Saturday, 11 February 2017

Video game reviews #1 - Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Deus Ex 3)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (2011) by Eidos Montréal

More like Cardboard Revolution...

Put "revolution" on the end of any title and the resulting product is guaranteed to suck. Ok, it wasn't that bad, but still no comparison to the original Deus Ex (1), which is an eternal masterpiece. Why? Let's find out.

Human revolution can be summed up with two adjectives, and the first is

-) Sterile

HR is sterile as fuck. In fact, 1996's classic 3D shooter (even after 20 years, I still call 'em that... 3D shooters. I grew up with DOS gaming, and the 3-dimensional gameplay of Magic Carpet 2 and Duke Nukem 3D completely blew me away back then!) Duke Nukem 3D had a more interactive and engaging world, and that is not speaking for a modern commercialised multi-million dollar video game dozens of people work on for years! Sure, the enviroments are pretty and reasonably well designed, you get to see some nice locations (Detroit, China, Canada - actually, scratch the latter), though some like the top part of the Chinese city aren't well established or used, a lot of people run around and can be talked to - but the soul is clearly missing (that also can be called the third aspect of this game contributing to its downfall). Items like vending machines can only ever be picked up (and thrown at people, hilariously instantly killing civilians who are even minimally grazed! - good way to conserve ammo too!) - but never interacted with. There are exactly 20001 cardboard boxes of varying sizes lying around in the game - but there is never anything in them! People only ever speak about the setting, never about themselves: in the first town (Detoilet) literally EVERY NPC you encounter chats with you about augmentation! Talk about hammering the point home!

Real people do not work like that - they are concerned mostly with their connections with other people ("Let's see where this 12-pack takes us."), on the next tier with matters that concern themselves like money or status in life ("I bought myself a new TV, wanna come over and watch them Raiders?"), and only THEN do they care about the politics of the day ("That Trump... he's the best president we ever had!")! This can be very easily seen by observing life in any western country: breeding and finding so called "love" (in several wrong places) is the priority of most human animals, a focus on self-development and trying to be successful in life is limited to a few people, and only an infinitesimal number of great men are actually willing to further the benefit of the entirety of mankind, or the human species itself (different things) instead of putting themselves first (e.g. scientists like Einstein and Galilei).

As I can't very well separate the quality of the environments from the quality of the writing, let's direct the stream to the setting, story and major NPCs! The setting of the game is one of the few really strong points of the game, dealing with a subject matter being close to my heart, and a pretty original one too, overall speaking: the evolution of homo sapiens. The growing presence of mechanically augmented (some might call them "crippled" instead, as their limbs are literally cut off and replaced with artificial ones) humans is stirring up commotion amongst the strata of the "left-behind" commoners and "pro-human" conservatives. The ensuing rapidly culminating conflagration of this dilemma is actually artificially (PUN) engineered by unseen forces controlling the mass media (and with them, the public opinion), in order to further their own purposes. So far, so good! But so what! A lot of this is of course more or less inspired by the original Deus Ex (personified in the mechanically augmented Laputan machine, Gunther Hermann, a tragic figure of a complexity you wouldn't find (or in my case, expect) in a 2010s game) and heavily paralleling the real world, but in this century we have to take what we get... don't we?! The idea of mass human augmentation (heavily controlled by wealth) is quite fascinating and something that definitely would raise strong emotions and debates in almost all people. I for one agree with the spirit of DX1 and find nano-augmentation a lot more agreeable with than the "clumsy" mechanical mutilation (which I probably wouldn't undergo, as I value the integrity of my own body strongly, totally refusing things like tattoos or piercings, and would kill myself immediately if I even lost so much as a phalanx of a finger! Even when being left with only mech-augs, merit - not wealth - should control who has the moral right to get augmented... and so even I have a strong viewpoint on this topic. So the setting was really the one things Human Revolution got exactly right - because the story certainly wasn't one of them!

To gather the essence of the story first we have to summarise the major NPCs. Since the structure of the cast is de facto identical to the original Deus Ex, we have to decrypt this simple puzzle first:

Sarif Industries = UNATCO

Sarif = Manderley (and later Tong & Morgan Everett)

Prichard = Alex Jacobsen

Megan = Paul Denton (and a really SHITTY one at that!)

Malik (I don't care.) = Jock

Athene = Manderley's secretary Janice Reed (not that that would be very important)

and = in all of these cases also stands for <

Sarif is your typical boss man quest giver. He is shown to not actually be that excellent of a leader and businessman in the course of the story; his role certainly should have been much greater in the plot. As a person, he is not very interesting. He believes both in the goodness and the business side of human augmentation. There's some older guy backing him and his ideas, but I forgot what he actually was about exactly (don't blame me, blame the game for not leaving an impression strong enough! I can remember every detail of DX1 even years after last playing it!). After looking it up: Oh, he was that guy. He broadcasted the kill switch, ahem no, insanity switch signal. Totally forgot that was him! Sarif's ending is the one and only decent ending HR has, but more on that later.

Prichard? More like Bitchard! He is an asshole, and he doesn't even deny it. A very unpleasant figure to deal with, and you're stuck with him for the entirety of the game (though he is much less communicative on the infolink than Alex Jacobsen was). I had been waiting for a chance to kill him or at least see him die for the entirety of my playthrough, and was bitterly disappointed when none came. There's really nothing good about his character at all - he is the personification of Eidos' rubbing in your face that you are caught in a sterile game and don't actually have any chance to influence the plot at all. Doesn't that feel shitty?!

Malik is kind of annoying. Seeing her never fails to make you wonder why she doesn't have that hideous mole removed (if *I* had something like that on my face, I would scratch it off with my fingernails!) She flies you from place to place with her so-unbelievably-out-of-place-in-the-setting-if-you-want-to-tie-it-together-with-Deus-Ex-1-and-you-oh-so-PAINFULLY-want-to-FLYING-MACHINE and that's about it. Once, in China, you get to do a sidequest for her and I for one hoped that would expand the scope of her character a little, but NOPE. You are sent to solve the case of her best friend's murder, and when you get the chance to kill that woman's murderer/boyfriend and take vengeance, Malik is like "But I didn't want you to KILL him!" Yeah, no comment. Later you can decide whether to aid Malik when she comes under heavy fire - she probably dies if you don't (ripped off straight from DX1's last scene change where Jock died if you hadn't killed the saboteur beforehand). I did save Malik (her name is Malik!) - but I probably wouldn't again.

Ugh, and now at last we come to the worst character in the game. The Macguffin in character form. The thing that the protagonist cares about, but the player couldn't give less of a shit about. Megan (and not the good kind!).

I loathed that woman with the disgusting hairdo for all the FIVE MINUTES she appeared in the prologue/tutorial/half-life-like-boring-as-fuck scripted intro scene. Watching her arrogantly command around men like she was a super genius - pure 21st century Hollywood-style (on that note: around one in three npcs in this game is black... and that includes scientists. Yeah. That is only a leftist pipe dream; not realistic at all. Not even in the future. Of course it doesn't mesh with the chronological "sequel" DX1 either.) and the very opposite of endearing. Now the story of Deus Ex: Human Revolution has the gall to make the search for her the central motivation of the main character (who is in many ways a blank - like JC Denton was - a blank to fill in with the aspirations and opinions of the player himself! So on a conceptual level, having Jensen's mind occupied with saving his princess (in another castle) was epic failure and undermining the scenario both, two birds with one toilet brush! Whenever a game makes me feel like a puppet, chasing something I not even only don't give the slightest fuck about but actually actively loathe (and making me feel that about a Macguffin is a feat in itself!), it feels really demeaning and out of place with the technical possibilites video games nowadays have (and sometimes had already had back in the late 90s and early 2000s, with games such as Planescape: Torment, Baldur's Gate (Trilogy) and Deus Ex, my own holy and eternal trinity of video game writing, by the way. These will never be surpassed.). As with other modern(-ish) RPGs (Neverwinter Nights 2 is a prime example), full voice acting is more of a curse than a blessing, as the choices the player can make often get narrowed down in order to conserve budget funds. Storyline branches? Too expensive in the 21th century! Let's keep things simple! The target audience ("A woman? This is getting hot!") won't care; they buy a game, play it and forget about it. NO?! We don't need no stinky replay value in this oversaturated world! It's not like the classics are never forgotten about, not at all. RIGHT?!

So in the end we get some plot development of Megyn having played for the other team actually (or something like that, at that point I just wanted to get done and over with this game); trying to rescue her turns out to have been pointless all along as she disappears out of her own will just before Jensen's eyes. Oh, apparently she was his girlfriend before the story begins - like I give a shit. Show, don't tell. DX1 gives you your brother - DXHR gives you this pathetic failure of an ex-girlfriend. What a joke.

And, last but certainly least, Adam Jensen himself. Adam, the first human being. Adam, the messiah (once again, ripped off from DX1. By the way, the second I formed the thought to write this down I heard the words "the chosen one" in the music I was listening to (Korpiklaani, by the way). Synchronicity at work once again.) Adam, epitome of the human augmentation experiment. Adam, only human to not show aug-rejection signs. Adam, who has no need for Neuropozyne. Whose assumed parents were not his real parents. Apparently Eidos has even less originality than that fucker Jar Jar Abrams!

Then again, Jensen is no JC Denton, no matter how hard they tried (even the last name sounds rather similar). He's a first-grade ripoff, a diluted clone. That is only fitting with the storyline, nevertheless. Even with full-powered augs, Jensen is barely stronger than in the beginning - the most powerful ones are already active by default (the regenerating health), anyway. JC Denton, on the other hand, slowly becomes a powerhouse juggernaut as the game progresses (though maybe that actually has more to do with how overpowered the health regen aug is ;-)). However, that is a problem with game design mostly, so let's stick to the character design - is what I would say... but it is actually the game design that causes the major problem I have with the character of Jensen. He has no choices to make. I mean it's not like DX1 was partly on rails! You could e.g. not decide to stick with UNATCO and play out a (probably doomed) career as a mere underling. You were forced to revolt and join forces with ambiguous powers, putting your life on the line for insight and freedom. But why did I never for one moment feel to be so hardcodedly restricted playing that game?!?

For one, you can make choices. Some are in plain sight, some are cases of "The developers thought of everything" (e.g. my favourite example: the annoying little boy you can shoot in Hong Kong). In HR, you have a choice to choose your attitude towards each main character once, each! I can tell Prick-ard I don't like his attitude, once. In the entire game. Same for Sarif and Malik. Megan? I don't remember I could tell her once I hated the fact she existed on the same planet - scratch that, the fact she existed in the same reality as I did!!!

Also, in DX1 you are given a plot device attaching you to the scenario that for some reason rarely is used in video games. A sibling. Vanilla Baldur's Gate 1 gave you so little interactivity with Imoen, and still I only ever threw her out of my party ONCE, in all of my playthroughs, even before I played Lord Mirrabo's godlike romance mod. Because she was (de facto) my sister. And not an estranged one (or useless one, like in real life), but right there, at me side. Loving me. Caring about me. Going with me through thick and thin. Such a simple but at the same time precious and powerful concept. In DX1, the game gives me Paul right away. Even though early on, I don't understand what he is about, Paul is still my brother and clearly trying to draw me over to his side, so I will attempt to find out his motivations. America (that is where all the games and movies come from, after all) has somehow forgotten about the fact there are other interpersonal relationships than "man loves woman", as that is the only fucking tiresome constellation shoved into our faces in the mainstream media. For most people in real life, the so-called partner is NOT the person they can trust most. Apparently (source: Google) 85% of relationships break eventually. That ratio is clearly much higher than the number of siblings who permanently cease to have any contact with one another for one reason or another. Another. No, I already reviewed that. So back to this train of thought. So why do we so seldom see siblings used instead of lovers you probably won't give a shit about anymore in five years in American movies/games (I mean I would be able to understand if we were talking about Chinese media here...)? Because of the abovementioned fucking fixation. On fucking, that is! Somehow seeing a man and a woman "get together" satisfies the prime instincts of the average audience and allows them to sublimate feelings they themselves might not be able to experience in real life (because love fades, and men and women in relationships rarely have much in common with each other in the first place - but the memory of how the relationship felt initially can be invoked by sublimating and living through other people). So a "falling in love" subplot has to be wrangled into every story ever, no matter how inappropriate it is to the context. And really, this is all the attention this trite topic warrants.

So the second adjective is

-) Simplified

In other words: dumbed down. Every aspect of gameplay has been dumbed down from the first game (I'm mostly ignoring Invisible War here because I honestly can't remember much more than that it had universal ammo *facepalm* and JC Denton's appearance was a total and utter joke). And of course it was, because this is... a console port. Console ports were, along with publishers' greed getting out of hand and ShiTEAM, the death of classic PC gaming goodness.

So what did DX1 have that HR doesn't? A summary:

-) different ways to open a door (This is the perfect example for the simplification process. Instead of lockpicks, multitools, blowing a door up (!) and opening it with a terminal in HR you get... just the latter option. A joke.)
-) multiple ammo types
-) temporary equipables
-) a skill system that actually did something and supported your playstyle
-) a sniper rifle that wasn't total shit (i.e. it was zoomable, not either not zoomed or fully zoomed in)
-) a rocket launcher you actually could find ammo for
-) on that note, goodies hidden in the levels! (no such thing in HR, if you don't count computers to hack... which you HAVE to take the praxis points for)
-) a health system instead of regenerating health bullshit
-) active augs instead of only automatic augs, contextual augs and passive augs!!! (but I guess that wouldn't exactly work on console since you don't have any F-keys on a Playstation controller LOL)
-) aug installation choices to make. Getting a new aug was a big thing in DX1...
-) a lot more ammo. I mean, shit. it was only in the very late game that I actually had ammo to spare. Don't force that sneaking shit on me. When I play a shooter, I want to kill every enemy on the map, so give me the ammo to do so...
-) melee weapons! (instead of a takedown system that is overpowered as fuck)
-) locations you could visit several times and talk to recurring NPCs there (HR had that, granted, but to a much lesser extent)
-) reactions to killing npcs and doing unexpected things.
-) (almost no) unkillable npcs. Having to leave npcs that are total assholes alive simply because you can't kill them is always a very annoying thing. It happens a lot in HR. I took out an entire police station (!), and there was no reaction from anybody.
-) no interface restrictions depending on where you were in the game world. In HR you can't shove your gun in your bosses face. You can't jump in elevators. What were they thinking?! These unnecessary restrictions are even much more annoying in GTA 5, by the way.
-) no fucking cover system (I hate that shit!)
-) no boss fights with completely overpowered (gimmicky) bosses

I think that is enough said about the two core problems of this game. It could've been a good title, but it's just a below average title unfortunately. The setting was wasted on a storyline filled with cliches and bland NPCs, the gameplay too dumbed down to get me interested to actually becoming good at it instead of having to reload at every second enemy because I used too much ammo or simply died. (I guess it's a good challenge on the higher difficulty levels there, so there is at least that.)

I would have played the sequel (eventually), but it seems it was a colossal greedy cashgrab by Square Enix, with funny things like removing parts of the story in order to put them into the next game (which now probably won't even be made since the game flopped LOL) and selling mtx that are usable only ONCE, EVER (so not once per playthrough, but once per your lifetime!). So I guess this will be my last encounter with a modern age shooter for a while...

Mass Effect Andromeda (is it even an actual shooter though?) would be a fine target though. Would be a hoot and a holler to tear that game apart. ^^

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