Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Deus Ex Human Revolution

Around the time this game was released I decided to play, for the first time, the original Deus Ex so that I could eventually play the Human Revolution and look at it from the proper perspective. Playing both of these games for the first time within half a year of each other provided an interesting viewpoint. Games, even really good ones, have come a long way in ten years. Human Revolution is yet another game that does a lot of things right. As did the original at its time no doubt.

1. Stealth action, finally done right

I have never been a big fan of stealth games. In some contexts I'm down with it, but extended periods of avoiding gazes is too often an experiment in frustration. While Deus Ex and also Human Revolution have gained praise for offering the player choices, the emphasis is on stealth action. Human Revolution in particular rewards being undetected with both experience points and game achievements. The firefights can get pretty brutal too.

Gameplay that emphasizes stealth has certain unique challenges related to uncertainty. For instance, it is highly important for the player to be able to see which way enemies are facing. While it might be realistic not to show any aids in this, going entirely without aids is really frustrating. Human Revolution uses a radar which shows all enemies as long triangles, making it trivial to figure out which way they are looking. Augmentations can be bought to let the player see the enemies' cones of vision in the field, which can provide extra help for moving around undetected. However, I felt the radar was sufficient enough. It's worth noting that without it I would have just shot my way though the game. Which is exactly what I did in the original Deus Ex.

Other source of uncertainty, resident in first person games, is the question "is my character hidden?". This is not always clear because the character's dimensions are not visible to the player. Human Revolution provides a graceful solution to the problem: when the character enters cover, the camera backs away and shows a third person view of the situation. Furthermore, the game only allows the player to take cover behind objects that are in fact large enough to hide the protagonist. It even has smooth mechanics for moving from cover to cover in such a way that the main character is guaranteed to stay in cover at all times and move silently. The third person view also allows the player an unrealistic but much needed ability to see what's going on on the other side of the cover.

Much like Assassin's Creed which uses automation to portray the protagonist's superior abilities and allow the player to focus on planning, the availability of information in Human Revolution does the same. They can even get away with this lack of realism. After all, the game is about human augmentation and all abilities are explained through them. Most importantly, sneaking past enemies and taking them down unseen is highly satisfying.

Admittedly Human Revolution might not be the first game to all this right, but it is in my experience. I admit that I haven't played Metal Gear Solid games much because of the abysmal controls and camera view in MGS2.

2. Inventory, ammo and what is this

The core gameplay of Human Revolution is rock solid. That doesn't mean the game would be entirely without flaws. Let's start with the antique inventory. It is true that slot-based inventory has been a staple in games since - I don't know, forever? - but I'm inclined to think that it's not a very modern solution. There has to be a better way than playing tetris with different sized rectangles on a grid. I have never liked playing around with the inventory in games, and often these limitations of carrying capacity feel really artificial. It cannot be a question of realism because these systems never are realistic. Game balance is the more likely reason to limit what the player can have with them. But why the grid? It makes no sense. A list is much nicer. You can still have a limit on how many virtual slots the character can carry, and have a number for each item to tell the player how many slots it takes. If you really want that grid then please at least give me a good automatic sorting system.

The weirdest thing in both Deus Ex and Human Revolution is the clip size of weapons. Clips in this world are ridiculously small. Semiautomatic pistol with 6 bullet clips? Combat rifle that can hold 20 at a time? You got to be kidding me. I don't even find a game balance justification for this one. The game does its best to support multiple playing styles, but constant reloading really limits options in combat. It also just feels wrong. This is supposed to be the future, so how come they cannot build decent weapons? There was also a bit of a power imbalance between lethal and non-lethal weapons. A single hit from any non-lethal weapon is guaranteed to incapacitate the target, but against some enemies a headshot from a sniper rifle is not.


Human Revolution is a really successful game and a clear improvement over its legendary ancestor from a modern player's point of view. The game had a solid pacing with enough dialogue between action scenes. Levels in the game were not too huge and didn't start to drag at any point. The persuasion system was good, even though I didn't mention it in detail. I did find a it a bit disappointing that just like in the original, the player simply decided the game's ending in the final moments.

There was also the issue of boss fights which were not really suitable for the game. They've gotten a lot of fan rage for a reason. Forcing the player to fight rather deadly enemies in a game where it is possible to put everything into stealth abilities is not a good idea. However I actually didn't find these fights very hard. I just applied a lot of explosives to the problem and it went away. Still, the boss fights really don't fit into the game's general feel. The original allowed players to circumvent at least some boss fights (it didn't have many anyway) and that was a much better solution.

But yeah, I liked Human Revolution. Enough to get its pricey DLC Missing Link and I have to say that it was also very enjoyable.

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