Deus Ex: Human Revolution is out in the UK today! Jim, Kieron, Alec, and John have assembled to pass judgement on it. They like it. They like it a lot. But not without reservation. Read on to hear about why a wall is a man's best augment, and why Kieron is feeling all dirty after kissing Geralt.
SPOILER WARNING: There are minor plot spoilers within. Endings and plot twists are not discussed, but there are a number of narrative elements mentioned as well as a few mechanical spoilers. Just beware. You know. As usual.
Jim: DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION Gentlemen, we should discuss this game, which I am going to argue is the third game in the Deus Ex series. I mean, it's interesting to me that Deus Ex is a series at all.
Kieron: I always made the "It should be like Final Fantasy and reboot the world each time" argument. It's a game about secrets and conspiracies, after all. What's true and what isn't should be up in the air when... oh, let's get verdicting.
Jim: John, are you pleased that Deus Ex is back for a third game?
John: Am I ever! There should always be a Deus Ex game to look forward to.
Jim: I think there might be, now.
Kieron: Yeah. They've done the oddly miraculous thing in making this feel robustly commercial while remaining Deus-Exy. I really didn't think they'd pull it off.
Alec: Well, we'll find out next week if it sells or not. I can't work out how much of the buzz is solely within games journalists circles.
John: I was interested to note that some yoof 17 year old son of some friends of mine had never heard of it.
Jim: It's been on telly and stuff. The marketing push seems big.
John: He was instead mistakenly looking forward to BF3 and MW3.
Alec: That's the thing though - basically it's a new IP but RPS types get the added buzz of it being the best thing ever miraculously reborn.
Jim: This is a game that the Mass Effect crowd should be buying. Because it's better than Mass Effect in eleven ways.
Kieron: I imagine it'll get good-ish shelving - which presumably is the reason it's only coming out on Friday in the UK, etc. As Alec says, I think Bioshock, except with the name remaining the constant and the thing that gets games journos yabbering rather than the developer.
John: Gosh, I liked it much more than BioShock.
Kieron: I liked it more than Bioshock too. At least so far - I'm about 20 hours in. And... oh god. We're going to turn into one of those horrible "what box-office does it do?" film sites.
Jim: So anyway, we usually begin our Verdicts with a bit a downer. But I don't think that's going to be the case here. Are we united in being pleased with the game?
Alec: I believe we are united.
John: I, John Walker, am officially mostly pleased with the game. It was good.
Alec: But just to return to the bioshock thing - the difference there is that this is *so much* like the source game in a ton of ways. While BS wasn't so much like Sysshock... did people generally get that sense too?
Kieron: ...I'll give a tentative yes.
Jim: Yes, I couldn't quite believe how much like DXHR is like DX. I mean it's not exactly like it, but sort of uncannily like it. I mean much of what it does, mechanically, is very different. But it felt similar. It had a similar delivery.
John: In quite a lot of ways, although some missing.
Alec: There are some massive differences. In a way it feels like I remember DX being, rather than like it actually was.
Kieron: Except without being wonky.
Alec: Because obviously it's lost a lot of the crudity and, in some senses, the complexity.
Jim: But that's the point about its updatedness. Production values: HIGH.
John: Here's what I think. I think it was the best stealth action game I've played. I say "action" so I don't include Thief.
Jim: I concur. It's radically more entertaining than, say, a Splinter Cell game. Although not actually quite as fun to play as Blood Money in terms of being an infiltrate and non-gun-death sort of game.
Kieron: It's just a different sort of thing. I'm not really comfortable comparing it to a Stealth game, even with stealth. I mean... Arkham Asylum. That's almost where I file the stealth, and a lot about the game generally. It's much more robust than I'd expect. Hell - in the words of the dear departed Quinns, it's tight.
Jim: It is tight. But I think it is a stealth game, even when you consider how shooty and violent it can be, your main power is to hide.
Kieron: A man's best augment is a wall to hide behind.
Alec: Metal Gear Solid is a comparison I've heard a couple of times. Not sure I agree, purely because I didn't want to kick anyone involved in the making of DXHR in the teeth after playing it. But the stealth yes/no thing is interesting, in that while I approached it that way I wasn't satisfied by trying to be Garrett. I wanted to do the cool silent takedowns and carefully timed tranquiliser snipes. I felt unsettled if anyone was left standing.
Jim: Ok, so something I wanted to talk about. Is whether it was surprising. John and I were saying how there were a couple of moments where we had to stack up boxes or something to bodge round a problem, but the game doesn't have any big mechanistic/emergent surprises.
Kieron: Yeah, I was thinking about that. I mean, some of it is just based around how much more robust stuff like the AI is - characters don't necessarily do crazy shit because they're coded better. But other stuff is that there's less ways to actively combine weapons effect or whatever. The choices in the game are much more designed and hard-coded, based around your abilities and the levels.
Alec: It's sort of... surer of itself than the first game. For good and ill. I never quite knew what the first game was capable of (either in terms of possibility or restriction) when first playing it, but I had a good sense of what you could and couldn't achieve in DXHR pretty quickly.
John: What did surprise you about the game, Kieron?
Kieron: I've just gone blank and started staring. Man! I'M OUT OF PRACTISE. I'll see how I feel at the end of it - I'm the one who isn't all that through. But I can certainly see stuff working.
Jim: I think what surprised me was that it's probably going to be the second best RPG this year.
Kieron: The other interesting comparison to the Witcher is that it's an RPG with a defined lead. I'll differ to Alec's position - I think JCD is a much stronger character here.
Jim: It's definitive Guns & Conversation, perhaps.
Jim: A stronger character than Geralt?
Kieron: Er... Not JC Denton. Adam Jensen.
John: But I do agree with Alec that I wish Adam would have editorialised a little when reading large revelations about certain things.
Kieron: Not quite, as much as Geralt, but compared to the genuine blank slate of JCD, I was enormously impressed. Sorry - not impressed is the wrong word. I mean "I felt the character's existence".
Jim: There is some really good subtle stuff there, like the "ex" relationship with the woman, the slightly ambiguous relationship with Sarif, and so on.
Alec: Rather importantly, I didn't say Jensen wasn't a strong character. I just said that his motivations and my motivations are two very different things.
Kieron:No, totally. Sorry for that. But I'm saying that I felt Jensen's motivations were mine more often than your piece implied. I was shaped by stuff he gave a toss about. There was certainly times where the character's movement through the world made me act in a way that I hadn't been up to that point. There were certain points where I instinctively turned to lethal force when I had been primarily pacifistic up to then.
Jim: I really liked how some of the conversations played out, especially with Sarif.
John: I think Sarif was a brilliant character. Lots of twists and turns, and far more sophisticated than I was expecting.
Alec:: Yeah, he's the most memorable character by far. Partly because of his narrative arc, partly because his voice and character are fascinatingly at odds with his corporate/science genius nature. He's not a stereotype, he's not slick and cold or even especially intellectual in his speech - he almost sounds like a guy who'd threaten to punch you because you looked at his girl (and then apologise afterwards for getting the wrong impression).
Kieron: Adam's flat is a tour de force. The plotting is much better than the random sprawl of DX, for example.
Jim: Yes, that apartment was a really lavish touch. It could only have been better if he'd been able to sit down and have a smoke.
Kieron: And what most surprised me is... well, it feels a lot more like Invisible War than I was expecting. Some of the choices they've made are very IW... but they've pulled them off better. I mean, how much they make you imprint on the cast in the opening sequence - compared to the similar sequence that opened IW - says a lot. Even the fact it's a sci-fi game. DX's "thing" was real locales. This doesn't have real locales. This is a sci-fi world again. That's much more IW.
John: Really? Office complexes and streets?
Jim: I think the world actually suffers with its sci-finess.
Kieron: No, DX's things was real office complexes and streets. As in, ones which exist in the real world. You can go and visit at least some of them. That's not true here. It's all fictional.
Jim: The big hubs are okay, but it's actually fairly repetitive and closed off. Where The Witcher and the Mass Effect games dwarf it is in the constantly throwing in of new, mad locales. DXHR is a lot of corridors and atria.
John: I think the mistake with hubs was just their underuse. It just doesn't make sense how infrequently you return to Sarif to touch base.
Jim: Yes, I do agree about the slight misuse of hubs. I was really excited by them , particularly Shanghai, because they're huge and busy, but they actually don't get enough of a look in against overall game time.
Alec: The cutscene vision of future-Shanghai versus the reality of the playable section of it was disappointing. I really want to see more of that crazy, two-tier city.
John: Kieron, which way are you playing? Friendly or JIM ROSSIGNOL?
Kieron: I'm playing it pacifist, but not re-loading. So if I get cornered, I turn to violent. I'm basically dealing with the consequences of my decisions and mistakes.
John: Lethal violence?
Kieron: I played like the first five hours without killing anyone, and then got cornered in an office complex. And then it was lock and load time. I'm probably playing it less lethally than I did with my original DX play through - because the stealth is more robust, I can. There I was a sinister sniper sort. Sneaky and lethal.
Jim: I stabbed many dudes. And I think actually the stabber route was a little overpowered. It was probably easier to murder everyone, one-by-one like the Predator, but in beige offices instead of the jungle.
Kieron: It's funny. The most efficient way to play the game is the non-lethal take-down. Because you get more XP. It's the powergamer's choice!
Jim: Yes, but aren't powergamer routes often less fun?
John: PowerLAMEr more like.
Jim: Haha, that is a kind of joke.
Kieron: Please! You're a peaceful take-down guy. We all know you're doing it for the XP.
John: Honestly, I never did anything in the whole game for the XP.
Alec: I did almost everything in the whole game for the XP. Even when I'd already deactivated security systems from the main computers, I'd go and hack every alarm panel, even though no-one could use them and even though anyone who could have done was unconscious by that point, just for the bonus XP. I was obsessed.
Kieron: I was interested in what you didn't get XP for. As in, opening a gate with the passcode gets no XP. So if you're a powergamer, you always hack. That said, XP is only for getting Augs, and I was never particularly stressed about NEEDING MORE XP TO GET WHAT I "NEED". Actually, while we're on that, thoughts on the AUGs?
Jim: re the augmentations, if you are non violent, does that mean you have not used the Typhoon? Also I think one thing that is really interesting is how keen I am to replay it. I'm already some distance into my second playthrough. I still haven't got around to my second pass on The Witcher 2.
John: I definitely want to play again to go the other way on THAT decision.
Kieron: That's one way it's a lot like DX - it encourages lots of just nosing around by giving XP bonuses for it. It encourages hacking by giving XP. XP for everything.
Jim: Oh yes, THAT decision. I really wonder what happens.
John: I know cos Alec told me.
Alec: Sorry. I am bad.
Jim: Bah. That's one of my main reasons for replaying, but I can see a load of points where it could have gone very differently, and I want to explore that.
John: What did people learn from the game?
Jim: Not much in real terms, but it learned me to be excited about Thief 4. You?
Kieron: I learned that I like punching dudes out. I'm still not bored of the tap on the shoulder and PUNCH! move.
Jim: (The third-person bits are generally pretty seamless, EXCEPT when there are multiple dudes around. And then they stand and watch. (In my head they are saying "hey, impressive moves!"))
Alec: I learned that I am strangely immune to getting bored of a hacking minigame, as long as there are experience points in it.
John: I mentioned this in my review, but I felt like they could have taught me lots. But really, it didn't seem to want to talk about philosophy or politics beyond one very focused subject. And then it was quite ambiguous.
Kieron: Is this about the "this is a smartly told game, not a smart game"? position, John?
John: It is, yes.
Kieron: I was thinking about this. And it's going to make me write a sentence that I don't think anyone would expect me to write about it. Or anything ever.
Kieron: I like that it's less pretentious.
John: / faints
Jim: BUT NO!
Kieron: DX really was a cheery cut and paster of a mass of books. I don't think anything in DX really explored the ideas. It just cut and pasted them into it. Conversely, while less ambitious, Human Revolution feels a lot more comfortable in its skin. I thought it would be a game which much to desperately prove... but it's not. It's very comfortable in itself.
Jim: You fancy it.
Kieron: It knows what it wants to talk about, and delineates that.
Jim: You totally want to kiss it on the lips!
Kieron: My lips are still covered in cold-sores from when I kissed Geralt.
Alec: I've muttered about this already, but yeah, it throws out a load of the peripheral ideas to focus on the one core issue, the moral argument around augmentation. It's got a much clearer and better-written voice for it, and it's also a lot less dorky for it. It makes sense and it's more grown-up in big way. Though I still don't think it explored it anywhere near as much as it could have done. Again, Jensen so rarely editorialises - there's surprisingly little discussion of the augs' effects on his thoughts, both in terms of his own self-image and whether having all this crap plugged into his brain and eyes alters how he sees the world.
Jim: I want to write about something about how the game isn't really about transhumanist issues. It's about politics and ROBO-ARM issues, which I think is pure sci-fi commentary, rather than futurism in any sense.
John: I think I wanted pretension. I went in absolutely not expecting to play one of the most entertaining sneaky games ever, but expecting to be taught stuff.
Kieron: It's a cheerfully methodical look through various outcomes of the "what if we could make better humans". And there's a lot of stories looking at it from various angles. It doesn't feel the need to quote anyone else to impress you.
John: After chatting to the developers, I'm very surprised their reams of research into current transhumanist writers didn't permeate the game at all.
Kieron: Can I use a minor spoiler? That plot about the poor girl borrowing money from the mob to pay for the implants she needs to do her job. That's a story about class and power. And that's informed by a lot of transhumanist debate.
Jim: Yes, that's what it really seems to be about: the Haves and the Have-Nots, which is VERY contemporary.
Kieron: It dramatises rather than quoting. I mean, the stuff about the riots? In the last few weeks? It feels incredibly contemporary.
John: Yes, that did.
Kieron: What I'm saying is that I think it's a smarter game than you're giving it credit for, John. I also really like how it does some subtle things with how augs effect how you interact with humans. I mean, the fact you're not actually talking to people, but reading their signals and then dosing them up with pheromones? That makes me feel really genuinely creepy. When your pilot tells you off for trying to use the pheromones on her, for example.
Alec: And then you do anyway. And it's just your dirty little secret.
Jim: Yeah, that stuff is really interesting.
John: Well, I agree with what you're saying, but was there anyone who didn't already think, "Augmentations would wide the the haves/have nots gap"? It was surely the most obvious angle?
Kieron: I think the 21 year old John and the 31 year old John perhaps have different levels of obviousness. I mean, what did DX say that was actually clever?
Jim: OLD MEN.
John: Well, I'm 33, but yes - it's absolutely the case that I was very much younger and less educated when I played DX.
Kieron: But just as pretty.
John: ! But it's that same thing I mentioned in the review. The game IS saying stuff, and it IS exploring ideas, which makes it more interesting than the vast majority. So it's that thing where I get more picky because it's closer to bestness.
Alec: A small spoiler: there's a point, outside of the main narrative, where Bob Page makes an audio-only cameo. And he's quoting literature and philosophy, like he did in the first game. And, in context to everyone else in DXHR, he really does sound like a pretentious pantomime intellectual. Which I think was entirely deliberate. It made me giggle.
Jim: So something a lot of people have been saying about this game is "are immersive sims back?" With this, Dishonored, etc. Does it feel like that?
Kieron: If it sells, sure.
Jim: Assuming it sells, is this a big deal in game design terms?
John: Well, no. Because there are two of them.
Kieron: Bioshock opened the door for this stuff, Fallout pressed the issue. If this does numbers, this stuff is back on the table. That's an incredibly mixed metaphor.
Jim: I like the metaphor, it implies there's a table behind the door.
Kieron: We can climb on the table and get to a vent.
Jim: I suppose the issue is where do games have to go, where can they grow? This seems like an area that could be explored pretty seriously.
John: When was this stuff ever on the table? Surely there have only ever been these few rare gems?
Kieron: Basically, this sort of stuff, even when it was in fashion, turned up 2-3 times a year, tops.
John: Bioshock was four years ago. And since then...
Kieron: Takes 2-4 years to make a game. From the hit to the games it inspired is... well, about now, innit?
John: No, because Thief 3 was three years before that, and Deus Ex four years before that.
John: There's basically only ever two developers in the world willing/capable to make these, and so they come along every two or three years.
Kieron: T3 was a commercial fail was my point. When it was fashion is 2000, which had Shock 2, T2 and Deus Ex. Ish. Bioshock was a hit, and after that, there's more games like it, etc. (And honestly, I probably have to hand in my PC Gamer card, as I didn't notice anything about the console conversion which bugged me.)
John: Games don't take four years! There's been nothing after it. Now there's one game. One. And another one coming out in some more years.
Jim: I dunno, four years is about right from pitch to release.
Kieron: Yeah. I'm right John. And I said 2-4 years.
John: Then we should be inundated with the trailers and press releases for the dozens of others that are coming out any day now.
Kieron: "Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third game in the Deus Ex first-person role-playing video game series, and a prequel to the original game. Announced on May 27, 2007, Human Revolution was developed by Eidos Montreal and published by Square Enix. It was released in August 2011." (From Wikipedia)
Jim: SO THERE.
John: I can't wait for all the other four-year projects that were started after BioShock! It's going to be a bumper Autumn!
Jim: You are missing the point, John. Read what was said: there's only ever going to be a few of these anyway. It doesn't mean Bioshock's influence didn't help it happen.
Kieron: Since you're being smug, I want an admission that you were entirely wrong when you said that games don't take 4 years to make.
John: I am wrong about that.
Kieron: Thank you.
John: But it certainly hasn't opened the door for a wave of immersive sims, which was the initial point. Because there's one of them. And another one being revealed now.
Kieron: It made them possible. Hell, that's exactly what it said in Alec's interview about it. (The Arkane game)
Jim: Well, I said are "immersive sims back" meaning, do we count this as the next stage in the lineage from Thief/DX. not "will all game studios now make immersive sims"
John: But that's Looking Glass people again! The Square game is the one-off, because it's a new team. And yet it's based on a Looking Glass game. The next possible one is Thief 4. So Looking Glass again.
Jim: You mean the Arkane game?
Kieron: We've forgotten Alpha Protocol, which is kinda like Human Revolution, if it was shit.
John: It's a lineage, unquestionably. But there's few forks in that family tree.
Jim: I mean i guess there's genre boundary blurring here that is just spinning me around. Because DXHR feels comparable to The Witcher 2 and Mass Effect, but the real genetic identity is more in the Looking Glass games, which is the Guns & Conversation genre swelling up.
John: It's weird. You've made that comparison a lot, but for some reason it's never associated in my head.
Kieron: Okay - sidestepping the lineage/whether Bioshock helped/whatever debate, I think the only thing this proves is that you can make these ideas work in a modern game which seems like it may appeal to more people than it previously has.
John: Yet I can see the logical similarities with Mass Effect. But I just can't put them in the same box.
Jim: That's sort of my point.
Kieron: I'm not entirely sure how much it pushes it, except in terms of professionality and polish. It just restates *this is possible*.
Kieron: The difference with ME is that this... well, it's not that it's not emergent. DXHR is still simulation based. In lots of ways. In a way which ME wasn't.
Jim: The Witcher 2 also.
Kieron: Yeah. That's the difference between the Emergent Sim and the Guns & Conversation, I guess. And the RPG. And... OH NO GENRE FASCIST ATTACK.
Jim: But I feel like the sim-ness of DXHR only surfaces occasionally.
Jim: Which is why i am connecting it more with those other games, i suppose.
Kieron: Put it like this - it's a game whose sound propogation model works like Thief's - as in, doors open or shut make a difference, material makes a difference, etc. That's a simulation approach, and it's still there.
Jim: ANYWAY. Games of the year?
Kieron: But yeah - if this isn't in the game of the year, I'll be enormously surprised.
John: Mainstream, yes, so far. And I don't see what's going to beat it.
Alec: I'll struggle to pick between this and Realm of the Mad God for 'game I was most obsessed with in 2011.' Not that they're in any way comparable.
Kieron: Bless you.
Jim: (Not that I believe that.) (Especially since I don't like Bethesda games!)
John: The more I read about it, the more I wonder if it will. I never got on with Oblivion or Morrowind, but maybe this time?
Jim: I think that with EVERY Bethesda game, and it never happens. They should be my ideal game, but I just can't get along with them.
Kieron: Just thought of something else I like about it: how they pulled off the regenerating health. It's not intrusive or cheaty or the usual problems. They balance it so it's fucking hard, basically. And... oh, I could go on a lot.
John: Yes. Every other game needs to copy that.
Jim: Yes, it was amazingly well integrated. And I think it works because you are so vulnerable.
Alec: I felt they could have been a little more generous with the protein bars, however. I spent most of the game with only energy block thing filled, or waiting for it to recharge. Perhaps better that than to be Robocop on-demand, all the damned time, though.
Kieron: Yeah - I did that too, Alec. Doing stuff like throwing objects down corridors to set off proximity mines! If you can pick up a box, it's an immersive sim (probably). Oh - I was cursing the fucking shotguns. The second wall I punched through there was a guy with a shotgun waiting. Messy.
John: I still don't know what it's like to fire a shotgun.
Jim: Right, let's finish. Recommend this game as a purchase to our readers, men?
Kieron: I WOULD RECOMMEND THIS GAME TO THE PEOPLE WHO PLAY VIDEOGAMES.
John: If someone asked me if I would recommend that they play Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I would reply to that with the word "yes".
Alec: I would give the same answer. WE ARE AGREED.