So it finally happened. On August 23rd, 2011, the third Deus Ex game, and first in eight years, was finally released. Having been a fan of the franchise for over a decade (click on my review list for a mini review of the first two games) and chomping at the bit to finally play it for well over a year (damn you 2010 E3 trailer!) I had some pretty high hopes for this game. I would finally be able to see, once and for all, if this would be the game that reignited interest in the Deus Ex name, if this would be, unlike the awful Invisible War, worthy of the original's pedigree. So I was pretty pumped when my roommate picked me up from work and already had the game sitting in the passenger seat. We got some Domino's pizza to celebrate, got home and I finally popped the game in.
After playing through it a few times, I can now finally write this review free of any first-play exuberance that might have otherwise clouded my judgment. So, does it measure up to the hype? Is it worthy of truly being called a Deus Ex game? Absolutely to both questions. Does it have flaws, rough edges and frustrations aplenty? See previous answer. In the end, however, while it's got its fair share of blemishes and disappointments, this is the sequel to the original that fans have been waiting for. This is the Deus Ex of the current gaming era, and I sincerely hope that Square Enix ends up earning a mint from this game, because I want more, Eidos.
So, let's get the downsides out of the way. I really wish that Eidos would've given the player the opportunity to delve a little deeper into...a certain batch of e-mails you can convince Sarif to send to you about halfway into the game, given the content. Yeah, there's a sidequest later, but even that doesn't really go into the depth it should have. I also wish that Eidos had made an aug that allowed for more than one battery to passively recharge when depleted. Now, I do understand why they didn't, but that's one aug I'd have gladly invested 2, 4, heck even 6 Praxis points into. The augs for the stealth enhancer and the one that reveals the hack strength of the modules are all worthless. Boss fights are both easy and lack the choice of using anything beyond combat, which is counter-productive to the multi-path, multi-solution dynamic the franchise has established itself upon. A weak link, but not gamebreaking. The character animations are jerky and spasmodic. Finally, I'm not sure why there would be a game released in 2011 that doesn't allow you to delete save files unless you do so from the game system's memory management section. And is it really so much to ask that we be able to reconfigure the controls how we like on a console? Oblivion did this back in 2006, so what's the issue?
And now we get to bugs. I know, I know. I hate discussing them too, especially in a game that I've waited this long for, but the fact is they're there. One of the worst being how the game sometimes handles KO's and deaths. There were many enemies I would knock out using tranquilizer darts or a stun gun, and they'd be knocked out, but later they'd be marked as dead, which forfeited the "Pacifist" achievement (no deaths besides boss battles) despite the fact that I'd have otherwise earned it. I did end up getting this achievement during my second playthrough, but this was only because I knocked out a grand total of one person, and that because there was no avoiding him. (And just so there's no confusion, yes, you DO need to avoid the enemies in the prologue to get this achievement. It is possible to sneak past them.) And there are clipping bugs aplenty...
There's also a glitch in the "Cloak and Daggers" sidequest that, while avoidable if you activate the quest before going to the area in question, isn't avoidable if you don't. Doing the second social battle (hint: morgue) will prevent a player from earning the "Foxiest of the Hounds" achievement. This is because in order to get said achievement, you have to earn the "Smooth Operator" XP bonus in every area that has alarms, and for whatever the reason, doing the social confrontation negates that bonus. So you simply have to use stealth and not bother talking to the person at all. This seems strange to me, because there's another section (hint: Metro Center) where you can also use social, and you DO get this bonus. The largest consumable for restoring bioenergy restores 3 bars, rather than the four it claims.
So why did this game get four stars? Well, that's largely due to what premise or premises it brings to the table - what separates it from the crowd. The Deus Ex name is all about choice, and the 4 pillars of gameplay - combat, stealth, hacking and social (with "Adaptive" as an implied 5th pillar) - are presented as 4 (or 5) different means of getting through a situation. The game gives you the "what" - an objective - and leaves you to figure out the "how". And the game never skimps on the "ors" here. Any side or main quest will let you complete it if you do this. Or if you do that. Or if you do the third thing. Or if you decide to do it one way then another way halfway in, you can do that. In short, the game leaves you to work out the specifics. All that matters is you get the objective done.
That isn't to say that the system isn't flawed. This is a hybrid game, and anytime you get a hybrid, some things are going to be lost. So it doesn't quite go into the kind of detail you'd see with a game that is strictly a stealth game, or strictly a shooter. Part of this has to be by design, however - in order to get more concepts into one game, you have to compromise something that wouldn't be lost if you were making a game that was solely based in one specific type of gameplay. It's like comparing a screwdriver to a Swiss Armyknife, or a standalone GPS device to an Android smartphone's GPS functionality. One can do it all, just not as well as the dedicated unit. Same sort of concept here. So the game's combat pillar isn't exactly Gears of War, its stealth pillar isn't exactly Assassin's Creed, for instance. It's a jack-of-all-trades as far as gameplay goes. I'll go into each pillar separately.
Combat is pretty solid for the most part. Don't expect enemies to have FEAR 2's AI, but for the most part they act reasonably intelligent in a gunfight. It's just that this route is very easy to take - even too easy. Even on the hardest setting, once you have the augs you'd want to have for a long, protracted gunfight, like damage reduction, recoil compensation, aim stabilizer, etc. tearing through the enemy is hardly a difficult exercise. The only real exception is early on in the game, before you get said augs. Of course, anybody who thinks it's too easy can always go through the game using combat tactics and NOT upgrade. The downside is that you sacrifice a lot of potential XP, thus preventing you from getting those upgrades as quickly.
Stealth, while my favorite of the 4 types to play through as, has got to be, hands down, where the game shows many of its flaws. The AI is extremely inconsistent in how it handles your actions and reactions. One of the biggest examples of this is that you can KO an enemy 5 feet from another guy who's got his back turned. The guy will yell out in pain, but his buddy won't turn around. Yet for some reason, the sound of an opening door will ALWAYS garner attention (and there's no way to slowly/silently open a door, by the way.) And it just seems really silly to me (it did playing the original too) that businesses would spend millions in corporate security to keep restricted areas secure; laser trip wires, cameras, bots, you name it, yet somehow no one ever thought it'd be a good idea to secure the vents, which are always conveniently large enough for a 200+ pound man to crawl through, completely silently. Bypassing any number of enemies and/or security measures is oftentimes as simple as looking for the hidden vent. Also, none of these businesses ever turn their heat on. Having (for almost the entire game) done this myself, I know that it is technically possible to get through the game without KO'ing or killing anybody (except bosses) but that's kind of like saying it's possible to get to work by hopping around on one foot. You could do it, but it's difficult and tiring. In the same way, passive stealth, where you simply sneak past enemies, is possible, but it can be a real chore sometimes. Expect many reloads to get that perfect playthrough where you slip past everybody unnoticed.
Hacking is good. I enjoyed hacking - it felt great when I was moments (in at least one instance, 0.1 seconds away) from being detected and hearing "Access granted." The tension's always there, because you know that the computer's security system might activate to try to lock you out. The hacking starts off simple and slowly gets more complex later on. You have to be careful if enemies are nearby, as they won't take too kindly to you trying to break into their stuff (imagine that!)
For Social, there's a single aug for 2 Praxis points. You can get some characters to react differently (and thus finish a quest another way) if you use it, but it's not needed for the social "boss fights", which aren't too tough. Just remember these principles:
Figure out what the other person wants to hear and convince them that by helping you, they're helping themselves. Pay attention to body language. Don't take anything personally. Don't get sidetracked. Be specific. Be kind, but be firm.
And now for the real part of the game - the story. A Deus Ex game is nothing without a good story (are you listening, those of you who made Invisible War????) and this game delivers. The voice acting is.... uneven to say the least (COUGH *young Tracer Tong* COUGH COUGH). Anyway, the story is laced with conspiracy, betrayal, deception, and all other things Deus Ex. Even your allies have secrets and agendas they're reluctant to share with Jenson. You get this sense that you're a pawn in a grand game of chess played by faceless entities and nothing is going to be the same as a result. The game world feels lived in, with clutter, ads, disenchanted people and garbage aplenty. For some reason no one in 2027 owns any pets, but no matter. I loved listening to the Lazarus radio shows to see what he'd have to say, plus the music that'd play would be a track from the original game - nice touch there guys. The first code you get (which is unavoidable, you will get this code, period) is 0451, just like the original game. There's a striking parallel to the first *actual* mission in this game with the first mission in the original as well. Some e-mails are signed by people you interacted with in the original game. Just wait till you find out who was involved in the autopsy reports of the science team, Picus' CEO and the WHO spokesperson are, fans of the original. I was hoping for at least one reference to a skull gun or orange soda, or possibly seeing a younger version of the mechs you met in the original, but no matter. The endings are good, especially if you're patient enough to wait through the credits. Not too crazy about the "Pick A, B, C or D" format, but the endings were good.
EDIT 6.27.12 I finished "The Missing Link" DLC a while ago, but never got around to adding that in. It's not a bad DLC pack, but I do take issue with the "Factory Zero" achievement, as it requires you to play through the mission without weapons, explosives or augs. The whole point of the game is to give the player choices, so why would there be an achievement that LIMITS the choices the player can make? I also really wanted the chance to talk to Gary Savage but to no avail. We do find out why he named his daughter Tiffany, so....that's something? I guess? Maybe? No? Okay. I was hoping to get to know a little more about the Illuminati, and I don't mean through reading e-mails or the newspapers, I mean directly working with, or against, someone who is speaking to Bob Page in the intro of the game, but this was also not done. As far as DLC packs go, it's one of the better ones, and I did enjoy it, but my concerns, especially the 'cheevo related one, seem like issues that should've been addressed during development. The fact that there's been no other DLC (I already had the "Rescue Tong" DLC with my preorder) doesn't help much either.
The game also brings up many social issues, a rare quality found in any video game, and the specific issues are even rarer still; issues like transhumanism, our reliance on technology, what boundaries that technology does or does not have on us (or should/should not have) and nearly if not every viewpoint anybody could have on the topic is represented in at least one conversation - if not one you interact in directly, then in one where two or more extras are discussing things amongst themselves. Personally, I wouldn't mind an eye aug for my left eye so that I could see with both eyes again, and I definitely agree that war vet amputees should be first in line to have replacement limbs/organs/appendages/whatever, should the tech ever officially roll out, although I don't agree with hacking off perfectly good body parts and getting mechanical replacements just for its own sake.
The soundtrack is great - there's no question that this soundtrack is for a Deus Ex game. There's not a single bad track to be found here.
The graphics are stunning - it's amazing to see all of the detail they were able to milk out of the game and still have it run completely smoothly. Character animations when speaking to someone can be a bit stiff (don't expect LA Noire here folks) and there's a guy in the Detroit PD who I would've listed in the credits as "The Table Banging Cop" - you'll know who I'm talking about when you are told to go to the DPD's morgue - but there's little else to complain about.
Controls are intuitive. There were some times I threw a grenade when I was only wanting to throw the box I had, but found that by keeping the Automatic Unlocking Device as my throwable weapon (and then switching to something else when I needed it and back to the AUD after) got around this problem nicely.
The overall gameplay, when taken as a whole is great. Obviously not perfect - there's no such thing as a perfect game - but this is the Deus Ex game we've been waiting over 10 years for.
This game easily earns its four stars and I'd give it 4.5 if I could. Whether you're new to the Deus Ex franchise or played it ever since the original came out, you want to play this game. It cuts a few corners in some areas and could've really improved in others, but this is an exceptional diamond in a flood of unplayable garbage. When you get right down to it, this is the rebound the series needed - like a certain movie franchise about an archeologist who fights Nazis (Amazon is very picky about direct references) the first one was amazing, the second was terrible, and the third is the triumphant KO punch. In short, buy this game.