Friday, 9 September 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

In the year 2000, the world was introduced to Deus Ex: a sprawling cyberpunk adventure with multiple paths and endings, a cast of fantastic characters and storytelling beyond most things seen at the time. Which is why it won countless Game of the Year awards.
   In 2003 its sequel, Invisible War, was met with derision as fans of the PC original (which was later ported to the PS2) were angered by the simultaneous release with the Xbox version, and what they thought was a compromised or cut-down game. In all honesty, the sequel was a fantastic game in its own right, albeit a little smaller in scale than its predecessor.
   In 2007, Eidos Montreal took on the immense task of creating a new game in the franchise, one that would wipe the bad memories of Invisible War's reception whilst eclipsing the original game in the franchise. Not an easy task for an entirely new team's first game.
   But one they succeeded in.
   Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the year 2027, a full twenty-five years before the events of the original game. Playing as Adam Jensen, a private security operative for Sarif Industries, a simple assignment goes horribly wrong, leaving poor Adam beaten by an unknown augmented chap before being shot in the head. That would ruin anybody's day.
   That is not the end though, far from it, as Sarif Industries, the leading company in human augmentations, puts Adam back together using mechanical augmentations such as his new arms (with blades embedded within, an excellent choice for the security chief of a global organisation) and, although unlocked as you progress, an invisibility cloak, ability to see through walls and many, many more.
   Augmentations have always been an integral part of the Deus Ex games and here it is no different. A new levelling system has been put into place that earns you experience points (XP) for various things – successful hacking, finding secret areas, taking down enemies – and in turn gives you access to Praxis points, which allow you to upgrade or install your various augmentations. Praxis kits can also be found in the really secret areas, as well as in the not-so-secret LIMB clinics, wherein you can buy a limited amount of them for use at any time.
  The various augmentations you buy can be tailored to whatever play style you choose, with the invisibility and hacking ones helping you to maintain a stealthy attitude, the social upgrade helping you to be diplomatic and talk your way out of situations, and the likes of the Typhoon system (deploying miniature mines to knock down multiple foes) and the ability to punch through walls being just a couple of the choices for the more visceral approach. Whichever way you play, you even have the choice of being non-lethal too. Tapping the context-sensitive takedown button will perform a stealthy knock-out attack whereas holding it will result in Jensen killing his prey, each choice ending in any of a number of brilliantly animated scenes as you pummel or butcher your target. This can also be upgraded for taking down two enemies simultaneously too, which leads to an even more stunning array of animated takedowns.
   How Eidos Montreal has limited this is very clever, giving you limited energy supplies (Jensen is using powerful machinery, after all) in the form of bars of energy, with one being used up every time you use a takedown or any other energy-based augmentations. Only one of the bars will recharge though, meaning you have to be frugal in your attempts to bypass the various guards and goons of Deus Ex.
   The guards and peoples that populate the world are all hugely varied depending on the region you are investigating. With Detroit, Hengsha and Singapore on the list of places visited in the game, the variety of each place's residents differs wildly from the others, as do the environments themselves.
   Every location in the game is rendered beautifully, with astonishing attention to detail that extends from simple 'missing persons' posters and giant advertisement billboards, to the intricate post-it notes plastered over desks and computer screens. The lighting and shadows are exquisite too, with locations bathed in the glow of neon signs or the spotlights of vehicles overhead, and the first time you enter Adam's apartment is a thing of real beauty.
   When navigating these places, there are tonnes of hidden areas to explore, pocket secretaries to be found (usually offering access codes to terminals or electronically-locked doors, sometimes crucial when on the run) and masses of people to speak to. Find the right people and you can unlock side missions, often involving finding a certain person/object or to resolve tough situations, and will net you extra XP toward those all-important Praxis points.
   When you find yourself entering into conversation with certain characters, you will be presented with options for various responses or simply to ask questions, but this is often much deeper than it first seems. Decisions can have lasting effects on the story, with one particular choice determining the outcome of a very important scene much further on in the game. It really is a game about choice and consequence, which hits the nail on the head when creating a Deus Ex game.
   The voice acting and storytelling in general gets almost everything right, from the husky voice of the lead to the settings themselves, all created with the utmost care by a team clearly intent on making the best possible experience they could. There is intrigue and suspense, you will feel genuine mistrust for certain characters or affection for others, all the while trying to balance the need to explore with the craving to find out what happens next in the story.
   And this is no small game either, running into the tens of hours' worth of gameplay, with average times coming in at around thirty hours. There is such rich detail and immersion here that you will struggle to part with the controller (or mouse and keyboard) even after long sessions. There are so many moments when the end seems near as well, only to find yet another plot twist or mission that needs completing. In many games this extra time can merely be crammed with filler content but not here, as even the most minor twists can result in massive implications down the line for those who pay attention.
   This all sounds like Human Revolution has no flaws, but that simply is not true. The AI can be a bit glitchy at times, with guards sometimes seeing you without being in their line of sight, and the boss battles can feel a little out of place, though they are usually fun and challenging. However, if you have set up for a stealthy approach, you can often be left fuming when you must face down a boss character head-on – but stealth rules still apply, as the boss AI will still lose you if you slip away undetected.
   All in all, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stellar example of blending first-person action with role-playing, infusing it with thought-provoking storytelling and a soundtrack that is dripping with atmosphere at all times, and absolutely jaw-droppingly beautiful when it hits its best. Even the biggest titles on the horizon this holiday are going to struggle to match this level of quality throughout.
   Eidos Montreal hasn't just eclipsed the original game with Human Revolution, they have probably given us 2011's Game of the Year.


Saturday, 9 July 2011

Grow Up? I've Done That Already, Thanks...

Ever been told to grow up, purely because you still play videogames? I'm 27 and I've done my growing up, it wasn't that fun to tell the truth.
    Fun is why I play games. The escapism, the fantasy, the stress relief, it all comes together to form an experience that no other medium can come close to creating.
    The irony to these people telling you to grow up though, is that they themselves probably own a Wii or a DS, or at least read books or watch films in their spare time, which is essentially for the exact same reason I play games – they want escapism, fantasy and stress relief.
    They want fun.
    And it's these people who are holding back the industry, their closed-mindedness that continues to fuel the argument about whether games should be considered as art or not. That isn't the point of this piece, but there are similar issues plaguing both debates.
    Books are considered as intellectual, writing is an art form (which it definitely is, as I have learned through attempting to write my own novel), yet anybody can read and write with a little practice.
    Films can be considered intellectual too, at least when it comes to the art house stuff rather than the Michael Bay school of big explosions and mindless action. But even Mr Bay has shown that absolutely anyone can make a film, Kevin Smith is also a patron of this way of thinking.
    Not everyone can make a videogame, at least not without some form of training. There are masses of data to consider beyond just telling a story, staging a football game or allowing people to shoot the hell out of each other online. It's a time-consuming process that often ends with unfinished products, as we've seen countless times.
    Anyway, I'm rambling.
    My point was that gaming is about having fun, either with friends or alone. Reading is about enjoying a story or discovering something new. Films are about having fun and enjoying the ride, be it something heavy and thought provoking or an adrenaline-fuelled action extravaganza.
    Some people believe gaming is for kids. Those people are missing out on some of the most rewarding media experiences available, which is their loss.

Silent Hill 2 - Gaming at its most mature.    
    Ever been scared silly, simply by having your character trapped in a closet with a disgusting creature outside? Been terrified purely by incredible characters that play on simple psychological ideas? Silent Hill 2 did those things and more, without resorting to gore or screaming obscenities to provide a more 'mature' experience.
    The Mass Effect series has shown how mixing a simple shooter with deep role-playing mechanics can lead to one of the most engaging, story-driven adventures in recent history. Again, without resorting to immature tactics.
    Call of Duty is obviously the most famous series of the moment, purely for the amount of fun players get out of competing online. The series does have some very impressive storyline examples, but the multiplayer aspect is what draws in the audience year in, year out.
Call of Duty - played by millions online.
An 18-rated game too, which many parents
obviously ignore.
    Sure, there can be immature players online, though that's mostly due to parents allowing children to play 18-rated games. Yet another argument best left for another time. The point of playing online though is the competitive aspect, which is often overlooked by those telling you to grow up.
    There's no real difference between an adult playing something like Call of Duty online, and somebody playing football on a Sunday morning. Both offer the same competitive aspect, despite one being mental exercise whereas the other is physical.
    And this doesn't include the co-operative side of multiplayer gaming, which actively encourages players – be they friends or complete strangers – to work together to complete various objectives. Some even lead to genuine friendships being formed, nothing to scoff at when said people would likely never meet otherwise, sometimes because they live on opposite sides of the world.
    Gaming is more grown-up than people give it credit for.
    And no matter how you look at it, gaming is no less mature than reading a book, watching a film or playing football on a Sunday morning.
    Anyone telling you otherwise needs to open their eyes.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Race Driver: Grid

Motor racing has been around for decades, it has brought fun and joy to millions through Formula One, Le Mans, Touring Cars and many other forms in other parts of the world, such as Drifting and Touge in Japan and Muscle Cars in America and Australia.
    You can try your hand at all of them in Codemasters' classic racer.
    Starting out as an amateur driver in a new team, you are tasked with bringing in the money by first racing for other teams in order to bring a Mustang back to life as your first team car. After that, the world opens up to you and you will begin racing for your own team and start catching the eye of sponsors. This is where the customisation comes into play.
    Rather than allowing the player to upgrade the car's parts, you are only given the option to create your own paint job from existing designs and customising the colours to suit your own preferences. Then you name the team, add sponsors (all of which come with objectives to fulfil in order to receive the cash bonus) and later add a team mate, once you have earned enough to hire one.
    There are three territories to race in: Europe, Japan and USA. Every territory comes with its own distinct racing events and courses, all with varying degrees of difficulty and sense of identity, brought to life by breathtaking visuals. Through winning races, you will gain reputation points that will eventually unlock licenses to race in the higher tiers and, eventually, race in the Global championships – six events that mix and match courses from around the world.
Grid's, erm... grids offer up to 20 racers at once!
    And that does not include the Le Mans 24 Hours race at the end of every season. Simulating a 24-hour clock complete with day and night cycle, this race takes around 10-15 minutes to complete and offers multiple classes, just like the real thing. Winning your class is the only objective you have – the ultimate aim being to buy your own top-tier racer and win the event outright.
    It is the racing itself that takes first prize though, with fantastic physics that convey a real sense of connection between driver and car, tyres and road, offering the most direct control of any racer and then coupling it with the best AI. The computer-controlled racers will fight for position, yield the racing line and, though rarely, they will play dirty.

    It is at these moments when the Flashback option comes in handy. No longer will you have to restart an entire race when something goes hugely wrong (and in Grid, you can total your car so “hugely wrong” is inevitable for even the best driver), instead press the Flashback button and you can rewind a few seconds and get straight back into the action – just remember to learn from your mistakes!
    From casual beginnings through to fierce competition in later events, the difficulty is customisable via AI level, Pro Mode (turns off race restarts) and various handling assists that can be turned on or off, making it an extremely accessible racer for everyone.
    Many new games have come and gone since Grid's 2008 release: Forza Motorsport 3, Need for Speed: Shift and its sequel Shift 2: Unleashed, and of course Gran Turismo 5, but not one of them has managed to recreate that perfect blend of realism and a touch of arcade fun that Grid so gleefully flaunts.
    And that is why the unconfirmed sequel still sits at the top of my 'most wanted' list.