Deus Ex is almost certainly one of my top games of 2011. A game that offers me stealth and non-lethal options already has a leg-up on the competition if it handles them correctly. Deus Ex isn’t perfect though.
When the original Deus Ex title appeared in 2000, there really wasn’t anything quite like it. The clarity of vision of the development team offered an unprecedented amount of choice in the game. Warren Spector’s “Play Style Matters” motto was woven throughout the game.
Human Revolution, on the other hand, feels almost confused by comparison. Achievements and “gamification” seem to conflict the choice the first Deus Ex is so well known for.
The first few hours of DXHR actually fit the vision pretty well. The police station section is especially well-done. As Adam Jensen, you can talk your way in or sneak in. If you talk your way in, you might have to deal with consequences of that later. If you sneak in, you can kill, subdue or avoid contact completely. Even the process of getting in has some options. You can box-jump your way over the electrified water or, if you’re like me, you can drink a bunch of booze and run across it as fast as your little robo-feet can carry you.
After that though, it feels like the focus narrows a bit.
While I don’t let achievements guide how I play a game, I do think they can indicate how the developer expects people to play their game. In the case of DXHR, all of the big-score achievements lean toward stealth and a non-lethal approach to combat. Trying to play a tank also starts to expose weirdness with the AI that isn’t present when the AI doesn’t know you’re there.
More broadly, this is one of the negative aspects of my beloved achievements. Games before had to sort of just do their thing or make their intentions clear. Now, though, games can reward you for playing them the “right” way. That little dopamine trigger that goes off when the award notice pops up gives me the pat-on-the-head approval I so desperately crave.
Even the in-game experience system leans toward non-lethal options. A takedown that leaves the target breathing nets the player far more experience than a skilled headshot alone.
The other very problematic aspect that interferes with the vision of DXHR is the handling of boss battles. As much as the majority of game encourages stealth and non-lethal options (which can take up a huge amount of your inventory and augmentation points), the boss battles bring a more standard FPS mindset into the game. When faced with one of the bosses, the only choice is shoot-to-kill. This would’ve been a great way to infuse some truly interesting choices into the game.Throughout the course of the game, Jensen fights a few augmented mercenary bosses. The first is much stronger than Jensen, while the second has better stealth. The third has Jensen out-teched in a few ways. On that first boss, Jensen should have the option to out-stealth the beefcake monster and deal a one-hit takedown. On the second, Jensen could hack a computer beforehand that would give him an opportunity to mess with the boss’ stealth by activating coolant sprinklers in the room. InFallout: New Vegas, I literally talked the final boss out of combat. I can think of a few places in DXHR that could’ve benefited from such an option.
And in those boss fights, every single one, the takedown you’re encouraged to use throughout the game is useless and just results in you taking more damage. This is a personal pet-peeve of mine, something I became vividly aware of when the first God of War title switched Kratos’ Blades of Chaos with a broadsword for the final battle. It’s something that’s bothered me ever since.
On the upside, DXHR delves more deeply into the philosophical problems inherent to human augmentation, and the philosophy, ideas, and conversations that spring from the debate ensure that the game doesn’t let players out without making their brains churn a bit first.