“It is true to Deus Ex.”
“It feels like a PC game.”
So there you go: both of those things are true. I’ve spent the past week playing the pants off of the game (I’m past the 20 hour mark of the PC version and it feels like I’m about halfway through the final act). As I near the end of Adam Jensen’s big adventure, I thought I’d get a bit more specific about a few of my favourite things in the game. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Coldly Gorgeous; Gorgeously Gold
Fortunately, that is not the case. The colour merges seamlessly with Jonathan Jacques-Bellêtete’s art design to create something distinctive and beautiful, with a silent, cold grace that feels at once noirish and futuristic. In a terrific interview over at Gamasutra, Jacques-Bellêtete (who, incidentally, is a well-tattooed gentleman) articulates how hard he and his team worked to make the art of DXHR stand out:
The style is very homogenous in the game; it’s not a very photorealistic game. It’s a stylised game because I truly believe that, if you have a proper stylistic visual language, that actually makes the world more credible — not photorealistic, but credible — because everything fits within the same visual language.
If you have a head that looks super photorealistic but then the texture behind it is not, to me there’s a discontinuity there. But if everything fits within the same stylistic language, it feels more credible. Anyway, that’s one of my theories.
The monochrome style really does call to mind Metal Gear, particularly MGS4 (the story’s themes are very similar, too). But that’s a good thing in my book — particularly seeing as how for all its strengths, the original Deus Ex was an ugly, ugly game. The game’s style also recalls Minority Report, which, so much the better.
The Stealth Mechanics Are the Real Deal
Just as in the original Deus Ex, it’s possible to play Human Revolution guns blazing, wasting everyone in sight; to turn Adam Jensen into a whirlwind of flying lead, arm-swords and rockets. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s a stealth game through and through. And the stealth in DXHR is exceptionally well-done. Enemies are smart and alert, and even the simplest environments have a huge number of branching pathways.
It’s not as forgiving as the other more predatory games I wrote about last week. But for the truly hardcore, know these two things:
2) You can drag unconscious bodies and hide them. And you’ll have to, if you don’t want to get caught.
Many of the game’s most memorable moments involve walking deep into a complex before being ambushed and having to sneak or fight your way out. Part of that is because…
The Hybrid First/Third-Person Perspective is Fantastic
While playing DXHR, I was reminded (in a good way) of Rainbow Six: Vegas. I’m not certain whether that was the first game to use a hybrid first/third-person cover mechanic, but it was the first one I played, and it just worked. The moment I started playing, I thought “Ah-ha! Here it is! The first truly good cover mechanic I’ve ever encountered!”
The cover in DXHR works much the same as R6:V — press the right mouse button (or left trigger) and the camera pulls out to a third-person view of Adam crouching behind cover. It works well, and the transition is seamless and never disorienting. Furthermore, it neatly solves one of the difficulties of first-person stealth — namely, how to look around corners.
Classic PC stealth games like Thief and the first Deus Ex had a dedicated “lean” button, but the third-person perspective offers a cleaner, more enjoyable method. Using the spacebar (or A button) to roll between cover and holding it to corner works seamlessly as well, recalling the enjoyable cover-hopping in Splinter Cell: Conviction (whose creative director Maxime Béland was also CD on Rainbow Six: Vegas).
Non-sticky cover is another vital part of the equation — there’s nothing worse than seeing a guard turn and begin to walk your way and being unable to quickly navigate into a new hiding spot. But in DXHR, cover is smooth and fun to use, and allows the game to hybridise first-person roleplaying exploration with third-person cover combat and stealth. And it feels really, really good.
The Hacking Minigame is Way Fun
So, So Many Emails
I think this gets at the heart of what it actually means to say that the game “feels like Deus Ex“. Maybe it’s just me, but I frickin’ love reading emails in games. It’s the weirdest thing. I get so many emails in life, emails on emails… this fabled “inbox zero” thing that I hear my friends talk about sounds like some sort of unattainable state of grace. And yet all told, I’ve probably spent the better part of an hour in DXHR reading emails.
But it’s not so much the content of the emails as their volume — it speaks to the level of care and work that went into Deus Ex: Human Revolution and they’re an excellent nod to one of the more charming characteristics of the first game.
It All Comes Together
There’s more to say about the game; it does have a few shortcomings, and I need to take more time replaying it to get a sense of just how far the nonlinearity can go. But the immediate truth remains that each of the things I’ve talked about here comes together in a satisfying harmony. You find yourself sneaking through a burnished, golden office parlour. You silently take down a guard and drag him into a storage closet. Afterward, you’ll hack into a computer and read through a number of emails, one of which gives you the passcode for the armory located on the building’s upper floors.
It’s Deus Ex. It feels true to its PC gaming roots. And it’s damn fun to play.