Thursday, 15 September 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Recently I finished my first play-through of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  To sum up my thoughts immediately after I finished the game would be to say that I felt a deep sense of being unfulfilled.  I honestly expected more of a game from such a strong lineage.  Let me explain why.

The set up for the story, which had been happening for going on two years prior to release, was excellent.  The pre-release footage, information and CGI videos really set the stage for an epic moral and ethical conflict that would engulf the entirety of humanity as well as the hero himself, as we, as a people, come to grips, for the first time, with the reality of science overtaking nature.  In reality we got three men fighting over who's got the better moral compass and you're supposed to be the great arbiter of the dispute.  Through-out the game you never get the feeling that this really is a huge dilemma for humanity, instead you get the impression that a small proportion of the population don’t like augmented people because they’re different.  

For anyone that watched the ‘Purity First’ live action trailer, you’ll feel the same sense of bewilderment that I felt when I found out that Neuropozyne (the hugely dangerous, highly addictive and ludicrously expensive drug required for the majority of the populace to ensure their body does not reject their augmentations) is barely even mentioned.  The few times it is mentioned, the hugely controversial nature of the drug seems to take a secondary role compared to the feelings of ‘oh my god, the poor, they need our help’ nature of the people involved.  The lack of corporate ethics that makes these companies use this drug to control people and their money never comes into play throughout the entire game.  The phrase ‘Purity First’ itself refers to an extremist group that are violently anti-augmentation.  Well that’s what the game would have us believe, even though the build up post release made us think they were more against the corrupting corporate nature of augmentation, where it is treated as a business and people are just money and numbers, rather than human beings.  However, in the game itself they come across as a group of idiotic terrorists bent on taking hostages for no other reason than they were told to do so by the voices.  While that is an oversimplification, you can understand my meaning.  They looked promising, as though they were going to have some deep storyline and complicated moral views when really they ended up as just a shallow group of faceless terrorists that you have absolutely no compunction about stabbing through the neck with a giant arm-sword.  There should have been conflicted interests in this conflict.  Should I kill these hostage takers?  Aren’t they just some scared people that don’t know what to do?  But in reality they’re lacking any humanity and the gamer feels no empathy for their cause.

So, what about the companies?  Surely there must be ethical conundrums that arise there, I hear you cry.  Unfortunately not.  Again the companies are somewhat shallow.  You’ve got the supposed ‘good’ company (Sarif Industries) and the supposed ‘bad’ company (Tai Yong Medical).  We all know from personal experience that corporations are mean.  They’ll do anything to make money and you don’t get to be the boss of one of these multi-billion [enter preferred currency here] companies by being a ‘nice guy’.  However, Sarif industries seems to be the first company in the history of mankind to be the exception to this.  They’re supposedly just trying to make people’s lives better (with a few Defence contracts thrown in to add a little controversy).  Neither company inspires much real interest, and the characters within each company are generic, emotionless and often stereotypical.  Through-out the game there are hardly any characters that garner any real feeling of depth of character or make you feel a true interest in what might happen to them and those few that do fall into the multitude of plot holes left within the story and are never heard from again.

What about Jensen’s personal story that looks really interesting from the pre-release media?  Girlfriend killed, hero almost killed, possibility of becoming something people hate and fear; surely there’s a truly great dark hero story in there, right?  No.  Jensen’s personal story crops up a couple of times, but basically sits on the sidelines waiting to actually get used.  When it does get used, nothing is explained, there is no emotion from any of the parties involved and there is no humanity shown in Jensen at all.  In the pre-release media we saw Jensen sitting in his apartment looking totally despondent drinking a glass of scotch having flashbacks of the attack on Sarif Industries that claimed the life of his girlfriend (or ex-girlfriend, apparently).

This set the stage for what most of us thought would be a ground-breakingly deep story of a character stuck in the downward spiral of self-destructive grief and then having the story following his attempts to claw his way out of the abyss and become something of his former self.  Instead we play a full game with an emotionless, bland ‘hero’ who garners absolutely no sympathy or sense of relation from the gamer.  Eidos Montreal missed a huge opportunity for a truly moving and incredible journey of emotional self-repair with a really deep and interesting protagonist, but instead opted for an easily forgettable, generic action hero with little or no personality.

The game is heavily biased against a lethal response, the player receiving significantly less experience for killing people than for disabling them in a non-violent manner.  If there had been some reasoning explained for this within the game, such as Jensen’s unwillingness to become a simple killing machine or his regret over the Mexico incident from his SWAT days, something that seems very reminiscent of the ‘fishing trip’ from Gavin & Stacey, insofar as there’s never any really explicit information about what happened, simply that it was bad and Jensen was involved.  The fact that Jensen is an ex-SWAT Team Leader would make you think that a lethal response to hostage takers is a pretty normal response.  The multiple ways of overcoming obstacles is extremely interesting as well and is used extremely well in certain locations (i.e. the Police Station), but opportunities are missed elsewhere for a non-combat response.  However, there seems to be no discernible difference whether you play through a sequence in one way or another.  There are barely any consequences to your actions, the story follows the same linear path and nothing changes.  You could kill every single Police Officer in Detroit and parade their bodies publicly in some sort of ancient sacrificial rite and then dance on top of them in front of a camera and nothing would change.  That is a shame and yet another missed opportunity in the ever growing list.

Concept = 95%
Execution = 82%

1 comment:

  1. I think it important to add than whilst writing this review I went back to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, because the first time I played it through I went for the smooth-talking, Sam Fisher approach (this is before he went all Jack Bauer in Conviction). For this second playthrough, I wanted to really enjoy the combat system and the weaponry on offer and so went for the all-out 'Jack Bauer in Season 8 of 24' approach. A couple of hours in and I found myself seriously lacking in xp and augments, simply because I get 20xp for a headshot kill, 10xp for a normal gun down kill, but I got 40xp for knocking someone out. As I said in the review the game really does penalise you for 'going Jack Bauer' and honestly, I dislike that immensely. They are both viable ways of playing the game and the developers and publishers are very quick to sing the praises of their '3 ways to play' mechanic, but in reality, there is only one way to play, because that's the way that gets you all those beautiful experience points we RPGers all crave. When you come out of an extremely difficult firefight, having killed all 4 of your attackers in perfect double-taps, using fire & manoeuvre tactics and you feel some sense of achievement, until you realise you could have earned exactly the same amount of xp by just knocking one guy on the head and ignoring the rest. How such a silly mechanic made it through playtesting I will never know.