Welcome to my first review of a modern game!
I just finished Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I have a LOT to say about it. But before that, I’d like to explain the title of the article. It’s a little experiment I’d like to try, and I hope you’ll indulge me.
WARNING: The proceeding material may sound highly cranky to some readers. Deal with it.
Instead of being a regular review you can find on any big game site, this review and future ones on my blog are going to be a little different. I feel that modern reviews don’t take into account past games nearly enough. In most cases, I feel modern games get a little too much credit, and it wouldn’t hurt for us to hold them to a higher standard considering some of the greatness that has come before. Since most big games nowadays release at a whopping $60, considerably more than most modern media, I feel it is imperative to know exactly which games are going to be well-received by which audiences. For you, it shouldn’t be a noticeable stylistic change. You may not even notice it at all. But it is an attitude that I intend to approach every game I review with, and you should keep it in the back of your mind as you’re reading. Hopefully, this different lens of perspective will provide you with a fresh, unique way of reviewing games, as well as furthering the art of game criticism.
As you can see, I’m christening this approach the ReGrue (get it?), after the namesake of this blog. Some of you may think I’m somewhat of a grognard for bringing this up, but that’s fine with me. In fact, I hope this will encourage more discussions on the quality of games and eventually tip off some studios that they can’t release broken games, fix them with patches a month or two later, and think it’s okay.
Phew. Okay. No more ranting. Let’s get on to a game that isn’t broken (much):
You don’t really need an overview, do you? If you’re looking for a review, you probably know what the game is about. If you don’t, I direct you to Wikipedia or the plethora of fine gaming sites out there. The main purpose of my reviews, since you’ve likely read one or two of the game in question already, is to provide you with my opinions. So, instead of giving you a traditional overview, I’m going to tell you how I played the game. We’ll call this…
The Reviewer Lens
I’ll use this section to let you know how I played a particular game and what you can expect from that kind of play. I’ll also let you know which difficulty I played the game on and which platform. Also, I’d like to say that I’ll try not to spoil anything, but no one’s perfect, right?
This is particularly important in the case of DXHR, a game which boasts about multiple styles and ways of play. I chose the hardest difficulty or “Give Me Deus Ex” (I didn’t pay $70 for the Augmented Edition for them NOT to give me Deus Ex). To my chagrin, I played DXHR on PS3, since I don’t yet have a killer gaming PC. If you have one, though, definitely get the PC version. It’s cheaper, it’s on Steam, it looks better, and the controls are so much more intuitive, as is usually the case on the PC.
I’m a huge fan of stealth gameplay. Ever since I first witnessed Metal Gear Solid 2, sneaking around, taking out guys silently, and looting their bodies has always appealed to me. One of my favorite franchises is the Thief series, in which stealth is essential (I’m especially happy that DXHR has come out finally so that Eidos can get around to releasing Thief 4, which is, indeed, in development, though Eidos hasn’t done much with the website yet). But let’s talk about stealth in Deus Ex.
maybe the most intense stealth experience ever
Since I like stealth so much, I chose many stealth-oriented augmentations for Adam. Cloak was my first choice (I love invisibility). I also picked up a radar augment, the ability to see though walls, the Icarus landing system to ensure I stopped dying every time I wanted to take a shortcut, a bunch of battery upgrades, lots of hacking augments, quiet footsteps, faster running, and one ability that doesn’t really fit with the others; the ability to punch through walls. Now, that last one doesn’t have anything to do with stealth – in fact it nearly got me killed during one section of the game. But it’s SUCH a cool ability that I just couldn’t say no. Destructible environments are always fun, especially since so many video games are built to keep you out of so many areas. When you crash through a concrete wall, grab the guy on the other side, and smash his head on the wall, you feel like a badass, and you feel like you’ve just outsmarted the game to boot. This is an illusion, of course; the smashable walls are just one more designer-implemented facet of the game. But it’s the illusion that’s important, not the reality.
I'll disillusion YOUR reality!
These choices greatly influenced my experience with the game, and not always in a positive way. But we’ll get to that in a bit. Just know that, as we go on, this is how the game was for me.
Graphics and Art Style
DXHR in a nut sh-, errr, orange rind?
I’ve got mixed feelings about this category. The game is orange. I like orange, but, after a while, I was really getting sick of it. I found myself staring at Adam’s colorfully designed novelty cereal boxes for minutes just to break up the monotony (and because they’re colorful novelty cereal boxes). There isn’t enough to break up the orange the majority of the time, although it does get the futuristic feel across nicely.
Another complaint I have is that the game is a bit too dark. On the documentary included in the Augmented Edition, a developer says that they weren’t going to have DXHR be in perpetual night like the first Deus Ex game was. Well, that’s a nice sentiment, but I really couldn’t tell the time of day throughout the game, except for maybe at the end. I wish they’d done a bit more work on how the sky looked in the cities, but that’s a minor complaint.
The part where DXHR shines is literally in the shiny stuff. Weapons and armor look awesome, buildings look terrific and believable (city backgrounds are particularly impressive) , and the limb augments are about as realistic as you can get.
Unfortunately, the game drops the ball when it comes to the models. They’re not bad; they’re just not as good as they could have been. Everyone looks a bit like a plastic doll. Facial animations are better than a lot of games, but they’re far from the quality of games like God of War 3. This lack of detail really didn’t bother me, though. Graphics should never be the game-selling aspect.
Sound, Music, and Voice
I had some real problems in this area. I’ve heard many people on the net rave about the brilliant, atmospheric, techno soundtrack for this game. I’m here to call bullshit. Most of the time, there isn’t any music at all, and when it does start playing, it’s usually just the same simple tune repeated over and over. This was fine once or twice, but a 25-40 hour game needs to have good music and lots of it. The best use of sound in the game was at the end when the game becomes totally different. I won’t spoil what the difference is, but let’s just say there’s a definite change in genres.
The rest of the sounds in the game are decent. Bullets sound like bullets. Rockets are rockets. I particularly liked the sound of the suppressed weapons. The sound of footsteps is imperative in stealth games, and I think it does its job in DXHR.
The voice-acting was actually a lot better than I had expected. Some of the dialogue is a little hammy, but it’s delivered well for the most part. Just don’t expect a lot out of the NPCs. Anyone who isn’t a main character or a side character only has two things to tell you, and most of the time they’re not important. One very nice touch, though, is that sometimes you’ll overhear random city folk talking about shortcuts into areas you want to get to. These hints helped me a lot and I appreciated the subtle clues.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about Adam Jensen’s voice, but it didn’t bother me. Maybe his vocal cords took a beating when he got thrown through that window and beaten to a pulp, huh guys? Overall, you’ll want to listen to the different accents and voices throughout the game. The voice of Adam’s boss is particularly good.
I don’t like the sound Adam makes when he dies. I hate how he just keels over quickly and unnaturally in the first place, but his unbelievable “ugh” sound is laughable. I died a lot in this game, and I wish Adam’s death was treated with a little more ceremony. What happened to the good old days when Mario threw up his hands and you got a special little music sample?
Finally, the dialogue of enemies gets old fast, especially if you’re a bit too impatient and set off a lot of alarms (like me). Unless two bad guys have some scripted dialogue pertaining to the story to discuss, they’ll just comment on what they hear the same way over and over. They do have a larger repertoire than the average video game thug, though. I liked how they would respond when they saw their unconscious friends stacked in a corner and shout about how they thought their allies were still alive.
User Interface and Controls
Overall, the presentation is good. The main menu is nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done. I appreciated some options and couldn’t understand why some were left out. The ability to turn off the highlighted items is much appreciated and makes the game feel more realistic. I didn’t have that feature turned on at all in my play through, and, though I’m sure I missed more than I would have, I had fun searching for objects. Unfortunately, the highlighting comes back on when you look through walls. I guess I understand the thinking behind that design choice, but I wish that only enemies were visible. You will have the option to change the difficulty along your journey, which is always nice, though I was loathe to do it since I wanted the extra trophy.
Praxis is like crack for Adam. He just can't get enough of it.
Oh, and another thing. Why, oh why, can’t I change the controls!? I really hate pressing R3 instead of L to aim. I got used to it after a few hours, but it never feels like the optimal way to handle things. On top of that, the X and Y axes don’t have a wide range. Even after I turned the sliders all the way up, it still felt like Adam was a bit drunk. Worse, the Y axis feels more sensitive than the X axis. I don’t know how this problem was overlooked in testing, but I’m not a developer so I’m sure it just got lost in the rush.
The HUD is nice and crisp and provides all the information you need. The game even explains its existence via Adam’s eye augments, also known as black sunglasses that pop out of the sides of his temples. The menu is equally intuitive, though a bit clunky to get around with a game pad. I don’t really fault the game for this. There’s only so much you can do without a mouse or hot keys. Try to play the N64 version of StarCraft and you’ll see what I mean.
If none of the above sounds interesting to you, then I’m sorry, but none of it is really what Deus Ex: Human Revolution is about. I overlooked everything wrong about the game, because the gameplay itself is so damn good. I loved exploring each vast, varied locale, pouring over emails, performing take-downs, persuading people to my way of thinking, and augmenting myself and upgrading my weapons until I was practically unstoppable. I poured every weapon upgrade I could into my little pistol, and by the end it was silenced, had a laser sight, and was strong enough to take down all but the toughest guards and bosses. I was like a ninja, leaping across rooftops, falling from the tallest heights only to land unscathed, and stealing everything I could without a solitary soul knowing I was there.
Or, at least, that’s what I was going for. As I said before, I played the game on the hardest difficulty and never changed it; thus the game thoroughly kicked my butt. There were some situations in which I couldn’t fathom how I was supposed to stealth my way through with so many guards, cameras, and killbots all situated in the same tight area. It may be hard to believe, but sometimes it feels like the designers didn’t put in enough vents. The most frustrating part about dying a lot was the load times. Adam is as fragile as a glass doll and goes down if an enemy so much as breathes on him, so I found myself sitting through a lot of loading screens, which, on the PS3, take about 20 seconds or so almost every time. I’ve heard that if you install the game to your hard drive, however, this problem is significantly abetted. That isn’t really an excuse, though; people shouldn’t have to give up hard drive space for a game they may only play through a couple times.
I could have dealt with dying out in the field, though. That would at least have felt realistic and fair. The one part of Deus Ex I absolutely could not stand is the boss battles. First of all, there’s no reason at all for them to exist. I’m all for having big, confrontational scenes with main villains, but they hardly need to be in arena-sized rooms with obvious gimmicks and overpowered enemies. If Adam is so fragile then why aren’t the bosses? What special powers do they possess? If Adam takes a shotgun blast to the face, he will almost certainly be dead. The first boss, on the other hand, will just laugh at you and blow you to smithereens via a rain of grenades that magically home in on your location. Why doesn’t Adam get the chance to talk the villains down? He has the ability to get a social augmentation, so why not give him more chances to use it? Adam seems sentimental enough with most people, so why doesn’t he have any qualms about killing other trained, augmented veterans?
This guy will put you down and make you stay down. Quick saving will quickly become your favorite "augment" on Hard.
The fact is that, on the hardest difficulty, the boss battles are a grueling, boring, nightmare. There are some nice set pieces, and the bosses themselves are interesting as characters, but I was forced into a game-breaking strategy that took me out of the game completely. Every time I did a little bit of damage I had to quicksave, lest I die and have to start the ordeal all over. This, at least, made the bosses beatable, but it didn’t make them fun in the least. I would have much rather appreciated simply running into the bosses in the field with a whole host of armed guards and been given several options on how I wanted to advance. For one reason or another, though, Eidos Montreal seems to have succumbed to traditional video game conventions and attempted to cater to the masses. Ironically, they seem to have alienated a large portion of their fan base on this point. Let’s just hope they learn from this and leave boss battles out of Thief.
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T PUT BOSS BATTLES IN THIEF 4, EIDOS!!!!
This is how boss battles in Deus Ex: Human Revolution feel
Excuse me, I got a little emotional there. Let’s move on. The rest of the game is great. Going full stealth or full combat is probably a little too difficult, but the middle-of-the-road approach should feel just fine for everyone. I would suggest playing on Normal if you’re not interested in trophies, though; I think the immersion will come easier that way.
One last point: the game is not without glitches. They are rare, but on one specific occasion a glitch prevented me from completing a side quest for the rest of the game. I wasn’t heartbroken, but I was a little peeved that I did a bunch of work and was not able to get the tangible reward because of bad coding. I’ve seen other instances of models clipping through walls or bending in ways contortionists would be jealous of, but those kinds of glitches seem few and far between.
Story and Artistic Relevance
This would be another one of those times where I get on my...
I want to give a little preface to this section, because it may seem odd to be talking about these topics in a video game review. The fact of the matter is big developers are treating games like blockbuster hit films, and they should be criticized as such as well as games. There’s no other way publishers will learn that games ARE NOT MOVIES. No matter how good the technology is, interactive fiction is not the same as regular fiction, and the technology isn’t nearly there yet anyway! Neither is the writing. Neither is the gameplay. They may never learn, but eventually game designers will realize that the art of the game is in the game itself. This may seem obvious, but many designers have been distorting games for years, trying to make them something they most definitely are not in order to appeal to a wider audience. The secret is that it’s not working. Nintendo, for all their faults, and select few others seem to be the only ones who get this. People don’t buy games for story, especially people who don’t play games regularly. A good story is nice, but if the gameplay isn’t there, then the game might as well be a dime-store, paperback novel.
All right, let’s really dig in.
In the end, Deus Ex, like Icarus, flies a little too close to the sun...you should still play it
Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as a modern, cyberpunk, conspiracy story is okay. It’s not great, it’s not terrible, it’s just okay. To be honest, though, I really didn’t care about Jensen, Sarif, Megan, Pritchard, or any of the rest of the characters. Thankfully, the game never beats you over the head with the narrative. Instead, the narrative is all around you, in newspapers, TV shows, and emails, and you can delve into it as much or as little as you’d like. The core story, though, is not that impressive, because the central conflict is not really a conflict, at least, not for anyone I know. Does augmenting yourself make you lose some of your humanity? What kind of a question is that? Absolutely not! People have run around with fake limbs, organs, and a whole lot else for a long, long time, and no intelligent person has ever thought their souls are less pure because of it. I give kudos to Eidos for attempting to inject a real story with real moral values at stake into their game, but I think they just picked the wrong subject matter. That said, DXHR is one of the best examples we have of games as relevant art at the moment, and hopefully it will make some stubborn critics of other mediums sit up and pay attention. I firmly believe that games have the potential to be the ultimate art form, in ways we can’t yet imagine; they’re just not there yet. We don’t yet have a Shakespeare or a Citizen Kane, but we may be getting close to a Beowulf. That’s good enough for now.
Points for Being Augmented
Ah, my friends, we’ve reached the end. Thank you so much if you’ve read the entire review; I know this is a bit longer than you’re probably used to, especially from me (over 3000 words!). Here’s the bottom line: I loved Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I don’t care who you are; if you like deep, compelling, thoughtful gameplay, then this game is a must-play. It’s far from perfect, but the good so far outweighs the bad that I predict this game will show up high on many people’s game-of-the-year lists. Most importantly, I think people will look back fondly on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and maybe even come back for more just when they think they’ve had enough. If I had to put a score on it, I’d probably give the game a 90 on a good day and a 70 on a bad one, so, for the sake of finality, here’s my ultimate verdict:
I like to be an optimist
Scores aren’t what matter, anyway; what matters is how a game affects you and what decisions you make based on those feelings. You should play Deus Ex: Human Revolution regardless, if only to get a glimpse of the gaming glory that is to come in the next decade. I highly recommend it.
This says it all
Did you like the review? Agree with it? Hate it? Leave a comment and a rating! Thanks for reading!