I spent two weeks of my youth relentlessly playing the original Deus Ex.
Every night, for those two weeks, I travel halfway across the country from my army post, to spend 3 hours of the only time I had in actual civilization in the midst of computerized conspiracy. On weekends, I barely bothered with a social life that was the only thing keeping me sane amidst the military madness of my national service. It was Deus Ex, and nothing else. It’s an indelible part of my gaming history, and it seemed I was not alone. It’s depth of gameplay, sense of aesthetic, and myriad of gaming concepts touched a whole slew of then hardcore gamers, clamoring for more. 10 years later, we get Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
It isn’t perfect, but it’s close.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution does manage to tug the nostalgic strings of those two weeks of gaming nirvana. With all its concessions to modern gaming, it keeps many of the original’s gaming concepts that I love intact, albeit with some tweaks and iterations, and introduces a few new ones that are interesting in the context of the game. Perhaps it can’t beat how the original influenced my concept of what games can be, but it does a pretty damned good job is reminding me that this sort of game play hasn’t died and perhaps there’s hope amidst whatever new trend will emerge in the AAA space that isn’t military shooter #314, F2P madness or button press to win content tour.
I’m glad that the small open world game play is still viable. That Deus Ex hews closely to a hub city structure, where I get to criss cross on various storied side quests, unfolding the world of transhumanist sci-fi one hack at a time. I like the freedom the game gives me to explore all my options, rarely rushing me through the levels in some vain attempt to put tension on my actions. I love the attention to detail in the level design, building a place that is at once game-ified, but plausible in vision. I love that the story in Deus Ex isn’t just in the cutscenes, but in how I move through the world, uncovering bits of conspiracy, debating philosophies with terrorists and humanitarians and in all the incidental detail borne from the back story that only a geek like me might recognize.
It still falls short in several areas though. For one, it’s a lot more deterministic that the original’s simulationist approach to goals and levels. There are one too many consequences in this game based on decisions that seemed escapable but weren’t, and many of these consequence end up being a footnote and a reward right after. The original had consequence far down the line in the game, a convention on the Witcher was able to successfully incorporate.
Then there were the boss fights, perhaps a note passed from Squeenix, or a rogue idea that came from Metal Gear rather than the original’s approach in designing climatic encounters. Either way, they were tedious affairs that put the player in a situation from which there was little preparation. How I would love to find a kill-switch.
And the ending, oh the disappointing ending. 30 hours of stealth story gameplay, 30 hours to uncovering truths and debating nuances, 30 hours of character motivation only to be dumped in puerile philosophy lessons. There was no emotional cartharsis, no resolution to characters and their stories. No consequences from the final decision, no emotional impact. Just a series of slideshows.
It’s a shame, because up to that point, Deus Ex does a stellar job in actualizing its science fiction setting. It’s definitely got a firmer grip on its science than the original and it wisely chose to focus more on characters in the majority of the games. Major and minor characters alike felt well-realized for the setting, and nothing highlighted that more than the conversation battles, a truly innovative use of dialog trees and dialetics. Conversation as a boss fight, ducking, weaving, coaxing, crushing, empathizing to get what you want. It was a joy to play. Sure I may be debating computerized characters and pre-written dialog, but it’s a pleasure that such empathetic nuance is brought in as part of the game-play, instead of relegating it to dialog no one reads, or backstory few else cares about.
I’m not sure DXHR will engender as many playthrough as I did the original. Beyond that initial two weeks, I must have played the original at least 3 or 4 times, discovering new things each time. I still have yet to try out The Nameless Mod, a massive total conversion of the original, but I’m not my eyes can stand the dated graphics, with or without augs. I’m glad that I manage to experience the game once over, and perhaps another time later if the DLCs prove worthwhile. The game play is solid, and still touches the pleasure centers of my gaming brain. There are probably certain parts of the game I’ve yet to uncover, though I suspect its modernization allows for less hidden and emergent content that the original did. Yet for a story that managed to get it hooks in me at the start, it’s disappointing ending is unlikely to be upgraded away. What a shame.
– SINGAPORE REPRESENT! Also, the second best level by far in terms of sneaky sneaky gameplay. Only the Hengsha Docks comes close in layout, challenge and interest. Too bad it’s Singapore in name only. Now if only the guards spoke Singlish, I would have spared some of them. As it is, bunch of foreign workers here to steal our jobs and our scientists. Yeah, that’s a headshot.
– I really do like some of the characters introduced and cannot state just how disappointed I am in not being able to have a final discussion with Francis Pritchard, or to settle issues with Megan Reed, or see my Boss deal with the fallout of the events. The best moment I had was in rescuing Malik, but even then, I felt a little short-changed in how it was setup. Malik could have at least done more before and after.
– DXHR is better than Mass Effect 2, in almost all areas of RPGing, shooting and science fictioning.
– Playing DXHR makes me wanna watch Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex.
– That hacking mini-game is pretty neat. Best mini-game in an RPG so far.