Mad Mack: Deus Ex Human Revolution Review
(NB. This week, Dave is joined in his distinctive ramblings by mysterious new sidekick ‘Wheeb’)
Let me ask you something. Does the following sound familiar: powerful organisation (government, corporation, military or utilities company) creates super-soldier they immediately employ to destroy a small terrorist organisation, only to find that he discovers their nefarious schemes and sides with the plucky rebels and brings down the whole enterprise? If this sounds familiar to you, then congratulations, you have played a video game. It’s the same old bullshit, especially in any game that has a plot more complicated than ‘go here and shoot someone’. With that in mind, and without revealing any spoilers, I present to you this eagerly-anticipated ‘review’ of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
Let me begin by saying that no matter what you have been told, the future is not bright, and it sure as fuck isn’t orange. The future is dark and yellow. Dark like constant night (I am not sure if Deus Ex is set in the aftermath of the war with the machines and is just prior to humanity getting flat packed and plugged into the Energizer bunny) and yellow like…well, yellow. Everything is yellow. The walls, lights, buildings, ceilings, computer screens – everything that could realistically be any colour other than metal or black is yellow. While I can appreciate that they are going for a recognisable aesthetic, once noticed it was hard to ignore.
Deus Ex is set in the not-too-distant future, but goddamn, a lot of things are going to have to change before we get there. For a start Shanghai now has an enormous upper-tier which is a solid mass that spans the whole width of the city and serves to keep the poor, the working class and the criminal elements on one level and lets the rich and powerful frolic in the sun. Cybernetic enhancements are now commonplace, with sports leagues starring entirely enhanced (or augmented in Deus Ex parlance) and players and receptionists being implanted with perception heightening modifications, augments are everywhere.
Of course, this means you have your usual augmented soldiers (pretty much required for any story to qualify as science fiction these days) and your usual religious/zealous nuts demanding an end to people being given cybernetic arms and legs (oh Square Enix, you crafty devil. You took the current debate about stem cell research and applied it to the Deus Ex universe, so as to make it more ‘real’ for the players and to hit it home that this was not just a game about throat-stabbing people with hidden samurai swords [more on that later] but was actually a deep and meaningful commentary on the state of scientific research – well fuck you Square Enix – I am only in this for the aforementioned stabbing) because God does not like people to be happy or some shit.
So that sets the backdrop for the game – a world where cybernetic enhancements are clashing head on with religious extremism across the globe. Throw in the standard environment on the brink of collapse, failing world economies (the US is now a third world country – no one noticed any difference) and all powerful mega corporations can make and break the rules as they go. I imagine they felt that introducing some sort of novel global pandemic would take the cliché too far for even Deus Ex to handle, but they manage to sneak in some bollocks about augmentation rejection syndrome now crippling and killing people who could not afford to pay the exorbitant fees for the treatment, so that will suffice for the ‘global pandemic’ angle to complete the set.
So, that is the world. You play as Adam Jenson (not Alex Denton, though you could be forgiven for getting them confused – seriously game designers, is there some sort of rule these days where every male protagonist has to be named something beginning with the letter ‘A’? I would love to see a serious FPS where the lead was called ‘Montague Snufflebollocks’), and you are an ex-cop bent on revenge against the gang who fucked you up. Your day begins like any other. You are on your first patrol with your partner Lewis, when you chase a gang of bank robbers to an abandoned steel mill. You and your partner separate but she is incapacitated before the gang surround you and brutally murders you, notably blowing off one of your arms with a shotgun before delivering the coup de grace with a shot to the head. Although you are declared DOA at the hospital, OCP scientists arrive and whisk your body away, as they need you freshly dead for inclusion in their cybernetic police offic….hold on a second. Is this the opening to Robocop? Shit. Well, you will have to understand my confusion, as the beginning of Deus Ex is exactly the fucking same.
So after an action-packed opener where Alex Murphy gets his shit ruined, he comes back into work six months later to conveniently find the bad guys are at it again, only this time he has the tools to fuck their shit right up. So, stepping out on to the streets of Detroit, he is well set to begin tracking down the ones who tried to kill him and get revenge, mostly by shooting them in the bollocks (I wonder how much of this article I can make indistinguishable from a review of Robocop).
So, on to the review. Naturally, HR is going to be compared to the original, but wherever possible I will try to consider it first for its own merits and then for how it compares to Deus Ex. Because of the much vaunted multiple paths and methods to complete each level, and because I have a life and so could not play through this game more than once, I have enlisted the assistance of a friend of mine called Wheeb.
Wheeb and I had very different approaches to the game. At the start of the game while I was cultivating stubble, wearing an eye patch and working on my one liners (upon throwing an enemy into electrified water, how does ‘what a shocking development’ [Austrian accent optional] sound?), Wheeb was stretching out his black pyjamas, readying his feather tickler and writing poetry under a cherry tree.
Essentially, I was Buck, and I was there to Fuck, while he was a twinkle-toed nonce looking for a good time. My loadout at the start of the game was an assault rifle and a whole tub of whoop ass, while he chose the stun gun and a packet of Tampax. My objective was to cause mayhem while his was to make love, not war. Feeling very smug I ran in and shot the first mo fo in the head, at which point his three mates turned around and knocked me the fuck clean out. I may have to rethink my strategy…anyway, the rest of the review will be given in two halves – my half, which you can imagine being spoken in a deep gravelly voice like Snake Plissken after a bender on coke mixed with rock salt, and Wheeb’s half, which you can imagine being spoken in a voice like Alan Carr (to be fair he does look a bit like Alan Carr).
This review will be scored in bollock shots out of 10, in homage to the original metal Jesus.
As I have said, I strapped on an eye patch, lit a cigar and prepared to step on every mo-fo that crossed me. This approached lasted exactly as long as the first time I faced more than two enemies at once. It was actually quite reassuring to feel that I was just not an immortal capable of absorbing several times the damage of my enemies. On one memorable occasion, I shot an enemy in the chest with my 10ml pistol only to see his body armour shrug off the hit like it aint no thang. He put his assault rifle in the aim and took me from 100 health to 0 in a single burst of no more than 4 or 5 rounds, killing me outright. You are made very acutely aware of just how vulnerable you are to damage, especially in the early game before you have had a chance to fully upgrade yourself.
With this in mind, I actually approached many of the levels with a degree of stealth, and ended up not killing as many enemies. Apart from the voyeuristic pleasure you get from watching people go to the toilet, stealth gameplay also gives you the most opportunities to get up close to the enemies and use a signature ‘takedown’ move. These come in two flavours – a tap of the button makes Robocop knock the enemy or enemies unconscious with some pre-set kick ass moves (viewed in the third person) that sends saliva streaming satisfyingly from their undoubtedly shattered mouths, or holding the button for a bit longer again causes the camera to switch to third person and have Adam execute some bad as fuck moves, but this time they are lethal and involve the use of the retractable swords that he happened to have built into his arms when getting rebuilt (bad ass though they are, you have to wonder what precautions he has to take when administering some self love).
These takedowns are so satisfying it just behoves you to do it as often as possible. When shit does go bad, one of the best implemented cover mechanics I have seen actually makes the combat flow fluidly and gives you a number of tactical options, so no complaints there. Just be prepared to use MFV (Maximum Fucking Violence) on the bad guys as soon as you are rumbled or they will ruin your shit in no time through some cheeky flanking moves and free and easy grenade use.
The other half of the game is the questing, exploration and detective work areas – generally these are city hubs where you can run around talking to people and stealing all their shit. While there are fewer missions than in the first game, those they do have feel meaty and generally provide significant rewards. A new mechanic introduced is sort of a mini-game where you are given a biometric read of the person you are speaking to and have to select the appropriate responses in order to manipulate them into doing what you want (usually giving information). This happens rarely enough that it feels novel and fun and is especially satisfying when you get it right, and who knows – maybe you could use the skills from the game in the real world to try to convince a girl to have sex with you at long last. It could work. Hell, its better than another Friday night in with a Pot Noodle and the adult channel 10 minute preview, eh?
I am a big girl’s blouse so I ran around dry humping everyone instead of actually trying to kill them. When I was not daintily eating French Fancies or picking out jewellery for my next vajazzling I was able to mince my way through the whole game without killing a single person (excluding boss battles).
Firstly, the most striking thing about the stealth gameplay style is how familiar it all feels; not just to the original but to the genre as a whole at that time. It genuinely feels like an “old school” stealth-em-up, complete with an abundance of amusingly convenient ventilation shafts, sewer tunnels and hidden paths to sneak right up behind, or completely past, pretty much any enemy in the game. Clearing a room also requires classic stealth tactics such as analysing guard patrols, identifying a window of opportunity and silently taking down each guard, hiding the body out of sight, then rinsing and repeating.
The augmentations in the game set HR aside from the average stealth game. Unlike in previous games where you used one aug the whole way through (healing) and ignored the rest unless you managed to remember they were there and used them for novelty value, here you can see a real use for every augmentation and can really tailor your selection to your own style of gameplay. In my case I loved the augmentation that changed the appearance of all the guards from combat suited soldiers to oiled up, olive skinned beauties wearing nothing but a loincloth and a cheeky, mischievous smile.
The way the augmentation/power system works is this: You have two rechargeable energy cells at the start of the game and some augmentations require power usage that will delete the cell, though it will slowly recharge when not in use as long as you do not completely deplete it. This gets interesting given that everything you will want to do costs energy to perform.
A single punch costs an entire energy cell (for some reason Adam Mason cannot imagine incapacitating someone without completely decimating their face in the process, totally ruining their pretty features), and the other staples of stealth augmentation are silent running and cloaking, both powered activities. This resulted in many occasions where I would silently run up behind a guard, ready to deliver a “merciful” demolition of their internal organs, only for us both to discover that I was out of juice; no amount of pheromone-assisted sweet talking is going to get you out of that.
All in all, this basically resulted in me sneaking around with an inventory full of energy supplements like the Spec Ops division of Holland & Barrett (though when it came to the boss battles that was as much use as it sounds). Overall, I found the mechanics at work in the stealth aspects of the game are fluid, intuitive and solid, and a real treat to play.
One surprising thing that I noticed halfway through the game was how I had genuinely become so attached to my style of play, not just sneaking around but the whole hug-a-hoodie non-lethal outlook on life, that when I found myself breaking out of character it was genuinely a bit thrilling. During one side mission I had been sent to extort some poor woman in debt to the Triad. After some socially augmented sweet-talking I found an option to get her out of her debt, but that would cost me a reward (a praxis kit) and I would have to pay 5000 credits from my own pocket (another praxis kit). I recall her bleeding face hit the ground before I’d even finished saying “Fuck that”, and the sense of freedom really hit home. Many games give mere lip-service to moral choice, but this is the first game in a very long time where I felt like my choices were my own, and it was a much more powerful experience because of it.
Score: 9 shots to the bollocks
The illustrations from this week’s scoring system are courtesy of Allie Brosh and her hilarious blog http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/
Ok, so I made a dig at the colour scheme earlier, but apart from that the graphics are just so pretty. Just so so pretty. Now, I am not sure if it has anything to do with the new plasma screen TV I just bought (using money from my real job – you know, the one I do so I can pay for food and a place to live that isn’t a back alley), but this is the best game I have seen on the 360 in terms of graphics in quite some time. I remember being similarly blown away by Modern Warfare 2 back in the day, but HR makes those graphics look about 10 years out of date.
While the graphics are very crisp and the effects all very pretty, I would say that the environments can get a bit repetitive. This applies mainly to the internal, linear sections where corridor after corridor wind through facility after facility. The whole thing can get a bit samey and after a while (well towards the end of the game) I found myself yearning for some greenery and an outdoor section with a bit of open ground. It is a minor complaint, but it does definitely take a bit of the sparkle off the game.
The city hubs are beautifully rendered and the environments cluttered enough to make them look like real city streets (though I suspect one of the reasons all of the city hubs take place at night is because it is easier to justify only having a couple of NPCs in the area in the middle of the night). If I was to offer one criticism, it is that the hubs are too cluttered with lights and dazzle and shit. Some of them are nigh on impossible to navigate without the help of a Sat Nav and street signs. While this may be a good thing in general, it does make for some frustrating periods when you are frantically running around the whole city looking for a 24hr garage to buy a packet of cigarettes.
Oiled, olive-skinned security guards. That is all I have to say.
Well ok. Graphics are tip top. They look really good, but one thing bothered me. When talking to NPCs, they have this habit of moving around like puppets on the end of a (very drunk) puppet master’s string. Once I noticed it, I could not help but wonder what the fuck the characters were doing when speaking to Jenson.
Score: 9 shots to the bollocks
One thing I noticed in the first DE was how shit powerful the sniper rifle sounded. When you fired that you felt like Zeus, striking down your target with righteous fury and anger (or, early in the game, alerting them to your presence as the shot goes sailing over their head because your skill with a rifle highlights you as the geeky kid who falls asleep first at the annual FPS star sleepover. Freeman is the one whose parents own the place and is really anal about using coasters and not getting crumbs everywhere, and his older brother is the Doom marine who hooks everyone up with weed and wakes up with his hand in a bowl of warm water and cocks drawn all over his face). While the rest of the weapons sounded average, the sniper rifle sounded kick ass and made you want to use it again and again.
In HR, sound plays a much more important role in gameplay terms, as you must sneak around for a lot of the game, being as quiet as possible and listening to audible cues in the environment to help sneak up on enemies and give them atomic wedgies.
The weapons all sound satisfying to fire, with the assault rifle sounding like an assault rifle (take note CoD: Black Ops – guns do not sound like someone rattling ball bearings in a can), the shotgun sounding loud and manly, and the sniper rifle sounding – well you get the idea.
I don’t really think I can add that much more to it. Oh, except to say that the voice acting is admirably done. It’s not amazing, as Alex Jenson (or whatever the fuck he is called) sounds like he is channelling an asthmatic Christian Bale in Batman. I think Mass Effect and Modern Warfare 2 are better examples of good voice acting, but in general the acting in HR is better than the average standard.
Score: 8 shots to the bollocks
So, by now you can probably tell that I liked this game. It is genuinely a worthy successor to the original game, and a significant improvement over that dogshit sandwich Invisible War. Everything from the basic game mechanics like combat and interaction with the environment to the frilly add-ons like the augmentation system, hacking mini-game and convincing that cute receptionist to let you get to second base are well implemented and integrated. Together they combine to enable you to seamlessly flow from sneaking up on people and throat-fucking them with pop out swords, to frantic and fast paced gunfights that would not be out of place in a John Woo movie, to flirting with hookers and taking out hits for the mob. It’s all there at your fingertips.
There was one bit where you are forced to protect an ally who has crashed in the centre of a building site. You start on one side of the site with 10+ enemies firing a variety of weapons at your ally. Needing to act quickly, I effortlessly sniped a number of them before closing and dispatching the remainder at close range. Just as the last few fell, a mech got dropped into the arena. Without batting an eye, I casually popped out from cover and tossed in an EMP grenade. It detonated, causing the mech to self destruct. I swear, in my mind’s eye I could see my character walking slowing away from the sputtering mech and putting on a pair of sunglasses just as it blew up behind him. Suffice to say my wardon was raging and stiff.
A lot of this game has already been summed up already. So I spent a lot of the game trying to chat up the various male NPCs to see if they would not mind seeing my biggest augmentation. When I was not doing that and was instead sneaking around the men’s rooms looking for someone to play a bit rough with, I found the game to be a delight to play. They really do make it possible for you to complete every level without killing a single person. There are multiple routes to each objective that can be taken based on how you have selected your augments and more often than not more than one way of completing a given objective. The only exception to this (this lets the game down in my eyes) are the boss battles.
I found them slightly odd, antiquated even, like they had been dropped in wholesale from a different game in a different decade. Firstly, any notion of stealth was out the window, so I had to fight them on their terms. I’m vaguely aware that this is a point of contention for some, but generally I can get behind the idea that sometimes you just don’t have the choice, sometimes you have to fight and if necessary kill. That’s fine, it never bothered me to drop the non-lethal stuff for these guys at all. What bothered me was that all I had to fight them with was a Taser and a jar of Omega-6 Fish Oil.
You can pick up rifles and other weapons in the combat arena, so that wasn’t too bad, but the bosses are relentless and deadly. Two of them basically have insta-kill attacks, and that is just irritating when you’re basically running around trying to pick up something to fight with. Also, I had no combat augmentations which couldn’t have helped matters (although I suspect it wouldn’t make a massive difference given how futile it felt at times trying to avoid their ridiculously overpowered attacks).
I’m not saying that they are necessarily bad boss fights, it just felt like they had been plucked from the same era as the old-school stealth mechanics. In one of the boss fights I actually managed to complete it in less than 20 seconds (after a billion retries, mind…) simply by resorting to the “KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE!” approach to problem solving, (equip explosive mines and throw them motherfuckers like confetti), until he just died having not moved 5 feet from his starting position. It felt cheap and lacked any intricacy or finesse that you might expect from a boss battle. I was surprised that my huge relief at finally figuring out a way to beat him was matched by the hollowness of the victory. But Fuck Him. Seriously. Fuck. Him.
Overall: 9 shots to the bollocks
Mad Mack would like to mention again that the faces used for this week’s scoring system were taken from the genius work of Allie Brosh on her site http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/. The faces specifically are taken from this article: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/02/boyfriend-doesnt-have-ebola-probably.html