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SummaryDeus Ex Lite: FPS Edition
The GoodIt is sad to see that Eidos jumped on the bandwagon with their flagship RPG series, and went the Bioware route. Meaning that first they kickstart an awesome, intricate, deep RPG franchise, then they proceed to ruin it to oblivion in its sequel(s) which end up being glorified First Person Shooters with mild RPG touches and very non-RPG-ish boss fights. FPS's are easier to develop and easier to market to the teen crowd, so I see the incentive. But really, what's next? Deus Ex 4: The iPhone Arcade Game? Anyway, there's still plenty to like here, so let's see:
This game is strong on atmosphere; sometimes that translates to oppressive, foreboding urban landscapes (Detroit), sometimes to exotic locales that ooze Oriental mystery and intrigue (China). Even the sterile office building interiors in this game are verisimilar and atmospheric.
Another strong point is imagination and immersion: the game dreams up a believable, fairly dystopian 2027 where we witness a widening gap between those who can afford flashy high-tech augmentations and those who cannot. The game takes its elaborate political-scientific-economic setup for granted and builds it from there, remaining very consequential and serious throughout in its depiction. No lazy shortcuts, no deal-breaking wink-wink-nudge-nudge allusions to the present day as a lesser sci-fi game would resort to. DE:HR is a mature attempt at imagining a possible, persistent 2027. In this regard, it is up there with Blade Runner's 2019 and Mass Effect's 2183.
As a consequence of the above, all the dialogs and the characters are very good, almost too good for an action RPG. Sarif is my favorite example: a charismatic, enigmatic leader and a love-hate father figure to our hero, he always has another revelation or two up his sleeve. The conversations in general are multi-layered, eloquent, emotionally mature and unpredictable. They should be good, as they are written by novelist James Swallow and veteran lead writer Mary DeMarle.
On a more technical note, this game has the best cover system I've experienced in an FPS/3PS yet. It's practical, very useful and easy to master. It's even great to look at: whenever Adam leans next to a wall in his aug-sunglasses, silenced gun in hand, and an enemy guard approaches from around the corner (as it occurs dozens of times in the game), it looks just like a shot from some cool sci-fi comics. As far as cover systems go, I hope future action games look at DE:HR and take it from there.
The BadThis is an FPS. Granted, this is an FPS that can be optionally played as a survival stealth game. Yet it was marketed as an RPG. If it walks like a duck and quacks... you know the rest. The game actually becomes unapologetic in its FPS-ness by the second half. The focus shifts to sneaking, evading turrets and upgrading your weaponry so you finally have a chance against Jamar and Zhao, the last two bosses.
Oh yes, don't get me started on the boss fights. These are the equivalent of Eidos's ultimate testimony that they WERE thinking on FPS terms with this game.
Then there is the problem of repetitiveness in the second half, again a typical FPS trait. The Montreal stage is a seemingly endless array of boring office rooms and vent ducts. Much of the Singapore stage is, surprise, a seemingly endless array of boring office rooms and vent ducts. The following Panchaea stage, however, is quite brilliant, as if the project leader finally burst out: "Guys, we need to end this one with a bang! No more office rooms and vent ducts, use your head! This is s'posed to be a Deus Ex game!" It ended up as an odd out-of-place homage to Half Life 1 (and even to Left4Dead), but I loved it.
The Bottom LineWhen taken at face value and not as the latest entry of a venerable RPG franchise, DE:HR proves to be a very playable FPS with some RPG elements, in fact it stands out as probably the best of its kind this year. It's much longer and more interesting than other 2011 FPS/3PS titles I've played. Problems arise when we realize that it's supposed to be a full-blooded prequel to Deus Ex. THE Deus Ex. The fact is, Eidos went the safest, trendiest route here and tried to appease both contemporary fan camps: the newer generation of hardcore action afficionados (who were reared on Quake 3 and Half Life 2) and the older generation of actual Deus Ex fans. As Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2 have proved just before DE:HR, you can't have the best of both worlds in RPG gaming: you either go "deep, hardcore RPG" or you're lite and flawed. Deus Ex has just joined the club of flawed game franchises.
And yet Deus Ex: Human Revolution excels in one aspect: give me its memorable vision of a 2027 Shanghai any day.