The humans are revolting   1 comment

But at least they’re not greasels.

On Saturday I played Deus Ex: Human Revolution all day.

The first time I played it, I was a bit confused. The graphics were technically competent and stylish, the voice acting was quite good, the guns work: it wasn’t like Deus Ex at all!

For those of you who are unaware, Deus Ex was a first-person RPG released ten years ago. Its graphics were, let’s be polite, functional. Its voice acting is so gloriously awful that it’s spawned internet memes. The plot is straight from that late-’90s/early 2000s X-Files-style conspiracy zeitgeist (sorry) to the point of being conspiracy theory bingo. You play an augmented super-agent who, at the start of the game, must stand still for ten seconds in order to aim a pistol at a baddie a few steps away. It is rubbish or broken in all these, and plenty of other, ways.

And it’s undoubtedly one of, if not the, best, greatest and most important computer games ever written.

Kieron Gillen’s “Rewind” review from PC Gamer will explain it better than I ever could. And if that’s not convinced you, watch this.

After playing Deus Ex: HR for a while, though, I realised it did understand. It was still dark, you were still wearing sunglasses, there was still a helicopter shuttling you around, the animations are still laughable (either that, or everyone’s ears are augmented to constantly pipe in bangin’ choons, and they just can’t help dancing).

But more importantly, it lets you do things your own way. Maybe not to the ludicrous in-at-the-deep-end extent of the original, which dumped you on Liberty Island without so much as a tutorial, and only “get to the top of the statue” as instructions. But after the tutorial level you’re dropped in a city hub and largely left to figure out what side-missions there are, what mission you want to do, and how you want to go about it. Shooting? Sneaking? Talking? Hacking? Some combination? And then unexpected things happen, and things go wrong, and you have to figure out what to do about it. Eventually you can upgrade your augmentations, so you can do new things, find new possibilities, solve problems in new ways.

This is a proper game, not one of those films that demand you press buttons occasionally. It’s depressing how few games have learned the lessons of the original, but this one was paying attention.

It did take me a bit of time and effort to get into, though. I like being hacky, but the hacking minigame isn’t that hot before you’ve upgraded your 1337 skills. The problem is, it’s random, and you get a limited number of tries before (in many places) Bad Things Happen, like alarms going off. At the start of the game, your chance of failure when hacking any node will be at least 60%, and sometimes 80 or 90%. Failure sets off a timer until you’re booted out and the alarms go off, whilst making hacks on the way take longer, so often all you can do is hit escape before the time’s up, back out, and hope you’re lucky on your next go (it doesn’t help that it’s not well explained; I think you can hack more than one node at once, if you’ve several open connections, but it never tells you this). A frustrating exercise. But after you’ve fully upgraded your hacking and hacking-stealth, the chance of being detected is usually 15%, so you can plan your strategy with some reasonable expectation of it working, and bad luck is so much less likely to scupper you.
It would be better if the minigame were deterministic, though. That way it would be down to your strategy and augmentations, rather than the roll of an imaginary d20. Randomisation can be fine as long as there are enough rolls going on that the probabilities will balance out, and a few unlucky rolls won’t kill you. But if there are few checks each game, and the first one can knacker any chance of success, it just feels unfair.

Worse, it – along with the stealth XP bonuses and your china-doll fragility – teaches you to rely on quicksave-whoring. A shame; like the original, the game’s more interesting when things go wrong.

But once you get into it, it’s brilliant. Ninja-stealth computer-whiz, getting in and out unseen, leaving no email account uncompromised nor safe locked. Only using silent, hand-to-hand takedowns; no enemies killed.

Or occasionally shooting a bunch of gang members in the head because they spot you coming out of the sewers.

And then you reach a boss. I’ve only seen the first one, so far, but it’s rubbish. Boss fights have to be rubbish by international law, but he’s a big, stompy tank-guy who doesn’t even blink when you empty an assault rifle magazine into his face, with a huge machine gun that can rip you apart in seconds. You might be equally big, stompy and shooty. Or you might be a ninja-stealth hacker with no combat upgrades, only carrying killy guns because you hate the idea of wasted inventory space.

Don’t worry, there’s a trick: zap him with the tazer and then throw explosive barrels at his head. Stand back! They hurt.

Nobody can figure out why the developers thought those bosses were a good idea during development. Afterwards, they admitted they weren’t. Hopefully the rest of them have similar weaknesses that the internet can tell me how to exploit.

Yeah, Deus Ex had bosses too. But you could tell them to blow themselves up. Or just glue mines to the walls so they exploded as soon as they walked in the room. They didn’t keep those options, sadly.

But it’s an ace game. If you’ve not played the original, do that: it’ll be in the various digital distribution Chrimbletide sales for less than the price of a loaf of bread (and, coincidentally, it’s so old it’ll play on a toaster). Then play Human Revolution.

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One response to “The humans are revolting

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  1. Pingback: Deus Ex: Human Revolution « Talking to yourself

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