A Final Thought on Deus Ex

So we’ve finished playing through Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  And it’s a great game with a very small but.

It’s a game that feels very polished; it has one of those engaging plots where even when you read every email, listen to all dialogue and explore all the corners you can find, you are still left with the feeling that there is a greater depth to the plots around you.  For example, partway through the game, Adam Jensen escapes the FEMA facility below Detroit, but you never quite get the whole story of what they planned to do with the detention facility and its eventual prisoners.  Much of the game is like that, because it’s a game built around conspiracies of powerful shadow figures calling themselves the Illuminati.  (With plenty of nods toward the first Deus Ex game where one of the members broke away to form the Majestic 12.)  It simply wouldn’t feel like a credible conspiracy game if you had all the answers.

The character design is varied and aside from the unsurprising limitation of unnatural looking arm gestures (which I think will last until someone writes better algorithms for natural looking movement) the characters all feel pretty real.  When you dig into the home or office of a character, it feels like they put real effort into making them seem distinctive with little touches: notes, emails, posters, etc.  Sometimes disturbingly so.  Because I’ll be honest, I don’t want to know what precisely the Dutchman wants to do with the broccoli and lube on his post-it shopping list.  Zucchini I would understand, but – you know, this is getting off topic.

I’m also very impressed with the overall design and gameplay.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it is a game that provides you with different avenues to accomplish the same goals in levels.  Deus Ex also rewards you for being slow and methodical, finding hidden supplies, codes, Praxis software and backdoors.  But that’s only the overall game design, not the three boss fights that were literally handed to another developer to put together.

And those boss fights are fucking terrible.  There is no way to talk your way out of a boss encounter, even if you take speech enhancements early.  And the boss encounters give absolutely no feedback on whether your attempted strategy is doing a goddamned thing.

The first boss is annoying, but there is a way to beat him, even if you’ve built a computer science major version of Adam Jensen.  It turns out the trick is to throw a gas cannister at him to disorient him, then just toss exploding barrels his way until he dies.  Not that the game gives you any fucking clue that this is the way to go.  It just throws you in a room with someone who has more hitpoints than you, who does more damage than you and who you can’t get too close to because he will fucking kill you instantly.

After the first boss, we quipped that it was as if they were designed by a different group of people who didn’t have any connection to the real game development team.  We just didn’t expect to be right about that.  The three mandatory kill-or-be-killed encounters were honestly developed by another company instead of Eidos Montreal.  And it really shows.

As for the second and third bosses, we stopped trying to figure out what the ideal strategy was.  We wanted to know what happened in the rest of the game and enjoy being a sneaky fucking bastard, so here’s how you deal with them: you just fucking cheat your way through.  You give yourself unlimited health and just stand there unloading into the the bosses until they are dead.

There was one instance where one of the objectives from the actual game felt impossible.  And like when you have to struggle to save your brother in the first Deus Ex, it feels like a scripted death unless you have the exact right equipment and very quickly and efficiently do just the right thing.  We did not have that equipment and so the character in question died.  Fast.  Do I wish they gave you a bit more feedback on saving her? Sure.  But as it was optional, it doesn’t have the same base level of frustration involved with the outsourced content.

The nice thing about taking your time does show as you become increasingly badass toward the end of the game: you’re swimming in Praxis points to augment your abilities, you’ve upgraded your go-to weapons to the point of near ridiculousness (seriously, a silenced combat rifle?) and you can bypass all kinds of annoying shit because not only can you hack through everything, you can punch through walls, walk through electrified floors and gas-filled corridors and jump up to hidden paths.  It really is a great game, with one small caveat that the bosses are shit.

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