Awed And Augmented – Thoughts On Deus Ex: Human Revolution

September 19, 2011

Last Friday I made the push and finally completed Deus Ex: Human Revolution, refusing to relinquish the Xbox360 until I was done. And now that I’m finished the game, I believe one of my commenters said it best when they used the term “class” to describe the experience of DE:HR. I mean, have you ever appreciated a really good movie or read a book you just couldn’t put down, because its plot elements were just so well put together that they flowed almost effortlessly? I can’t remember the last time I was so impressed with an RPG, which is good because I mostly bought DX for its story, and I wasn’t disappointed.

In the end, I did come to enjoy everything DE:HR had to offer. In fact, to cut to the chase, the only two major issues I had with the game were 1) the so-named “tacked on boss fights” (but more on that later), and 2) the numerous times when my delicate senses were accosted by the horrible voice acting by the main character (who was probably advised to act too cool for any line of dialogue he speaks, which would certainly explain why everything was delivered in a laughable monotone).

What I really liked about DE:HR was the flexibility it offered. At first, I admit I wasn’t all that crazy about the game mechanics or the augmentation system (which arguably forms the basis of these Deus Ex games), but I did learn to love it. In fact, it’s where much of that flexibility comes from. Once you play the game a bit and start to “get” where it’s coming from, the whole world of DE:HR opens up to you. It also gets easier and gives you a lot more room to play with once you gain more Praxis points. There are so many ways to tackle the situations in this game, even two players with completely different play styles can have a lot of fun with it.

I for one have neither the skill nor capacity for sneakiness, instead preferring bloodbaths to stealth runs, so I played the entire game like a shooter.

My husband on the other hand, he of the seemingly endless fount of patience, challenged himself not to kill anyone or even be detected. Needless to say, watching him play was an infuriating cycle of “oops-pause-reload last save”, “oops-pause-reload last save”, “oops-pause-reload last save”, bringing me dangerously close to just grabbing him by his collar bone from behind and re-enacting a classic Adam Jensen takedown on his ass. And that’s why he’ll probably get the “Pacifist” and “Foxiest of the Hounds” achievement, and I…didn’t.

The only parts of the game I dreaded were the boss fights. Most of the complaints you’ll see about this game will probably involve them, and for good reason. I didn’t think they were going to be so bad but after experiencing them for myself, they do somehow feel apart from the game. First of all, the boss encounters in this game are all straight-up fire fights. So for those who were totally digging the whole stealth and sneaking around thing and not having to kill a single soul, I can see why they would be pissed.

But even as someone playing as a trigger-happy mercenary, I can’t say the boss fights felt all that great for me either. Simply put, they can be difficult. While I don’t normally mind a challenge, the problem is I don’t think the game prepares you for these boss fights. Much of the beginning emphasized and even encouraged stealth and taking enemies down quietly and non-lethally, making it look like a bad-ass bag of fun. Then just as you’ve gotten all your stealthy augments and started falling in love with your stun gun, they throw you into death trap to fend for yourself against some heavy-rifle toting meathead nicknamed “The Bull”. I had damage reduction and all my guns upgraded, and the first time I still flailed around like an oiled-up squid.

Yet, if you know what you’re getting into, DE:HR is still a rock solid game. And the world details are phenomenal! Even when you think you can get away with something, the game’s just too “smart”. Just like real life, someone might catch you moving behind even a tiny window panel in a door and the next thing you know a dozen guards will be alerted to your presence. And as someone who can read a bit of Chinese and French, I was also amazed at the number of Easter eggs I found in Hengsha and Montreal; everything down to the emails to the graffiti scrawled on the walls meant something significant (or was just plain old fun).

I also developed a knack for hacking, and poured points into that as well as social persuasion. Both to me were like little mini-games related to the story, scattered throughout the game. This is where I think the game excels, by giving you many ways of dealing with a situation (with the exception of the boss fights), leading to different branches of the story in a way which I think is even more elaborate than a BioWare game. Picture all the game elements like its plot, features, or mechanics each being an individual thread, and all of them coming together to make a perfect web, and that’s how I felt throughout my playthrough of DE:HR.


  1. Lmao at your comments about watching your husband play!

    Great review. Loved the game.

    • Playing DE:HR with me around is hazardous to your health, if you’re a stealther 😛

  2. I’ve been tempted to get it, but I’m 1) not sure it’ll work well enough on my laptop, 2) not sure I’ll like it enough even though I’m a huge fan of cyberpunk-ish games. Meh, we’ll see what happens.

    • Well, now that I know you’ve taken the plunge I hope you enjoy it. Good luck on the boss fights!

  3. Your husband plays just like me. And you comment:

    “So for those who were totally digging the whole stealth and sneaking around thing and not having to kill a single soul, I can see why they would be pissed.”

    Perfectly describes when and why i stopped playing the game when I hit the first “Boss”. I am terrible at shooters, which is why I played in stealth mode. To have my first fight be against a boss basically made the game “un-finishable” for me. I tried at least 10 times and never even got close. Despite many tips and tricks from my Twitter friends, it just wasn’t worth the aggravation, which is saying a lot since I loved the game until then 😦

    If someone can give me the code to make me invulnerable, or the auto kill code, for those fights, I might actually go back to playing 🙂

    • The first boss was tough, even for me and I didn’t play stealth. I had to go through a ton of deaths and reloads too. It was just so…different and disjointed. The link about them outsourcing the boss fights makes so much sense now.

      What I ended up doing was running back and forth across the room blinding him with grenades whenever I could, praying and shooting him wildly.

  4. With only a few hours until Gears 3 releases, reading this still made me extremely regret not picking up Deus Ex weeks ago.

    • You’ll never get a chance to play it now, you’re looking forward to/will be buying even more games than me this fall and winter!

  5. I chose the Way of the Stealth too. Because that’s what I did in Deus Ex. So, when I fought the first boss, I didn’t have any but a Tranq and Stun Gun.

    I still great though. As great as Deus Ex (which is my favorite game of all time). But the story is even better because it has realistic concerns.

    • Wow, nice, I don’t know what I would have done if I had gone into the first boss with non-lethal weapons. Curled up into a ball and whimpered, I guess.

      And I agree, I really liked the story. It’s always cool when games throw in a background that encompasses moral questions and world issues.

  6. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Even knowing that there is a way to cheat past the boss fights, the moment’s past where I want to bother.

    By the way, apparently there’s a good reason why those fights feel out of place: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/09/19/deus-ex-hrs-boss-fights-were-outsourced/.

    • Blue Kae beat me to it. /shakefist

      It is funny that you described the boss fights as being apart from the game. I still want to give it a try, but my expectations are suitably lower now.

      • It’s too bad, because the rest of the game is solid though. I guess they didn’t feel it was “complete” without boss fights, but really, it would have been just as awesome without them. Because right now, not only do the boss fights feel “apart” from the game in terms of mechanics, they also feel apart in terms of the story.

    • Thanks for the link! Very interesting article, and explains a lot!

  7. Tacked on boss fights is the criticism I have for another series of games, Tomb Raider.

    Every TR game I’ve played (the first being Tomb Raider with software rendering, /flex) has had the same problem. Hour and hours of enjoyable exploration and puzzle solving rudely interrupted with frustrating, out-of-place and utterly annoying boss fights. Every single one had the same timeline of playing. I play for a few hours, get to a boss fight, get pissed off, quit for the evening. A few days later, pick it back up, trudge through the boss fight, spend a few hours having a grand old time, get to a boss fight, get pissed off, quit for the evening. It took me almost 2 years to finish TR:L and TR:U still sits unfinished.

    I loved Deus Ex. Played through it several times. I’ve given thought to picking up DX:HR but the boss fight criticism is putting me off. I’ll play it on the PC and my PC games generally have a higher finish rate than my console games. But still, might just let this one go until there’s a decent Steam sale.

    • Yeah, Tomb Raid is another one of those games where the balance between puzzles and shooting is sometimes wonky. The exploration and puzzles is what makes that game memorable, and I think the boss fights don’t add much but distraction. The last TR game I played, Underworld, I can remember most of the jumping around/puzzles I did, but none of the encounters where I had to shoot my way out or kill something.

  8. I too, played it mostly as a shooter with a pinch of stealth here and there (well, if a silenced 10mm counts as stealth at least..) and loved the freedom the game gives you (except ofc the boss battles).

    If you can get hold of a cheap copy of Dead Island I suggest having a look, it’s not as classy as DE:HR, but it’s visceral, sometimes scary and pure fun (if, of course, you dig zombie flicks)

    • Aha! Awesome, I was beginning to think I was the only one who didn’t play DE:HR the stealthy way 😛

      Anyway, yes, I plan on keeping a lookout for good deals on Dead Island. If anything, I hope I can find some place selling it for a good price on Black Friday this year. And yes, I DO dig zombie flicks! 🙂

  9. Respect too your husband, that is the play style I employed for most of my first playthrough. The reason I finally gave up after 75% of the game was the ridiculous amount of time the load screens take. A quick save takes a fraction of a second, a quick load will take the better part of a minute. What the hell?

    And yes, the boss fights were my biggest gripe. As Yahtzee at Zero Punctuation said in his review, a video game should teach you some mechanics and then make use of said mechanics in a “boss” fight to test your skills. I would have appreciated the ability to sneak around in boss fights, using stealth to my advantage. This clearly didn’t work out as well as planned.

    • I thought the first boss at least made use of the cover skills you learned during the first part of the game, since I found myself having to alternate between dodging behind the concrete barriers and running like hell for my life through the entire encounter. But I can’t for the life of me relate my skills to the other boss fights. I know the second boss would have been made easier if you had certain augments, but the third boss, I was like WHAT THE HELL. I had the permanently messed up interface and had to fight in that creepy Body-Worlds like room to boot.

      And yes, the loading times for the 360 are ridiculous.

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