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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Not So Fresh" Dual Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut and Iji

Guns and stealth and hacking, oh my!
I'm not one for the first-person RPG. Actually, I've played very few, so I can't say either way. But, one of my fondest memories was playing Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II on my PC way back when, because of its force-manipulating role-playing system and alternate endings.

So, I've heard quite a bit of hubbub about this game, some saying it's a decent try at revitalizing the Deus Ex franchise, others saying it's another prime example of modern gaming being terrible. But, having avoided many Triple-A games from the past few years, I decided to give this one a whirl. Strangely enough (or perhaps not), the game reminded me of an indie gem I played last year for the first time and fell head over heels in love with- Iji, a freeware title created by Daniel Remar. I figured I'd dual review them because of their similarities because WHEN'S THE LAST TIME I DID A DUAL REVIEW, ANYWAY?!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut 

PROS:

-Deus Ex is all about being a high-tech badass, and this game certainly gives you the room to feel that way. From hacking minigames, to creeping around without a sound, to falling from absurd heights and still being okay, Deus Ex has plenty of augmentations that will make playing a ton of fun.

-The setting of Human Revolution is dripping with moodiness. A dystopian, smoggy atmosphere with ambient sounds and NPCs that are huge jerks, Deus Ex nails it in terms of atmosphere, though it still suffers a bit from emptiness.

-Multi-tiered level and environment design make traversing through Deus Ex's missions and world an extremely enjoyable affair. Discovering new pathways and utilizing your powerups to get to them is a major fun-factor.

CONS:

-Role-playing is a bit of a light term, since Human Revolution awards enough experience to have the player end up with a majority of the augmentations available to them. I mean, if I can punch through walls AND hack through locks, I'm pretty much a god.

-Progression and evolution feels unsteady since the story locks out locations and entrances, and though these are accessible at other points in the story, it never feels like it's something obtainable.

-If one of your primary focuses is stealth, make the AI reasonably intelligent.

Iji 

PROS:

-Iji is all about choice- whether you want to excel in hacking and sneaking around foes, our becoming a monstrous killing machine, Iji rewards players for making and committing to them. The story morphs around how you play the game.

-Level design isn't varied aesthetically, but multiple branching paths and plenty of loot make exploring Iji's world extremely entertaining, and always interesting based on what choice you make.

-Resounding dialogue and themes are peppered throughout Iji, no matter what way you play it. It's a fascinating story about a strong, and perhaps mentally unhinged protagonist. Some of the flavor text is just plain fun to read, as well.

CONS:

-Some of the paths in the levels require brutally stringent points management, and it kind of stinks that you have to replay the game if you want to unlock specific paths

-Final Boss conveniently has a weakness to a weapon introduced only so he could be weak to it.

THOUGHTS:

Deus Ex first.

What intrigues me about this title is that it is a prequel to what many consider to be one of the best RPGs ever made- in this day an age, a reboot of any "classic" or much-beloved franchise is extremely risky, partially because of fanbase backlash but also because modern developers haven't really been making stellar games. Deus Ex surprised me by being a very expanse and fun game with a few flaws that kept it from becoming a favorite.

While the world, though clearly painted in yellow-filters and very black-and-white, is well-fleshed out and has tons to do, there's very little consequence in it, which is a bit crucial for a game that is going to pride itself on non-lethal, stealth-based gameplay. Of course, this aspect is most prevalent in the "mission" portions of the game, except the enemy AI is extremely forgiving in these situations, forgetting you exist a mere thirty seconds after you disappear into an air-duct.

Some may say "well, you can play very lethally and kill everything in firefights". Yes, this is true. You will eventually have to do this, no matter what, but if a game is going to have a sneaky option, why wouldn't you want to play it? Of course, if you aren't precise and thoughtful, you can end up dying often, which will kick you to the abysmal two-minute loading screens that aren't fun at all.

Deus Ex treads a fine line of giving players the freedom to experiment with their player character and his choices and checking every box off of the modern development list. Ironsights, railroaded content, performance issues... it goes on. And yet, it's still very enjoyable. The way you are able to progress makes subsequent playthroughs more enjoyable- you can't get EVERYTHING, but you can have a lot of fun with the four areas of growth.

Still, there's quite a few problems that plague Deus Ex- for all the choice it gives the player, it still insults them with a "push the button" ending that offers little satisfaction. Its bosses are strange and brutal affairs that give you little time to formulate a strategy before kicking your teeth in. But it does have fantastic moments and a good deal of challenge.

Iji, on the other hand, is a polished independent title that has just as much choice within- however, instead of leaving options open, it will reward a player who hones their approach. For any player unaware of this, the game will seem punishing at times- too many choices in different directions will result in a harsh battle. However, on my first playthrough I stuck with one of the most unique parts of the game- the hacking aspect. Where hacking is one benefit in Deus Ex, Iji makes hacking crucial as a gameplay element by having doors, chests, and even enemies hackable. This means that investing in that stat can greatly affect how stealthily you overcome enemies and progress through the game.

Iji rewards players that keep their kill count low by altering flavor text you see as you progress, and features alternate endings based on your playstyle. If you go on a killing spree, you will know it as the story revolves around your choices. While Iji's platforming and combat can be a bit clunky, everything meshes with a slick aesthetic that uses simplicity or form and function to create an engaging environment that is truthfully charming.

The main difference between Deus Ex and Iji is how they treat their specific special abilities and their progression. Where Deus Ex makes its finale a bit of a disappointment in how little your choices have affected the story, Iji rewards the player for committing to certain goals. However, Deus Ex makes weapon handling very intuitive and easy, where Iji over-complicates its weapon handling by making also a part of the choice system. The freedom of choice is a wonderful thing in video games because it allows the player to craft their experience, but those seeking more of a challenge can test themselves with more specific goals. However, it's not as if Deus Ex doesn't have achievements that accomplish this idea- its notorious "Factory Zero" is awarded for mastering a specific style of play- but its challenges aren't integrated into the narrative as delicately as Iji's are.

Both feature hacking, but Iji is definitely an example of the concept gone right- hacking is turned into a minigame that is tense and precise, testing the skill of the player. Meanwhile, hacking in Deus Ex is usually more of a test of how much you have upgraded your character to combat the increasingly punishing situations you hack into- both are great ways of making a player feel tense and accomplished when they complete their task. Both games tackle large, existential questions, but the isolated, desperate atmosphere of Iji definitely drew me in more.

All in all, Deus Ex may look like it was made with a higher budget, but its content ends up being very similar to a freeware title. However, the density of this content makes Iji feel more fun. It's interesting to draw comparisons to the two games because they tackle a number of ideas like choice and flexibility in video games, and both handle them in different ways. Which one makes you feel more accomplished at the end of the day is your decision, but Iji scratches that itch for me.

Final Verdict: Two games ripe with technology and freedom of choice (or not), Deus Ex: Human Revolution has first-person gun toting and stealth that are enjoyable and badass, while Iji makes you cherish- or regret- the choices you make. While Deus Ex has many trappings of a modern triple-A title, Iji is limited in scope but extremely replayable. Both games are fantastic RPGs with tactical and stealth-based gameplay.

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