Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Fight For Your Right To Have Cybernetic Parts. Or Not.

I bought this triple pack of stealth games a few weeks back. I figured three games for 20 bucks was worth a try. It was mostly for Thief, but I'd heard enough things to suggest the game wasn't very good. I needed something else to encourage me, and two extra games must have been enough. I didn't start with Thief though, I started with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It was the game on top of the stack of discs.

So in Deus Ex, there's been progress in augmenting humans with cybernetic enhancements, though there is much protest and argument about this on a number of different grounds. Adam Jensen works as security officer for a top company in the field, their research division headed by his ex, Megan Reed. A group of augmented people attack their labs, appear to kill Megan and her team, and nearly kill Adam. He may not have read his contract closely enough, because his boss goes ahead and rebuilds him and Adam's back as security officer, dealing with continued attacks on the company, which lead him down a trail as to who was behind the first attack, and what they were after.

In any given level, the game is pretty good about giving you options on how to proceed. You can try sneaking from one piece of cover to another, you can knock out or kill guards, either silently or loudly (I like that one version of a silent takedown is Adam grabbing the target by the shoulder to turn them, then punching their lights out. If I had metal fists, I would punch stuff a lot, too). Not sure why silent takedowns use up energy the same as the cloak, it's a real disincentive to use them. You can hack computer terminals or look around for pocket secretaries with relevant passwords stored on them. Crawl through vents, creep along girders up in the shadows. There are a ton of different directions you can go with upgrading yourself. Make it so you can hack more difficult systems, or reduce the chance you'll be detected. Be able to see through walls, or fall from any height unharmed. There's a cloaking device, or the ability to breathe toxic fumes and remain unharmed.

All of this seems pretty good, and then you get to the boss fights. The first one, it's a big guy with a hand that retracts and is replaced with a mini-gun. I had put all my upgrade points thus far into hacking, and the cloak, and was packing a 9mm silenced pistol and a stun gun (a lot of office workers have stun darts in their desks for some reason). I tried cloaking myself and sneaking up on the guy for a stealth Takedown. He very casually turned around, grabbed me by the throat, and punched half my life off. Then I had to sit there and watch while my character staggered to his feet as the boss' fist retracted and the mini-gun came out, and he opened fire at point blank range. That was frustrating.

The boss fights are all just you shooting the hell out of your enemies until they die (that's not an image of a boss fight, fyi, just a "got spotted and decided to shoot it out rather than run" moment). You can't hack them, avoid them, or knock them unconscious. Just kill them. There's an Achievement for going through the entire game without killing anyone, and it specifically says bosses don't count towards it, which seems like a design flaw. It feels at times like the game is going to give you the option, but it doesn't. At the end of the second boss battle, another character asks if you'll save the boss as she bleeds out, and Adam says he'll think about it. I expected this meant the game would let me choose. It ended up I sat and watched a cut scene, it ends and whoops, the boss has finished bleeding out. Oh well, guess I'm not saving her. So the game gives you options on how to play, until it doesn't, at which point you're forced into one particular approach that largely runs counter to the rest of the game.

It's also a little odd that you can read all sorts of random notes and e-mails on computers you hack, many of which give you strong hints about plot developments, but Adam never reacts to them. SPOILER: It was pretty obvious Megan wasn't actually dead, just based on how it was presented and how the characters discussed it. But even ignoring that, during my playthrough I read a ton of things that really strongly pointed to, if not outright said, Megan wasn't dead. But Adam never seems to have read these things as the story progresses. Though he doesn't seem terribly bright. There were at least two or three occasions he would be talking with someone, and it was incredibly obvious they were putting him on, and he was caught flat-footed every time. If this guy was a cop, he definitely wasn't one of the ones with that honed ability to read people.

In general, the story didn't succeed in making me care about the things I think it wanted me to. I think I'm supposed to care about what happened to Megan, and I was curious about what made her a target specifically, in the sense of wanting to know what I'd be fighting. But I'd spent about 5 minutes in game with her prior to her removal, so I didn't care about her the way presumably Adam was meant to. You know who I cared about? Faridah Malik, the pilot that ferried me around. We chatted a bit, I bounced some ideas off her, got up to speed on things I'd missed, and helped her out with something personal at one point. Her I liked. When she got killed, that really bothered me, because the game took the time to actually establish her as a character. Shocking, I know.

It bothered me even more when I went online and realized if I'd been more aggressive in fighting our attackers I could have saved her, but I'd been opting for an avoid conflict approach up to then, and kind of defaulted to it. If I do a replay at some point, I intend to rectify that mistake.

Overall, it's a frustrating game. There's some solid stealth gameplay, and a few characters and storylines that get fleshed out sufficiently to find engaging. But the game seems to struggle with how much freedom of movement it wants to give the player. Sometimes there are lots of options, but then they'll restrict your choices, and it feels off compared to the rest of the game.

Oh, one last complaint. It is incredibly stupid that Adam can't hack a computer without standing up. There were so many times I crept up to a computer to turn off security measures, and ended up getting shot because Adam stands up like a fucking moron to type when there are guards around. All the computers have monitors that are adjustable, there's no reason he couldn't turn the screen to face down towards him while he stays hidden behind the desk. It's either lack of thought by the game designers, or they did it purposefully to screw the player. The old "dopes or jerks?" conundrum.

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