reload a save game if a critical conversation doesn't play out the way you want it to.  It makes the game that much more interesting!

The voice acting deserves it's own nod.  Elias Toufexis either did his homework and/or received great direction from Eidos Montreal because he nails the homage to original protagonist JC Denton with his flat, gruff delivery and also reminded me somewhat of Keanu Reeves as Neo.  Stephen Shellen, the voice behind the game's driving plot mechanic, boss David Serif, portrays an excellently sleazy company CEO who you never know if you should be trusting or arresting.  I'd actually say all the voice actors outperformed the in-game models, which frequently failed to keep up with present emotions.

Thoughts on the story, spoilers ahead and possibly in the rest of this post.

After completing the game, I enjoyed the overall vision of presenting a world in moral and ethical grey territory.  I believe the developers intended to show a world full of those influenced by the augmentation technology and present two major opposing forces, those for and against the technology.  Through the characters you meet on your missions, the player starts to get a sense of where they stand in this world.  The critical flaw in this plan is that the character you play is totally bad ass and has no draw backs from the augmentations.  Only partially seeing those hurt by the technology and those who stand against it is insufficient grounds to convince the player that these enhancements aren't always beneficial.  Had the writers introduced limitations to the player or more thoroughly invoked the dark side of the technology, the game's conclusion would bear more weight and personal takeaway.

Little stuff:

- Disagree with the design of the energy bar. If you use your last bar, it will automatically refill the last one.  This makes it feel like the energy use is a crutch and the player can't complete the game with out the free bar of energy.  Also feels abusable to just stay on one energy bar most of the time and not bother with energy restoring items.  Would have rather it did not refill the last bar and make the player more conscious of energy use and energy restoring items.  I *DID* however like that partially used bars would refill when no longer using energy abilities.  This made the camouflage mechanic more interesting to me, because I always tried moving just so far that I wouldn't consume a whole energy bar and it would refill for free.

- Icarus landing system is awesome!  Great visual design and fun mechanic.

- Reunion with Megan Reed was odd.  Adam is concerned to find her the whole game, then you get a brief cutscene with her (which was good), and then you don't see her ever again.  Wtf?

- Great implementation of a grid-based inventory. I never had to bother with rearranging items on the grid just to get something else to fit.  They should open source the code that did this or do a community write up or SOMETHING and then we'll never have to worry about it again.  Huge progress here.

- Ending was too abrupt.  I like what they did at the end, but I felt robbed of catharsis.  There just should have been some kind of wrap up.

- Malik's death was too underplayed.  She was a main character and deserved more emotional impact in her death scene.  It was too... "oh no! but back to the mission!"

- Game needed more consequences for your actions.  It's partially a morality game, but there were no story/moral incentives to spare people and no penalties for blasting your way through.

- The only weapons vendor I ever found was in Detroit.  Were there others? No idea.

- Loved the idea that your ex-cop character had a former CI on the street.  Why wasn't this played up more?

I could say more on the game, but I'll end saying I had fun, couldn't put it down, and I'm sad that it's over.  Surely that's all the recommendation you need?

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