Game Overdose 02: Deus Ex Human Revolution… review?
Hi all, this is semi a review and semi a Game Overdose of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
OK, firstly I’ll disclaim by saying I haven’t completed the game, hence why I’m unwilling to do a full on review or a full on game overdose, so think of this as a “first impressions”. Suffice to say I’ve been playing long enough to see the patterns of design choice.
Secondly… “Day-us Ex, Hew-mann Rev-oh-loo-shun”. Number of times I’ve hear “Deuce Ex” or even “due sex” or something equally stupid…
It comes from the latin “Deus Ex Machina” which means “god from the machine”. In simple terms it’s a common literary technique where-by the characters are saved by something completely implausible and outside their control, like the main antagonist being hit by a lightning bolt rather than slain by the hero, or their wand exploding in their hand due to some stupid loophole that was only just introduced as part of the lore of the world.
In Deus Ex it refers to the fact that humans are becoming more cyber-organic, combining technology with their own bodies to “control evolution”. This is a big point of controversy, especially when an individual can become god-like, though that’s less of an issue in Deus Ex: Human Revolution and appears in the (chronologically) later games.
Firstly the boring stuff…
It’s out on PC, PS3, Xbox and Onlive, so you don’t have an excuse to not pick it up! I’m playing it on PC by the way.
The music has a beautiful use of techno and classical, constantly string-like electric sounds make you think there’s a soft violin quartet about to launch into some epic action-piece. It changes depending on what you do as well which really adds to immersion. It remind me a lot of The Dark Knight soundtrack.
Due to how F***ING POOR I AM at the moment my PC’s a bit neglected so I haven’t really been abusing the full extent of this games capacity. A friend that does care about that sort of thing and has the cash for it is currently playing it on max settings and says it’s “pretty, doesn’t have as much fidelity as some games, but overall is good if not impressive”. If anything my PC’s low specs and the fact I’m still getting sucked in despite not having perfect graphics should be considered a plus, as it’ll run on lower spec machines, and shows they were bothered more about the gameplay than just how pretty it is.
I mean, DX1 was ugly for the time, and DX2 used an already dated engine, so it’s nice to see a game that at least looks like it’s trying to keep with modern graphics!
Now on with the interesting.
…Is beautifully cluttered with all sorts of detail that makes exploring a treat. Ever office has some papers and books placed around, and the whole thing looks like a Renaissance painting of sorts, which I feel was their intention. The main colours used are a deep dusty amber and black, with occasional gold and red.
Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War (from hereon DX1, DX2) both suffered heavily from the sparseness of the population of their world. You could be in an important and apparently bustling city like Cairo, and there’s all of about 20 people there. This isn’t a problem with DX:HR. There’s teams of people, you get to see about 30 or 40 people killed off in the opening sequence alone! And while most of them have the common issue that there’s only a handful of lines they’ll say it all adds to the world and the feel that you actually are in a bustling city.
There’s multiple paths and ways of exploring those at your disposal throughout the game. mostly I’ve been sneaky which tends to involve a lot of air-vents, but I’ve seen paths that would require me to do things like shove cars out of the way or jump across rooftops, often the more inventive paths are rewarded, and it always helps to explore for bonus XP and items and ammo.
Jensen (the protagonist) has something that neither JC (prot from DX1) or Alex D (Prot from DX2) really had. Personality and backstory. The problem with both DX1 and DX2 is that your role as a character was really more a side-effect of the main plot. Such and such evil conspiracy is occuring to create super soldiers, guess what? You’re the super soldier! So while you were a part of the plot it really felt more like you were an unknown factor until your sudden rise at the end.
This worked quite well in both games because it added plausibility to your eventual success, and also allowed for in medias res or “placing you in the action”. As their little backstory was hidden it made them somewhat enigmatic so the eventual reveal added instant depth to them.
Jensen also has a hidden past, but it’s being slow portioned out as opposed to hinted at and then revealed. You actually start the action prior to being augmented (complete with a lack of HUD to hammer home that you really are seeing what Jensen sees) adding depth and incentive to Jensen’s cause and character, and then this early 10 minute period is being used as a driving force for the rest of the game.
Plus, Jensen’s just likeable, whether you play him as an asshole or not his past is revealed to be that of a more sensitive guy, and it’s equally plausible that he’d lash out and change based on what happened to him or continue with his nice-guy routine.
The supporting cast are also quite deep, and there’s one fantastic moment I’ve encountered so far with someone from Jensens past that sniffs of a delicious and deep bromance. But this has always been true of the Deus Ex’s, it’s just nice to have a deep main character to join them.
Lethal vs Non-lethal.
In DX1 you could complete the game with only directly killing one person, and in DX2 you could technically get through the entire game without killing a single one. Non-lethal take-downs like tranq darts and stun batons. These are options to you that persist in DXHR, and each has positives and negatives, I’ll go into more depth in a bit.
DX:HR is pretty unique as a first-person shootery type game in that it allows for cover by holding the right mouse button. Jensen will shuffle up and stick his bum against the wall. You’ll see things from a third person “over shoulder” perspective. This is a natural evolution of an element they added in DX1, the ability to lean around corners, but it works infinitely better, which is to say it works quite well.
Whether in a combat situation or stealthing around, the ability to pop your perspective over Jensens shoulder is a massive advantage, and the cover’s got a lot of contextual moments like jumping between gaps etc. that show just how well thought out the level design was.
One of the main criticism of DX1 was that the lock-picking, multi-tool using and hacking aspect of the game was incredibly dull. You essentially expended X number of resources to defeat the obstacle, where X was the difficulty of the object modified by your skill to break said object. In DX2 they fixed this… by having only 1 resource type and no way of modifying how many you needed. Oh, and hacking was made a button press as well, but you needed the right Biomod in order to do it! Suffice to say both these were a bit pants.
DX:HR fixes this by the inclusion of hacking. Gone are the days of keys, everything’s done by keypads, hand scanners etc, which means they can all be hacked by Jensen. Essentially it’s a universal “get past this” ability. The cool thing is the mini-game it provides, which works like a combination of the pipe-dream mini-game present in Bioshock and elements of Uplink.
Essentially, you go around a network capturing nodes, with each node having a chance of alerting the network security, at which point the security node races to your origin-point to try and lock you out.Your aim is a special node that “wins” the hack, so often you’ll be racing to it while doing everything you can to slow down the security. There’s also special nodes that contain extra things like viruses (expendables that make hacking easier) bonus XP or some credits (currency). It works well and there’s some pretty inventive “hacking maps” meaning that you need to think tactically, especially if your goal is to access all the special nodes to maximise your profit.
All this can be augmented to make the process easier, and sometimes it’s just down to luck. And if I have any one criticism, it is that it’s their one and only means of defeating objects, a lock-picking mini-game as well would have been nice is all.
Unlike in DX1 where JC found augments to enhance himself with, while building up a seperate skill tree, or DX2 where Alex was only ever finding biomods to boost themselves, Jensen technically already has all of his augments. The idea is that right from the start Jensen has access to everything, only he can’t use them because he has to learn how to use them!
One of the core ideas of DXHR is that humans have the unique ability to learn how to use devices through the power of their mind once grafted on, but like if someone attached an extra limb to me, it’ll take some time and training to get used to it enough to use it effectively. So essentially Jensen is developing skills, but they’re skills to learn how to use his new robo-body effectively.
It’s a really cool idea that only falls down in one area. I can appreciate that maybe super jumping would take some time to learn, and that hacking is developed over time, but passive things like extra battery cores (the resource expending for special moves) or sub-dermal armour to deflect bullets just doesn’t quite add up. I’d of liked to see a parallel system like in DX1, where maybe you learn skills that are related to augments, but you can also find upgrade canisters etc that add to certain things.
If I have any one problem with this, it’s that it takes some of the illusion out of character customisation, as essentially Jensen’s path is pre-set. There was something quite cool about injecting yourself with different nanobots to produce different effects, but that’s probably just me.
See, something that DX did really well was rewarding XP for completing missions, not on an enemy-by-enemy basis. So you’d get just as much XP for getting through steathily as you would knocking each and every enemy out, possibly more as there was less risk of being spotted.
DXHR keeps this “you get bonus XP” thing, like not being detected through an entire sequence nets the elusive “ghost” bonus, but then they somewhat screwed it up by rewarding XP each time you take down an enemy. This means that if you’re a compulsive power-player like myself you can’t not try to knock-out each and every enemy while staying hidden in order to maximise your gain.
I suppose you can argue that it is technically more skillfull to defeat all the enemies without spotting you rather than just avoid them, but it’s kind of a fake experience. Surely a good spy would want to slip in and out without ever once being spotted or giving any reason for them to consider alarm? When those guys wake up you know they’re going to know that someone was there, rather than stealing a secret document and it potentially being MONTHS before they realise! Anyway…
Going back to my earlier point on augments, every 5000 experience points or so Jensen’s learned enough to gain a Praxis point. Praxis points can also be unlocked with praxis kits, software that helps Jensen instantly learn… something, which in turn can be found or purchased. So this is a “buy with points” system more than anything else. Praxis points are spent on augments to “learn” them, and mostly it’s a good system as it allows for character customisation over time, and rewards are worth it. The trend is 2 points to start a tree and one point to upgrade it further, so there’s no real “super abilities”.
You also get XP from exploring, meaning that no-matter where you go you’ll probably get a small boost. This is great, but essentially takes the exploration of DX1 and DX2 and slows it down, so it’s not “goes into tunnel, find thing, uses thing” as much as it’s “goes into tunnel, gains XP, xp eventually unlocks thing”. I like it because you constantly benefit, but I’ve got issues because it essentially forces you to explore, or else you’ll end up with a slightly less than impressive character.
If anything all these have made me a little neurotic, running around making sure I go everywhere, defeat everything, etc in order to maximise my experience and cash-flow.
The most important thing of note for combat is the lack of melee weapons, which is instead replaced by a “take-down” move. One of the problems that DX1 and 2 suffered from was that without weapons your character couldn’t attach, in DXHR you can tap the Takedown button to knock them out, or hold it to eviscerate them with stabby arm action.
The sequences are cool and the moves are useful, though I don’t quite understand why it requires a battery core to use, other than as a game mechanic to prevent it from being spammed.
If you choose to kill people then they end being a permanent threat, (though it’s a nosier death) but if you choose to spare them (knock them out) you gain bonus XP. However, if they wake up (normally by their allies coming to their aid) you’ve got to knock them out again. This is further hampered by every non-lethal weapon having only 1 shot, meaning the reload period can give their allies a chance to get them back on their feet before they hunt you down for being the stealthy ninja you are.
Of course, you can run and gun, the choice is always yours. That’s the thing with DX!
Weapons and inventory
The attache case inventory system from DX1 makes a return, only more intelligent so it’ll automatically sort itself out to open up spaces. You can also augment your carry capacity a la DX2.
Thank the every loving gods of gaming as well, as they completely ignored the grand misstep that was universal ammo from DX2.
Just a quick aside. The reason why ammo for different guns is a good idea is that it causes you to think more carefully about your weapon choices. Sure, you might feel like a badass with that rocket launcher but when there’s only 3 rockets in the game you might consider the 10mm pistol and the pools of ammo you’re swimming in for it.
When you add limited inventory space that even further enhances that. It also means that you can give your players awesome weapons earlier, but just limit the ammo for it so it becomes a staple in their arsenal, only a “last ditch effort”.
Deus Ex: Invisible War ingored all these pearls of wisdom and had universal ammo. No matter what gun you used you always drew from the same ammo source meaning…
1) Ammo lost all significance, it just became “feh, another clip” as opposed to “YEAH, MOTHER-FUCKING PULSE AMMO, BITCHES GONNA TASTE MY TESLA CANNON!”. It severly cut down on exploration, and was just bad news.
2) weapon choice became more illusory, there wasn’t as much reason to swap it around. They somewhat counter-balanced this by having many weapons with unique effects and a limited number of mods per weapon, but technically you could have chosen one gun and gone the whole game through with it, without ever running out of ammo. Limit the ammo on that gun and now you’ve got the problem of the player deciding whether to discard or hold on, in case there was a new clip around the corner.
3)if you DID run out of ammo you were well and truly screwed. ALL of your weapons became useless, except for melee, severly limiting you.
Force your player to play a different way, but never take their toys away. It ruins the fun!
4) it just didn’t make sense. Maybe machine guns, pistols and anything else that fires bullet projectiles… But Rocket Launchers? Flame throwers? Tazers? Bullshit.
If you really want to see a great example of ammo systems done well, check out the Uncharted Series where you’re constantly swapping your guns.
This did not return in DX:HR (partly because it’d be rather anachronistic), but I’m also sad to say that different ammo type per weapon were lacking too. In DX1 my crossbow was a tranq gun, a means of lightning areas at a distance and an under-water companion, whether it had tranq darts, flares or regular bolts equipped. Not so in DXHR, a gun fires one type of bullets, but there’s enough variety of weapons that I’m not bored yet.
Weapon mods do make a return though, and there’s some universal ones mixed with weapon-specifics, and of course some weapons that cannot be modded. Overall these are some great changes. Some weapon specifics are like piercing rounds for the 10mm, useful and unique, not too dissimilar to the Resident Evil 4 upgrade system.
Additionally, the weapons look and feel great, even the tazer has some flare and each and every one of them belongs in a near-future Cyber-punk film! Expect to see some favourites like the combat rifle and the widow-maker shotgun appear in cosplay soon.
You actually regen health in this DX, something that used to require a biomod or augment or health-pickup! However, your max health can be temporarily increased by various food items, medicines etc.
This is actually a pretty cool system, as it makes meds more useful in the long run, and you can better plan for engagement. A similar story is true for batteries, though it seems you only regen the base one.Otherwise you’ve got to eat these high-protein bars that help your body metabolise bio-electric energy to power you abilities, but the cap can be augmented.
Overally, DX:HR is shaping up to be one of the best games I’ve played this year. The main character is likeable, the amount of choice is staggering without being overwhelming, the combat is fun and fluid and the world is one of the most immersive I’ve ever been a part of. All minor gripes are exactly that, minor, and I’ve yet to see if they translate into long-standing problems.
This is the game I didn’t realise I needed, where I can essentially run around as cyborg-armed Batman knocking people out with tranq darts and crippling skulls with wind-up punches. Part Detective, Part Machine… The “Machective”… Ok, I’ll shut up now.
Get. This. Game.
Take it away Yahtzee!