So, as has been made abundantly clear in my writings and videos over the last few weeks, the original Deus Ex was a game that hasn’t aged well at all. Characters all looking the same, shoddy engine, weird physics and a main character who apparently tapes jittery cats to the end of his rifle barrel. And the less said about most voice acting the better.
Nevertheless, here are some areas in which it still surpasses Deus Ex Human Revolution.
1. You know who the danged boss characters are
For me the most obvious comparison to draw is between the mech characters in Deus Ex (Anna Navarre and Gunther Hermann) and the mech mercenaries you have the misplaced boss fights with in HR (I can’t even remember their bloody names now which is kind of the point). Even if one disregards the lurching gameplay issue, even if it had been possible to defeat them by more ways than brute-forcing their hit points down, my issue is this: who the hell are these people, and why do they hate me so much?
Anna and Gunther are actual characters. They’re slightly monstrous hired killers who have embraced the machine to the point that they have lost touch with the sanctity of human life. But at the same time they are rational enough to follow orders and resent the newest model of augmentation passive-aggressively. Gunther in particular is painted as rather a tragic figure, lacking his partner’s self-assurance and haunted by his looming obsolescence, driven to despair and revenge when Anna is killed when she’s sent to bring down the Dentons. One almost feels guilty about killing him in self-defense.
But who are the jackoffs spoiling the HR experience with their unavoidable boss fights? They’re the mercenaries who smash up the Sarif labs at the start, which might give Adam good reason to want a rematch, but what’s motivating them to stand in his way with such violent hatred? Strutting around taunting like fucking Saturday morning cartoon villains? Are these characters or purely functional devices, like the warm-up man who occupies the audience while the scene changers are at work?
2. There are danged melee weapons
This was one of the most glaring omissions in Human Revolution‘s gameplay: not so much as a sharp stick for whacking things directly in front of you. Are melee weapons another thing that modern-day shooters are attempting to phase out, like health bars and fun? There used to be a dedicated weapon slot for it and for a while it was almost de rigueur for each shooter to have its own iconic melee weapon (Quake‘s axe, Half-Life‘s crowbar, Blood‘s pitchfork, Duke‘s shoe). Then melee weapons had to start sharing a slot with a gun, as with Gears of War‘s chainsaw bayonet, and now for the most part shooters eschew independent melee weapons in favour of a pistol whip or rifle butt attack.
And that’s fine. HR should have had that sort of thing, rather than only being able to take down enemies with a context-sensitive button press that leads to a cutaway finishing move. It’s like they’re deliberately baiting me now – the worst parts of games like God of War are the endlessly repeated pre-baked brutal finishers and now they’ve literally cut straight to the bloody things. I might have tolerated the boss fights more if I could run up behind them, twat them around the back of the head and run away.
Also, melee weapons have more uses than just battle, such as smashing breakable objects without spending ammo. Early in HR when my HUD informed me that the cardboard boxes were breakable, I wasted some time hurling them against walls hoping they’d split open and disgorge goodies. I’d like to see Adam Jensen get a job with a removals firm.
3. There’s danged specialization
My interpretation of a role-playing game is a game in which you choose a role from several alternatives. The classic model is fighter/rogue/mage, but in Deus Ex things were a little more nebulous. You could be a sneaky locksmith who carried a pistol for emergencies, or an invisible hacker who secured the area with a long-range rifle before they went in, or a mad bastard who ran around smacking people with a light sabre. Watch me blow your mind as I accurately describe the character most of you played in Human Revolution: a bloke who started out with the intention of doing a stealthy run but had to start carrying proper guns after a few hairy moments, who by the end of the game was also an expert hacker with very good arm strength and the ability to jump over buses.
See, what characterizes the “action game with RPG elements” rather than the action RPG is that by the end of it you’re basically skilled across the board, so every player eventually becomes the same thing. And this removes both replay value and the potential for “water cooler gaming”, which I’ve always found appealing, where every player has a unique experience they can share over an office coffee break or after-hours sex orgy. Even Alpha Protocol made you specialize. You could even specialize in shotguns if you were dangerously thick.
4. The danged endings actually danging mean something
The multiple endings gambit is a tricky one to play. The problem with Human Revolution was that the ending was decided by a single four-way choice at the very very end. And while this was very convenient because I could see them all by immediately reloading, it meant none of the endings carried much in the way of canonical weight and I didn’t regard any of them as the one I had “picked”. And while Deus Ex 1’s ending is also only determined by your actions in the last mission, each option has a set of somewhat different locations and gameplay objectives to deal with. It wasn’t much, but it was enough.
5. I VONTED ORANGE IT GAIFF ME LEMON LIME
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.