Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution review

Apologies for the appalling picture quality; this comic was a rush job, and I still haven't gotten used to using a Mac yet.
Name: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Players: 1
Type: Shooter/Role Play
Genre: Sci-Fi
Platform: Xbox 360/Playstation 3/Windows PC/Mac

Despite the game coming out in August, I only just got the new Deus Ex game two weeks ago. Before then, I had barely heard of the Deus Ex series, my knowledge of the series limited to last year’s E3 trailer and a handful of reviews. Having just defeated the game, I can say that I’ve been immediately hooked, and for good reason.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the previous installments in the Deus Ex series-set approximately 25 years ahead of the first game-and sees you playing as Adam Jenson, an ex-SWAT officer and current Head of Security at Sarif Industries. By the year 2027, human Augmentation has become a dominating and unregulated business; whether to benefit crippled patients or to get a competitive edge in the industry, human beings are having prosthetic limbs and organs installed. This industry, however, also runs into opposition: anti-augmentation groups such as the Humanity Front and Purity First desperately protest against unregulated human augmentation-sometimes with violent results.

The game opens with Adam Jensen and girlfriend Megan Reed working at Sarif Industries. Megan is on the verge of making a breakthrough in Augmentation technology, having discovered a method of preventing Augmentations from being rejected from the human body (thus removing patient dependency on Neuropozyne, a drug that prevents this rejection). Only minutes later, the building comes under attack from a group of heavily augmented mercenaries, and Adam Jenson, attempting to rescue Megan, is severely injured by the merc leader Jaron Namir.

Six months later, Adam Jenson, now heavily augmented by Sarif in order to save his life, returns to work to deal with an attack on one of Sarif Industries manufacturing plants. Throughout the course of the game, Adam is sent around the globe, chasing down leads and becoming ever-increasingly immersed in a conspiracy surrounding the human augmentation movement and uncovers the truth behind the attack on Sarif Industries.

Consequently, it’s easy to find yourself becoming more and more involved in the story and it’s overarching mystery. Though occasionally predictable, the story takes several twists and turns that immerses you in the experience, and I found myself unable to pull away from the game right up to its satisfying conclusion, craving to learn more and more with each mission. There are also multiple side missions to carry out in the Detroit and Hengsha city hubs that add to a long yet addictive experience, and several have multiple outcomes for you to choose from. Assuming you play through these side missions, a single playthrough can easily take a week to complete, and there’s good reason to come back and play a second time round. The main story has multiple endings, though a well-timed save beforehand means you can see each without necessarily having to play the game again. The final act has several literary allusions (a rare trait to find in video games) that compares the plot to both Greek mythology and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, cleverly written even though they only show themselves near the end of the game. After defeating the main story, I found myself eagerly looking up the previous installments of the Deus Ex story and discovering multiple and surprising references scattered throughout Human Revolution’s story arc. Even so, Human Revolution can be enjoyed whether or not you’ve played any of the previous Deus Ex games.

The concept of what it means to be human in the face of technological advancement is raised throughout the story, and both sides of the augmentation argument have convincing ideas as to what the answer is. It can be hard to choose one side or the other, and at times it feels like you’ve been caught in the middle of this intellectual conflict. This isn’t a bad thing either; much of the game is about choice, and Human Revolution gives you equal opportunity to make your own judgement about the issue.

Adam Jenson has multiple powers (Augmentations) for you to choose from, and it’s near-impossible to acquire them all during a single playthrough. Thus, it is up to you to choose which powers to prioritise and use to build your own character; perhaps you prefer a stealthier character as opposed to a more physically powerful one? Maybe you’ll specialize in computer hacking to turn turrets and robots against your enemies? The choice is yours to make, and rarely will any two players choose the same loadout of Augmentations.

Combat has its few hits and misses; cover is utilized by holding down the left trigger against a wall and you lean out of this cover with the left stick. Furthermore, moving across or around cover is handled by pressing or holding the A button, and I occasionally found this system frustrating to learn. Still, cover is essential to a stealth-based player and I eventually got the hand of cover-based combat. Jenson has the opportunity to become either a lethal or non-lethal combatant, and it is entirely possible to complete the game without killing any of the enemies (excluding boss fights). Either approach rewards you similarly, but slightly changes the game’s final outcome. Hacking is handled by a mini-game that at times can be either incredibly easy or frustratingly hard (depending of course on how much experience you’ve invested in the Hacking Augmentations), but rewards you with either pieces of back story, access to enemy security devices, or else codes to access other computers, doors or safes.

There are a handful of moments where you interact with the defining characters on both sides of the augmentation conflict, and your choices of dialogue can either sway them to your cause and avoid conflict or else make some missions more difficult for you. These moments test your intelligence in a way few games accomplish.

I had a bizarre experience with the game’s Boss fights. The first fight took a couple of tries to understand, but was otherwise surprisingly easy. The second fight suffered a glitch which left my adversary frozen in place whilst I pummeled her with chaingun fire, and the fourth and final boss fight, though a challenge, only took a single try to defeat thanks to the Augmentations I happened to have invested in. Only the third fight proved to be particularly difficult, and this was thanks to a bad decision (against my better judgement) during my second visit to Hengsha. Otherwise, assuming you’ve invested in your health point augmentations, boss fights are relatively simple; pummel the target with enough bullets until the boss dies, the only major difference being the abilities your adversary has.

The world of Human Revolution has it’s own distinct appearance. Pro-augmentation citizens commonly wear Renaissance-esque collars and suits, whilst their anti-augmentation counterparts wear clothes more akin to our present day (usually, these individuals also represent the lower-class members of society). Character faces and lip-synching are handled well, even if some character models and movements are recycled across the game. Much of the game is set during nighttime hours-a style retained from previous Deus Ex games-and city hubs are lit by a myriad of neon lights and advertisements. There are a handful of moments when the cityscape can be seen below you and the sheer size and scope of the manmade environment can be seen in full view, well worth taking a moment to admire before returning to gameplay. The game’s soundtrack combines haunting orchestral tones and vocalists with synthetic, techo-like music that accompanies the theme of humanity and technological advancement well.

Though not necessarily be a groundbreaking game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is intelligently written to an extent I’ve rarely ever encountered in a game. The story is well-worth getting involved with, gameplay can be approached in multiple ways, and there’s usually good incentive to come back and give the game a second or even a third playthrough. Overall, the game is a satisfying and addictive experience, whether you’re a fan of the series or a newcomer to the franchise.

The Verdict (marked out of 2, added towards final score)

Story: 2.0
Gameplay: 1.5
Visuals: 1.5
Sound: 1.5
Replayability: 1.5

Final Score: 8.0/10

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gears of War 3 review (sorry, no comic)

Ok, so it’s been a month and a half since Gears of War 3 came out. Having skipped over reviewing F.E.A.R. 3 (which I still rather like), I think it’s about time I redeemed myself and gave all (three) of you my opinion.

Gears of War 3 has you playing on Earth’s doppelganger ‘Sera’ as Delta Squad-namely its commanding officer Sgt. Marcus Fenix, the ex-prisoner/war hero protagonist-as they continue their fight against both the genocidal Locust Horde and the emerging Lambent faction. Of course, cooperative play introduces more playable characters, but Marcus is the major focus of the game. Since the sinking of Jacinto-humanity’s last defendible stronghold against the Locust-the Coalition of Ordered Governments (COG) has collapsed and it’s members have scattered, reduced to bartering and scavenging for supplies. The Locust have fared no better, having been flooded out of their underground home and forced to find survival in the destroyed remnants of Sera’s surface. What further complicates matters is the emergence of a third, far more dangerous faction of mutated Locust-the Lambent. While only revealed briefly in the previous Gears games, the Lambent have now exploded into the Gears story as a full blown threat that is quickly overrunning Sera.

Meanwhile, Marcus Fenix discovers that his Father, Adam Fenix (whom Marcus defied orders to try to save from the Locust attack and was incarcerated before the events of the first game as a result) is still alive and supposedly has a solution to the ever-growing Lambent infestation. Thus begins a trek across Sera to find the location of Adam Fenix and put an end to the war that has plagued Sera for more than 15 years.

Asides from playing in Marcus Fenix’s story, the first act also features a brief change of pace by focusing on Augustus Cole, the ex Thrashball player, wherein he returns to his hometown and reminisces of the life he had before the Locust incursion. Here, Cole shows a maturity rarely glimpsed in previous Gears games, but he nonetheless returns to his high octane and enthusiastic personality for the remainder of the game.

Whilst the story was okay, there were a few too many blemishes that annoyed me about the campaign. Firstly, when ex-Chairman Prescott makes his first appearance, the characters are constantly reminding us of how bad things are for them. Granted, I played that same mission at least 3 times over before I got to Act 2, but it was still tedious and painful to watch. Next, the female characters; of the only two (humans) currently available, Anya Stroud is an utterly bland character and Samantha Byrne likes to remind us every few seconds that she’s a woman. The most interesting woman in the game was the antagonist, Queen Myrrah (who still has not been elaborated on). And finally, the ending. Whilst the last few points are negligible, I can’t help but feel that the game wrapped things up too well. Without giving too much away; most of the story involves the actual journey to find Adam Fenix, then the final handful of levels wrap up the entirety of the Gears story, which felt rather sudden even if the rest of the game was alluding to it.

Even if the story has its problems, everything else about the game more than makes up for it. Campaign can be played and enjoyed solo (even if the friendly A.I. make it rather easy by being able to revive you on anything but Insane), but is all the better playing with friends (up to four players, a first for the Gears campaign) and the inclusion of Arcade mode adds a competitive level if you’re less interested in playing solely for the story. The utterly unique competitive modes in Versus are fun whether playing against bots or Live players, and the inclusion of dedicated servers makes up for the disaster that was Gears 2’s multiplayer component. Horde mode has improved upon its already flawless gameplay by introducing a fortification system with barriers, decoys, sentry turrets and ultimately a Silverback vehicle. Finally, there’s the all new Beast Mode which has up to five players killing human A.I. as various Locust creatures (e.g.: Tickers, Kantus, Corpsers and ultimately the juggernaut Berserkers, who make a welcome return from the first game). It may take a little getting used to, but once you’re up to speed with the time system and earning cash to but more impressive Locust, Beast becomes an enjoyable and challenging game type.

Graphics wise, I once again can’t find any issue. Water looks great in the various beach levels, texture loading is handled by loading and pre-game screens-thus becoming unnoticeable during actual gameplay-and the environments are more varied and colourful than either previous Gears game (take that as a positive or negative as you see fit). Additionally, the sound quality of the game is great (I especially love the new chainsaw revving sound) and the orchestral quality of the in-game soundtrack now relies less on reusing previous tunes (as Gears 2 was more inclined to do).

Finally, the replay value of this game-whether online or off-will keep you playing for months. There’s always some new weapon execution, medal or playable character to unlock across all of Gears 3’s game modes. Mutators, similar to the skulls in Halo, add new twists to gameplay (few of which are an easy task to unlock) and can make the game easier, harder, or just plain ridiculous. Almost every weapon has it’s own unique and gory execution to be unlocked, and you’ll have to learn how to use each weapon accordingly if you’re looking to get the Judge, Jury and Executioner achievement. And of course, the split-screen and/or system link multiplayer gives you a great excuse to bring friends over to play.

The extra five months that Epic Games gave themselves to work on Gears 3 has clearly paid off. Gears 3’s level of polish has produced a game that looks, sounds and plays amazing, even if the story has its flaws. Still, Gears of War 3 is a great game that will keep you busy for a good few weeks. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gears 3 wins 2011’s Shooter of the Year.

The Verdict

Story: 1.0
Gameplay: 2.0
Visuals: 2.0
Sound: 2.0
Replay Value: 2.0

Final Score: 9.0/10

EDIT: I recently lost all of my save files for Gears of War 3 due to an error on my part involving a USB and the changing of storage devices (I was level 37 and everything!), so now I have to work my way back up again. If you play with a profile stored on a removable storage device, be wary.