The original Deus Ex came out at a time when every PC game seemed destined to raise the bar, informing the design decisions for the decade of titles that would follow. Between that and Half-Life, you’d be hard pressed to say which game has the bigger legacy. Of course, if the question was “which game actually followed up on that legacy”, the answer would be Half-Life.
After the less-than-stellar reception of the sequel, Invisible War, in 2003, the Deus Ex series went into a prolonged hibernation and for a while the likelihood of a new title in the franchise seemed doubtful. In 2007, however, Eidos announced that their Montreal studio would be developing the third game and in 2009 Square Enix was brought on as the publisher. Would this mishmash of an unproven developer and a Japanese studio prove to be a fruitful endeavor?
Against all odds, Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out of its long gestation period swinging and it does a lot of things that games haven’t done in a long time. The way it plays evokes the style of a bygone era, but also features a few modern trappings. It’s by no means perfect, but it really emphasizes player choice and forces you to live up to the consequences of your decisions. Even small story elements will come back later in the game and the way you build your characters will hinder you at some points and benefit you at others.
Deus Ex is a cross between a first person shooter with third person cover elements (a la Rainbow Six: Vegas) and an action-stealth game like Metal Gear Solid. Between the “dungeon” sections of the game, you’re dropped into a hub where you can wander around and take on sidequests or find hidden items. It’s a really cool hybrid and the game finds different ways of rewarding every play style from your wannabe Splinter Cells to those of us who prefer to take a more Rambo approach.
I started off playing the game without a clear idea of how I was going to progress in mind, but as I got further into the plot I ended up adopting a stealthy, non-lethal approach. Given that the shooting in the game is passable at best, I found that stealth was more fun and had tighter gameplay. Considering how much damage you take in the game from enemy fire, you’d have to seriously invest some points into armor and aim stabilization to stand a chance against the overwhelming odds stacked against you. That said, trying to get through every area without being seen and without setting off an alarm is great fun and brings back a feeling I haven’t had since Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.
The way that leveling up in Deus Ex works is that when you reach 5000 experience points, the game gives you a Praxis kit which you can then apply to any one of your augmentations. Buffing up an acquired augmentation only requires one Praxis point, while unlocking new trees requires two. There’s a wealth of customization options here, and there are a lot of ways you can combine different skills to make a character suited to your style. Some of the skills you won’t find as useful as others (indeed, a few have very limited and specialized uses) but a lot of them are very helpful just for getting past encounters. It’s up to you how you want to upgrade your Adam Jensen, and the way the game handles this is done very well. There were a couple of occasions where I ended up with excess Praxis kits, but I ended up spending them eventually.
The way you use your abilities is determined by how many batteries you have at any given time. Things like take-downs (both lethal and non-lethal) will drain a whole battery, while abilites like cloaking or walking silently will drain them slowly. You can enhance your abilities to require less energy per use and give you more batteries and a quicker recharge time. Once you drain a battery, the only way to refill it is by eating a nutrient bar and they are quite rare in the world unless you want to spend money on them at LIMB clinics (where you can also buy Praxis kits). This means that unless you’re very thrifty with your energy usage, you’ll be constantly running around with only one available power cell which kind of limits your options at some points. I also wish that there was an augmentation that allowed you to remain crouched while hacking a computer or a keypad. If I had a nickle for every time my cover was blown because I had to stand up to hack something, I’d have a room full of the damn things.
While we’re on the subject of abilities and their implication for your gameplay, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the boss battles which have only one outcome: the boss will die, no matter how many EMP grenades or stun guns you use on them. If you’ve built your character to be a pacifist, then these fights will turn out to be quite the pain. You can improvise your way through a bit of them, but the fact remains that the game will place stealthy social characters at a huge disadvantage when facing gun-arm dude or invisible suicide-bomber girl. In a game where every problem has a multitude of solutions, being forced into open confrontation may be a huge sticking point for some people. The boss fights aren’t impossible, but they seem to cater to one way of playing the game, a stark contrast from the other ninety percent of Deus Ex.
One of the things Deus Ex constantly had going for it pre-release was how well the visual style of the game came across. The black and gold color scheme is very striking and the appearance of the world in the year 2027 (twenty-five years before the original Deus Ex) has the kind of dystopian futurist look you’d expect it to. Every aspect shows great care in its design, from the billboards in the LIMB clinic (which feature a hidden message) to the way the light spills through the Venetian windows in Adam Jensen’s apartment. Each area has been carefully crafted to give it a “lived-in” feel and you really come away with the impression that people live and work in these spaces, that it’s not just obvious set-dressing. Add that to the variety of emails and in-jokes you can find and Deus Ex stands out as one of the most well designed games in this generation. The care that Eidos Montreal took in building the world is very evident, and the studio should be congratulated for that. It’s hard not to get sucked into the world and there are a few areas that manage to take my breath away, even this late in the generation. I’ll try not to hype it up too much, but the sights from the top of the Tai Yong Medical building are quite picturesque.
As nice as the environments are, the character models themselves look very dated and the facial animations are really lacking, especially if you compare them to ones from a similar game like Mass Effect 2. The animations also come off as very stilted so the interaction portions of the game pale in comparison to everything else. It’s shame that a game that received so much attention in the visual areas would fall short in this regard, but it’s an unfortunate fact that the characters in Deus Ex just don’t look that great. Just to add insult to injury, the voice acting is also very spotty. While you’ll eventually get used to (and even come to enjoy) Adam Jensen’s gravelly Batman voice, characters like your boss, David Sarif, or some of the bit players will begin to wear on you.
The story of Human Revolution also falters at the end of the game, starting off very tight and fresh and eventually winding up in a convoluted mess. While the game’s themes of evolution and whether or not man should have a hand in that do play off your character and his predicament very well, how the game progresses is fairly sloppy and loses sight of any real villain by the end of the game. Side characters are introduced and written off with little warning, and even important members of the cast will fade from the story without so much as a second glance.
Despite a few misgivings, Deus Ex is one of the finest games of the year and is well worth your time and money. This game has really thrown a monkey wrench into this year’s nice and tidy plans and Eidos Montreal should be proud with how their game turned out.
Have you guys played Deus Ex, and what do you think? Where does is stand against the year’s earlier releases?
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