Deus Ex: Human Revolution Beta - Continued Review

Alright, so I may have been a bit hasty in my mostly condemning first-take on this game.  It was, as I stated, based on the first 1.5 missions in the game, roughly 2.5 hours of play or so.  If this had been an actual demo, and cut off after the intro mission, it would have left a severely sour taste in my mouth.  Luckily this is not the case.  I was pretty intensely bored and put-off by the beginning of the game, so afterwards I found it difficult to muster up the desire to play more of it (what with so many other games on my plate).  Last night, I decided to give it the benefit of the doubt and continue playing.

I'm glad I decided to do this.  I finished playing through the 2nd mission and intermediary (at the Serif office) stage, stopping right before heading out in to the city at large.  Happily, the game became much more engrossing and some of the rigidness of the introductory stages seems to be disappearing.  It certainly no longer feels like a "generic shooter," as I previously stated.

(minor spoilers follow!)

Dialogue seems to be opening up a bit more.  The end of mission 2 has you using your dialogue options to outwit a hostage-taker.  You are given three tonal approaches to how you address the NPC, causing them to take a different reaction.  It's pretty forgiving, as the various types of dialogue categories were presented several times in succession, even if they initially "fail."  This is different than say, Mass Effect, where you are railroaded down a certain dialogue path depending on what your initial choice is.  I think I like it better, but at the same time it felt a bit too tolerant of my potential blunders — I wonder if perhaps this becomes more difficult down the road?

Unfortunately, the awful character animation remains, which winds up making NPC-interaction feel stilted and cheesy regardless of how good the voice acting or writing is (which is still hit or miss1).  This is probably the area of the game where I still take the most exception — the look and feel.  The visual aesthetic has some nice qualities, and I like the color palette they decided to use, but graphically and technically it feels either old or amateurish.  Six years ago if I was playing a Hitman game, these things would have been negligible.  I'm not saying every game should have LA Noire-level of character detail (although I've heard their body animations are still lacking), but any game focused on heavy NPC-interaction in 2011 really needs to move beyond the "wooden robot" stage.  The mostly static environment still irks me as well, although it looks like you are able to move more things around once you upgrade your strength aug.

I also got to encounter a bunch of hacking sequences.  I really enjoy the way these are designed, as they are engaging, nicely varied, appropriately challenging, and feel somewhat realistic (minus the gui part, of course).

The remainder of the second mission sadly remained pretty linear.  I feel that, now that I have acquired some side missions and entered an outside area, perhaps this will be changing.  I'll have to wait and see.  Happily there have been no further instances of player control being removed, and forcibly having to follow an NPC around.

So, yes, I am enjoying the game much more than I initially did.  There are, however, a bunch of things that still have not improved and that bother me enough to reiterate:

  • The FMV cut scenes.  These things pop up at every crucial plot moment.  They don't even look good.  At least if you are going to have pre-rendered out-of-engine cut scenes, the level of detail in them should be astounding.  Otherwise, what's the point?
  • Really dumb NPC AI.  I'm hoping the enemies get more challenging as the game goes on because, even in the hardest difficulty setting, the enemy AI is laughable.  In several instances, I would tranq one guard, then wait for the other guards to run over and tranq them one after the other as they tried to revive their downed teammates, leaving a giant pile of bodies in the middle of a room.
  • The inventory system is still buggy as hell.  I don't know if this is a legitimate bug or just something with the way my controls are set up.  Either way it's really impeding gameplay.  I feel like this might be a result of sloppy control porting duties by Nixxes.
  • One-button takedowns.  Yes, they use up a "battery" each time, so it's not like you can just do them through the entire level.  Still, they are way too simplified.  I'm surprised that with all the abilities initially stripped away in the beginning of the game, that this wasn't one of them.  I feel like a better system would be to make them more complex/cumbersome at the beginning and then gradually (via aug upgrades) make them easier and more powerful, so that you can only do the one-button thing when the aug/skill has been fully upgraded.  Plus any time a game uses canned animations over and over again, it feels really crappy.
That's pretty much all I've got for now.  I'm going to play some more in the (hopefully) open city area and check out the sidequests.  I'm hoping this will shut me up about it being too linear.  After that I will probably call it quits on this "demo" because I don't want to play too far in to it when I'm eventually going to be buying the full game later.  That said, I still think I'll be waiting for it to go on sale before making the purchase.

PS: Something I thought was incredibly hilarious — one of the generic NPC bad guy voices sounds a lot like Carl from Aqua Teen.  

1. Ok so the "bad guy" who faces off in hostage negotiation with you at the end of the 2nd mission has this stereotypical LA latino gangbanger voice and vernacular. Kind of like a thuggish Cheech Marin. It's pretty cheesy and feels out of place considering the character is supposed to be this war veteran/underground guerrilla movement guy breaking in to a high-tech company to steal secrets.

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