My Intitial Thoughts on the Deus Ex: Human Revolution "Leaked Beta"

Two days ago I read about a "beta" 8-hour demo version of the forthcoming Deus Ex game being released on the internet. I normally don't bother with these sorts of things, but Human Revolution is a game I have really high hopes for, and was very interested in seeing how it is going to turn out. Mostly, my great concern for it is the fact that the PC version is going to be a port of the console version. That the original Deus Ex is a seminal and important representation of PC games of yore makes this factor all the more relevant. With Human Revolution the series has the chance to restore its former glory, and hopefully make everyone forget about Invisible War. I also read that Eidos apparently was not attempting to shut it down and that they were actually welcoming feedback about it on their forums. This spurred me on. So I said, why not. I'll download it, play it, and it will help inform my purchase decision. If it's great, I still have time to pre-order. If it sucks, then I will know to wait until several months after release and it goes on sale.

Last night I installed it, and began playing.

(Note: Scroll to the bottom for updates/corrections)

I have only thus far played it for little over an hour, so I will treat this review as if I was playing a demo of the game (they usually run about an hour). For the most part it doesn’t feel much different than your average modern shooter, that is to say very formulaic.

The intro level is split in to two parts:
Part 1 – you float around behind an NPC (“on rails” and unable to move) while they lead you through a facility.
Part 2 – you run down a linear corridor and shoot some generic NPC baddies.

This is interspersed with some FMV cutscenes (making the game feel all the more dated). Really, FMV cutscenes that pop in and out of gameplay, in this day and age, feel like poor game design more than anything else. At least have cutscenes play in-engine so there isn’t the awkward contrast of: here’s a “realer” looking version of your characters, and here’s a less real one. I guess this is a Squenix production after all…

If this doesn’t sound like every recent shooter you’ve ever played, then you haven’t played any recent shooters. As I continue to play, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that there aren’t any more npc-leading-you-by-the-hand moments. To compare it to something else more closely related, the entire intro actually felt very much like the intro level in Invisible War. In case you hadn’t heard, Invisible War was, by most accounts, a completely terrible game that shat all over the Deus Ex name. In IW’s defense, at least it didn’t take away player control in the intro at all. HR does this with alarming frequency.

Something else that has me worried about the linearity of the game – there is only a checkpoint system. No manual saving. In my book, manual saving is a must for any game that hopes to convey any sense of openness. (See update #1)

This experience is a stark contrast to the intro level/ first mission in the original Deus Ex. In that game you are plopped in to a large open level with little guidance other than a mission briefing. Games these days seem to design to the lowest common denominator, insisting on always having an introductory mission that holds your hand, and prompts you every two seconds reminding you what your keybinds are (by having a place to jump, a place to duck, and a place to shoot!). I had hoped that the developers of Deus Ex would think more highly of their audience. I guess this is what happens when you go for a multi-platform wide release. It was also hilarious to note that the tutorial videos used Xbox controller buttons in their demonstrations. Assuming I didn’t, for some idiotic reason, know what my keybinds were, this would be immensely unhelpful. I’m assuming that this is only a “Beta version” oversight and will be gone by full release.

Otherwise, Nixxes seems to have done a fairly admirable job of providing a competent PC control scheme. I have yet to encounter any unchangeable default keybinds (as I have in many other ports), and the various menus are all mappable to separate keys. I haven’t had a chance to use the augs in gameplay yet, so hopefully that proves to be effortless as well.

Some of the next part I’m hoping is merely a result of this being an early, un-polished build.

Graphically, the game looks very dated. If you’ve been oohing and ahhing at the gameplay footage you’ve seen online, be assured that at full resolution, it does not look nearly as pretty. Low res textures are everywhere, and the environment has a feel of looking very flat, almost as if we are still using sprites. The environment itself is very static. That is to say, when you shoot stuff, bullet-hole decals appear, but nothing else happens. You cannot move or otherwise affect most objects in any way. There are some specific interactable objects scattered throughout the level, mostly in the form of large crates (but not all of the crates, only certain ones!) that you can throw. I also managed to pull a fire extinguisher off the wall and throw it and have it explode, but I’m pretty sure they did that specifically because everyone expects fire extinguishers in games to explode. That was pretty much the only object besides the “throwing crates” I was able to do anything with.

The art style seems to be on that borderline of “we wanted to make this look realistic but we ran out of time.” Characters have somewhat cartoony features, and skin and hair looks to be made out of shellacked wood. This combined with the atrocious character animation and stock npc death-poses, once again, feels out of place in a modern triple-A game.

These issues become especially glaring in dialogue sequences, when you are forced to stand perfectly still, staring in to the NPC’s dead robot eyes. As they banter at you, they make stiff, jerking movements with their necks and arms. There is no ability to skip or fast-forward through dialogue, either, so you just have to sit there and take it in (see update #1). When you do finally get the chance to interject your own dialogue, your options are pretty limited. I’m hoping this opens up further in to the game, but in the parts I’ve played thus far, you are presented with either an “aggressive” or “passive” dialogue response. This prompt does not come up every time your character speaks, either, just whenever the game feels like it.

The other component to dialogue, voice acting, seems to be hit or miss. Your character is fairly well-acted (although he sounds strangely like Martin Sheen trying to do Solid Snake), but out of the three major NPC’s I interacted with, only one of them felt natural, with the other two sounding as if they were reading from the most boring manual ever, with their French-Canadian accents bleeding through. The writing itself is not bad, although I have already encountered multiple cliché lines (“Are you ready for this?” “Only one way to find out!”).

Combat is a little awkward. During most of the game, you play from a first person perspective. During combat, however, you can shift in to a Splinter Cell-style 3rd person in order to use one of those sticky-cover systems. Mostly it’s a series of odd little things that make it uncomfortable. Such as: you would think that the “down the sights” button and the “aim from cover” button would be the same, but they are different. Note that you can also use the 3rd-person cover system when not in combat, like to sneak around and avoid detection. The transition between the two perspectives is fairly smooth, but I still find myself wishing they would have decided on one or the other. The NPC AI I encountered thus far in combat has felt incredibly stupid (I’m playing on the hardest difficulty), e.g. standing out in the open and shouting canned phrases at you (which recycle within the span of a minute or two). Also rearing its ugly head is the rechargeable health system which every developer these days seems to think is awesome. The screen goes red, and then fades after a while if you don’t get shot for long enough. I guess it’s down to personal preference, but I completely hate that. I suppose if you examine it within the context of the game it’s not terribly unrealistic: your character has cybernetic enhancements and is probably full of nanomachines that could ostensibly repair his wounds given enough time. Maybe if I remind myself of that constantly it won’t be so bad.

I guess a final note would be the soundtrack, which might be one of the few things helping the game feel like Deus Ex. I would describe it as sounding like Mass Effect meets Tron: Legacy. It’s nice at first and helps give the game that Blade Runner atmosphere, but I could see it getting on my nerves after a while.

Like I said, these opinions are only based on a short playthrough of a build that will presumably undergo a lot more tweaking before release. I’m hoping that further in to the game some of the restrictive feeling will open up. I will update with more when I’ve played through a longer portion of the game.

Up ‘till now, however, it’s mostly a disappointment, and doesn’t really feel Deus Ex-like.

Update 1.

So I'm in the 2nd level now and I need to make a few corrections.

Apparently in the first level there were a couple things I couldn't do that I now can. First of all there is a manual save option in the main menu. Still no quick-save keybind though. I will have to remember to save more frequently because it's already apparent that the checkpoint system is woefully inadequate.

Second, the mousewheel DOES default to weapon switch. I'm not sure why this wasn't the case during the first level.

Third, the dialogue seems to be opening up a bit, and you CAN indeed skip through it using spacebar (there is no keybind or indication of this, just came upon it by pressing a bunch of buttons in frustration).

Perhaps this is just a case of really terrible design decisions for the game's intro?

Let's hope so...

Oh also, I jumped down what appeared to be a 10 foot drop, and Adam died. Uh... I thought augs were supposed to make you stronger, not enfeebled.

Update 2.

Alright, I've played a little further in to level 2, so I will mention some more things now that I've played around in a non-intro level a bit more. I got another hour or so under my belt before the game CTD'd.

There was an especially obnoxious bug I encountered. The game kept switching to the sniper rifle as my selected weapon, despite me constantly switching back to and wanting to use the traquilizer gun. I figured switching it out of the quick-use item bar might stop it but then... I couldn't figure out how to switch things out of the quick-use bar.

I'm sure this bug will be gone soon enough, but it alerted me to another issue which is that the inventory is really bizarre. It lets you drag-and-drop items from your inventory in to the quick-use bar, but not drag them back out of the quick-use bar. I *think* you can assign things to slots using various number keys, but this appears to be a clunky system at best. I suppose having a game manual might help out in this case... not sure. It's also bizarre because certain items (such as painkiller pills, energy bars) show up in the quick-use bar, but not in your inventory. Once again, I have no idea how to get them to un-occupy those quick-use slots. It also appears that the only way to select them is via the number keys. This also applies to grenades. There is an assigned key to throw grenades/explosives, but there is no key to select which one you want to use besides the number keys.

I guess this is OK, but I don't use the standard WASD keyboard configuration. I re-map my keys so that the numpad controls all movement and menu functions. However the game seems to have a problem distinguishing between the numpad and the horizontal number keys. This is quite possibly why my sniper rifle kept showing up.

Also about that sniper rifle -- there was a pre-mission cut scene where part of your dialogue choices appear to be for selecting your gear loadout. You are asked how you want to approach the mission (aggressive or stealth, up-close or far away) and are shown weapon choices based on those selections. Except that once the mission started, I was given both the sniper rifle and the tranq rifle, which had been under separate options. So what was the point of that decision anyways?

I have also encountered some more combat/sneaking. The 3rd-person during cover / 1st-person during everything else gameplay is becoming increasingly obnoxious. I had previously compared the cover system to Splinter Cell, but that proved to be somewhat of an inadequate description. Mostly because Splinter Cell's cover system was extremely fluid and intuitive. You could move from cover-to-cover quick and effortlessly, and hop over small barriers and back in to cover. Not so in HR. In this game you must constantly switch back and forth between 1st and 3rd person to move about, which is obnoxious to say the least, especially since you aren't always sure whether you are completely behind cover or not. You also cannot aim through a scoped weapon when in cover for some reason.

Then there is the take-down system. Still not sure how I feel about this. It makes non-lethal stealth take-downs insanely easy. You just press one button, somewhere in the vicinity of an NPC, and the view switches to one of several canned animation sequences of you knocking out the baddie. I feel like this should be much harder to do, but I'm not sure how the martial arts of it could be accomplished without some terrible quick time event (which would most certainly be a worse alternative). The only other basis for comparison I can think of is the CQC system in MGS3 & 4, which was unreliable at best, and often had you doing the exact opposite of what you intended to do. Still, a one-button KO where you only have to be reasonably near the NPC feels far too easy, especially in hard mode.

On the plus side, the game is starting to feel less generic-shootery. Still has a long way to go though.

Final note until I think of other stuff: NPC facial variation appears to be pretty poor. The SWAT guy you talk to before entering the warehouse appears to have the same exact face as one (or more) of the NPC baddies.

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