Thursday, May 5, 2016

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Thoughts

To say I enjoyed my time with Deus Ex: Human Revolution would be an understatement—with no hesitation do I deem it my favorite in the series, as it hones in on what makes the franchise so remarkable. Gone is the streamlining process that hamstrung Invisible War, the intrepid FPS series finally returns to the rich well of player choice its ancestor had unearthed. Yet it approaches the world of Deus Ex with a more serious tone, concerned with the diametric arguments revolving around governments vs. corporations, technology vs. nature, and traditionalism vs. progressivism. Human Revolution poses complicated questions and constructs excellent gameplay scenarios for you to tinker with; while it does have its fair share of problems, Eidos Montreal's risky debut is a resounding return to form.

I'll start by proclaiming that I really like Adam Jensen. In numerous titles nowadays, the main character serves as a somewhat emotionless vehicle for the player to steer, devoid of much personal baggage in order to ensure the dominance of their puppeteer. Jensen fulfills this to a degree, but he's visibly weighed down by the events that occur in the prologue, tormented by what he's irreversibly lost, as well as what he must regrettably become. Both JC and Alex are skeptical of their positions as pawns, but remain confident and effective at their work; Jensen on the other hand is overwhelmed by his burden, robbed of his spouse and frustrated with his employer. My fondness may be because I'm more drawn towards characters that struggle with their inner demons, but I contest that Jensen is the most fascinating protagonist yet. I found myself easily sympathizing with his struggles, eager to hunt down Megan Reed's attackers and discover the shrouded truth.

Just as the game's predecessors had, the story continues to cleverly imagine what an augmented future might hold. While Human Revolution doesn't engage with philosophy as actively as its older siblings, it utilizes dialogue far more naturally, accentuating the believability of the world. I also appreciate how subtly the conspiratorial elements are handled this time around, the game no longer beating you over the head regarding whom belongs to which faction. The plot does take an unexpected turn towards the end (that would seem even wilder without having played the DLC, a la Mass Effect 3), but everything is fleshed out so nicely with dialogue and in-game text that I walk away very pleased from my time with Human Revolution. Too often when I play a game, the story becomes either negligible or trite, so it's always a delight when I can get engrossed in a virtual narrative.

The return of emails reveals what a boon the electronic exposition is to the story, as their absence from Invisible War was sorely missed. Reading text provides frequent breathers between the tense sleuthing, and it's often interesting or sheds light on the world around you. Unfortunately hacking is probably the worst gameplay system you have to interact with, as (while it seems complicated at first) it's quickly distilled down to dull game of probability. There's no excitement or complexity of choice present here—simply click your way to the exit or restart if things go wrong. It's a shame the game has no option to swipe pocket secretaries from guards, as I would've loved a non-confrontational way to gain access to computers or skip having to hack yet another laser grid panel.

Hacking thankfully remains the only mechanical misstep, as the rest of Human Revolution plays superbly. That's not to say that the shooting is on par with Call of Duty—it clearly isn't—but it works well within the framework of the game, keeping firefights dangerous since Jensen doesn't feel like a one man army. Where the Sarif employee excels is at hand-to-hand combat, pushing the game considerably towards a silent melee focus (which worked well for me). Slipping around the seamless third person cover until you can get behind a man and punch him with both your fists is amazingly satisfying, the takedown animations keeping their luster over all 30 hours of play. My personal philosophy was to use non-lethal force unless innocents were involved, which by that point meant the blade arms would get unsheathed. Man, are those blade arms cool. Occasionally stupid, but always cool.

Complementing the excellent stealth are a variety of avenues you can walk down to complete your mission. Side quests are plentiful and the game constantly addresses multiple play styles, hitting the player with a barrage of "oh, I could've done it this way!" whilst exploring. True, Jensen can end up becoming a solid all-rounder at the end, but you still have to use your wits and inventory to work through any problems you rub up against, which is where the series flourishes best. Plus The Missing Link portion of the game is a great tabula rasa moment, letting you play around with an alternate style of play before the ending.

The game does stumble in a couple other places, most notably in forcing you to revisit the major hub cities. I like Detroit and Lower Hengsha a lot, but the amount of backtracking the game thrusts upon the player is a bit excessive (especially in one specific part of The Missing Link). There's some other iffy parts—the belligerent boss fights, that wall-busting is lethal, and how awkwardly stitched in the DLC is—but for the most part the game's highs outshine its problematic lows. For every instance where the game throws a boring backtracking segment at me it lets me do something cool like chuck a pimp off a roof, and for every headache-inducing boss I'm forced to fight I get an exhilarating moment where I make it through a floor unscathed and/or unseen.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a lot like Deus Ex, except that it's (arguably) more refined. Certain mechanics have changed and some details got lost in the transition, but the modern coating makes it far more palatable. While I appreciate a lot of what the original did, I was unequivocally more excited to sit down and play Human Revolution every time I booted it up. The game stays loyal to its roots, constructing an intriguing world that feels great to play and is ripe with spectacular scenarios. Human Revolution doesn't suffer from standing in the shadow of Deus Ex like Invisible War did—if anything, the series grows stronger for having it attached.

Now that I'm officially a fan of the franchise, I'm greatly anticipating the release of its sequel this August—here's to hoping it lives up to my high expectations!

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