Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Deus Ex: The Fall (PC)

Developer:Edios Montreal & N-Fusion|Release Date:2013 (iOS)|Systems:iOS, Android, Windows

The final ‘X’ game on Super Adventures for now is… unwanted iPhone prequel Deus Ex: The Fall! It doesn't technically start with an 'X', but I had to find a way to fit all of the Deus Ex games in before my alphabetical order gimmick was over somehow.

By the way, when I said "unwanted", I didn't mean that I don’t appreciate it getting a PC port; it’s always good news to me when a game gets less exclusive, whether it’s originally from the iPhone, the Vita, the 3DS… the Dreamcast, whatever! I won't be able to tell if Deus Ex: The Fall has gotten a graphical overhaul in the process though, because I've never seen it running on iOS. In fact I was trying to ignore the fact that it existed at all, because no one ever asked for a cut down, simplified Deus Ex game with touch screen controls and microtransactions

But it found its way into my Steam library at some point thanks to the sinister machinations of the Humble Bundle, and I’ve been assured that the microtransactions have been stripped out, so I’m going to sit here for an hour or so and give the game a fair chance to win me over. I might accidentally call it Deus Ex: The Line a few times though, because my brain has got into the habit of doing that and it's kind of annoying.

(Click the screenshots to expand them to 1280x720.)

Deus Ex the Fall Main Menu
Well the menu looks and sounds just like Deus Ex: Human Revolution, so I guess that’s a good sign. Still no spinning DX logo in the background though. Hang on, FACEBOOK? The game has a Facebook button! I admit that phone games are entirely alien to me so this is might well be something that the rest of the world is used to by now, but what point is a Facebook button… on the main menu screen? Is that where they stuck the manual? Can I post my high scores? Clicking it just brings me to Facebook’s ‘Create an account’ screen, so I guess it’ll have to remain a mystery to me.

The ‘More Content’ button brings up a screen saying “The story will continue, stay tuned for updates.” Not optimistic about that one.

And the ‘Turntable’ button… well it doesn’t do much now, but I’ll come back to that later. Let's see what 'Play' does then...

The intro features a mysterious cabal of conspirators being very careful to discuss something without ever mentioning what it is, so it’s all fairly Deus Ex so far; though they’re doing it entirely off screen this time to save money. I imagine animating a flyby of a wireframe looking city is less hassle than modelling and motion capturing some CGI people in a smoky room standing next to monitors.

These two portraits belong to the ‘the two that got away’, who apparently "interfered in Geneva" and made everyone very unhappy, so "that cannot happen again." Uh-huh.

Introducing protagonists like this on a computer screen doesn't seem like a particularly smart way of going about it, but I imagine there are ways it can work. Maybe it's a readout on a hyperspace sleeping pod about to open, or perpahs it's on a tablet being held by a gang of villains unaware that their target is standing right behind them; basically the trick is that it has to be a teaser to the real introduction which then provides a hook to the story...

...you can't just cut straight to the heroes sitting on a pair of sofas in a living room, chatting about their predicament!

Apparently the reason this game is coming across so much like the second chapter in a story is because it follows on from events that happened in a Human Revolution tie-in novel called Icarus Effect. To me this seems like terrible idea for many obvious reasons, but I guess the people at Eidos and Square Enix felt otherwise.

This scene is all real time visuals at this point, but there's something off about it somehow. The people look like they’re from 2006, but it's like they’re stuck in a cutscene made in 2001; there's no life in these characters or the direction. I keep waiting for it to at least cut to an angle where I can see both of them in the same shot at least, but it never happens. They really don't want to put that many polygons on screen at once.

I’m also disappointed to learn that I’m not playing as the actor Jean Reno. In fact he’s not even French, he’s a Brit called Ben Saxon, and I’m definitely getting the impression he’s about to doze off into a flashback any minute now.


A SHORT WHILE AGO IN MOSCOW.


Yeah, thought so. Turns out that Saxon knows about the Illuminati in the intro because he used to work for them, as part of a special forces team called the Tyrants… AKA. those bloody boss characters from Deus Ex: Human Revolution that everyone hates.

I tried hitting tab to watch the ‘Look Around’ tutorial video, as I'm keen to keep my mouse looking skills sharp, but sadly they’re not actually videos in this game. Though interestingly it does still have an actor reading out what keys to press, so I guess they must have recorded a few new lines specifically for the PC version.

It's really thoughtful of the game designers to go to the effort of creating this tutorial message just in case Deus Ex: The Fall turned out to be someone's first ever first person shooter. They say that big developers don't cater to niche demographics any more, but the percentage of people coming into this who haven't pointed a crosshair at something before must be microscopic. But hang on, I didn’t even request this tutorial interruption! I deliberately chose to ignore the game's pleadings to 'press tab' so I could skip straight to the shooting. What the fuck, The Fall?

The game won’t continue until I shoot these guys, but I’m firing tranq darts here so there’s still hope of a non-lethal playthrough. Weirdly I have to hold down the trigger to bring up the scope view, then release to fire a shot. It’s not as awkward as you’d think though, and it only applies to scoped weapons. Regular guns have no iron sights or zoom at all it seems.

Well that tutorial message is no bloody use to me mate, I rebound all the keys! I really have no idea what it wants me to do here, besides hit everything I just mapped until something works. I’d hit the jump key and just leap over it instead, but they have neglected to include one, so I can’t.

Nice to see that the Human Revolution takedown moves are still in. I mean they’re literally the same animations as far as I can tell. To activate the move I sneak up behind a hapless victim and either tap the takedown button to knock him out, or hold it to kill him. Weirdly this small amount of excursion is enough to drain one of my two power batteries and it's not the one that recharges, so I need to find a chocolate bar now to if I want to recover my energy.

I won’t be finding any chocolate on this guy though as his body just evaporated into yellow triangles in front of my eyes. I didn’t even choose to kill him! I suppose this works to my benefit though, as I'll never have to worry about hiding bodies if there aren't any.

Deus Ex The Line Inventory
The game's been very familiar so far, but this inventory's a bit different to what I'm used to. Seems I can carry every gun in the game at once without worrying about filling up my grid, and I can even buy the ones I don’t have straight from the inventory screen. This must be where the microtransactions used to come into play.

'Stuck in a firefight? Simply enter your credit card details and with a small fee you can pull out a rocket launcher just when you need it!' There's no way to purchase guns, gear or currency in the PC version, so you're limited to in-game cash, but I can imagine that dragging the shop around with you into battle might still throw the balance off a little.

By the way, see that red X up there on the top right? Imagine that I'm playing this in a window right now, and then try to picture how close that X would be to the red 'close window' X button on the frame. One tiny misclick and a careless player would find themselves booted out of the game back to their Steam library, wondering what went wrong... bloody thing didn't even ask me if I wanted to quit first.


A SHORT WAIT WHILE THE GAME STARTED UP AGAIN LATER.


My next lesson is on how to take out teams, though the tutorial pretty much just said ‘don’t get seen and don’t let the enemy see you take anyone out’ and left me to figure the rest out on my own. It's very similar to Human Revolution, in that I’m silent when crouched and I can stick to cover by holding a button. I'd make my way around the boxes and knock this guy out, but his buddy over there in the foggy background would probably see it happen and go hostile. I suppose I could just shoot the two of them, combat is always a viable option, but I’m trying to get more of an XP bonus here.

I’ve only got my recharging battery cell left, so I can use my takedowns as much as I feel like it, but have to get my ass back behind a box and wait for the battery light to go green again each time. And wait and wait and wait.

C'mon you bastard, fill up already! Don't think I'm going to lose my patience and eat a chocolate bar to refill it instantly, because it ain't going to happen. I'm hoarding my snacks until I really need them, because the things don't seem to be all that common.


EVENTUALLY, AFTER SPOTTING A SNEAKY VENT TO SNEAK AROUND MY OPPONENTS INSTEAD.


Well the first door code I found in a PDA wasn’t the classic 0451 combination (as seen in Deus Ex, System Shock 2, BioShock etc), but the game IS letting me use my PC keyboard’s numeric keypad to type it in so I'm happy! I honestly thought they wouldn’t have bothered putting that pointless extra feature in, especially with all the complaints I've heard about the PC port's terrible controls, but The Fall surprises me again. Typing in the code does mean missing out on the XP I would’ve gotten by hacking it though, which I’m less happy about.

Deus Ex the Line Hacking
The next door code actually was 0451! But I chose to hack it instead so I could show off the hacking minigame. It’s… exactly the same as in Human Revolution as far as I can tell. My goal is to trace a path from the blue sphere on the bottom right to the green orb on the top left, one grey folder at a time. However every action I take has a chance of being detected, which puts the device on alert and starts that red box on the bottom left on a mission to trace a path of its own across the nodes to my blue sphere. Which is bad.

The strategy side of it comes in when I have to decide between fortifying my hacked nodes to slow down the system’s trace when it reaches them, or leaving them alone to hopefully avoid catching its attention for a while. Also there’s rewards sitting on some of the branches, and I can grab them if I’m willing to wait around for their node to get hacked... again with a risk of waking the red box up.

I'm not generally a big fan of hacking minigames, but I admit I still kind of like this one. In fact it's probably my favourite out of all the ones I've seen in games so far.

Deus Ex The Line Augmentations Screen
Hey I start off with the Icarus Landing System! I love the Icarus Landing System, it slows my descent when I jump off buildings. Now I just have to find a way to get him to jump. What's the point of calling a game Deus Ex: The Fall when it never gives me a chance to fall?

I'm not going to compare every augmentation here with the Human Revolution's set to see what's different, but it doesn't seem like too much is missing. Plus there's a new cloaking dash move that I'm sure to never use because it eats up battery power.

I took out another room or two of guards by watching the arrows on the radar and going after them one by one while they were alone, then reached this guy hiding out at the end of the level with his sinister blue computer face buddy. In fact his face ain’t so human looking either now that I think about it, and his hair looks like it’s been poured on from a jug.

Now I have a choice… do I kill the man, or do I try to take him in? Saxon had been brought here by the Tyrants under the pretence that this was his chance for revenge against the man responsible for the death of his mercenary squad in the Australian Civil War, but I already know that the Tyrants are likely full of shit, so why would I want to deliberately make a mistake for Saxon to regret later? I don't really get why the game’s giving me this choice in a flashback.

Anyway I decided to bring him in alive, so the Tyrants stepped in and blew his head off for me. From off screen. Because animation is expensive.


LATER IN THE SAME FLASHBACK, ON THE TYRANTS’ SECRET PLANE.


Wow, that line... I think the game’s just trolling me now.

Deus Ex is a series built upon a foundation of stacked crates, or at least the ability to jump on them to find new paths, and yet this has no jumping at all. It doesn't let me pick up and stack crates either now that I think about it. The 'lift heavy objects' augmentation is still there but it's become more of a 'push heavy objects a little over to the side' power, so vending machines and fridges are going to be much less interesting in Ben Saxon's world than they were in Human Revolution.

I'm allowed to wander around here, listen to audio diaries and chat to the other Tyrants, but I'm on a plane in flight so there's nowhere much to go. Also to be honest I don't much want to hang around chatting with the worst part of Human Revolution.


SOME SNOOPING LATER.


One casual peek at an unguarded computer and the Tyrants’ secret is laid bare: they were the ones who sabotaged Saxon’s mission in Australia and got his squad murdered, because they wanted to manipulate him into joining their team. He's discussing the matter with their leader here, but as usual my choice of responses to this revelation is limited. Also why is Saxon hanging around so far off screen there? I caught this screenshot while he was swaying to the right a bit but he was just a nose for most of this conversation, it's weird. Still it's nice to know that it CAN render two people at once when it wants to.

You might think it's a bit dumb of Saxon to confront three equally tough special forces nutcases when they're trapped together on a plane at cruising altitude, but he has a plan. His plan is to jump out the back and use his Icarus Landing System to slow his very literal fall. Well that explains the title at least.

Not sure I'm all that keen on these guys being Saxon's arch nemeses though, seeing as they're already Adam Jenson's arch nemeses and he's the one that eventually kills them all. I know before this even begins that Saxon isn't going to defeat these people in any meaningful or satisfying way, and he's not going to take down the Illuminati, so all this is setting up is disappointment.

Then it’s back to the present day, where Saxon’s fellow fugitive is bouncing around and flapping her arms like she’s a penguin or one of Harry Potter’s Puppet Pals.

To be fair she supposed to be struggling from a lack of Neuropozyne, the drug that prevents augmentation rejection, and she’s soon suffering from seizures too. Seems like getting hold of this Neuropozyne is going to be my first goal.

Fortunately there was some in the bedroom, so that's one problem solved! But these two are still going to run out soon without a source, so I’ll have to leave this ridiculously huge absurdly amber living room and enter… the first city hub.

One loading screen later and Saxon’s left his safehouse in Costa Rica to catch a train to Panama City, and holy shit I’ve found the sun in a Deus Ex game! I always figured that daytime had been secretly abolished by the Illuminati in 2035 and no one noticed, but there it is.

Actually to be honest I did get to see the sun a little earlier as well, during Saxon's fall from the plane, because of course he had to fall from the sun. It's an allusion to the famous legend of Icarus you see, a tale of someone who ignored instructions and failed flight training due to cockiness and a lack of respect for the limitations of his technology, as referencing myths that have fuck all relevance to a tale of conspiracies, body modification and drug addiction automatically makes the story better because... I dunno, the other games did it?

The streets are split into a few smaller areas like in Deus Ex: Invisible War, but the place feels like it’s got a little bit more scale to it at least. It won't impress anyone who's played Human Revolution though, and the roads are pretty barren and lifeless.... and weirdly reflective.

I’m out looking for an underground doctor who might be able to get me Neuropozyne, or maybe a new drug called Riezene that’s supposed to have the same effect. Funny how I never heard of the second product mentioned in Human Revolution. Well when I say that I'm looking for a doctor, I mean that I'm basically just following that quest marker on the bottom left. 63m to go.

I decided to get a collection of NPC faces from around town as I go to see how they compare to their counterparts in Human Revolution, but I hit an unexpected problem: there are only two people in this city. I don’t mean there’s only two NPCs, the streets aren’t that deserted, but they’re all clones wearing one of two faces.

Human Revolution’s NPCs aren’t the greatest looking either three years on, especially when it comes to hair, but they’re clearly a generation ahead. Plus they have different clothes on!


SOME ALLEYWAYS LATER.


Well I’ve found the underground doctor I was searching for, but I got bad news: he’s a puppet.

I mean look at these faces, they’re both from the exact same real-time conversation with the same lighting in the same room with the same graphics settings, but Saxon has the sculpted normal-mapped face of an Xbox 360 character while the doctor looks like he’s from a PlayStation 2 game. He has tweed hair!

Anyway the doctor’s willing to sell me a card that'll let me buy this Neuropozyne for myself without showing up on a computer system and drawing the Illuminati's attention, but for some reason it didn’t occur to Saxon before he left the house that he might need money to purchase goods and services, so now I need to find work. Fortunately the doctor has a job for me to do! So that worked out.


SOON.


Deus Ex The Line Map
So now I’m going around the city getting some sidequests done for cash. This usually involves walking across the map to chat with someone, then letting them sucker me into fighting/sneaking through a building full of guards somewhere on the other side of the map.

I'd show a screenshot of a level, but you might as well just scroll back up to the tutorial shots if you're that curious as it's basically the same deal.


HOURS PASS. ERRANDS ARE RUN. ARROWS ARE CREPT PAST.


Damn, did I just take a wrong turn? It looks like I just stepped in Mirror’s Edge by mistake. Don't get me wrong though, I love the look of this building and it’s nice to be out of the slums for once. The gameplay's getting repetitive but at least it's switching up the scenery.

Oh shit, what’s happened to this security guard? He looks like one of those melty face aliens from Deep Space Nine. Either he’s had a skin augmentation gone horribly wrong, or the Cylons have started taking human form, and they suck at it. Man I’m going to feel terrible if it’s not actually bad graphics and it turns out that the poor man's a burn victim.

Well here I go again; I can either go in shooting or I can start looking for vents along the walls to bypass that ridiculous number of arrows on the radar. Sneaking across a room in this really isn’t all that fun to me due to the amount of guards in each area, each of them ready to turn around and catch me just as I’m halfway to the next pillar and set the whole room on alert. It's like the levels just aren't as well designed as the ones in Human Revolution, with less scope to sneak around unseen.

At first I was trying to ghost each area with zero takedowns to maximise my XP reward and smugness, but I got tired of all the quickloads, so lately I've been systematically Batmanning my way through their numbers, taking out one pair of eyes at a time. Though unlike in the Arkham games, these guys don't much notice or care that their friends are vanishing one by one.


A FEW ROOMS LATER.

 
It’s so so tempting for me to just to flick that turret switch to ‘enemies’ here and let my two problems fight it out with each other, especially as this is the first chance I’ve had to do this so far. But I’m trying to be a good guy here so I’ll play nice and just turn them off. The cameras too, I don’t need them beeping at me and spotting all the bodies before they can sparkle away.

Speaking of computer terminals; all the emails, TV broadcasts misplaced ebooks and other miscellaneous sources of info from Human Revolution are present and accounted for... I just don't care about them this time around because it's not a particularly interesting story to me.


AN HOUR OR SO, AND A FEW TRIPS BACK AND FORTH ACROSS THE CITY LATER.


Well that boss fight wasn’t terrible. I just had to sneak past the squad of soldiers over to the robot control panel and deactivate him....

...though that's not what I did. I actually used this opportunity to pull out each of my poor neglected collected guns in turn and unload every bit of ammo I'd accumulated into every merc up here, because I wanted to see what a decent gunfight was like before turning the game off. Sadly I didn’t find the combat to be all that decent, for reasons I’m struggling to analyse at the moment.

It's so similar to Human Revolution in so many ways, but all the ways in which it isn’t it ends up falling short. The enemies don't seem as smart, the guns don't seem as effective, the movement isn't as slick... though for a game designed for a touch screen it really isn't that bad! The only major control issue I've had is that he's never all that keen to vault over a wall and requires a bit of persuasion. Also the menus seemed ridiculously unresponsive at first, until I realised that you can't click buttons without the mouse being absolutely still.

Alright, now I've cleared the helipad I'm free to hop into a VTOL and leave this place behind. I didn't really achieve much here though besides getting hold of a card and arranging a supply of Nuropozene for... what's her name. You know, Saxon's friend, the one that likes to bob around. But then the Tyrants went and found us so now we have to run again.

Anyway let's go fly somewhere else so I can turn the game off.

Wow, seriously? I was all set to quit after the first city hub, but the game went and beat me to it. I’d estimate that wasn’t even as long as Human Revolution’s first Detroit chapter, so it’s maybe... a quarter the length of that game in total. Something like that.

I do get to start again from the beginning on New Game Plus mode, which I really didn’t expect to see. This puts the difficulty up a notch, but starts the player off with the same inventory and augmentations they'd collected by the end. Seems like a cool feature, though it does bring attention to the fact that I don’t remember seeing any difficulty choices when I started my game.

Oh speaking of starting up the game, I totally forgot about to mention what the ‘Turntable’ menu option is about. It’s pretty much what you think it’s going to be, but I had to collect a few of the hidden items in-game first to have anything to display in it:

There you go, it's a model viewer! I always appreciate seeing these things, but I have to admit that this is the last game I expected to want to show its character models off.

You know, I’ve finished the entire game and I still don’t really know who Anna Kelso is besides being an augmented ex-government agent and the occasional voice in my ear. How she met Saxon, why the Illuminati is after her, it’s all a mystery to me, and I can't say that I really care much. The game is designed to imitate the way Human Revolution used filler missions to add depth to the world and space out the main story events, but that doesn't work so well with a game that's a quarter of the length, especially when the first act takes place in a novel and the conclusion may never turn up.

In this game Ben Saxon goes to a doctor for some medicine he desperately needs and eventually learns that something is up with one of the guy's products... we go to see a guy about it, he dies, and then it ends. Saxon never takes any of the medicine.

Oh but there's also an epilogue!

This is the level of storytelling we're at here: "I'll get you next time, Gadget!" There's a bit of a twist to the ending that I don't want to spoil on the off chance someone actually cares, but it's eye-rollingly lame either way. In my humble opinion.


CONCLUSION

Deus Ex: The Fall is like a pretty close counterfeit version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution: identical at a glance, but if you look at the details it’s clear that something isn’t quite right. It reminds me of when a game gets released on two generations simultaneously, but the last gen version has a different storyline for some reason, is noticeably more awkward to play, less polished, and they've gone and changed everything around .

In fact, if this had been released on the PlayStation 2 or Xbox as the sequel to Deus Ex: Invisible War, I imagine critics would’ve been quite kind to the gameplay, maybe even considering it a return to form, right before asking where the rest of the game is. It’s not quite as thoughtful or intelligent as Invisible War perhaps, and it’s missing all the little arguments about politics and the pertinent crises of the day that everyone everywhere seems to be having in the main Deus Ex games, but even though it’s a shallower experience it still benefits from many of the improvements Human Revolution brough to the series. Though I don’t remember Human Revolution making me to hit the quickload button quite so often... I dunno, maybe I was just sabotaging myself by totally ignoring the weird shop system. Didn't seem right somehow to just materialise anything I needed right into my ugly shiny brown pants instead of solving problems with the resources at hand.

Speaking of save games, I’m not a fan of it only having the one save slot, so only one person can play it and they can’t go back to old saves if they want to make a different choice. Though I will give it credit for throwing up a warning if you try to quicksave with low health; that’s the first time I can remember seeing that in a game.

Anyway, in conclusion, this is a functional expansion of the Human Revolution gameplay experience, downgraded and stripped down to run on lesser hardware, with an unengaging story, poor shooting, and a lot of running back and forth. It's not crap though, so it can have a star.

If you want to talk about Deus Ex: The Fall, the Deus Ex franchise, my writing, this website, or anything else that'd fit comfortably in a respectable comment box, then go assemble your opinions and feedback and shove it all into the box below. It's always nice reading what you folks have to say, and I mean that.

Next time: a game that wasn't released on PCs in 2014!

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Semi-Random Game Box