I have learned to parse the fluffed up public relations descriptions of unreleased games, to find the truth about what exactly is the core of an experience. So when a developer describes their game as one that allows for both stealth and head-on approaches, I immediately sound the horn. Games with stealth components usually become the primary focus of an experience, and this is further supported by the level design. A building complex with many doors, air vents, scaffolding, sewer grates, unreachable ledges and keypad security, are objects not at all related to the success of running and gunning. The way a game was intended to be played is told through its level design, and based off of the numerous objects previously listed, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a stealth game, a good one too.
My interest in actually playing Deus Ex is slowly tapering off as I reach the half way point of the China hub world, but I also continue to uncover the large amount of details that explain the workings of a futuristic Earth. I walked into a LIMB clinic – a clinic for augmentations – and spoke to a man who was livid at the fact that a baseball pitcher, whose name I can’t recall, was in line to break a previous strikeout record. He was angry not because he was about to break a record, the man was angry because this pitcher was about to do it with a bionic arm. I then read a newspaper article covering a music awards show, where a singer full of augmentations, had just won a slew of awards. These issues, in the same vein of today’s stories, seem every bit as real as what you would read today. Eidos Montreal’s vision of the year 2027 is fully supported by the explanationsof the littlest things. I never questioned aspects of Adam Jensen’s reality, even his glasses that don’t connect at the centre.
There came a point where I realized the mentality I had to adopt while playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution, was that of a stealth game where guns were a last resort. The guns and ammunition you find should really only be used as a back up to the mistakes made sneaking around. There is just not enough ammo and health replenishing items to support a full frontal assault of every mission. If intense action and unloading of magazines is desired, there are plenty of games that will provide a more satisfying experience than what Deus Ex will offer. The satisfaction to be gained is found within the eluding of guards, hacking of computer passwords and hiding of unconscious targets – everything besides gun combat.
Each level is designed with a variety of routes to reach the destination. Finding a route in which completely avoids every assault rifle wielding guard makes you feel like an assassin – an assassin in which doesn’t need to kill. While you creep in from the corners of the room, crouching directly behind your target, the option of murdering someone with your arm blades or knocking them unconscious with your bionic arms has no varying result. If you choose to murder someone, you will do it out of curiosity to see the custom animations or, to fulfill a dark, hidden craving to take a virtual life. May it be underground sewers, police stations or industrials complexes, there are plenty of guards to carefully sneak by, but sometimes, “sneaking” is a bit of a stretch.
Back in the 90s, games like Deus Ex and their ability to simulate human movement patterns through the programmed artificial intelligence, was infinitely impressive. As games became more sophisticated and graphics more realistic, the predetermined paths the artificial intelligence follows, is awkwardly noticeable. Aside from the familiar systems of guard patrols following the same routines and walking down the same paths, there was one instance that was just ridiculous.
I had just broken into an apartment in which I needed to find a video clip on a computer to complete a side quest. While looking around, an armed man walked in yelling and looking for the apartment owner. Scared of being seen, I hid in the bathroom, in cover behind the wall at the entrance, waiting for him to enter the adjacent bedroom. My plan was to wait for him to enter the bathroom so I could pop out and punch him out cold. It seemed like a probable scenario as I doubted an enraged man would leave an apartment without checking every room for his target. Peeking around the corner through cover, I saw him walk into the bedroom, and for some reason, he turned his back to the bathroom and stood at the centre of the room. After some initial confusion, I crouch walked up behind him and choked him out. This was a scenario that had put me on edge, it was unexpected and I adjusted accordingly. But instead of providing a tough challenge in which I was unprepared for, it turned out to just be a minor inconvenience.
For a game that is so dependent on outsmarting your enemies, the A.I. is predictable and not at all dynamic. Once I began to notice the leniency of the A.I, I was getting slopping, rushing instead of maintaining a slow methodical pace, sometimes moving right in the line of sight of a guard. While the sense of uneasiness and fear of being spotted is still a factor, I am comfortable, not making tight turns or waiting for the best opportunity to move. As your character levels and your skills lean towards one area of the many augmentations, more routes and options are available to complete missions, but the A.I. remains static. In Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, the guards eventually learned of Batman’s hiding places, then making adjustments to their approach. For example, the guards would destroy gargoyles that Batman loved to hide on. Guards don’t adapt in Deus Ex, and even when alerted or suspicious of an area, they always tend to stop in their tracks just steps away from where they saw Jensen.
Depending on what you’re willing to look past, the difference between a great and good experience can be minimal. With not much else to do besides hacking and sneaking by guards, my expectation for the level of artificial intelligence is much higher than in other games. With the amount of effort went into creating engaging, non-linear level layouts, the terrible A.I. almost makes it a wash. The redeeming qualities are within the details born out of the year 2027, in which Deus Ex does an excellent job making believable. Not being particularly fond of stealth games, Deus Ex surprised me and showed me what the evolution of those older Deus Ex games could be. For the few remaining studios that still develop games for a quiet genre, I would like to see them take A.I. to levels as believable as the world in Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Well, at least closer to it.