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Juice Eggs: (Gary) Numan’s Rev Ablution

*** NO SPOILERS WHATSOEVER ***

Deus Ex: Human Revolution has something that a first person shooter, or a third person shooter, hasn’t really had in a long time. It is called a learning curve. In order to play the game as it wants you to, and to maximise the XP gains as you play, you’ll need to learn to adapt to the first / third person hybrid gameplay. Doesn’t take long, but it’s not as natural as you’d think if you’ve been reading the reviews.

And then you get to the hacking, and you need to learn how to do that. To the game’s credit, for each new skillset you have to learn, the game gives you a brief video explaining how to do it. The hacking minigame is simple when you know what you are doing, but the tutorial video has a lot to explain, and not much time to explain it with. Hacking will take you a lot of trial and error to get the hang of. Or, if you are me, a quick google search to work out what the numbers next to each icon mean (it’s the estimated likeliness of the computer you are hacking detecting you are there).

So at the start of the game, you’re facing a learning curve, and you feel a bit clueless. You shoot the baddies, and you think “there must be another way of doing this”. And there is, but you’re just learning the game, and you don’t want to take risks yet. So you kill the baddies, and when they’re all toast, you have a look around the room you’ve just cleared.

The first hint that you might not be doing things right is when you come to your first air vent. Strangely sized to accomodate a crouching yet speedily mobile man (you try crouching and going that fast, see how easy it isn’t), you’ll shimmy along the vent and see that it leads back to a room you were in previously. And a little box appears on screen to say you’ve unlocked some more XP for finding an alternate route. This is the game calling to you. This is the game whispering “there’s another way to play”. There’s always another way.

Soon, you’ll change tactics. You’ll ponder the room in front of you. You’ll attempt to sneak round and find a vent, knowing that if it all goes south, your handy pistol will headshot you out of trouble (or tranquiliser rifle, or stun gun, or whatever else you’re given at the start depending on how you answer David Sarif’s questions). Already, this game, this first / third person game, is teaching you. There’s always another way.

You’ll note how killing guards gives you a little bit of XP, but then at one point, you won’t shoot. You’ll manage to get behind a guard and knock him out, and you’ll get a lot more XP. So you’ll realise that non-lethal is rewarded more than lethal, and you’ll strive to slap your way to the end. If you’re really clever (or, like me, just lucky), you’ll twig that the maximum XP is given for getting from one checkpoint to the other without being seen. That’s when you know how Eidos Montreal expects you to play the game. You’re not meant to be a soldier (although you can play that way if you so choose). You’re meant to be a spy.

Eventually, you’ll rack up some Praxis Points, which are used to add new augmentations to your character, or improve existing augs. Each and every one of them can drastically change how you play through certain sections. The “see through walls” one will let you plan that bit further ahead. The “punch through walls” one will make a “just fucking murder everything in sight” playthrough that bit more satisfying and swift. For me, the “go all invisible” one made me stop firing bullets and stick to the tranq rifle, the stun gun and the P.E.P.S. gun (a stun shotgun). Why waste XP by killing when you can go invisible to get close to take them out non-lethally, or to just avoid everyone and sneak out the exit for even more XP?

At this point in the game, you should have noticed that this game doesn’t do things like other games. Some games have a commander, a friend, that voice in your earpiece that gives you orders. In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, that man is a complete dick. He despises you, and you despise him. His name is Francis Pritchard, and he’s one of my favourite characters in any game. He is written and acted to perfection; by the end, you can’t help but like him. On top of that, your boss, David Sarif, is a lying, condescending, smug little weasel bastard. Traditionally, both roles are designed to ingratiate themselves with the player. Not in this game, and it is all the stronger for it.

I’m avoiding the plot like a bastard right now. Mainly for two reasons: 1) on the off-chance that someone actually reads this and hasn’t finished it yet, and 2) I haven’t finished it yet. Up to now, it has been uniformly excellent. It presents a fairly complex plot in such a way that you get it, and that’s without hacking every computer terminal you find (like I have). The plot twists may require a brief “hold on, what the fuck happened there?” pause for thought, but it all makes sense and it adds up to a convincing and thrilling whole.

There’s one twist that is brilliantly done. I don’t want to spoil it. Well, I do, cos it’s well worth discussing, but it would be unfair. It takes something you’ve seen done in a million movies and makes it stunningly effective in a game. The genius part of it is, it’s your fault. Anyway, I’m getting all giddy cos I really want to type an essay about that one bit alone, but I really don’t want to spoil it, so I’ll stop typing about it now. Carry on!

Eventually, the difficulties I described earlier vanish, you get above the learning curve, and you start to trust your abilities. The timidity of staring at a room and planning your way through almost disappears; each level still contains one or two larger areas that still need a definitive plan to get through successfully, but these become the exception. Full credit to the level designers and whoever tightens the controls; both elements are honed to perfection, and the initial hesitancy required to plot a path from A to B eventually gives way to a reckless abandon, gleefully throwing yourself through a door and carving your own path on the fly. You know you have the skills to get through without being seen, or to get out alive if it goes wrong.

And as for the hacking? Once you’ve worked out how it works, and spent some Praxis Points in making it easier, you begin to relish finding a computer to hack, or a door to unlock, or a safe to crack. Doors and safes are obvious, but the comptuers? They can give you door codes, safe codes, let you snoop the emails of various players in the story, switch off security cameras, and program enemy turrets and robots to target their owners, which always makes life easier. Successful hacks also give out a wodge of XP, which goes towards your Praxis Points, which makes you even more badass.

And the details! The game is full of them. The environments and scenery are luxurious. The details in gameplay are numerous and always entertaining. Adam Jensen’s flat has some brilliant and moving set design. The little bits added to really tie characters to the levels, to make you believe they really do live there. Stunning. Little nods to Spaced and Robocop (amongst others) are appreciated, too.

Nixxes is the company responsible for the PC port, and they’ve done a brilliant job. Direct X 11 support, very good performance on mid-range PCs, superb mouse and keyboard controls (quick gripe about how quick save and quick load keys exist but aren’t mentioned anywhere and aren’t configurable), excellent presentation (another quick gripe about the fucking endless company logos at the start, and the fact that the map and hacking screens don’t scale very well when zooming out); this is how ports should be done.

I love this game. It takes a game that was way ahead of it’s time, simplifies it where necessary, enhances everything to perfection, makes it all look fucking stunning, and serves a unique experience back to the player. It takes two genres that have already been done to death and back, re-configures them into a superb mix of the two, a mix that works so seamlessly that you wonder why every other game in existence doesn’t work the same way. It takes the standards for presentation of AAA games and pisses on them from a great height. I’ve seen Deus Ex: Human Revolution called a “masterpiece” by various sites and magazines. I think I’d prefer to call it a “benchmark”. It’s the current pinnacle of gaming, of any genre, on any platform, and I’d imagine it will be the benchmark for many years to come. Unless Skyrim is better than Morrowind.

EDIT: Finished the game about an hour ago. Something I forgot to mention above, something that I didn’t realise until the end – there’s games that give you choices, games that give you “good” or “bad” options, and leave it up to you to select how you;d like it to pan out. Most of these options in DX:HR don’t fit that mold; most of the time, you have to choose between “shitty” and “also shitty”. Parts of Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 put you in situations like this, but they never made me think as much as the options you get here. Some people have said that the game is bleak, and it is, but that’s only because the game is so well crafted, you find that you give a shit. And that runs all the way through the game. And I like that.

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