Deus Ex returns, finally, hoping to return the series to glory after a lackluster second outing, Invisible War. Fortunately, the series doesn’t repeat the same mistakes this time around. Though it does make a few brand new ones.
I know most people seem to really like DE-HR, and I’m not here to say it’s a bad game at all. I’ll simply state that it’s a bit over-rated. It makes a few mistakes that are real head-scratchers.
I’ll start with the good stuff though. DE-HR is designed from the ground up to be a stealth shooter that presents you with the tools to define your own playstyle. If you like crawling through vents and playing the part of a techno-ninja, you can. If you’d prefer to blow things up, you can do that as well. You can be a morally inflexible bastion of goodness or you can be a son of a bitch. It’s up to you.
The first few acts play out like a straightforward RPG, but the final third or so becomes a linear stealthfest. It’s an engrossing game with enough plot twists to keep you interested without becoming swamped in backstory.
Unfortunately, the game really ticked me off as well.
My first issue is that the “shooter” portion of the “stealth-shooter” descriptor is flawed. Inventory management is a huge problem. Not only do you have to spend XP points to upgrade your inventory, but you each grenade takes up a spot as does ammo and beer ever other useful ting you find. Sure, I can hold a million pocket secretaries, but I can’t handle a single more bullet.
Why not simply cap what people can take and eliminate inventory management? There’s nothing fun about it. I understand the desire to maintain tactics by limiting the tools players can use, but the game’s method is outdated and unnecessary.
And you can’t claim this exists for realism. There’s nothing real about someone lugging around a rocket laungher, shotgun, combat rifle, pistol and 150 iPod-sized data recorders that can apparently only hold one page of information. Seriously, who pack $50 for the digital equivalent of a piece of paper?
Speaking of paper, you might as well be wearing it early on because you’re going to be ripped apart by gunfire in seconds in every firefight. Eventually, as you become better at the game and earn points in damage reduction, this isn’t as big an issue. Yet it’s disheartening for anyone hoping for straightforward shooter action.
The final issue deals with AI. There are a couple of cool things about it. Enemies will wake up their unconscious brothers. They will also spread out when alarmed and converge when alerted. However, it won’t take you long to exploit it. (Hint: Invest in a sniper rifle). Or you can sit behind a door and knock each guy out as they come through, etc.
Okay, so the game is geared a lot more at stealth than shooter. That’s fine. I love stealth gameplay. Unfortunately, that side has issues, too.
Sneaking about is pretty fun. I don’t really have complaints with the cover system, cameras and the like. But what I disliked was hacking.
Hacking consists of a simple mini-game. You start at a node and need to get to another node to win. You do so by capturing adjoining nodes. Depending on that nodes rank, there’s a risk the system will detect you and start to trace your path.
If you are detected all is not lost. You can capture nodes to give you hacking advantages. You will also find programs to help you deal with traces and capturing nodes. You will also find nodes that reward you with money, programs or XP.
Quick tip: If you capture the trace node (the red one) you automatically get all of the rewards in the system. So always try to get those when possible to save time.
Time is exactly the issue here. There are a TON of things to hack in the game. Every time you hack you gain XP and other rewards, so it’s not like you can just pass up the chance to do so. This means those who like to be thorough will spend a LOT of time hacking. Not only does it get tedious, but it kills any desire to replay the game.
Replay value would have drastically improved DE-HR. The idea is that every level is a puzzle that can be solved multiple ways. But the mistakes above mean you’re going to lose patience with the game by the end.
It doesn’t help that the game shifts its focus halfway through, as I mentioned. Once you’re past the tutorial, DE-HR opens up as an RPG. You have quests, side-quests, levels, vendors and a city to explore. You travel a bit and find another city as well. And then the developers stopped it all. You either start sneaking through straight-forward military installations or return to the cities you’ve already visited. This wouldn’t be an issue if there was replay value.
You’re probably thinking. What about the skills? Won’t I want to try a different character? Nope. You can get pretty much all of the good skills in one play through.
Several of the skill trees either help in minor ways or are too impractical to waste points on.
The issue here is another mistake in game design, energy. You can get up to five bars of energy, but you can only regenerate one. To refill the other bars you have to eat energy food. This system is ill-conceived and severely limits how you can use your augmentation abilities. What does all that mean? It means you wind up never using your special skills because you’re saving them for later or accidentally ran out of energy knocking out guards.
And then there’s the granddaddy of all mistakes.
Around the last third of the game, you’ll be told to do something. Your decision will drastically affect the difficulty level of a boss battle. You won’t know it at the time, and the boss battle is too far after to reload.
I think quite a few people will quit at this point and never finish the game. When I hit this moment, I just wanted to find whoever made the decision and punch them in the face. Look, I’m fine with decisions having ramifications, but you have to toss the player a bone. You have to give them a way to handle it. But in DE-HR you’re just SOL for the whole battle. You get nothing.
DE-HR is a game designed for grown-ups, and grown-ups don’t want to reload and reload and reload just because the developers decided to be dicks that day.
For the most part DE-HR is pretty fun, but the mistakes above add up. It’s enough for me to wonder about some of the review scores.