By William Shelton
Release Date: August 23, 2011
Systems: PS3 (Reviewed), Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Metacrtic Score: 89 (PS3)
With this probably being my last review for the year and “Mankind Divided” coming to store shelves next August, I thought I’d take another look at the Deus Ex franchise. If you remember my review of the original game you know that my biggest issue there was that the damn thing wouldn’t run on my PC. I loved the depth of the games RPG systems and the verity of ways I could deal with boss encounters: If I could get the game to run properly I could see it becoming one of my all time favorite games. Human Revolution on the other hand is a pretty mixed bag overall. For every step the game takes in the right direction, it blunders in some astounding ways. And fair warning, in order to talk about some of what bothers me about this game so much, I am going to have to go into spoiler territory. As in “I will be talking about the games ending”. I’ll give you a heads up before hand in case you haven’t played yet, but after that it’s on you.
You play as Adam Jensen, newly appointed chief of security at Sarif Industries, a leading company in the field of human augmentations. You and one of the companies leading scientist, Megan Reed, are about to make your way to Washington DC for a congressional hearing about her new findings and the research Sarif Industries have been doing. Unfortunately, things don’t go as planned. The building is attacked and Adam is nearly killed trying (and failing) to rescue Megan and her team. Adam is saved by having a massive amount of augmentations grafted onto him and is sent home to recover. Six months later he is called back into action when another Sarif Industries installation is hit. It’s here that Adam and the player learn that something more than previously thought was going on, and it’s up to you to uncover what exactly is happening.
One of the things that initially drew me to the game was how unapologetically it looked at modern day wealth disparity. Augmentations are expensive and give such an upper-hand to anyone with them that it’s hard not too call into question our own dependence on technology. As more and more of our day to day lives, both at home and at work, revolve around being able to be online being able to have access to a computer early in life will become a great boon to most of the next generation, but that’s not a luxury everyone can afford. Hell, I remember when the game first came out I was looking for a job and was usually told I needed to apply online. But I couldn’t afford a computer at the time sob my ability to even attempt to get work was limited to the hour a day the library would allow users to be online. And up until the ending I was totally on board with what the game was saying. It offered a nice, balanced view of the situation and it seemed like it would leave the viewer questioning, ready to make up their own mind. And then the game actually ended and…yeah, this is where that spoiler warning comes into effect.
Not only does the game fail to really deal with the issues it sets up, it the endings it does offer are both awful and poorly done. In what is now the cannon ending due to “Mankind Divided” being announced the game pretty much states “Technology is too dangerous for mankind and we should abandon it outright”. This pisses me off at the very core of who I am as a person. While I in no way thing our modern age of technological progress is perfect and will always be the first to criticizes aspects of it I don’t like, but you will never see me say we should abandon progress. I love humanity and the things we can accomplish when we set our mind to a given task. The game, in the last cut scene blames science for things like the oil industry (although indirectly) and while I agree that we need to move away from fossil fuels, it’s human intelligence that will lead us to the future, not saying abandoning science and progress outright.
With all the games issues, this is the one that angered me the most. Yes, industries suck, corporations suck and they will always use whatever they can to screw us over, but that is not where the games anger lies. It blames scientist for “blindly pushing boundaries” and acting as if that is making us lose our humanity when I truly believe it’s mankind’s unwillingness to allow boundaries to define us that makes us human. It’s our intelligence that separates Man from Neanderthal and the developers at Eidos pretty clearly say that that is our downfall.
While I truly hate this games conclusion, the game play does manege to stop me from outright hating the game altogether, although there are still issues there I want to punch some one for.
The single biggest difference between this and the original Deus Ex is that this is not an RPG. While you do gain levels and use points to unlock certain skills, the fact is you don’t need to in order to progress. You’re not making yourself more efficient with a certain skill tree, you’re more just tacking on extra bits to something you can already do pretty well. If you’re pretty decent at shooters, you can play the game like an FPS without ever going into the augmentations menu or up grading a gun and get by pretty okay. So long as you have enough of the hacking tools you can hack nearly anything without much hassle. There are plenty upgrades it’s nice to have, but none of these are exactly vital. While this does make it so “every play style is viable” I never really felt I had a “play style” and more did what ever was easiest at the moment. Sure I tried to be stealthy when I could, but once a firefight broke out I could shoot my way through with no real issue.
And that’s one of my main issues. Like most games like this stealth is most highly rewarded, but the game does what it can to make that approach way to difficult. Enemies are almost always positioned in such a way that once you stealth take out one guy, someone almost always sees the body before you can do anything about it. And once someone sees you, even for just a second, everyone around knows exactly where you are. To every developer everywhere: that is bad stealth design. Period. Not helping matters any is the amount of times the game just drops you into big action set peaces without any real way to get out of them. At least three separate occasions comes to mind where I was pretty much forced to just shoot it out with a room full of people as they just poured in from everywhere.
And then there are the bosses. These assholes you have no choice but to shoot it out with. In the original game you could literally run away from a boss fight and continue on, but no such luck here. This meant my stealth focuses ass had to adapt quiche and that never went well. I died in most of the boss battles until I found a way to cheese my way through it: skill and preparation went right out the damn window. However, there were a few boss fights that were more based around conversation rather than combat and those were fantastic. Each time I managed to beat one of these I genuinely felt accomplished. Too bad there are only a handful in the entire game.
So it’s shallow, too action focused with a story I ended up hating. I really must have hated the game, right? Well….no. While it’s not the jewel I was hoping for, this is a testament to just how much a polished experience can make things better. While I can look back in hindsight and say “i wish X had been done differently” I never really minded the moment to moment game play outside a few set peaces and the boss fights. Hell, even until the games final moments I was really digging the story. This is a game I really wish was better, but I can’t say it was bad. This wasn’t like “Ninja Gaiden” where it single highhandedly killed my excitement for the developers next project, but it is close. I wanted to love this game. How could i not when it deals with wealth disparity and transhumanism? How could I possibly look at that and say “not for me, thanks”? Well, Eidos found a way. In the end I really just found this to be a mediocre at best game that banked way too much on an established title. Sad thing is, I saved this for my last review of the year because I wanted to go out on a high note. Well, Merry Christmas all, have a happy new year.