Deus Ex: Human Revolution: now you’re gaming with augments

2014-11-17_00001The year is 2027.

The world of biotechnology has reached new heights. Human augmentation in the form of implants is now a common body modification. The world is split. Large corporations are the frontrunners of this movement, sparking many rebel groups to question the boundaries and morals of human augmentation. 

You play Adam Jensen, ex-SWAT team member out for revenge. His voice is so raspy that when he speaks, gravel roads turn into ice-skating rinks. On the surface, he is the stereotypical male video game protagonist, but there is more than meets the eye.

Sure, the sight of a white male protagonist with police experience and a vendetta against those who attacked him may seem as cliched as the introduction to this review, but Deus Ex: HR is not your standard-issue military shooter. However, since this game is somewhat story heavy, be warned: (minor) SPOILERS AHEAD.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third game in the Deus Ex franchise, but is a prequel to the other 2 games; Deus Ex (2000) and Deus Ex: Invisible War (2004). DX:HR thus features the more primitive version of augmentations: actual mechanical attachments and enhancements, whereas the later games were more nanotech. But, unless you’ve played the first 2 games, you can safely treat DX:HR as a game on its own, as it only has small pieces of lore (and something a little bigger) that connect it to the Deus Ex universe.

Gameplay/Story:

After the shady first cutscene, DX:HR kicks off with a prologue. You are introduced to a pre-augmented Adam Jensen, and his ex, Megan Reed, in her office at Sarif Industries. A news broadcast by Eliza Cassan sets the tone of the game, where people are protesting against augmentation in response against a press conference to be held in Washington by the Sarif scientists. Jensen is the head of security at Sarif Industries. You are then called by the boss, David Sarif, to meet him in his office, and you inevitably get a tour of the labs and a preview of the integral human augmentations the game is about along the way. You are also introduced to other characters, like Frank Pritchard, who will help you along the game. When you finally reach Sarif’s office, all hell breaks loose in the labs. A mysterious group of attackers has surfaced, killing anyone in their path, kidnapping the team of scientists heading the press conference. Jensen is mortally wounded, but his life is saved by augmentations. And that’s the starting point of the story. You want to revenge for what they did to you and Megan, it’s that simple (or so it seems)…

DX:HR is a big game with many aspects. Firstly, players can choose to be a silent ghost or go in guns blazing. Every level has many (and I mean MANY) alternate paths and arcs that players can explore.

In the prologue/tutorial, you learn the basics of the game’s combat system and get a little bit of stealth training. Be warned, though, that choosing to kill the assailants in the tutorial denies your ‘No Kills’ achievement when you finish the game. The cover system is intuitive enough for players. Stealth players can easily hop from cover to cover, while aggressive players can use cover to shield themselves from enemy fire and retaliate in turn. Most of the combat system is otherwise pretty standard, you’ve got your sniper rifles, pistols, shotguns, etc., and an array of lethal/non-lethal throwables. It is important to note that ammo can be scarce at times, especially non-lethal ammo, but this usually stops being a problem later in the game. Several augmentations also help in combat and stealth, but we’ll talk about those later.

With the prologue done, you are thrown into the world of Deus Ex. On the first mission, you will be introduced to most of the remaining game mechanics; dialogues, hacking, augmentations. Boasting to be a game about freedom of choice, the main choice players make is to be sneaky sneaky or stabby stabby, which is emphasised by Sarif asking for your choice of weapons. Of course, your choice is not set in stone, you can pick up alternate weapons from enemies or buy them from stores later in the game.

Why can't we just have a conversation like normal people?

Why can’t we just have a conversation like normal people?

The next aspect introduced would be dialogue. Many missions in the game require you to carefully pick the right dialogue arcs to persuade the character to do something. This is made much, much easier if the player decides to invest in the social enhancer augmentation, though it seems that you can only use it on certain people and at certain points in the game. Without the enhancer, players are free to choose between positive or negative outcomes (I’m sure most would choose to succeed), but the choices are not always so clear cut.

Upon entering the facility, you can see the multiple paths and possible ways your mission can go down. From sneaking undetected on the roofs, or quietly back-stabbing the guards, the choice is yours. Be wary, however, that certain choices will affect the environment and characters later in the game.

Through the mission, you will encounter locks that require numeric codes or computers that need passcodes which you can get from pocket secretaries, emails or conversations (or by cheating and checking the Wiki). Pocket secretaries are basically PDAs of the future, and can be found on fallen enemies or lying around the place. Don’t worry about having to write down these passcodes, for the game will display the code when you need them. Contents of pocket secretaries and emails that you read are also immediately stored in beside the mission objectives menu.

Solve the puzzle, open the door.

Solve the puzzle, open the door.

But, things are not always so easy. If you fail to find the right code, you will have to hack your way in via a minigame. Hacking is quite simple for the lower security levels, but it can get quite challenging and tense as the difficulty increases, and you might find yourself having to strategise beforehand. To be able to hack higher level consoles or to improve hacking skills, you must upgrade your hacking augmentations. Nuke Viruses and Stop! Worms are consumables that help make hacking easier can be picked up or bought from stores, or gained as rewards. Also, you can just use an Automatic Unlocking Device to skip hacking, but where’s the fun in that?

Finally, let’s talk about augmentations.

Making the right choices makes one a better person.

Making the right choices makes one a better person.

Augmentations are not only integral to the story, but are a large aspect of gameplay as well. In order to upgrade or purchase new augments, you will need Praxis Kits which can be found hidden in places in the map, received as rewards from side quests or by getting enough XP, or bought from LIMB clinics in hub worlds. The augmentations fall into a few main categories, mainly being general; stealth; combat; hacking; and social enhancer.

The more general augments are health or energy upgrades, while the augments like leg or arm augmentations allow the player to jump higher, lift heavier objects and such. These abilities  open up many more paths for the player in the game. Stealth augments like the cloaking system can help the player move unseen by enemies, while the combat augments, namely the typhoon explosive system, make for more fanciful ways to kill enemies. The hacking augments should be pretty self-explanatory.

All but four augments are passive. These four augments require energy or ammunition. The typhoon augment requires, you guessed it, typhoon ammo and energy. The cloaking, x-ray and silent running augments require energy, which can be replenished by waiting patiently or by downing some consumables. Also, performing take-downs, punching through walls and carrying heavy objects consumes energy.

That's a lot of city to explore.

That’s a lot of city to explore.

Once you’re back from the first mission, you’re free to explore the city of Detroit before continuing with the next mission. Side quests in the hub worlds are a great opportunity to learn more about the world’s lore and little details that further flesh out the main story, while earning valuable rewards. Weapon mods, Praxis Kits (Augmentation Upgrades) and side quests can be found in such hub worlds. There are two hub worlds in the game, Detroit and Hengsha, China. The game was originally set in various locations; USA, Montreal, Canada, Upper and Lower Hengsha in China, Singapore (!) and the middle of the arctic ocean. Sadly, due to some constraints, the game ended up having only two of those hub worlds. Given the length of the game as is, this is still forgivable.

The Director’s Cut has been out for some time, but I played the original version. That means I had to suffer the notoriously horrible boss battles. Sure, each boss battle is unique, and require different tactics, as boss battles should be. But they are not only different from each other, they are also entirely different from the rest of the game. Gone is that much-touted freedom of choice. Instead of being able to sneak or sweet-talk your way out of combat, be prepared to fight a bunch of angry bullet-sponges. As a stealth player, I was totally screwed when I encountered the first boss. All I have are non-lethal weapons, and the game suddenly expects me to take out a machine-gun-augmented boss? I mean, the set-piece provides an abundance of weapons and ammo, but I continually died before I could sort out my inventory and fight him. It took SO.MANY.TRIES. before I could finally defeat the boss. What we can learn from the story of DX:HR’s terrible boss fights is that we should never outsource segments of our game to another developer (that’s right, the boss fights were outsourced).

The Missing Link DLC also provides a little extra content for the fans of the game. The DLC takes a break from the main storyline, and sheds more insight on the truth of the business that the big players are engaging in. What’s interesting about it is that throughout the DLC, Jensen is a prisoner, bereft of all augments and weapons. Essentially, it is quite a separate experience from the main game. (This DLC has since been put in its rightful chronology in the Director’s cut).

Graphics:

All the yellow is explained by that one incandescent bulb lighting the city.

All the yellow is explained by that one incandescent bulb lighting the city.

The graphics in this game are great, which should be something to expect from a AAA title. Apart from some crappy low resolution textures here and there, most of the game is a-okay. The most commendable aspect of design would have to be level design. To be able to give the player so much choice in navigating through the game without compromising its aesthetic or realism is amazing. The air-vents in the game are not just magical teleporters, they take into account actual space and travel distance.

From the screenshots, you can clearly see that DX:HR really likes yellow. Everywhere in the game, that tinge of yellow is virtually omnipresent. This is so due to a filter that is programmed into the game, which is explained by Jensen’s eye augments. If you really have something against yellow, there are various mods available online that can disable this.

Another thing I really enjoyed was the game world itself. The environment really compliments the story well. Lower Hengsha, being the poorer district, is filled with narrow streets lined with small shops and brothels abound. This contrasts the richer and more research-focused Upper Hengsha. Though, it is a pity that the Upper Hengsha and Montreal hub worlds were never fully fleshed out in the game.

Replayability:

DX:HR is a story-driven single player experience, but it does have some replay value, unlike many of its counterparts. Players may choose to explore alternate paths, or try a different approach to the game. The game also has multiple endings for your viewing pleasure (but all you have to do is load the last level). Other reasons to replay the game would be your standard more challenging difficulty level, achievement hunting, or just exploring more of the world of DX:HR. In the Director’s Cut, there is a New Game+ mode and a commentary mode as well.

Overall: 

I give DX:HR 8/10.

Let’s get this clear. I really like this game. From the rich setting, story and characters to the gameplay (for the most part at least), DE:HR was a really enjoyable experience. But the boss fights were truly abysmal and destroyed the experience for stealth or balanced players, but other than that, the rest of the game shines through. Moreover, the boss fights have been better balanced in the Director’s Cut.

Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution + Missing Link DLC

(Director’s Cut is the only version available on the steam store: http://store.steampowered.com/app/238010/)

 Developer: Eidos Montreal

Genre: Sci-fi FPS with some RPG elements

Release Date: August 23, 2011

Price: S$18.99

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