Friday, 9 September 2016

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Director's Cut - Review

Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PS3, 360, Wii U (version played), PC, Mac

[Note: I've written reviews for various sites over the years and, inevitably, things get removed, disappear or generally vanish into the deep spaces of the interwebs. I figured some of those pieces could be put to better use up here on the site. So, voila, every now and then you'll see something I wrote for somewhere else.]

You've got to admire a developer's confidence when they choose to reboot a decade old classic that's widely regarded as one of the greatest PC games of all time. That's what Eidos Montreal had to prepare for when they worked on a successor to the original Deus Ex game. Not only that, but the last time a follow-up game had been developed for the series (Deus Ex: Invisible War), it had been criticised for watering down the original's core mechanics. 

In steps Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a prequel to the original game. It follows Adam Jensen, a security chief working at Sarif Industries, a company that develops robotic augmentations designed to improve humans. As with a lot of cyberpunk, bad things happen, and it's up to Sarif's security chief to discover the perpetrator. What starts as a simple murder investigation soon balloons into something much more complex as Adam discovers just how deep the rabbit hole goes. 

It's classic noir, and while it might not be anything new, as a video game plot, it was mighty entertaining, not least because the game gave you plenty of freedom, not only on how you tackled various challenges, but also how you reacted to individual characters. Take the first mission, which involved securing some priceless technology after a group of anti-augmentation-activists stormed a manufacturing plant. Not only could you choose to save/ignore hostages but you could also decide how to deal with the chief activist, either by choosing to reason with him or take him down by force. 

Sure, games have used choice before but Human Revolution ensured that (most of) your choices, even the minor ones, had some kind of consequence. It was a game that presented a, surprisingly complex, world and decided to leave you to deal with it however you wanted. Added to this was a story willing to tackle political issues, or at the very least, explore themes and ideas that other games wouldn't go near. 

Luckily, all of this freedom also applied to the actual gameplay. While play styles could roughly be divided into aggressive or stealthy, there's enough choices that two different stealth approaches could look entirely different. For example, taking the cloak augmentation, which granted you several seconds of invisibility, also forced you pay greater attention to your energy reserves, which would drain incredibly fast whenever the cloak was activated. In contrast, taking hacking upgrades didn't require energy but pressured you to keep your hacking software updated in order to keep up with the game's later challenges. 

What's most important though, is that Human Revolution never forced you into a play style. Spend the first half of the game sneaking around and then switch to blowing people up the with grenade launchers if you wanted, the game didn't chastise you or punish your gameplay decisions. Story choices worked in a similar way. Rather than forcing a good/evil morality on the player, you were, in reality, exploring different political philosophies. Whether that meant agreeing with David Sarif's ultra-capitalist, social-Darwinian approach to society, or taking control of things yourself as a kind of benevolent dictator, Human Revolution provided plenty of endings, but no perfect answers. 

Perhaps Human Revolution's greatest achievement however, was that it avoided simply regurgitating cyberpunk clichĂ©s. While it shows off plenty of its influences; namely that Adam Jensen looks a hell of a lot like Keanu Reeves, and there's the obvious nods to Blade Runner in some of the aesthetics, it also manages to feel and look fresh and new. The washed out, slightly hazy, sepia-coloured world is a wonderful visual style as is Johnathan Jacques-BelletĂȘte's, the game's lead artist, approach to creating a futuristic Detroit and Hengsha. Rather than jump in with the "rule of cool", attempting to make everything look so amazing and far-fetched, there's remarkable restraint from the developers. It looks like a advanced vision of what we know, but one that's feels almost potentially plausible. 

If there's one thing that let the game down though it was the boss fights; those old hangovers from days gone by. Rather than develop these themselves, Eidos outsourced these segments to another developer...and it showed. Stripped of the freedom that the rest of the game provides, they play like clunky versions of Metal Gear Solid bosses. Beating them simply meant pummelling them with enough bullets, which was an even bigger pain if you'd taken a stealthy and/or pacifist approach, as you were unlikely to have any decent weapons at your disposal.

Thankfully, one thing that the director's cut does is attempt to improve these encounters slightly. Most bosses now have an alternative (usually stealth/hacker-friendly) way to be taken down. In the case of the first boss, you're now able to hack a pair of turrets to shoot him up, rather than kill him face-to-face. 

The director's cut also inserts The Missing Link, the game's only piece of DLC, into the story. It was always a little odd how this was handled when it was was first released, because you'd most likely have finished the game before hearing, or wanting, to get hold of the DLC, despite it playing a role in the overall story. It's a little bit like Mass Effect's DLC where it adds more story content but once you've finished the game, do you really want to go back to experience it? 

Now though, it's slotted into the game, taking place about three quarters of the way through. For those who never tried it out the first time around, it's actually a rather enjoyable chunk of gameplay set aboard a huge ship en-route to Singapore. The nod to Metal Gear Solid 2's tanker sequence is obvious; much like Kojima's series, the episode has you sneaking back and forth as you attempt to discover what's going on aboard the vessel. 

There's no denying it's an enjoyable addition to an already great game but it does seem oddly divorced from the rest of the story. In a sense, that's probably intentional, considering it's an expansion episode, but it would have been more interesting had it felt more connected to the rest of the story. As it stands,  it kicks in as a kind of bizarre interruption, just as the main game is about to reach its climax. Similarly, it does rely on back-tracking a hell of a lot, which the rest of Human Revolution didn't, making it more noticeable. 

As it stands, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is still one of only a few modern action-RPGs that really acknowledges player choice. Games like Dishonoured may have come close, but this still remains the thinking person's role-playing game. 


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