An excellent successor to Deus Ex
It's hard to delineate the good things about this game into individual segments, because it's really quite a sum of parts. Let's start with the UI first.USER INTERFACE
The PC version is excellent because it feels like it was made specifically for the PC, unlike other multi-platform games. You have a neat inventory that pays homage to System Shock 2 and Deus Ex. The UI may be flashier than DX, but is certainly not overt and obtuse like Invisible War - all the while remaining intuitive for the player. While the variety of items you can accumulate in the game isn't as diverse as DX, they all come with very specific descriptions that should make lore fanatics shiver with excitement.
Speaking of descriptions, there is a lot of reading to be done in the game. I'm not sure this will appeal to players who just want to dive in for instant action, but for those who take time to read emails and PDAs, it will not only reward players with crucial information to progression, but also rich and well-thought additions to DX's lore.
In fact, the game makes many, many throwbacks to DX, most of which are subtle, and tie in perfectly. Unless I got my facts mixed up, most of the information that the game throws at you ties in very nicely with DX's story. You will see characters from DX being mentioned several times in emails and messages, even though you never actually get to interact with them. It all adds up to create a very nice story that will please fans of DX.
The character skills of DX are gone, and are replaced by augmentations, but that IMO is a good thing. It's not that I don't like the skills system in DX; it's just that DXHR implements this replacement system so well that the loss is negligible. Like DX1, you gain XP, and these points will go towards upgrading your augs. You don't find augs in storage cells anymore. Instead, the augs are lying dormant within you, and you choose what to upgrade as you gain more XP (each upgrade is worth one Praxis point, which in turn is worth 5000 XP). Eidos turned this from an "euugh" thing to a good thing because there are so many choices for you to choose from. Rather than maxxing out the Pistols skill, for example, you can choose to install the Aim Stabilizer which makes it easier to run while shooting. While it's possible to acquire 80% of the offered augs by the end of the game, you will still have to make decisions prudently at the start, or you may easily find yourself in a tight spot.
Lastly, I should also mention that the PC port enables you to change features like FOV. If you're like me, and fervently dislike playing your FPP games with FOVs of 75 or something, then you'll be happy to know that you can kick the FOV here up to a max of 100. It's beautiful. Not only does it provide the illusion that the environment looks bigger (as it did in DX1), it also makes it easier on the eyes.GAMEPLAY
DXHR clearly borrows a page from Deus Ex Level Design 101, and while it's not on par with Deus Ex's ambition, it at least almost touches the rim. Most levels are open-ended, though a few are more confined than I'd have liked them to be. The cities are grand. You will find yourself getting lost for at least an hour. Yup, they're huge. The size of Detroit, for example, easily dwarfs Hell's Kitchen. You do have a radar system to help you track your objectives, but the winding streets and multitude of back alleys and hidden paths means you will not be able to zip back and forth without first accustoming yourself to details and routes.
Btw I'll bet a lot of you are groaning at the mention of "radar". Trust me, the radar is not there to "dumb" the game down for players. Firstly, stealth no longer majorly relies on darkness. Most of the time, the only way to avoid contact is to hide behind cover. If you're like me and refuse to play the game without the 3rd person cover system (more on that later), you will really need to rely on the radar to provide information on the enemy's whereabouts while hiding. Secondly, the radar is not a magic tool that holds your hand while you're walking down Merry Park. It provides possible information on where to go, but there are alternate routes that are not shown which may actually make the game easier to play. In other words, the radar never becomes an in-game walkthrough, but it is functional enough to provide sufficient information to proceed.
The multiple paths means you cannot just blindly stumble down the corridor. Like DX, certain areas have more bad guys or traps, so it is up to you to find ways to circumvent the problem. This is where things get interesting. Let's say a bunch of guards are standing around a turret. Tough job. You have several choices, depending on your augs. You can, for instance, hack into the turret and set it to attack enemies, then lug the turret around like Schwarzenegger. You also can just chug down energy bars, run in and take down enemies ("take down" is a special move that consumes energy, its function similar to melee weapons in DX1, but more effective, yet not overpowered at all) in one fell swoop. Or, interestingly as I found out by pure chance, throw a gas grenade and watch the turret randomly fire at the crowd of enemies in confusion. More permutations are available, depending on your character build and weapon mods (I believe there are more weapon mods in DXHR than in DX1)
But, before you approach the guards, you'll need to consider this: do you want to make that sort of entry? You can enter via the vent system, or maybe even break open a window and sneak into your destination via an alternate route through the building. These choices form multiple permutations, both for pacifists and aggressors, and I doubt that your 2nd playthrough will ever be the same as the first.
By now most of you will be wondering: since I mentioned "pacifist" and "aggressor", how does each stack up against the other? The answer is, it depends. On the hardest difficulty "Give Me Deus Ex", the party really starts to roll. You can choose to slug it out with them, but enemies can kill you in 3-4 shots, so you'll have to play cautiously. Similarly, stealth may be easier in some cases, but you will need to exercise caution and speed if you want to get out of a sticky situation alive. DXHR is the sort of game that really can appeal to all kinds of players, and DX1 players should feel no less at home with the gameplay mechanics in place.
With that in mind, let's move on to the AI and difficulty, which I think deserve a lot of commendation.AI AND DIFFICULTY
Remember how I mentioned that the cover system is optional? Playing the game without it doesn't actually impede your experience much. Why? The reason is simple: the AI is flexible enough. Sure, being able to see around corners with a 0% chance of being spotted is nice, but it feels a bit too much like a cheat; besides, I feel it quite jarring to be thrown back and forth between FPP and TPP. For like-minded players, you'll be happy to know that even though there's no Lean function, darting back and forth is a very good alternative (as explained above by the AI's flexibility), and in some cases, even more intense.
That is, of course, for players who want to go stealth. For combatants, you will find yourself constantly challenged, especially when more enemies start to show up. The enemy can flank you, and they sometimes will if you remain in hiding for too long. It makes for a really fun experience. DX fans will recall how messy combat is in DX1. In DXHR, you have iron sights to assist in your aiming.STORY/WRITING
I will avoid spoilers here and just say that the story, while not as good as DX1 (not as grand), is still believable enough to hold its own. The dialogues are good. Eidos Montreal did well here. I thought Mass Effect/Alpha Protocol's dialogue wheel was an okay idea with horribly arbitrary and confusing outcomes, since you never quite know what to say. What Eidos did was to incorporate the dialogue wheels found in these games, and blend it in with Deus Ex's "Choose your line" dialogue system, so that you get an idea of what kind of tone you're going to use, as well as the content of the dialogue. While the lines don't always 100% reflect what Jensen says, most of them are simplified versions of the full lines that Jensen says, with some filler words cut off. What you see is what you get here; no more baffling over whether Option A "Yourself" is going to be a question asking the other party about him/herself, or asking what his/her next course of action is.MUSIC/SOUND
It's not as impressive as Deus Ex's. In fact, it's very ambient-sounding, and not really memorable enough for me to subconsciously whistle while en route to some random place. Nonetheless, I like it. The sounds are also well-made, bringing the environments to life, regardless of whether it's the background sounds of people rioting on the streets, the deep throbbing of club music, or the dull rush of air inside of alleys.
It's probably easier to individually list out the dislikes I have. Firstly, you know how one of DX's highlights is to be able to interact with almost every object in the world? Heck, I remember one of the reasons I bought it was because Warren Spector himself said in an interview with Computer Gaming World that the world is very "immersive" and you can interact with almost anything. While you still can pick up boxes and such in DXHR, most items that look pickupable are not, nor will they budge when shot. Which is too bad, because I can imagine how much easier stealth will be if they are - enemies, like those in DX1, respond to thrown objects, so it's a real shame you need to lug a 1m x 1m x 1m box to get their attention, instead of just picking up the nearest folder and hurling it near them.(2)
The lack of melee weapons isn't greatly missed in combat, but when it comes to unconventional situations, it makes me wonder why they aren't included. I like the take down feature, but breakable windows cannot be "taken down", so to speak - and I need to mention that there are many situations you'll find yourself in where breaking a window is the easiest means of entry. If you have a silenced weapon, fine, you can just shoot at it and only really nearby enemies will notice. If you don't, firing at a glass panel will risk alerting everyone in the neighbourhood. It's a really bad oversight here IMO.(3)
Boss battles. Oh boy. Not all of them are bad, and one of them actually references to System Shock 2 (I'll bet if the designer ever reads this, he'd be smiling quite smugly). The problem lies with the fact that if your build early on is entirely stacked on pacifist augs, then you're clearly at a disadvantage. Of course given how hard combat situations normally are with multiple enemies, I guess one can argue that this is a fair trade off for stealth-based players, but still... geesh. They just feel tacked on, ESPECIALLY THE FINAL BOSS.(4)
It lacks the charm of DX. In DX, there are no side quests, technically speaking. Sure you have tasks on the side given by key NPCs, but they are not filler, unlike DXHR's. It's not that the side quests in HR are bad, it's that they just feel like an off-the-road experience. It makes the experience less cohesive than it should be. Consider Smuggler asking you to rescue Ford Schick. Schick isn't a key player in the story, but rescuing him affects your understanding of the story, and helps improve relations between you and Smuggler, who is a key player. Many of these quests in DX are just handed to you as you travel down the straight path, but in DXHR, it feels like they're obtained from quest kiosks - not all, but at least half of them. The good news is, they're interesting, so they're definitely worth seeing through. I just wish they'd tie in more with the main story and characters.(5)
I don't have a problem with the orange tint of the game, but I do have a slight issue with how the game's colours almost look monotonous at times. I suspect this is caused by the lighting - the game is always lit up. It doesn't matter whether you're in an alley or an office complex. The game very, very rarely imposes darkness on you. Not only does this make the game somewhat dull to look at (hehe see what I did there?), it also just, well, makes things appear
the same, even if they're obviously not. I suspect that had they added more variation to the tone and colour saturation, it would have made a stark contrast to the aesthetic appeal of the game.
The Bottom Line
DXHR is more than a successor to DX. It is one of the finest experiences I've played recently. It is not as overwhelming as DX was when I first started it up. You might say it's more intuitive, easier to get into. On the other hand, it's got enough tricks under its sleeve so that it doesn't come off as a one-trick pony. Managing your inventory, upgrading augs that are suitable to your tastes, choosing multiple paths to your goal, very challenging gameplay - like I said, what makes this game so enjoyable is that it's a sum of its parts, like its predecessor was. The fact that Eidos Montreal manages to tie in the events in this game to Deus Ex, without sacrificing (too much) believability, and at the same time not ignoring the canon established by Deus Ex, makes this all the more a laudable effort. It's very, very good, and whether you've played Deus Ex or not, if you like stealth games or first person shooters, you'd be doing yourself a favour by checking out DXHR.