Deus Ex: Human Revolution

me2_levelingA few random thoughts that wandered into my head as I started Deus Ex: Human Revolution for the PS3:

This game has a lot of loading screens. They are long.
I dig the music theme at the title screen.
This game has a lot of gold and brown colors.
I should have known that since the logo is also brown and gold.
The people in this game have small heads and big hands.
And, to Sean: crouching is not only implemented, but it’s important.

I’m not much of a fan of FPS, and I’ve never finished any of the prior Deus Ex titles, but games like Alpha Protocol and Mass Effect 2 have bridged the gap, as I see it, and I’m now happily wandering around New Detroit, trying to figure out how to get into a police station.

The opening tutorial was simple and straight-forward. You’re a security guy. There’s a security problem. It’s time to earn your pay. As I proceeded through the maps, trying to get used to the “Hold L1 to stay in cover, tap or hold X to switch to new cover spots” system (I’m still a work-in-progress on that), I focused on being sneaky and doing things the way I figured the game wanted me to do them.

Near the end of the short tutorial, a cutscene interrupted the combat and led to my “death”. My first thought was on the perils of taking control away from the player. My second thought was trying to remember how similar this opening was to Mass Effect 2. (I ultimately decided it wasn’t as similar as I first thought.) My third thought was the realization that I would not have a vote regarding my imminent augmentation.

After the tutorial level, I wandered around a hub area for a while, trying to figure out the interface — that is, which people am I supposed to talk to? Which items am I supposed to grab? Which doors and containers can I try to hack? How do I find my targets? (I’ve mostly got this down now, as I finally caught on that objects which can be used are highlighted in… gold. Remember our color theme?)

When I wasted enough time, I launched into my second mission. Again, I’m the security guy, and I’m tasked with recovering some bit of technology, rescuing some hostages (“low priority” could not have been emphasized more), and taking out the baddie. At this point I realize that some of the major themes in this game are augmentation vs. au natural, and the big bad corporation putting its corporate goals first. From what I understand of my backstory, I’m the head of security because I understand what it means to do a job without thinking too much or asking questions.

I’m playing through the game as I’m thinking on the topic of “getting the job done” when I decide this is exactly how I’ll play my character. I’ll try for the easiest, most efficient approach, like sneaking or clambering around in vents, but if I have to get messy to make things work, then that’s what I’ll do. No regrets. Also, I intend to be loyal to the corporation. Why change things up? I want to be the best head of security ever. I’ll clean up all the dirty secrets. I’ll also make sure to wear only stereotypically-fitting long trench coats and dark glasses while speaking with a Christian Bale Batman voice — even when citizens around New Detroit make fun of me for it.

As I was going through the thought process of role-playing and being the perfect cleaner, I was running dangerously low on ammo for my tranquilizer rifle and wondering if I’d have to switch to more lethal methods. I had been picking up stun darts all over the place (is this the ammo for the tranq rifle? Or do I need another weapon to shoot them?), as well as extra guns (I later realized I wasn’t picking up the guns, but taking a few bullets out of them), but I hadn’t yet opened the inventory menu to go digging. For the most part, I was either snipering baddies, ignoring them entirely, or sneaking up behind them and knocking them out. After clearing 4 baddies (out-of-5) in a room, I finally got spotted. That’s when terror struck: the 5th guy was waking up his buds instead of shooting at me. All the baddies I had knocked out were now back and coming for me.

Time to get dirty. Pulling out my pistol, I fired a bunch of head shots into the mix and felt much better about my situation. These guys would not be getting up again. At its core, there’s not a lot of difference between stunning a guy and killing a guy in this game. I think that makes it kind of interesting that I would be so resistant to killing nameless/anonymous mercenaries. Is that a typical response? Is the game encouraging me that route? More to think on.

Side note: I often comment on realism in games balanced against fun and challenge. Here, realism is part of the fun. Aim at a guy’s head, take the shot, and down he goes. I like.

As I moved through the base I came across the hostages. As I approached their room they yelled for me to not come in, warning that the room was rigged to explode. I looked for something to hack, but found nothing. I explored the area around the room for a while, then went back and shot what looked like it could be a bomb sitting in the middle of the room. Success! Surprised the hell out of me, as this struck me as an idiotic move, but the bomb was deactivated and the hostages were saved. I was expecting something more like the end of Fallout 3’s Megaton.

That’s when the feeling seeps into my brain that this game is about exploration. Things aren’t always intuitive.

Back to the police station for a second to elaborate on this point, I tried the frontal approach at the station — talking to the cop — but my persuasion implant and me aren’t on the same page yet and I somehow bungled my effort. (Note: this is a recurring theme with me in this game. I am “teh suck” when it comes to persuasion. All this alpha/beta/omega stuff isn’t sinking in yet. Though I did persuade the army guy at the end of the mission… after a reload, *ahem*.) After exploring a lot of dead ends while looking for another way in, I found a sewer grate that led to a homeless population and a guy who threatened me. With no reason to assume this led into the station, and not knowing who I might be pissing off, I left.

The problem? According to a quick Internet search, this was apparently the right way to go to gain access at the station. Not intuitive. Requires exploration, and trial-and-error. I’m not sure I like it. In ways, I definitely do not. It’s too hands off. I’m not saying every game needs to point me at a door and tell me to walk through, but it’d be nice if I knew I was looking for a door. Maybe a guy could have offered, for a price, to get me a copy of the city’s plans so that I could learn that there is sewer access to the station, for example.

On the other hand, the game is forgiving. I read in an interview that it’s impossible to block your progress through your choices. The game is built to allow you mistakes. And that’s when I decide that bungling my way through the game could be more entertaining than forcing myself to do everything right. Just as no longer requiring myself to stun every opponent, and allowing myself the freedom to butcher the hordes if I want, felt so liberating, this, too, is liberating. I maintain that it’s a “flaw” to some degree, but I’m open to finding out where my new liberation leads me.

Last couple of points…

I read more than a few accounts on the hacking minigame being quite enjoyable. As I’m generally a fan of lockpicking and hacking minigames, I was certainly curious. And after trying them out, I agree that the hacking minigame is good. It’s a nice strategy game.

When you start hacking, there is no timer. It gives you time to assess the situation. The goal is to capture a specific node, but you need other bridging nodes to get there. Think of it like a ladder. You want to get to the top, but you have to step on the earlier rungs to get you there. The problem? Each rung represents a different level of risk. Take too aggressive a plunge, and you’ll set of the system’s security — which starts the timer going and forces you to think a little more quickly. But it’s not just a race to the end: some nodes contain hidden code or similar rewards, so you won’t always want to rush for the clean hack when you can take some chances and go for some goodies, too.

The first few times I tried it I felt more confused than anything, but I eventually read through the tutorial. The more I figured it out the more I enjoyed it. And when I came upon an office filled with hackable computers, even though there was no real reward for hacking them, I hacked every last one of them.

I’ve also spent some of my level-up points. I like that you don’t start out completely useless. When you look at what can be upgraded, you discover that many items already have already been upgraded. For example, you start out upgraded with radar. And even better, in story, you learn that everything has been upgraded, but some systems will take time to come online (also known as, earn more experience points). I appreciate that.

Aside from adding points to persuasion, which has been a mixed bag so far, I also upgraded my radar — which, again, does not seem like the best of moves. I think it’s time to invest in super-strong arms or eyes that can see through walls.

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