"A Leader Within This Decade."
Lets get one formality out and away with – although I have played both Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War, I never did get a chance to complete either, for one reason or another. Not that there was anything wrong with them – I just have a queue of titles that never ceases, so a few games get lost in the shuffle every so often. With some kind of previous history with the franchise, I retained a semblance of familiarity with the gameplay as a whole. So coming into Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I have a bit of a peppered knowledge of the franchise and its inner workings.
With that said, Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DXHR) still came off as something totally unexpected, for almost all the right reasons.
Throughout the entire campaign, players will be in control of Adam Jensen, the lead for DXHR. This former SWAT team member wasn’t always held together with prosthetics and augmentations, as he was involved in what was dubbed as an “accident” that took the lives of dozens of scientists, including a woman named Megan, whom he was quite close to once. Jensen was left for dead, but brought back and stabilized with augmentations that are not all activated early on. The journey in which Adam Jensen departs on will more than keep players guessing throughout, with a curve-ball thrown every so often to spice things up. In some ways, DXHR fits the bill with Star Wars: The Force Unleashed in terms of a video game that would make a stellar movie adaptation, in the right hands.
Approaching DXHR with a review in mind was a bit of a challenge. There have been a small handful of instances in which I’ve just about damned some aspects of its gameplay, but eventually turned around (both in a state of mind, and literally in game) and realized these issues were all self perpetrated. While I might have combed through each area to get a better understanding of my surroundings, I didn’t pull out the fine tooth comb the first few times, and when I did, I started to see just how well put together this machine really was. Those first couple of hours in were not so kind, but witnessing everything gel together and understanding the finer points of the gameplay, really shined a vastly brighter light upon the entire package.
One of the major complaints I had early on was the difficulty. Players will find out right off the bat that if a medium or higher difficulty setting is selected, a run and gun approach will quickly send you to a load last checkpoint screen (which is an issue in of its self, and will be elaborated on a little later.) Stealth becomes the major asset here, as getting around certain areas would best be accomplished within the shadows, although as you progress, upgraded ballistic weaponry and proper intuition will help break up the ”hidden in the shadows” mentality quite a bit. So while there will always be an emphasis on stealth throughout, once the nuances are all understood, and a few weapon/augmentation upgrades are gained, things don’t feel as overbearing as they started out. Just don’t immediately dismiss DXHR due to reasons of dying. A lot.
Stealth in its self is actually pulled off with a commendable success, having players rely on staying out of the line of sight of the enemies around you, as well as trying not to make any unusual noises that could be interpreted as suspicious. Best way to describe the inner workings of the stealth within DXHR is a mix between Metal Gear Solid and Winback – there’s the cover mechanics that let you creep along obstructions, as well as popping out during gunplay (Winback), and the reliance of silence and sticking to the unseen shadows (Metal Gear Solid.) It all meshes together in ways I’ve never experienced in a game before DXHR.
The AI competence is rather astute as well. While sneaking around, players will usually wait for an enemy to turn their back and walk away from them, so they can use that opening to advance. There are occasions where an adversary will quickly spin around and walk backwards, taking a look at their rear for a moment, before turning back around and continuing their march. While everyone has their strict path to march and no deviance from that route they were programmed with, it adds that extra layer of uncertainty and trepidation to infiltration or evasion. To further elaborate the AI’s potency, while crouching behind cover in a room adjacent to a patrolling guard, I had lifted up a cardboard box to place beside me and away from a grate I wished to enter. I unknowingly did this within the guards line of sight, setting the status to Alarmed, and compelling the guard to walk over, open the door into the room and investigate the unusual phenomenon. It’s the little things like this that adds an amount of depth to the stealth gameplay that other titles might not have even contemplated.
On top of that, there are plenty of areas in which multiple soldiers will march about with a slightly mistimed pattern or length of coverage, meaning while you might be able to get the peg on an incoming soldier for a CQC takedown, another soldier at a medium distance away might have had less of a path to travel and begin to double back sooner than anticipated, opening them up to potentially spotting your takedown. Once spotted, the AI begins a rather aggressive campaign of search and destroy, which does last much longer than other games with the same stealth build, and literally feels terrifying that a ton of enemies are scanning the area for you. While there are games that rely on stealth and being hunted down if spotted, DXHR actually feels like there’s quite a bit of intelligence behind this, and not just a five second search and then the enemies go back to their posts as if nothing happened (hi, MGS!)
If (mostly likely “when”) the player is spotted and sets off the enemy status to “Alerted”, that’s when things becoming rather interesting. Depending on where the players is and how many soldiers are in the same area, things will either be a piece of cake, or an exercise of patience. Taking cover is vital to staying alive during firefights, obviously to avoid taking damage. The thing is, while playing DXHR on the medium setting, I was still easily gunned down left and right, with a health regeneration that meager at best. It felt nearly overbearing early on, as anything I did to try and combat gunfire flying towards me, met with my death after a couple of shots, regardless of any augmentations I performed (more on that in a minute.) But I began realizing how reliance on stealth played a major factor, how to use environmental objects to my advantage during a fight and how to advance from cover to cover in a more meaningful manner. I started to see that not only could I avoid most firefights if need be, but with such a strong reliance on stealth and how the AI seems to be able to locate you on obvious mistakes as opposed to poor programming, but how well placed shots can kill standard infantry enemies, as well as myself. Health will regenerate slowly and yes, the player can temporarily boost their health to a degree, but all non boss characters or mechs weren’t built to soak up bullets, so there’s definitely a degree of intelligence in how to play through each area, sneaking by or spotted by all. Headshot a soldier in a close proximity with a silenced handgun and risk a nearby comrade being alerted to the guards fall and possibly having reinforcements file through, or sneak by and CQC only when needed and when it’s absolutely certain that backup isn’t close behind?
Throughout DXHR players will be able to gain XP, and with each “level” gained, a Praxis point is awarded to spend on enhancing the many augmentations within Jensen. There are a myriad of ways the player can help upgrade Jensen for the better. The option of enhancing his proficiency with hacking on multiple levels can ease the burden, or quicken the pack of each hacking attempt, or even bestow the ability to hack a higher security level terminal. Want to be 100% sure that Jensen’s movements will never be heard? Apply your Praxis points towards movement feats, which will ultimately silence your every move, whether it’s running or jumping (once the ability is toggled on.) From adding a bit of damage resistance, to negating fall damage completely, to even gaining the ability to see enemies through walls, there are more than enough ways to pimp out Jensen in his quest to find the answers that so many seem to be hiding from him, as well as the rest of the world.
Speaking of the world, DXHR‘s world really is a mixed bag of pleasantry and laziness. The game world its self has a variety and attention to detail that’s hard not to stand up and applaud. Boxes of cereal, piles of garbage, restrooms and every other pieces add up, and helps to shine a distinctive look between each area. On the other hand, there are issues with color variety. Too many outdoor areas have an yellowish-orange tint to them, muting the look of the world around it. It does help make some of the areas look adequately depressing to match the mood and conditions, but it seems just a bit overdone. Many indoor areas are free of this annoyance, though again, it’s not a visual marvel of any sort. More or less, it feels as if DXHR was visually built for a steady performance throughout, as there’s little to no sign of frame rate drops or any kind of slowdown. Character models have a similar balance issue as well. Main characters, or at least those with a legitimate dialog exchange with Jensen, look proper, with no mind blowing qualities that gamers have seen this generation from titles such as Final Fantasy XIII, Uncharted 2 and Gears of War. They fit the world around them as not detailed to the nth degree, but hold their own distinct pieces of distinction that helps flesh them out properly. Any NPC’s of non or minimal importance though, look as if they were ripped from a PlayStation 2 game. It’s definitely a mixed bag (this is the Xbox 360 version I’m reviewing via VGA cables) but with the consistency of the animation (with some repetition when it comes to conversations) and the fact that Eidos Montreal did nail down a feeling of a futuristic, gritty world for the most part, DXHR certainly does work on most levels as a whole, just not in an individual basis.
Even with the negatives to the game world, it’s still quite fascinating to wander around each section you’re currently at, and just go exploring. It’s not a huge chunk of land that one would find in games such as Fallout 3, but there’s enough meat on the bones to keep a player fed for a while. It’s mostly linear in terms of needing to go from point A to point B, however the approach can be totally different, depending on if certain augments were purchased (jump higher to bypass fences, augment Jensen’s strength to push heavier objects into place to access shortcut grates, etc.) Within each of these areas will be a side quest NPC or two that will deviate you from the main game. There’s enough variety within these side missions to try and comb through each area and see if there are more than the one or two per sector/area. From investigating a possible cover up on a death, to finding someone’s acquaintance that has gone missing, there’s variety with each of these missions, as well as your approach to each of them. Not a sandbox environment, yet not completely restricted in how to go about each activity. Just be sure to complete each side mission before taking off to the next location that the main storyline will lead you, as there’s no way to come back and tie up loose ends.
Audio wise, there’s only a small bit of inconsistency, although it does prove a bit problematic here and there. Most of the audio package is actually quite spectacular. The music is moody, which helps immerse players in each situation that arises. There are instances when the audio tracks begin to sound like something from Mass Effect, which fits the mood to a near perfection. It’s probably up there with Homefront as the most powerful compositions this year. The voice acting, while nothing Hollywood caliber, is no slouch either. A few of the NPC’s sound slightly phoned in, but nevertheless they helped keep me interested and invested in everything that unfolded.
Adam Jensen is where my only concern comes from. He suffers from a slight case of what I would like to affectionately refer to as “Samus Syndrome.” Anyone who has played Metroid: Other M will immediately recall the monotone, near lifeless delivery of Samus’ voice acting. Adam Jensen suffers from a similar affliction, where he’ll perform his lines, yet the voice acting seems almost uninterested in trying to engage the player with emotion. Jensen isn’t even a poorly written character either – I’ve become more and more intrigued with him and the world around him with every mission and side mission I encountered and completed. He’s not written to be someone that doesn’t give a crap either, nor are his lines of dialog, so I’m not sure why the delivery is so unimpressive. There are rare occasions where a sense of energy and passion is put into some of the more emotionally charged moments, but at no point does Jensen completely fit the vocal build. The sound of Adam Jensen’s voice does fit perfectly mind you, its just the performance is lackluster, which can rarely affect the attachment gained from watching his struggles and triumphs unfold.
Load times will become the unavoidable headache from beginning to end. If uninstalled, loading times can reach 30 seconds, with a HDD install only cutting it down by 1/3 or so. Of course the early portions of DXHR is where everyone will be learning the ins and outs of controls, augmentations and how not to approach a hostile situation (the controls by the way, for the most part, are precise and fully functional, with barely any snags to be had) so there will be periods of possible repeated death that occur. Having to constantly reload the same area multiple times in a short period of time, really breaks up the immersion and builds more frustration than anything. It’s not necessarily the dying that’s a problem, as there are multiple methods of getting through each situation (long way stealth, long way gun battle, shortcut stealth, shortcut gun battle, etc.) and being open minded to your surroundings can and will quell the number of deaths down some. It’s the sitting and waiting after each subsequent death that’s more maddening. Luckily the load times between areas doesn’t occur very frequently, as each area Jensen explores is large enough to not warrant continuous load screen and such.
The real downer that lingers after completing DXHR is the final boss and the immediate results. As spoiler free as one can be without giving a play-by-play on how it’s achieved, I’ll just say the following – if Jensen has his hacking ability to level five, with a very small handful of Nuke ‘Em and Stop! worms, victory can be accomplished with what seems like zero effort. If crafty enough, not one thing will hit Jensen during this battle, as it will quickly turn into a waiting game. The first couple of major boss battles will be infuriating to those that don’t take the time (when there’s any available) to dissect their surroundings and use it to their advantage, but the last couple are rather easy, with patience, especially the final boss. Afterwards, depending on whether certain tasks just before the final battle were taken care of, the endings presented will be thought provoking, which is a definite plus. Whichever route the player chooses the end the game on, Jensen eloquently elaborates on why that route was chosen, and one could make an argument as to how strongly they side with his decisions, or whether or not they viewed it as completely wrong. They are endings with an intellectual spin to them, and it’s hard not to sit and analyze what just transpired. The problem is that they’re all short and somewhat remind me of the meager endings Fallout 3 presented players, though not to such a severe degree. The journey to those closing moments was well worth the time and effort put into reaching, so it’s not too severe of a blow. Do let the credits roll in their entirety though….trust me.
I know it seems like I’ve complained more than complimented, but I need to reassure everyone that there’s more to enjoy with DXHR than there is to be upset over, especially since one of the biggest sticking points (difficulty) will even out properly with eventual understanding of mechanics, augments, weapon upgrades, etc. The first hours will be a little bit of an exercise of patience, thanks to the number of times death may come, and along with it, the abhorrent load times that will never cease. But going further and further in, there’s a noticeable boost in the quality of story, character interaction, means of approaching each situation, and everything in-between. The best way I could sum up the experiences and approaches of DXHR’s gameplay is a “restricted complete freedom.” There’s no massive sandbox with dozens of activities to partake in, yet the world around Jensen has quite a bit of mass to it. There aren’t a whole lot of side missions, yet there are countless ways each of them, as well as the storyline missions, can be approached. It’s a fine balance that can only be understood and appreciated after a few hours of hands on time.
Augmenting Jensen’s powers further and further with every Praxis pack or Praxis point received will also open up new possibilities, including punching over certain context sensitive walls to either gain entry to a hidden room with beneficial items to be claimed, or to get the drop on an enemy behind the wall and progress through an area in a quicker manner. Upgrades to Jensen’s weaponry will either heighten the damage output, shorten the reload times, or even give the ballistic portions a tracer ability. Even with some color palette issues, each new area found can be easily distinguished from the last. On top of that, the little details that most would ignore, such as misspelled words in an email read off a hacked computer, and random conversations Jensen will overhear between two parties. Conversations about not being able to pay the rent and how no one has a job yet, to fixing an air conditioner, adds character to the game world and helps to infuse a feeling that the player is traversing through a living, breathing world outside the one they’re playing this game in.
The further one gets into Deux Ex: Human Revolution, the more one will witness the gameplay evolution unveil. It blends together a somewhat refined stealth and cover mechanics seen in Metal Gear Solid and Winback, with a core gameplay with a plethora of ways to approach each situation, and a story that becomes increasingly more fascinating and gripping as time progresses. The visuals might have inconsistencies, Adam Jensen might not have a consistent voice acting quality, the load times can break up the immersion ere and there, and the early part of the game might be skewed too high in difficulty, but after the player becomes accustomed to every facet of controls, stealth, augmentation and such, Deus Ex: Human Revolution begins to show its true colors through its 25+ hours of gameplay. If you’re the type of player that likes to shoot first and ask questions later, this will more than likely not be your cup of tea. If you enjoy patience, exploration, a story with making a film about, and multiple ways of approaching each roadblock ahead of you, this will be a cup of tea worth sipping. With standout titles such as Marvel vs Capcom 3, Mortal Kombat, Homefront and Portal 2 filling out the first half of 2011, Deus Ex: Human Revolution trumps them all and stands out as the best game released in 2011 thus far, and one of the must plays of this current decade.