Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Just completed: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (X360)

Adam Jensen: Hater of lightbulb fanatics.

There are a chosen few titles - such as Half Life, Legend of Zelda, or World of Warcraft - which come to secure a place in gaming's collective consciousness, but when Ion Storm's Deus Ex came out in 2000, it quickly scaled the ranks to become not only an instant hall-of-famer but to be regarded by many, including PC Gamer magazine, as 'The Greatest PC Game of All Time'. High praise indeed, if fruitless, for although the sequel, Invisible War, was still considered to be a decent effort, it failed to captivate players to the same degree as its forefather. All of this goes some way to explaining why I had completely missed the PR regarding Eidos Montréal's prequel, Human Revolution. What a mistake I had made, and boy am I glad it was rectified.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is pretty well a masterpiece. There, I said it. What makes it so affecting is that it reminded me that games wield such a power to truly engulf you in a universe, to put you right in the middle of things, and then sometimes, just sometimes, they leave you there. Rather than following a beaten track and numerous chest-height obstacles to cover, shoot and advance from, DXHR gives Adam Jensen an objective, and lets him do as he sees fit.

The Augmentation screen opens a plethora of options.
This non-linearity is made possible through the use of Augmentations - upgrades to your abilities - that enable you to perform actions and to explore areas that you might not be able to otherwise. In metering out these upgrades, particularly at the start, the developers force you to make some key decisions about how you wish to play the game. The more points you sink into hacking, the easier it becomes to acquire information and to open up pathways. Conversely, there is no reason to stop you running and gunning your way through each scenario, but in that case you should be upgrading your armour, targeting, and running speeds. It can't have been any small feat to have made so many options available, but in DXHR it is executed with aplomb.

A stealth approach appealed to me best, but it took until around half-way through the story before I fully came to terms with how open the experience could be. In the best way possible, DXHR consistently encouraged, nay forced, me to re-think my approach to playing it. The sooner that you can become aware of the range of options that lie before you, the sooner you'll be able to comprehend just how much work has gone into this title.

Arriving into Heng Sha is about as visually arresting
a spectacle as you could ask for.
The plot is mostly engaging, if at times a tad meandering. Some might find the cyber-paranoia of it all a bit too much, but it sat perfectly well with me. There was certainly a stage around halfway-through where I started to feel as if I was being sent around the world for no discernibly good reason, but the emotion was fleeting, and I was more than happy to do so. In retrospect, I feel that perhaps this reaction was due to most games centring themselves around one locale or complex, and opening themselves up to a world-encompassing plot only served to make DXHR stand out further.

In all the praise that is being thrown upon it, there are undoubtedly a number of issues that I had with the game. As I mentioned earlier, the augmentation system, though wonderfully liberating, can feel restrictive at the beginning, where each augmentation feels so much more important. As time went on, I became so adjusted to my play-style that I found myself needing to augment less frequently and ended up finishing the game with around 8 possible upgrades left over. The cover system frequently jarred me, though I spent so much time loading and reloading that it barely registered after a time. Still, it can be difficult at times to to be sure of whether or not you are hidden until it is too late. Lastly, the voice acting, almost entirely across the board, is terrible. I could not work out for the life of me which nationality Frank Pritchard is meant to be, whilst Adam himself sounds like he's nursing a 60-a-day habit.

The faults are there, but they're minor issues that don't detract from the whole. It's early days yet, and we live in a time of so many releases that it can be hard for any one in particular to stand out, but there is so much going on in this game that I can think of no reason to let Deus Ex Human Revolution slip by your radar.

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