Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011, PC)
By Fabius Mayland / September 18, 2012
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (henceforth simply referred to as Human Revolution) is the sequel to Deus Ex: No Subtitle (henceforth simply referred to as Deus Ex), which was released in 2000. Deus Ex is endlessly replayable. To date, I have finished six or seven playthroughs. I have finished Human Revolution twice, and to be frank, I have never since felt the urge to reinstall it. Human Revolution is a good game. Sadly, for the sequel of the towering achievement called Deus Ex, good is not good enough. Where did it go wrong?
Human Revolution is a façade. Deus Ex embeds freedom and meaningful choice
into a mostly linear game in a singular and unprecedented way, all the while remaining playful and unabashed. The game's freedom never seems
inauthentic. I hereby refer you to Matt
Warner's excellent review of Deus Ex. Go ahead, read it. It is immensely helpful in order to understand what went wrong with Human
Revolution. Human Revolution attempts to repeat all the good things Deus Ex does. But here, they only work on the surface level.
So here is my thesis: The developers of Human Revolution were too self-conscious.
They were incredibly afraid to disappoint, frantically jotting down a list of things they needed to include in order to make Human
Revolution a true Deus Ex game. In the process, Human Revolution has been robbed of the original's sincerity and playfulness. Deus Ex has
tons of quests, paths, and characters which I did not know about in my first or even second playthrough. The developers of Human
Revolution, by contrast, feel the need to show you everything as soon as possible. You can feel their anxiousness to deliver. This claim
may sound somewhat esoteric, but in the next few pages I shall endeavor to substantiate it.
Now first off, Human Revolution is not a particularly hard game to beat. If
the artificial intelligence wasn't as simple-minded, then maybe gunfights would be more challenging. Sadly, simple-minded describes
the artificial intelligence all too well; nearly every fight plays out in more or less the same fashion. I shoot one or two of the
adversaries in the head before I am spotted, then hide behind cover and get rid of everyone else during the moments they are busy
reloading. Few enemies ever attempt to storm my cover. Instead, they simply opt to wait for obscene amounts of time, maybe in the hope
that I will die of starvation. (They do shout mean things at me from time to time, though.) This wouldn't be a problem if the game didn't
feature regenerating health, but, well, it does. Only seldomly do enemies try to force me into the open with grenades. And by "into
the open" I really just mean "behind the next piece of cover", because the game is littered with it.
The result of the opponents' passivity combined with regenerating health: Many firefights can simply be won by wearing the enemy down. An upgrade for the assault rifle only aggravates this problem by enabling a guiding system for bullets, in consequence allowing the player to abuse the blind-fire mechanic whenever he feels like not putting effort into a combat situation. (The blind-fire mechanic allows firing directly from cover at the expense of accuracy.) Of course I
can't do this all the time, since the method wastes quite some ammunition, but the option shouldn't exist in the first place.
The laser rifle is another weapon which completely fucks with the
blind-fire mechanic, as it still sports perfect accuracy when using it; i.e., there is no downside to blind-firing the laser rifle. It does
take up a lot of inventory space, one might argue, but that's precisely the problem. Managing which weapons I want in my inventory
is not a very interesting decision. The tactical decisions should come within the fight, not at the weapons merchant. If all the
weapons had more clearly cut-out downsides and advantages, then I could carry all (or at least more) weapons without becoming overpowered. Instead, there are weapons which are very clearly useful, and then there are weapons which are very clearly useless.
The rocket launcher, for example, is not nearly useful enough in any situation to warrant the inventory space it takes up. The rocket
launcher NEVER merits being picked up. This is what scientists often refer to as "stupid".
|Punching people in the face in the most immersion-breaking way|
The shooting mechanics are very obviously designed with the cover system
in mind. I've completed certain portions of the game without using it (the Derelict gang district in Detroit, multiple
fights against Belltower soldiers in Hengsha) just to see if it's
doable, and it definitely is. It's not even particularly hard, but
it's not nearly as satisfying. Aiming down the sights feels a bit dodgy.
Enemies can sometimes hit my head when I'm sitting behind
cover without using the cover mechanic — despite the fact that I
can't peak above the cover by a large margin.
Stealth, too, is
largely implemented via the cover mechanic. Sadly, this makes
stealthy playthroughs pretty damn easy. Since the game switches into
third person while using the cover mechanic, it's not difficult to
time your movement. Couple that with a powerful radar and you don't
even need the numerous stealth augmentations to make a quiet
playthrough relatively unchallenging, except for a few rooms. Those
few rooms (a handful in the Picus Studios are the ones I remember
most vividly) are very fun and very rewarding to stealth through.
Hacking is no more difficult. But even if you somehow (perhaps due to a
lack of two functioning hands) feel like it isn't, no worries. There
is enough randomness involved in hacking to make it a matter of
quicksaving/quickloading if you feel like it. And since hacking is a major
source of experience points, you better damn well feel exactly like that. This also ruins any kind of incentive for finding passwords or
keycodes, because entering either of those doesn't give you bonus
experience, whilst hacking does. The sad thing is that this is probably only
the second most retarded design decision in Human Revolution.
hacking in Human Revolution has replaced hacking, keypads and locks
from the original game, and then some. So yeah, hacking is really
fricking important, which makes its lack of challenge even more
painful. Listen, I know that hacking was even worse in Deus Ex. But
consider this: At least multitools and lockpicks were a limited
resource which you had to SPEND. That's an incentive to find keys and
codes. In Human Revolution, you can pick up certain bonuses within
the hacking minigame, such as experience points or credits. Oh, and
worms. That is, tools to help you hack. That's right, having the
neccessary motor skills to win the hacking minigame gives you
additional tools to make the next hack even simpler. Ingenious!
|What you will be staring at for roughly one-fifth of the entire game|
And then there are the persuasion checks, which require no effort at all.
With a grand total of nine different speech paths and immediate
feedback about whether you failed or not (you either get the bonus
experience points or you don't), Saint Quicksavius makes these
utterly pointless. This is not challenging. You are wasting my time!
So let's recap, shall we? The game fails to be challenging, with the sole
exception of attempting so save Malik by non-lethal means. Whether
you solve problems guns-ablazing or stealthily, by hacking or by
dialogueing, the game is very rarely difficult. Now this doesn't
automatically make Human Revolution a bad game; the original Deus Ex
wasn't particularly challenging either. But then the original usually had more interesting routes to go about your goals. In Human
Revolution, going for stealth will always mean the same two things:
Hide behind cover, and enter every single ventilation shaft you can
find. It is never interesting! Deus Ex features intricate, and most
of all, elegant map design. Evading enemies always is a nice feeling.
In Human Revolution, by contrast, the game just sticks a ventilation
shaft your way and considers its job done. (Yeah, Deus Ex has those
too. No, they don't look all so completely alike in that game.)
Nothing in Human Revolution feels rewarding to me.
|My sentiment exactly|
Lastly, the augmentation system. Sigh. Remember when I talked about something
else only being the second-most retarded design decision?
Deus Ex separates skills into learnable skills and augmentations.
Learnable skills: aiming your shootah, exploding your grenades,
lockpicking locks, multitooling codepads, hacking hackables, and
other silly verbs followed by equally silly nouns. You know, the
human stuff. Augmentations: jumping real high, walking real fast,
carrying real hard, turning invisble, looking through walls.
SUPERhuman stuff. This does not only make sense from a story point of
view, it is also good game design. It allows for numerous interesting
combinations, all of which are equally overpowered.
There are so many
different ways of playing Deus Ex, all valid, all fascinating. The
developers didn't think of half of them, they just designed
interesting augmentations and let the player have a field day with
them. There are only few boundaries so to speak. In Human Revolution,
everything is so very clearly labelled. The augmentation PUNCH
THROUGH WALLS serves exactly one function, it lets you PUNCH THROUGH
WALLS. That's it.
Oh, and it also makes no goddamn sense lore-wise. If Deus Ex is a sequel to Human Revolution, then why is Adam
Jensen so much more advanced? This is patently STUPID. My sanity
would not be half as much shaken if this game did not carry the
title Deus Ex: Human Revolution. If it was just called Human
Revolution, then I wouldn't have to put up with all these stupid
|Contractual Deus Ex obligation number 45: The game needs an AI that becomes
self-aware. Nevermind that it is way more advanced than Morpheus in
Deus Ex, of which Eliza would be the precursor. (A post-credits scene
explains this, but it still doesn't make an awful lot of sense.)|
Large, flashy neon-signs are above every alley and side-path.
Accepting their cordial invites is assured to release dopamins, since
every side-path triggers experience rewards. If it doesn't, chances
are it's a dead-end. This is bad. It's a cheap trick. The whole game
is cluttered with secret things that are not really secret. In Deus
Ex, there is an augmentation canister hidden behind a crypt plaque. I
didn't find it in my first three playthroughs. Embarking on my fourth
one, confident that there were still things in the game I did not
know about, I found it. Lo and behold, my joy was great!
because Deus Ex
didn't have the flashy neon-signs. There's tons of
content you very well might miss out on the first time through. And that is precisely a good thing. Human Revolution
contrast, is less confident than a fifteen-year-old boy asking out
his crush. Human Revolution
is so pent up about not living up to the
original's standards that it can't wait to show you all it has in
Take a look at these four screens: (1
Hengsha, where you spend a few hours of the game,
features numerous small stores with these doors. Inside every single
of these doors is a small room. Inside every single room is either
nothing, or ammunition, or credits. And every single room gives you
100 experience points for "discovering" them. Those four
pictures I took? They were produced within 15 cubic metres of each
other. I'm not kidding. Hengsha is cramped with these "secret"
areas which are not secret. The entire game is filled with shit like
that. In Human Revolution
, exploring means looking at the secret
totally-not-secret areas and collecting experience points for them.
Exploring, in other words, is oftentimes nothing if not tedious, a
part of the game I only feel obligated to go through with because of
the reward. Experience points should be the means to initially
goad the player into exploring the surroundings until he learns to
appreciate this without the need of them. In Human Revolution
, the exact
opposite happens. The only reason to explore IS the experience points,
because you can't possibly be interested in 16 identical rooms behind 16
identical doors; the means and the ends are flipped.
I've spent the last 2000 words belittling Human Revolution
, so let me
laud a few things here as well. One, I really like the visuals of
this game. It features just the right amount of color (especially
gold) sprinkled into a large chunk of GREYDARK. It's appropriate for
the setting. Not dystopian, but a hell of a lot closer to it than to
a utopia. Game is really good looking. Two, the soundtrack is very
well produced. However, it doesn't always fit perfectly. The Deus Ex
soundtrack by contrast is not as much of a musical achievement, but
it fits its game better. The Human Revolution
soundtrack usually sets
the right mood, but not as consistently. Still: visuals and
soundtrack are muy bien and worthy of praise.
end of public service announcement.
Oh yeah, wanna know something about the final level, the Panchaea? It's
filled to the brim with zombies? Why? Because fuck you, that's why.
I can't even fathom this one. Again, Deus Ex
time: Area 51 is a
great level. By that point in the game, you are already a
nearly invincible killing machine, and the level is designed
accordingly: Above the surface, it is populated with commandos, men
in black and robots. As you descend into the depths, human enemies gradually diminish while mutated horrors begin to
appear, usually attempting to bite off your leg. Aforementioned
mutated horrors will perpetually respawn at certain sections of the
level unless you lock up their spawn points. Rooms are intensely
radiated. Two turrets protecting Bob Page are indestructible. Your
sole potential help are a few small robots (watching those fight
against endlessly respawning Karkians is quite amusing, by the way). In other words, Area 51 is, from top to bottom, a hostile
environment. Every fibre of it wants to fucking murder you, or poison
you, or drown you. It feels appropriate.
Meanwhile, in Human
: Zombies. And then: Zombies, zombies, zombies. One of the
few levels whose design reminds me at least somewhat of the
freewheeling nature of the great locations of Deus Ex
Vandenberg) is completely ruined because it is FILLED WITH ZOMBIES.
Yes, I am aware of how many times I used the word zombie in this
paragraph. The sheer lunacy of filling an entire level with hordes
and hordes of insane melee combatants without any variation
whatsoever just baffles me. The Panchaea doesn't feel menacing, it
just feels... stupid.
Moving on, watch this short clip for a sec: [ >
let me tell you why it could be twice as good. The energy system is
another one of these "one step forward, two steps
backward" things. Yeah, there were too many bioenergy cells
available in Deus Ex
. Human Revolution
reacts to this by limiting you
to two (upgradable to four) energy units, only the first one of which
will regenerate. In theory, this should force you to conserve
your resources. In practice, it makes cool combinations completely
impractical. Since the takedown system requires a full energy unit —
and is your only option of melee combat —, combining it with anything
requires the usage of a Mars Corporation™ Energybar. What I really
wanted to do in that video was immediately take the two enemies down.
Instead, I had to linger for a few seconds, waiting for the energy that silent landing used up to recharge. This creates a disconnect. It
breaks the flow of my movement.
There are actually five more enemies adjacent
to the two in the video. That could have made for one awesome
firefight, initiated by me punching down the first two, then jumping
behind cover and using grenades and a rifle to dispose of the rest.
But due to the stupid energy allocation system, I feel strongly
disincentivized to do this. Even worse: Remember that takedowns give
50 experience points, shooting enemies in the head only 20. The game,
in other words, wants me to use the takedown system on as many
opponents as possible. But there are a lot more enemies than there
are Mars Corporation™ Energybars. Which means that the game
features a whole lot of waiting for your energy to regenerate in
order to maximize experience gain. And every time I wait for that, I
feel like eating a pudding in real life, because the game is punching the flow of my movement in the face so hard.
Really, the experience allocation is
probably the single worst thing about the game — I referenced it in
regards to hacking and stealth already. Now there is nothing wrong
with giving the player different amounts of rewards for different
actions. Freedom of choice doesn't mean every choice is equally good
(compare perspectivism vs. relativism, if you will). But Human
does this to an unhealthily large extent. The entire game
is based around choosing your own path, except there is always a very
certain path which the game really
wants you to choose. Go
through every ventilation shaft, use takedowns as often as possible,
hack as much as you can.
pains me to give Human Revolution
a three-star rating. The maddening part is
not that it's not a great game. No, what infuriates me is that the game casts a shadow
greater than itself. The truly sad thing is how close Human
is to greatness. It could have been so much better
with some adjustments. Instead, it is a heap of wasted potential.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
is caught between the two worlds of Deus Ex
and modern dumbed-down shooters. The dumbed-down mechanics, the
obvious side-paths... The developers of Human Revolution
design this game with intelligent players in mind, they wanted it to
appeal to everyone to at least some extent. As a result, it also
fails everyone to at least some extent.
I didn't even mention the stupid bossfights. Sigh.