Friday, 2 March 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution [PS3]

Doesn't let the family name down - 
this is a pretty darn good game.

Slight balance and difficulty issues aside, 
this is the best you're gonna get for
 a high-definition Deus Ex experience.

Welcome To The Future, Mr. Jensen
This week's big review is of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a futuristic RPG/stealth/shooter that claims to offer a fully-realised world full of dodgy characters, shadowy organisations and morally-ambiguous tasks to complete.

Human Revolution is the spiritual successor and chronological predecessor to 2000's Deus Ex, a game that has been recognised as one of the best games ever made. The original Deus Ex gained widespread praise, not for fancy graphics or technological advances, but instead for its intricate conspiracy thriller storyline that panned out through the course of the game, and the massive variety of ways in which you could achieve your goals.

The story in Human Revolution is that in the near-future the technology to "augment" human beings is becoming widespread, meaning that people can upgrade themselves with implants that allow them to jump higher, run faster, manipulate people with speech, see through walls and so on.

The corporations offering these augmentations are in a fierce competitive battle, hoping to take control of a growing and lucrative market. The governments of the world are struggling to keep up with the change, and legislation moderating the actions of these mega-companies is slow to be enacted.

You play the role of Adam Jensen, head of security at Sarif Industries, Sarif being one of the market leaders in this type of technology. At the beginning of the game, the scene is introduced when Sarif Industries comes under assault from an unknown enemy. During the carefully co-ordinated attack, several of Sarif's leading scientists appear to have been killed and Adam himself is injured beyond healing by standard medical treatments. While he is still unconscious, so against his will, he is brought back from death through the use of some pretty major augmentations.

Now this is an alright start to a game to get you in the mood - it's been done a million times before but we'll overlook that - and it serves to bring the player up to speed while introducing the key themes running throughout Human Revolution.

The only slight issue that I found was that I obviously wasn't paying enough attention during the intro video because from this point on they refer to "Dr. Megan Reed" and other characters as if you're meant to know who they are. As it turns out, Dr. Reed is an old friend of Adam's who is caught up in the assault on Sarif - but I only pieced that information together retrospectively. Maybe I should have been taking notes during the title sequence.

The guy on the right is our cyber hunk hero Neo... er... I mean Adam Jensen.

It's Good Old Reliable Dingy - Damp and Dirty Dingy Detroit!
The first major section of the game is set in Detroit - full of skyscrapers, back alleys and sewer systems to explore. O.K. that doesn't sound too appealing and in many ways it really isn't. If you want to get people engaged in your game then I wouldn't recommend making them try to figure out how the bloody hell you get around the city by wading through sewage!

Detroit is awkward to navigate - until you have earned the upgrades which make getting around easier then there's a lot of running down alleys only to find a dead end, then running through a sewer.... only to find a dead end. Once you gain the ability to lift large objects out of your way or the ability to jump super high then this gets slightly easier, however you're still running backwards and forth around a very bleak and dark city in search of your objectives.

So what is it you're actually up to here? Well for the Detroit section, you're learning the ropes of getting around and the main entities are work in this world - the police, the augmentation clinics, the gangs, the private detectives etc.

You meet up with your boss, David Sarif, who sets you a few basic tasks to complete - obviously you need to start slow after being revived from the dead - so he tells you to break into the city police station morgue. Starting slow, eh David? What in God's name was I up to before you turned me into Robocop?

The dark and dingy streets of Detroit, where you will be spending around a third of your game time in Human Revolution.

You Can Go Your Own Way
With this being a Deus Ex title, the emphasis is on finding your own way of solving objectives and there are quite a few on offer. For example, for the morgue job you can:
  • Go in all gun's blazing and kill hundreds of innocent cops to get down to the morgue
  • Sneak into the building and then kill a few key targets in order to gain access
  • Use stealthy skills like cloaking (temporary invisibility) to simply walk into the morgue unnoticed
  • Talk to a police officer who, with the right persuasion, sneakily let you down there
I'm sure there are a few other ways of completing this task - these were just the main ones that I tried during my playthrough. All of the different options are there and waiting to be found, it just takes moving the right vending machine to find a secret ventilation shaft which takes you further into the building. 

The major play styles can be summarised as follows:
  1. Talker/Hacker - these are pretty much the same idea - finding the right person or computer terminal to manipulate in order to gain a shortcut through environments.
  2. Stealth/Pacifist - slowly and silently moving through levels, making use of augmentations such as cloaking and X-ray vision in order to avoid killing bystanders.
  3. Soldier/Fighter - which pretty much involves shooting shit and using your kill-o-death augmentations such as blades coming out of your elbows!
I know that really you could break these down in further and combine different elements to achieve your goal but these are the main gameplay routes you can take. 

Now am I alone in seeing one of these option which stands out as preferable? 

One option which just sounds frikkin awesome

Well I thought that the elbow blade kill-o-death option sounded like it would a laugh and so started out my first playthrough aiming down that path - to use guns and other such weaponry to blast my way through the game. 

The error I may have made was to choose the Normal difficulty setting. 

While playing the game through as a pure shooter is technically possible, it's not advisable.

Hollywood Blockbuster Shot Down
In the very first level - the morgue break-in - I tried by bloody hardest to shoot my way in. I used cover every step of the way, mixed it up with my low-level augs, varied weapons to suit enemy type - and still I was shot to bloody death within seconds each and every time. I needed to rethink my strategy.

I didn't really want to play through on Easy because I intended to play through a second time a different way on the harder difficulty setting - Deus Ex Mode - in order to earn all the trophies (achievements to you non-Sony players).

I therefore went back out into Detroit for a bit of a wander around. I found that there is actually a lot of places you can get to around the city, and when the right augments are used you can get even further.

It became clear that a lot of the best equipment and cash drops were hidden down ventilations shafts, the entrance to which was generally blocked by a vending machine, or otherwise an electronic terminal. So I bought the weight lifting perk and upgraded my hacking skill. This playthrough isn't going how I planned.

Although this looks cool now, in about 2 seconds he'll be a bloody lump on the floor.

Attention To Detail
When I started to take this approach, as an unexpected consequence I found that I really liked the little details present throughout the game. Looking at emails, finding secretly written notes, talking to the right people and trying to "play it human" to get them to talk back - there's recurring sub-plots and plenty of back story to be found here.

One fine example is when you look around Adam's apartment building. In Adam's bathroom, there is a broken mirror on the wall - clearly smashed in the centre. Then if you look on your personal computer, there is an email to the building manager, asking yet again in very hostile tones for a replacement mirror which has never arrived. In this email, the manager responds to say that "the matter is out of their hands, the mirror is simply out of stock and as soon as they have one in the warehouse, they will send it to us - please don't take that tone with me". If you then go downstairs and hack the manager's personal computer, I was greatly amused to find an email from the mirror suppliers stating "the mirror has been at our warehouse for over four weeks - if you don't collect it or arrange for it to be sent soon then we will cancel the order". Landlord 1 - Adam Jensen 0. 

Tee hee hee. 
See - it's the little details.

The "Tough" Parts Of The Game
The later security systems that you have to get past are complex and technical - until you find the ventilation shaft that allows you to avoid them completely.

I was then surprised to find that in spite of having to rapidly shift to a more stealthy and non-violent playing style, there were several sections which should have been tough and complex affairs - full of lasers, robots and turrets - that were an absolute piece of piss because they could be navigated with ease through stealth augments and a strange frequency of terrible architects:

I know, I'll have a top-secret secured room that has a ventilation shaft leading right into the guard room. Then to make sure no-one gets through this, I'll station two guards who always keep their back to this shaft entrance. Pefect! Genius!

The upshot is that these sections were clearly well designed to suit multiple approaches, and once you know how to find the sneaky paths through, you are virtually untraceable.

Guards often don't help this - when spotted you can sometimes get away by going into the nearest room and shutting the door:

Hmmm... Shall I  search in this room right here? Nah, that elite assassin couldn't have opened that door... I'd better turn and look in the opposite direction for a half a minute.... Crunch.

Then on the level shown below, where two giant rocket robot machines stalk the hanger bay, I simply sneaked around the level looking at what was available - and found a rocket launcher, several rockets and some fragmentation mines. 

HAH! SOD STEALTH! Time to go boom robot baddies!

And what happened? I blew them to pieces and the human guards in the area lost interest virtually instantly. What? After handing my arse back to me in the police station level, I finally give in and go kill crazy and it's suddenly really easy? Oh bum.

The giant creepy robot crab things crop up from time to time - but always near a rocket launcher.... hmmmm.....

Bossing You Around
Then there's the "boss" levels, and by that I mean the key story characters whose missions you cannot get out of playing through. In the boss fight below, there is no way of stealthing as the fighting arena is so confined that you are likely to be caught out pretty quickly (in spite of the big guy's painfully slow movement). You have no choice but to blast him to get rid of him.

In another boss fight, you have to be immune to a certain type of damage, and the game actually gives you a free aug upgrade if you haven't bought the right one yet. 

In a later boss "fight", you are forced to talk a guy down in front of a crowd in order to get him to reveal important information. This is greatly eased by the use of speech augs, but I understand that without them this could have been very difficult.

Even the final boss requires you to have at least some serious firepower to defend yourself with. Maybe you can sneak your way around and somehow do it another way - I found that the amount of turrets and robot guards meant that it was difficult to get past without reducing their numbers somewhat.

My problem is that for a game that that offers a great deal of choice, it is hard not to be annoyed that there is one particular way that works for each of the boss fights, and even though your choices and augmentation upgrades can help with certain scenarios, basically you need at least some skill in each of the three main disciplines - speech, stealth and soldier - in order to keep the difficulty level balanced throughout the game.

The bloke who looks about ready to pelvic thrust is one of the game's bosses.

Moral Compass
And finally the "moral" side of the game - this was pretty well worked in actually. Although the moral choice system is still present, and it is clear that your choices are leading to a conclusion based on the moral leaning of these decisions, you aren't ever punished for whatever you decide. There is no "right" or "wrong" way to play through, and there are no notable bonuses for either, except that your trophies/achievements will be better if you focus yourself (e.g. by knocking out 100 guards in a single playthrough).

The ending is also suitably open - when you get to the final level there are several key characters who you find are present within the complex. You can therefore go and speak to each of them for one last time (although I didn't quite realise it was the last time so never got to say goodbye to my boss, David... oh how sad). In speaking to them, they offer you a way to conclude the story - be it to contain the goings on throughout Human Revolution, to release the whole story to the media, or to release a modified version of the story... or one other option.

And there isn't any punishment for your choices up to that point, or after you decide which course of action to take, it just determines which ending video you see which ties all of your decisions together. The only problem comes when you forget to talk to one of them right at the end - so make sure you do! I'll have to see if I kept an older save file and go back and chat with old Davey. Then watch his video and then bang - trophy for seeing the 4 endings.

All in all I thought it was well done - and I think it was this crucial point which turned Human Revolution back into my favour. Yeah.... it was pretty good actually. Go give it a try and see what you think.

I didn't really like the way that I was channelled into being sneaky/stealthy rather than going all-out action techno killer. In the end though, it made me appreciate the actual variety on offer - levels are full of nooks and crannies that hold secret items and routes that are  just waiting to be found.

Although the "moral compass" system is present in plenty of games nowadays, I did appreciate not being obviously told which options count as "good", "bad" or "neutral" so you are left to find out for yourself.

When you get to the end and look back on what you have done throughout the game, you can see the success of Human Revolution - the world is there for you to experiment with, but how exactly you choose to engage will change the world that is left behind at the end.

Images in this review are copyright of Square Enix and can be found at:
^^^Does that web address not make you think of a website for people expecting to receive a shag?

The video in this review is from Youtube and is kindly provided by:

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