In My last Deus Ex post, I talked quite a bit about the player character in the game, but I don’t feel that I gave it the full review treatment. I’ve played through the game several times on the PC but I’ve refrained from purchasing the DLC, so this review covers only the game as released on the PC platform.
A good place to start with this game is that the visuals are stunning in many places. The art direction is top notch. If you stand back and look at many parts of the game, you will notice a “yellow” hue to things. I recall an interview with the art director discussing this and he said that while you can strive to achieve a photo realistic look in your game, his approach in this game is highly stylized. It’s as if the light in all these spaces has a yellow tinge to it and it gives the game a very specific look and feel.
Several times during even my first playthough, I had to stop and take advantage of the Steam “snapshot” feature as the visuals struck me as both beautiful and memorable. Generally this was in an elevator (many of which are open with windows) or during a cut scene. The picture above is not mine (from at trailer, IIRC), but the art direction is very clear and everything from the art in the office to the way Adam walks fits perfectly.
An excellent example of an image I captured: a vista from an elevator in the middle of the game is to the left here. While not strictly necessary for the gameplay, note here the cyberpunk cityscape created solely for the few minutes of enjoyment for the player as they ascend in an elevator.
While these vistas and set pieces stand out (as do the small sections of the cities you get to visit), it’s worth also noting that you’ll spend the majority of your time in quite bland-and-samey corporate hallways and/or ductwork. To some extent, I’m not entirely sure how to solve that, but the person who does will probably be noticed.
The very first game of my “modern era” (I was away from video games for quite a few years) was Oblivion. I think, in some ways, it spoiled me. In truth, I haven’t finished the main story yet because there are just so many interesting things to do in Cyrodill. Or I have problems finishing things. Either way, the fully open world of Oblivion spoiled me.
For a game so apparently about “choice” as Deus Ex, I was hoping for a more open-world experience. To make my expectations more realistic, I played the first Deus Ex game in the weeks leading up to the new game’s release. At some point, I may have something to say about that game, but it also performs a more fair comparison baseline for the current game than does Oblivion. It’s also only a few days to Skyrim’s release, so I also need to get this review out before I become absorbed in that.
There is choice in Deus Ex, but it’s multiple paths through a mission map or multiple orders to perform side quests in a small city hub. There is a “choice” at the end … a push one-of-four-buttons (literally) choice that ends up directing the ending cutscene, but generally the choices have little effect. Your choice to kill or incapacitate in the first mission will drive some dialogue and your overall ability to complete the game without killing (which is a bit bugged) earns you an achievement, but generally you are completing the same plot points in relatively the same order for the same effect.
For some reason, in my first play-though of games, I tend to be overcautious. I know that there are ways of coming back from death — while the differ by game, death is not generally final in games — I still feel very attached to my character and (in role playing) I generally think that my character would not live as if he could reload the last save file. In terms of Deus Ex, that drove me to (generally) take the stealthy approach picking off (and hiding the bodies of) enemies one-by-one. There’s a line in another game (Dragon Age, maybe?) that comes on a cut screen: “Remember to out-flank your enemy; history will not remember how epic your all out (but failed) frontal assault was.”
So… you can approach the levels in a stealthy way, you can use augmentations to get around the levels in different ways and you can kill or be nice. That about sums it up. That was pretty much true of the first game, too. Here it can even be a bit trite. I counted two places where the ability (say) to drop any distance opened up a truly original route through the level. Similarly, there are several places were the ability to walk through electrified water opened up an option. For each ability there are contrived places where they are very useful … somewhat justifying their existence.
But the problem with an RPG (Role Playing Game) in this instance is that you often don’t know when you’re going to encounter (and how often) one of these opportunities. This left me often not spending my “point” of upgrade until I found an opportunity that required it. Being a bit of a completionist, too, this often left me unsatisfied.
This also wouldn’t be a Deus Ex: Human Revolution review if we didn’t discuss the boss fights. They were very disappointing. If your character is not combat skilled, the first boss fight can be very challenging — to the point of frustration. I walked away from the game several times due to that first boss fight. Regardless of your character’s choices, a major flaw in the game is that you must kill these four people. I won’t discuss strategy here. Many resources on the inner-tubes can help you. The best summation of this point is that boss fights are best when they are a sort-of mini-exam on what the game has taught you so far. Apparently, the developers “outsourced” the boss battles due to constraints of their process… and apparently they’ve listened to this often given complaint, and so “apparently” this is addressed in the DLC (for which I’m going to wait for a Steam sale — I want to play it, but I don’t feel that desire strongly enough to pay full price).
To quickly cover the things that are right with the game, I can say that it’s a great game that is well worth the price of admission. The gameplay is tight, the shooting is well done, the minigames are better than average and the story is compelling. I found myself caring about the characters and the story. On my first playthough, I was not aware that I could save my pilot at one point. The scene left me as genuinely sad as I’ve ever been from a video game. On learning that I could save the pilot, I immediately reloaded a game there to do so. As I said above: the decision doesn’t matter to the game, but it definitely mattered to me.
I don’t consider the game as one that I’ll be revisiting too terribly often. It can bear one or two play-throughs, but there are only so many permutations and combinations to be had here. I highly recommend the game and I believe it to be one, like the original, that we will be comparing our experiences to for some time.