Thursday, June 7, 2012

Deus Ex: Inhuman Revulsion

The original Deus Ex is one of my most favorite games. It was one of those rare, special games that transcended what an ordinary gaming experience could be. Being caught up in an elaborate conspiracy, betrayed and not knowing whom to trust, operating from the shadows with figures all across the globe to uncover corruption, with each action and decision triggering its own unique consequences, all in a world dripping with atmosphere, memorable locations, and interesting characters. For my young and impressionable mind, it was mind-blowing.

When I'd heard that Eidos-Montreal would be attempting to revive the series with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, I held the same concerned skepticism of any Deus Ex fan: "after 11 years, is it even possible for a prequel to live up to the legacy of the original?" I approached Human Revolution without any specific expectations, bordering on reserved optimism, and found myself pleasantly surprised. Great atmosphere, intelligent gameplay design, easy accessibility -- the sort of combination that draws me into a game and makes me want to keep playing. In a time when all of the most popular, mainstream shooters and RPGs are filled with shallow, uninspired mediocrity, Human Revolution was a welcome, refreshing sight.

But the more I played, the less it felt like Deus Ex. The similarities are obviously there, and it does improve upon the original in a few key areas, but it also feels like a step backwards in some other, perhaps more important areas. So while I enjoyed my time with Human Revolution, I also felt a little disappointed by it. It's a lot smarter and more cleverly-designed than other modern games, but it's ultimately not as intelligent as the original was, despite having 11 years of industry advancements under its belt.

Chief on my list of complaints is that most of the RPG elements that made DX1 such a fantastic, revolutionary shooter have been simplified, cut out, and streamlined in DXHR. In DX1, your character development was based on a trifold system of augmentations, personal skills, and weapon modifications, which forced you to make a lot of tough decisions about how to spend limited resources. This strategic element is still present in DXHR, particularly in the beginning when you have practically no access to any of these resources, but the overall element is far simpler and therefore felt less satisfying to me.

For starters, the skills system has been removed completely. It used to be that different categories of weapons required different skills to use effectively, and each weapon had more stats that affected your performance. You started out untrained with each weapon type, and most weapons were practically useless without at least some degree of training. If you wanted to carry multiple different types of weapons to handle various situations, that came at the cost of having to settle for lower proficiency with each individual weapon because you had to spread your skill points out further.

He's more machine now than man. 

In DXHR, you can pick up practically any weapon at any point in the game and use it just fine because there are zero requirements for anything. Whereas your character's stats played an important role in DX1, combat success in DXHR is based more on personal dexterity -- how well you aim and time your attacks. Weapons still have different stats which can be upgraded with mod kits, but this system also got simplified without the inclusion of accuracy, range, scope, or recoil mods. They did add a damage mod, but it's not much of a new inclusion since you could already increase weapon damage in DX1 with higher skill training, and the new recoil augment is not much different than the skill training, either.

So weapon skills are gone, and most of the other skills are gone too, usually as a consequence of the complete lack of certain gameplay features. There are absolutely no bodies of water, for example, so there's no swimming and no reason to have a skill for it. There are absolutely no suits or apparatuses to use, so there's no environmental training and no reason to have a skill for it. Your health auto-regenerates, so there's no reason to include medkits and attach a medical skill to them. Lockpicking, electronics, and computer skills all got lumped into a single hacking augmentation, which itself doesn't require expendable resources like the lockpicks or multitools from DX1.

What we get in exchange for the removed skill system is a broader augmentation system (which includes a few stats and things from the old skills system), but even this element proves to be rather shallow. Like the skill system from DX1, you still earn experience points for eliminating enemies, discovering hidden locations, and completing objectives, but instead of spending these skill points directly, you earn Praxis points for every 5,000 experience points you gain, which are then spent unlocking new augments of your choice.

Unlike the skills system, however, where each subsequent skill level required increasingly more experience points to unlock, thus making you decide whether it was better to spend 5,000 skill points mastering your rifle skill or to distribute those points among three lower-level skills instead, each augmentation upgrade in DXHR costs the same number of Praxis points regardless of level. It costs you one Praxis point to unlock rank 2 hacking, it costs you one Praxis point to unlock rank 5 hacking, and you're awarded Praxis points at a steady, fixed interval.

Don't mind me ladies. I'm just checking for security breaches.

The lack of scaling cost requirements means there's less strategic depth in resource allocation, and it becomes even more shallow by the fact that it's entirely possible to unlock every single augmentation in one playthrough. In DX1, two augments were paired together in augmentation canisters, and you could only install one of them, forever discarding the other one. Do you take the augment that lets you do more damage with melee weapons, or the one that lets you lift heavy objects? Do you take the augment that lets you run and jump further, or the one that lets you run silently? Do you take the augment that cloaks you from organic targets, or the one that cloaks you from security devices?

The original system added that extra element of role-playing and strategic decision-making. You knew you could only unlock about half of the total augments, and so you had to decide which ones were more beneficial to your particular playstyle. It also added extra replay value; among all of the other different decisions and playstyle variations you can make in a replay, you can also pick different augments and see them change your overall gameplay experience, letting you access totally new areas or approach situations differently. Human Revolution has virtually no restrictions on augmentation, so the deepest it gets is in deciding what order to unlock augments, which really doesn't matter, apart from a select few (eg, hacking).

It was also nice how, in DX1, you had to track down augmentation canisters as rewards for completing certain quests or for thoroughly exploring an area. It was possible to miss some canisters and not unlock their augments until later in the game. On top of finding extra opportunities for experience points, extra ammo and weapon upgrades, and all of the other little goodies, it was just so thrilling to discover an augmentation canister behind a locked door, and rewarding to devise some clever scheme to get to it. Then, of course, you had to install the augment with a medical bot, which tangibly connected your character development to the environment.

In DXHR, your augments are all pre-installed and they just kind of unlock naturally over the course of the game through an abstract interface window, which, for all intents and purposes, makes the augments feel like a more generic perk system from other RPGs. There are something like 21 different augmentations, each with 2-8 possible upgrades (up to a total of 69 different perks), and by the end of the game I was able to unlock and fully upgrade all but three augments. By that time I'd already spent 10-20 Praxis points on useless, redundant augments just because I had a bunch of leftover points with nothing to spend them on, and the three augments I didn't have enough points for were the most useless of all.

One of the better aspects of DXHR's new design

As one such example of redundant augmentations, one augment enhances your radar system, letting you see icons for patrolling guards, rotating cameras, turrets, and security bots in a very large radius; it's passive, consumes zero energy, and gives you all of the information you need to plan a stealthy approach. Then there's an augment that gives you x-ray vision so you can see all of those things from behind cover; it costs energy to use, lets you see things in more detail, but only within your own cone of vision. They both serve the same purpose and I had no reason to invest points in both; just one was sufficient. 

Other augments like the entire "stealth enhancer" tree are just completely pointless, even for stealth characters. All it does is display useless information that you already intuitively know, like a patrolling guard's cone of vision, your noise level from movement, or where the enemy last spotted you. Its only other function is to mark targets so you can track where they are at all times, but if you have the enhanced radar upgrade then you already know where every single target is and what direction they're facing.

Then you've got the energy augments, which would have been useful had the energy system been thought out a little better in the first place. Instead of DX1's universal bioenergy pool, with each augment draining bioenergy at different rates, DXHR gives you up to five power cells. Most augments are entirely passive and require zero energy consumption; a few augments drain an insignificant amount of power; and a few augments consume power in chunks, one cell at a time. You begin with two power cells and can upgrade them to a maximum of five, and you can also invest Praxis points improving the rate at which cells automatically recharge.

The problem with energy, however, is that you can only recharge a single depleted cell, and the only other way to replenish energy is using relatively scarce, consumable granola bars. There's really no advantage to having five power cells, because once you deplete them they're basically gone forever until you use more of your limited, consumable resources. It's ultimately far more efficient to play the game with just a single energy cell, letting it recharge automatically and only using the energy bars during special situations when you can't wait for the recharge. If you're running the cloak augment and need to stay hidden for more time, you just stick with the default two power cells and pop an energy bar when the first one depletes. The system basically makes extra power cells useless, and by extension the energy bars are largely useless too.

David Sarif's office: augmented with balls

It's also bizarre that performing a melee take-down consumes an entire energy cell. In the continued tradition of removing gameplay elements, there are absolutely no melee weapons in DXHR, so your only option for melee combat is to press "Q" and let Adam beat them down in a quick cinematic cutscene. I guess the idea is to balance the "one-hit kill" by making you monitor your energy consumption, but I wouldn't figure it would take augmentation energy to strangle an unsuspecting victim out of consciousness. I don't mind putting limitations on the take-downs, but it just makes matters a little worse when replenishing energy is sort of rubbish in the first place. If you like sneaking up on enemies and taking them out quietly, you're either going to chew through all of your energy bars in a very short amount of time, or be sitting around twiddling your thumbs a lot waiting for your power cell to recharge.

It also feels like the augments don't allow for as much creative freedom as they did in DX1. Most of the augments are passive stat boosters, and the few active ones are designed to have pre-scripted uses. If you take the augment to punch through walls, you'll only be able to do so in a handful of areas. Likewise, it's pretty rare that you're in any situations where you can actually take advantage of the Icarus Landing System because there aren't a terribly large amount of vertical spaces, and usually when there are they're designed specifically for that singular purpose. It can be a nice time-saver in Hengsha, though.

I remember activating the NSF distress signal in DX1 and getting caught on the roof against a horde of UNATCO troops. Rather than fighting my way out, I used my microfibral muscle to drop metal crates over the edge of the roof onto ground level so that the drop down to the ground wouldn't be as high. With the extra height of those crates, I activated my speed enhancement (which reduces falling damage) and was barely able to survive the long drop, bypassing the entire level. I wasn't able to do anything nearly that creative in DXHR.

More great moments in DXHR gameplay

As a stealth character, I even found very little use for the typical cloaking and silent movement augments because the entire game is designed for players to be able to get by with just the default cover system. My line of reasoning was "why spend Praxis points on augments that will consume energy, which itself requires limited resources to replenish, when I can get by just fine with the default system?" I played around with the cloaking augment and found that I actually had more fun using the cover system intelligently and strategically than just cloaking past or up to unsuspecting victims.

The stealth system is one of DXHR's major improvements over the original. In DX1, I often found stealth tedious and frustrating because enemies moved unpredictably, generally not giving you any kind of warning that they were about to turn very sharply in the most inconvenient direction at the most inconvenient time. It relied a lot on the bad sort of trial-and-error, and taking enemies down with nonlethal blows to the back of the head wasn't nearly as satisfying (or efficient) as popping a fatal headshot from a distance.

Human Revolution makes stealth gameplay far more manageable while still retaining a satisfying level of challenge. Shifting into a third-person perspective when you take cover against a wall or behind a desk makes it easier to survey your surroundings while you're trying to plan your movements, so that you can do things fluidly and quickly. Obstacles are placed about environments intelligently, with patrolling guards who turn and look around on their routes (instead of just staring straight ahead all the time). Rather than being merely a challenge of not getting caught, it's a matter of strategically moving about the map, reading and anticipating enemy movement, and waiting for the opportune moment to swoop in and execute a silent take-down on a lonesome guard and then dragging his body out of sight.

But while it's pretty satisfying to exploit map design and guard patrols to your own advantage, some minor issues with the AI kind of detracts from the immersion a bit. For example, guards become alerted to your presence when you open a door in their line of sight; they go to investigate, but never bother poking their head into the hallway. If a door mysteriously opens and no one comes through it, the perp is obviously going to be somewhere on the other side of the doorway, yet these guards are too stupid to understand that. I mean, I appreciate that the game is a little forgiving in that manner (it only really punishes you for major mistakes in stealth, not minor ones), but it's just kind of ridiculous when you think about it.

Don't bother checking around the corner, it's probably clear.

At other times two guards can be standing nearby, facing opposite directions; you sneak up on one and perform a non-lethal takedown, which makes a ton of noise in the cutscene, and the other guard somehow never hears any of the grunting and shuffling noises going on right behind him. Then you've got civilian NPCs who make no form of objection or acknowledgement to you breaking into their apartments and stealing all of their stuff right in front of them. Or you suckerpunch an unarmored thug in the face, and then somehow don't have the strength to do it again unless you eat a granola bar. For a game that's so rich in atmosphere and pays attention to lots of little details, moments like these really pull you out of the experience.

Atmospherically, DXHR is one of the best I've played in recent times, and it should go without saying that it's a definite step up from the original. To be fair, though, DXHR's improvements stem largely from superior processing power of modern hardware, allowing for greater graphical quality with more detail in the game space, but there's also an artistic precision in the way they establish the lore, feeling, and general aesthetic of this setting. Mere visuals are enough to give you a sense of society, from the towering splendor of Sarif Industries, to the majestic vistas from the Tai Yong Medical penthouse, and to the dingy, claustrophobic Alice Garden Pods.

But it's the little things that really do the atmosphere justice. The game's central theme is a philosophical question of what makes us human in the face of a thriving augmentation industry. From the dawn of time, humanity has sought the power of tools and machines for evolutionary advancement. One might argue that human augmentation technology is the ultimate essence of this drive, the final frontier of our evolutionary stride, but does it come at the cost of our natural humanity? Like Icarus, is it possible our own vanity may lead us too close to the sun? While this idea runs prevalent throughout the entire game, it never beats you over the head with it; it's subtle, and layers it on one slice at a time.

"I never asked to be shown how human I was"

At the heart of this issue is protagonist Adam Jensen, who begins the game un-augmented and a little critical of augmentation technology. After an attack on Sarif Industries leaves Jensen mortally wounded, CEO David Sarif authorizes extensive augmentation work to save Jensen's life and, in the process, enhance his abilities as the chief of security. Jensen's body responds to the augments exceedingly well, and he reluctantly becomes a new icon for the possibilities of human augmentation.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is torn over the issue (much like Jensen remains throughout the entire game). Rather than spelling everything out for you, the game sort of dances around the subject and lets you formulate your own interpretations of things. Stepping onto the streets of Detroit for the first time, you encounter minor derision from civilians looking down on you for your augments, while others admire the craftsmanship of your augments. Certain people confront you with outright hostility, while others comment "You're very fortunate to be able to afford all those nice augments."

Combined with the information you gather from newspapers, television news, and radio shows, you learn everything you need to know with hardly anything being overtly told to you. The world of Human Revolution doesn't need to be created, established, or presented a certain way for us to feel a part of it; it doesn't need to invite you into its fold. The world of Human Revolution just quintessentially exists, almost independent of the fact that it's a video game, making it incredibly easy to find yourself comfortably immersed within its settings.

It pains me, therefore, to note how boring most of the game's locales really are. There are a few stand-out locations, but you spend most of the game trudging through similar-looking office spaces, warehouses, sewers, and city streets. About halfway through the game, I just felt bored because everywhere felt functionally the same; they'd drop me into a new mission map, and I'd basically just repeat the exact same thing I did in the last mission, just in an environment with a slightly different layout. I enjoyed the stealth gameplay, so it wasn't a huge deal, but it got to a point where I had to stop playing a few times because I was so worn out from the repetitive monotony.

Oh great, more office cubicles to scour.

The original Deus Ex ultimately had more locations and each one felt totally unique, both in aesthetic design and in gameplay mechanics. You went to a pretty wide variety of places, like the Statue of Liberty, Castle Clinton, a Parisian catacomb, a super-freighter, Vandenberg Airforce Base, an underwater research facility, Area 51, a Knights Templar cathedral, and so on. It was fun and exciting every time you went someplace new; in DXHR, I sometimes sigh and groan when I have to explore a new location. Whether I was infiltrating the Sarif Industries lab, or the Tai Yong Medical complex in Hengsha, or the FEMA facility near Chicago, or the Picus News Tower in Montreal, or the XNG Shipping port, or the Omega Ranch in Singapore, they all felt largely the same.

Even the main city hubs prove to be a little disappointing. The establishing shots for each one is always a sweeping panorama of a grand city skyline, and then they drop you off and the entire explorable area consists of claustrophobic streets, alleys, and sewer systems. The physical dimensions are actually much larger than the hubs from DX1, but they almost feel smaller because everything is so compact; there are no open spaces anywhere for you to feel any sense of scale because you're always surrounded by borders (this is true of mission maps, too -- you're always moving between a series of cramped, cluttered rooms and hallways).

City streets of Detroit

Walking through the streets of Detroit, you find roads built for conventional automobiles that are so narrow they may as well have been designed for pedestrian traffic. You get sent to four or five different apartment buildings in Detroit for various side-quests, but they all have the exact same floorpatterns, layouts, interior decorating, etc, and most of them don't have a front door to go through so you have to climb through windows or air vents, and they all look the same anyway so it's just confusing and not much fun. In order to get to the other side of town you almost have to go through dank alleys and tiny crawl spaces. It's a little underwhelming and doesn't feel much like a real city.

Then you arrive in Hengsha, China, to the marvelous sight of a city built on top of a city. As you explore the lower city (which really doesn't feel that much different from Detroit, apart from all the neon signs everywhere -- same claustrophobic design, same dirty, grimy streets) it quickly becomes apparent that society is split into economic classes, with the wealthy and fortunate living in the upper city, and the poor and unfortunate living in the lower city. Lower Hengsha is perhaps even dirtier, more cluttered, and more confusing than Detroit, so it's not the most exciting place to explore.

But as you explore the Tai Yong Medical complex, you ascend to the penthouse at the top of the Pangu, the central column supporting the upper city, and are treated to breath-taking sights of Upper Hengsha: lush green parks, pristine white buildings, golden sunlight pouring over everything. It's a beautiful image, one of the most memorable locations of the game. Since the game was quick to establish this concept of a tiered city, you think "Wow, maybe I'll get to go there sometime." But when you're sent back to Hengsha for the second time, it's just right back into the same old boring lower city. You never get to go to the upper city, which is a load of missed potential.

What a view. Shame you'll never go there.

The game's obsession with the black and gold color scheme doesn't help the relative monotony of visiting new locations, either. I realize they wanted to use the gold as a symbol for the thriving "golden era" of civilization before it all comes crashing down (by the time of DX1), but having everything doused in a gold tint makes everything look literally more similar than it should. An ENB series mod that removes the gold filter actually makes the game look far more visually striking.

Character-wise, DXHR also fails to live up to its predecessor. You hardly spend any time getting to know any of the characters apart from David Sarif, Francis Pritchard, and Faridah Malik. Potentially interesting opportunities are missed with characters like Megan Reed, Eliza Cassan, and William Taggart because they're so fleeting and don't really develop over the course of the game. Most other characters are entirely forgettable. None of DXHR's central characters are as interesting as Paul Denton, Anna Navarre, Gunther Hermann, Joseph Manderley, Tracer Tong, Walton Simons, Bob Page, Helios, Daedalus, Icarus, and so on.

Take Anna and Gunther, for instance; you actually go on missions with them, attend mission debriefings with them, and make small talk with them in the UNATCO headquarters. Little things like their conversation in front of the vending machines, and Gunther's insistence on needing a "skull gun" to perform his duties give them a fair amount of character. Since you've actually gotten to know these characters, it makes a bigger impact when you have to fight them later. By contrast, the main people you fight against in DXHR, the people orchestrating everything, are just a trio of hired mercenaries who barely serve any function in the plot except to exist as boss battles.

Anna and Gunther from DX1

The story itself also feels less interesting. The thing that made DX1's story so fascinating was the feeling of being caught up in an elaborate conspiracy. Working for UNATCO to reclaim plague vaccines stolen by a terrorist organization, the NSF, you start to feel uncomfortable with the orders handed down by your director. After learning that your brother and fellow nano-augmented UNATCO agent, Paul, has been secretly working for the NSF, the mask of the conspiracy starts to unravel, until the point when you realize you've been working for the "bad guys" all along.

While there is (arguably) a conspiracy going on in DXHR, it never pulls you into it, personally, like DX1 did. Except for a few details with Adam's past (which have no practical impact on the direction of the main story), you're just an outside observer following one lead after another, like a detective solving a mystery. The plot is far more straightforward, and basically just amounts to "an unexpected villain wants to put a stop to augmentation technology." You spend the bulk of the game just trying to figure out who's behind the attacks on Sarif Industries, and trying to retrieve stolen assets. The big revelations are totally predictable, and they don't go much deeper than surface-level implications.

Human Revolution never shocked me like DX1 did. I'll never forget the moment I stepped out of the Majestic 12 prison, having been apprehended by Anna and Gunther, only to find myself at the "restricted access" door at the bottom level of the UNATCO headquarters. Realizing that UNATCO had been working with MJ12 all along, my dramatic escape (while Enemy Within played over top) set the tone for the entire remainder of the game. I didn't know who to trust anymore -- the conspiracy ran deep within the federal government, and I'd be up against a lot of tough opposition on the course of seeking justice and bringing it all down. 

The one moment in DXHR that I think is supposed to capture this feeling of treachery and betrayal, to make you feel caught up in the conspiracy, is when you're offered the option to get the replacement biochip. And I suspected it was a trap from the very beginning. All of the emails you can read, all of the information you gain from the newscasts, and the fact that Pritchard specifically says he hasn't analyzed the new biochip yet clued me in that I probably shouldn't trust it. I mean, the thing was manufactured by TYM, the company conspiring to eliminate Sarif Industries, and which tried to kill me in the process. This made the dramatic reveal decidedly undramatic. The other big reveals are just as easily spotted a mile in advance if you bother reading things.

Augmented side-boob?

The ending sequences leave much to be desired as well. The story follows the same basic, linear path throughout the entire game, which is itself not that riveting -- it sometimes feels like a contrived excuse to get you into another espionage situation. But once you reach the end of this long journey, the epic finale puts you in front of a control panel where you just press one of four buttons to watch one of the ending cinematics. It's a pretty shallow conclusion. It was pretty easy in DX1 to save your game near the end and then go back and see all of the different endings, but at least DX1 tied the endings to specific courses of action that legitimately branched out in the final 10-15 minutes. The ending of DXHR just feels kind of lazy and/or rushed.

Human Revolution boasts the element of player choice, much like the original. It offers far, far more choice than other games of recent memory, even compared to the likes of BioShock, but it has a crippling effect compared to the original, where a lot of your choices feel a little more trivial and inconsequential. Navigating maps, for example, doesn't offer the same degree of truly branching paths. Whereas taking the rooftops to the NSF warehouse in DX1 offered a completely different gameplay experience than going through the alleys, it doesn't really matter much in DXHR whether you decide to punch through a wall, crawl through an air vent, or hack a door code because, more often than not, you're only making very small digressions that will quickly converge again.

As an avid explorer, I like to explore all of the options available to me, which usually meant trying every single approach to a given scenario. It rarely seemed to make any significant difference, especially considering I was going to be exploring the entire map anyway. It's more like the different options exist to enable different playstyles to get at the same game content, as opposed to enabling different playstyles to experience different content. And for the all choice it does offer, it kind of undermines that element of player freedom when it strongly encourages one particular style of play over another.

Thanks for waiting patiently while I strangle this guy

You can choose to play the game like a run and gun shooter, or as a non-lethal stealth 'em up, but the game rewards you a lot more for going the non-lethal stealth route. You get 10xp for shooting an enemy to death, 20xp for killing an enemy with a headshot, 30xp for a lethal take-down, and 50xp for a non-lethal take-down. On top of getting more experience for the non-lethal take-downs, you can also get end-of-mission bonus experience for getting through unnoticed or for not setting off any alarms, and usually get extra experience for taking the indirect route through a level. There are also numerous achievements you can get only for non-lethal, stealth playthroughs.

It's also kind of annoying that you get experience points for hacking a device, but don't get any experience if you've gotten the access code "the hard way," by finding an obscure, hidden pocket secretary somewhere in the level. If you've already got the code, the game will display it right on the keypad, but instead of using that code to payoff the hard work you put into getting it, you hack the door anyway just to get the extra experience and credits. The hacking mini-game is pretty good, but it does get incredibly tedious after a while, if you're hacking everything in sight for the extra experience.

The "social battles" are another nice addition. Rather than just picking the "persuade" option in dialogue, and then seeing if you pass a statistical check, you have to analyze a character's psyche and say the right things based on what you know of their personality. It flows more like an actual conversation and requires you to think a little more about what you're doing, which makes it surprisingly tense and engaging. I think other dialogue-heavy games could take a few lessons from this approach.

Persuading a bartender for some information

Further continuing the trend or removing gameplay features, DXHR also does away with DX1's brilliant health and damage system. It used to be that you had individual health meters for your head, torso, each arm, and each leg. You could suffer damage to any limb, which affected your performance in different ways. Too much damage to the head or torso was fatal, but you could effectively lose both arms and legs. Damage to your head and arms affected your accuracy; if you lost your arms you couldn't pick up and carry objects; if you lost your legs, you had to crawl along the ground in a crouch position, until you healed your limbs.

In DXHR, you just get one universal health bar with none of the fun nuances of the original system. They've added a new mechanic where you can double your maximum health by taking combinations of painkillers and alcohol (a counter-intuitive mixture which might prove fatal in real life), but this really isn't as interesting. The automatic regenerating health system (which doesn't even consume energy) also rendered painkillers and other healing items useless for me; as a stealth character, it was rare that I ever took damage, anyway, but it was always easy enough to just find cover long enough to heal back to full.

Finally, I thought the music in DXHR was disappointing. It's extremely subdued and atmospheric, and sounds more like white noise running in the background than actual music. I guess it works well in the context of the game, being as atmospheric as it is, but I find it very difficult to praise in comparison to DX1's soundtrack. I've been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for hours while writing this article, and I can only barely recognize a handful of tracks, and most of the time I don't even realize I'm listening to music. In fact, the tracks that seem to get the most praise all happen outside of the gameplay -- the main theme, the main menu music, the opening credits, or songs that play during cutscenes

One of several oblique references to DX1

Generally speaking, these are, in fact, the best songs on the soundtrack, but even these ones don't stand out to me like so many tracks from DX1 did. The original soundtrack offered a similar ambiance (though admittedly not as layered or complex) to set the tone for specific levels, but each track also carried a nice rhythmic foundation with some kind of memorable melody. There's just hardly anything DXHR that comes close to the likes of Enemy Within, NYC Streets, UNATCO, The Synapse, DuClare Chateau, or Return to NYC

Human Revolution's soundtrack actually reminds me a lot of the Tron Legacy and Portal 2 soundtracks, all of which are notable for their ambient synthesized-electronica styles. At one point I was listening to the DXHR soundtrack on a YouTube playlist, and I perked up when I heard a really interesting song. When I went to see which track it was, I found out the playlist had segued into the Tron Legacy soundtrack. "That's why that track sounded so good," I realized. It almost makes me wonder if perhaps the Tron Legacy and Portal 2 music might work even better in DXHR than DXHR's actual music. I may need to try that sometime.

And those are my thoughts on Deus Ex: Hitman Absolution Human Revolution. For all my complaining, it really is a remarkable game, offering a far deeper and more rewarding experience than most other games to come out in the last several years. The stealth gameplay works very well, and the atmosphere is extremely immersing. But it's still not as clever or intelligent as the original was, and remains to this day. 

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