I played Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut immediately after finishing The Last of Us, and I have to say the comparisons are unkind to the former. Then again, seeing as we voted The Last of Us as the second best game of this generation, anything that I played immediately afterwards was probably going to feel lacking in comparison.
Whereas The Last of Us felt like a glimpse into the future, Deus Ex: Human Revolution in many ways feels like a relic from the past. I haven’t played any of the earlier games in the series, but I know that the first game was pioneering in its use of binary choices, allowing you to pick the path you took through the game and ultimately determine the ending. Since the first Deus Ex was released in 2000, player choice has become a staple of many video games, but in Human Revolution I had the distinct feeling that my choices made absolutely no difference. The main choice is whether you take a stealthy approach or go for all out assault, but either way the result is the same, the only difference being the amount of body bags needed.
Early in the game, however, you really only have one choice: stealth. Any attempt to take on enemy guards with your woefully underpowered character in these early stages will inevitably end in failure, so you have little choice but to creep around in the shadows. This proved incredibly frustrating, and at one point I was ready to give up. The biggest problem is the horrendous loading times – taking a stealthy approach inevitably means restarting from an earlier save point after you’ve been spotted and summarily murdered, and I found myself staring at a loading screen for periods of time that were reminiscent of the bad old days of the PlayStation 1’s dawdling CD drive. Getting through each stage was a dismal exercise in death by a thousand cuts, and I began to realise that perhaps I’m not cut out for stealth games – I never got into Metal Gear Solid for the simple reason that I quickly got bored of hiding in cupboards.
Thankfully, Deus Ex does give you a choice in this regard – if you opt for the more combat-oriented augmentations you can mostly do away with stealth and just launch into each level guns-a-blazing, but it takes a helluva long time to unlock those essential augs. It was only about a third of the way into the game that I actually started having fun, taking out groups of bad guys with my Typhoon ammo system and generally causing havoc. But this fun was a long time coming – whereas The Last of Us promotes stealth but gives you the tools to deal with being spotted by the bad guys, Deus Ex dictates stealth by making it ridiculously easy to die until you’ve played the game long enough to beef up your character. It’s a game that definitely falls into the ‘hardcore gamer’ category.
You could argue that perhaps I lack the patience for stealth games, so in this sense it’s not the game’s fault that I struggled to enjoy it in places, but then that’s not the only thing that I found troublesome about the game. For a start, the conversation cut scenes border on the hilarious. Adam Jensen’s gravelly voice is Christian Bale-ridiculous, and for some reason all of the characters twitch and shake during conversation like they’ve got Parkinson’s disease – I found this very distracting, especially after the silky smooth cut scenes of The Last of Us. Plus the plot, with its gumpf about the Illuminati and shadowy corporations, feels cliched to the point of absurdity – this kind of story was all the rage back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but nowadays it seems very tired. How quickly we move on.
One of the things that the game has been lauded for is its realistic depiction of a near future in which society has been split between the augmented elite and the resentful ‘naturals’, and in this regard there are seemingly thousands of emails and books that provide information on the society at large. The trouble is that there’s too much of this stuff – after I’d hacked my hundredth computer to read emails on cleaning rotas or some other such b****cks I’d completely given up caring about the game world. World-building through in-game texts is a laudable idea, but information should be sparse enough that it makes you want to read it – Dishonored had the level pegged about right, but Deus Ex deluges you with info, much of it meaningless.
I played the Director’s Cut version of the game on the Wii U, which came out in November last year with several improvements over the original, most notably the loving integration of the Wii U gamepad. Indeed, so useful is the gamepad in this game, with its handy map overview and inventory system, that I struggled to imagine how anyone could have played the game without it. Apparently the boss fights have also been improved in this version but, in addition, the Director’s Cut manages to introduce a flaw that is UTTERLY UNFORGIVABLE. The designers have taken the optional DLC level of the original game, The Missing Link, and shoved it into the main game around three-quarters of the way through, which makes some kind of sense in terms of narrative. But because the DLC was meant to be a standalone level, you begin it with all of your weapons and augmentations being taken away from you. And yes, that is as annoying as it sounds.
I’ve played a few games that take away your powers/guns at certain points in the game, and I continually marvel at why game designers think this is a good idea. Let’s just get this straight: IT IS NEVER A GOOD IDEA. Usually though, the game-makers have the good sense to return all your hard-won powers to you shortly afterwards, but in Deus Ex you don’t get them back for OVER THREE HOURS. A handful of guns and augs are returned to you after about 15 minutes, but the rest don’t turn up until the end of the DLC chapter. One of my guns was a heavy rifle that I’d lovingly upgraded over the course of a few hours, but now I found that it had been returned sans ammo. Even worse, because my ‘strength’ aug had been removed, I didn’t have room in my inventory for all of my upgraded weapons, so I was reluctantly forced to dump a few of them. I clung onto my favoured heavy rifle for a few hours, but I eventually realised that the game wasn’t going to give me any ammo for it, so I ended up having to dump that too to make room. Plus because my fancy augs had been taken away, I was suddenly a sitting duck again, forcing me to go back to tedious creeping around like in the first part of the game. “Not this sh*t again,” I thought.
By the time I got everything back I was thoroughly dispirited – imagine spending 15 hours patiently doing side missions to gain experience and upgrades only for all that to be taken away for the sake of shoving in some DLC. I trawled through the remaining levels, but by that point the joy had gone out of it for me. The last level proved to be a crushing disappointment – I’d finally become a fully-tooled-up, death-dealing cyborg again, but for the final part you’re faced with crazed civilians rather than evil corporate mercenaries. After being forced to crawl around for hours avoiding conflict, I’d looked forward to cutting swathes through ranks of bad guys with my futuristic weaponry in a grand finale, but my moral compass refused to allow me to turn the barrel on the innocent. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys gunning down civilians you might have enjoyed it, but if you are that kind of person then please seek help.
All in all then, Human Revolution was very much a mixed bag – enjoyable in places, but utterly frustrating in others. If you’re a huge fan of stealth games then you’ll no doubt get a kick out of it, but everyone else should probably steer clear. Just play The Last of Us instead.
[As penned in frustration by Lucius Merriweather.]