Guest Author - James Shea
Successor to one of the first truly open-ended FPS games, "Deus Ex: Human Revolution" has a lot to live up to. Amidst accusations of simplification, does DX:HR live up to its legacy?
Human Revolution puts the player in the shoes of Adam Jensen, an ex-cop working private security in a near-future Detroit. The latest hot topic is human augmentation, or the practice of using mechanical cyborg parts to help humans. The game follows Jensen, starting as a normal human but then becoming cybernetically augmented following a major accident. On the trail of the group that abducted his girlfriend, Jensen quickly finds himself up to his neck in conspiracies and deceit.
DX:HR is a first-person shooter that aims to provide an open-ended gameplay experience, offering a bevy of gameplay options that allow for different solutions to the same problem. While it's primarily a stealth game, the concepts available to the player determine how the game is played, whether the player is gung-ho, sneaky, or computer-inclined. The player's style is meant to be supported by the game's upgrade system.
HR's main feature is the augmentation system. Augmentations are gained by spending "Praxis points", which can either be bought or earned through experience. Augmentations range from simple passive traits ("energy regeneration", "armor plating", "faster run speed") to more unique and applicable powers - punching through walls, falling from great heights without getting hurt, expanding hacking options, and so on. It's a kind of neat way to justify getting new powers, and there were a lot of moments early on where you could easily see how a given augmentation would open up a new path. Say you're stuck at the top of a building; if you had the parachute augmentation, you could just jump down. If not, you'd have to find your way down either through stealth, fighting, hacking, etc.
However, my main problem with DX:HR's gameplay stems from how context-sensitive everything is. With the wall-punch aug, you can't punch through EVERY wall - just some. Hacking a computer gets you a maximum of four messages (usually less), which means that if you're trying to find passwords or notes you're basically only going to get a little information. There's a lot of alternate routes and ways to think creatively about how to overcome a situation, but the options are unpleasantly limited and in a lot of places it feels really artificial. Which is to say, rather than feeling like a natural problem the player is overcoming with their powers, it feels like they just threw an obstacle there so the power would have a use.
In addition, in comparison to games like Metal Gear Solid, the stealth gameplay feels really simplified. There's a lot of moments where things missing from the game (the ability to throw a small object to distract a guard, for example, or the ability to break glass with a melee attack instead of having to waste a bullet) just hurts the experience as a whole. The augmentations are neat and all, but the actual influence they have on the game in terms of choices is unpleasantly limited. This is further aggravated by the way the game treats bosses (which is, unfortunately, exactly the way MGS does it): rather than have you face bosses naturally, the game puts you in a cutscene, then when the cutscene ends you find yourself in the middle of the room being shot at by the boss. There's no way to sneak up on a boss or use different skills to take them down; you pretty much HAVE to invest in combat skills because they're totally necessary to fight bosses.
One thing I really liked about the game was the way conversations worked. Rather than being a straightforward "good/evil/neutral" setup like many RPGs, Deus Ex's conversation system is about convincing people. To that end, each persuasion conversation has three approaches that can be taken. It's rarely the right answer to just pick one and go with it - oftentimes, it's necessary to switch tact depending on how the individual responds. There's an augmentation that makes this easier by analyzing and profiling the people you talk to, and that's a pretty neat way to give a tangible benefit. It provides something where the player can go "wow, that would be way harder if I didn't have that augmentation".
The game's style is visually interesting and striking, but to me it felt like they were trying too hard without really considering the effects it would have. Everything in the game has an orange hue to it, which is kind of neat at first but just sort of gets annoying over time. The game LOVES to show off when it comes to your augmentation abilities, as several of them (melee takedowns, wall-punching, parachute drops) are accompanied by distracting switches to third person that go back to first person when the event is over. It's a good looking game in terms of basic design, but I would have liked it better if they'd let it stand on its own merit instead of forcing the player to see how "artistic" it is.
Overall, Human Revolution isn't a BAD game. It's a solid, decent game that's worth a playthrough or two. However, there's a lot of little flaws and bad design decisions, and they all add up to an experience that's less than it could be. I found myself being frustrated at how fake it all seemed; one minute they'd be letting me use skills to solve problems, then the next minute I'm being forced into a straightforward fight because Adam Jensen was an idiot during a cutscene. There's a few moments in particular that stand out for that and I think everyone who's played the game can say what those incidents are. Despite this, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an okay game that has some good choice-making moments.
We purchased this game with our own funds.