Thursday, 3 April 2014

Deus Ex: The Fall (PC Video Game Review)

A common accusation when it comes to films is that the director just didn't understand the source material. They just didn't get what made it work, fully comprehend quite how to faithfully adapt certain ideas or even get some basics right. Michael Bay's Transformers, Roland Emmerich's Godzilla, Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, you can probably name quite a few. Well, now we have the penultimate video game example of this - Deus Ex: The Fall. The developers apparently understood none of the prior game's successes, reasons for their acclaim or even the bare basics of how to create a successful game. The only reason it even resembles a true Deus Ex title is thanks to the sheer volume of assets reused from Human Revolution.

Let's just look at how they adapted this to PC just for starters. Go on Steam and you'll see this labelled as HD, yet the game looks like something from two generations ago. With texture qualities barely on par with early Playstation 2 era titles, the animation quality is stiff, lighting  laughably dated and even occasional screen tearing. How is this an HD port you might ask? Because the developers upped the resolution and tacked on an anti-aliasing filter. Whoop de-bloody-doo.

Given that is supposed to count for high definition, you can guess how the rest of the game holds up.

The story follows on from James Swallow's novel Deus Ex: Icarus Effect, following the story of former mercenary Ben Saxon. Having previously been associated with the Tyrants, AKA the boss squad from Human Revolution, he has gone rogue following the events of that novel. Still fighting for survival, he soon learns that his life has become even more difficult than he first imagined.

Even ignoring the graphics for a moment, everything here screams poor PC port. With no re-bindable key options, a single save slot and an overall user interface which simply does not work for PC. The HUD isn't even been changed in the slightest, leaving you with things like the health bar in the top centre of the screen, and lack vast chunks of useful information. No thought has actually been put into how to adapt this for a PC audience, and this only gets progressively worse as you look through the rest of the game. There's no jump option, the controls are often slow to respond, especially the weapons, and generally everything screams that corners were cut adapting this to PC. 

This review won't spend the entire time harping on this point, but it does need to be made clear that barely anything was done to truly make this usable on the PC. Despite nine months difference between the iOS and PC releases, barely anything seems to have been done to truly make this usable on anything without a touch screen.

Of course, it's not just the problems with the interface and design we have to criticse. Oh no, next we have enemy AI. Along with patrolling small predictable areas, practically screaming "HEADSHOT ME! YOU KNOW YOU WANT TO!" at the top of their lungs, the AI goes from brain-dead to insane. In the six hours of length it takes to complete this title, you are going to see foes do some of the daftest combat maneuvers possible. These range from firing two shots and then running away, to running past you and pressing their heads against the nearest wall, likely trying to pretend you're not there, and occasionally crashing the game with certain attacks.

To try and make up for their halfwit nature, the developers instead apparently opted to randomly up accuracy and durability from enemy to enemy. You can easily run into multiple police officers who can take three bullets to the forehead and keep merrily shooting at you and general foes behave as if they've unlocked aimbotting augmentation. Expose one square inch of Saxon's mechanical body and you'll suddenly find a dozen bullets have punched right through him.

Perhaps the single best moment which exemplifies just how bad the programming can be is with the attack robots. Hiding in the right place can cause them to head in your direction, clip through you, look around and then leave again without any cause for alarm.

Bugs beyond the AI get even worse, with multiple ones which can also crash the game and even basic QA failings. Attach a laser sight to a gun? It will beam right through various solid objects. Try to fire a gun? It becomes a bloody nightmare as the camera wildly zooms in and out with the recoil. Try to hack the wrong node? You can end up stuck hacking it indefinitely. Try to talk to people? They might respond in a different language and subtitles, if they do at all. You can even move in certain areas as if no-clipping was engaged or stand up in certain vents. 
In fairness a lot of this has been fixed. Also in fairness, these sorts of crippling bugs should never have been in the released game to begin with.

Even if the bugs are fixed however, it doesn't help with the other problems. As mentioned, the areas are remarkably small for a Deus Ex game, leading to multiple frequent loading screens as you progress. The degree of linearity is insane, to the point where the tutorial specifically locks you into certain settings such as crouching and feels like something out of a modern military shooter. Stealth is insanely easy thanks to bodies fading from existence, something i've personally not seen in a AAA title since the N64 days, and shooting from cover is a nightmare. A great many times the guns will not respond to your demands for them to fire, with the pistol only shooting once every couple of seconds.

Now, these are all extremely bad problems, but then we get to the big one: Scavenging is not essential. You don't need to hunt down bullets, guns or equipment from fallen foes. That sense of tension and risk from the original is all gone. Why you might ask? Because there are no vendors. Instead, the player can teleport items to them via a screen they can bring up at any time. At any point you find yourself out of bullets, you can just buy a few more with credits. There you go. The game's main draw is completely crippled with none of the tension, reward for exploration or even carefully conserving ammo passing over into this game. This would be like if someone took the Legend of Zelda and decided it didn't need dungeons or an item screen.

People, if you truly want to see something a little different in Deus Ex then just buy the Icarus Effect novel. It gives you most of the lore you want and none of the pain. It might not offer the gameplay you want, but it links into the original game and Human Revolution brilliantly. Plus the characters there are actually likable, unlike here.

It also isn't so bad you can see screaming agonized faces appearing in the crappy texture quality:

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