Review: Deus Ex The Fall16 Jul 2013 0
When the institutions of the past meet the inventions of the future, there is war. This is the central conflict of the Deus Ex series. Security versus freedom, stability versus evolution, humanity versus, well, transhumanity--the Deus Ex series pits these concepts against each other and revels in the sticky morass of ethical greys and off-whites this philosophical grudge match generates. Deus Ex: The Fall, falls (!!!) doubly in line with this, in that it's both a game about the uneven march of progress, and a game that is, itself, a sign of what could be for mobile gaming. It's also a game where you punch random dudes in the face and stab 'em with elbow-swords.
The first thing to note about Deus Ex: The Fall is that it's not the cheap cash-in that so many, myself included, envisioned when they heard of a follow-up to Human Revolution--a game that came out in August of 2011, by the way--on iOS. This game is ambitious. Though the opening tutorial hints at the unsavory possibility of a series of shoots-heavy corridors with conversation bits wedged between, luckily, this isn't the case. Knock it for other design issues (we'll get to those) if you want, but at the very least, once the initial gamey pleasantries are out of the way, Deus Ex: The Fall tries its damnedest to emulate every core feature that made Human Revolution great. The scary thing is, it succeeds. Almost.
(Small aside: bear in mind that those features above also include a deeply misguided and only partially reneged decision to disable shooting on jailbroken devices, an odd, game-breaking choice for a series that deals in critiques of the establishment and of those who would intentionally limit technology to protect their own interests at the cost of others' freedom. Aheh, heh, whoo...)
Take protagonist Ben Saxon. What would a Deux Ex game be without a gravelly voiced, vaguely sleepy lead character, even if this one seems particularly closely modelled on Human Revolution's Adam Jensen, right down to the built-in cybershades on his face. Saxon is a former member of the Tyrants, who you may remember as those three god-awful boss battles from Human Revolution. Dude finds out that the botched mission he barely escaped from as a soldier in Australia was actually an ambush orchestrated by the Tyrants in order to... test if he was strong enough to join up, or something. Whatever. Point being, now our man is working with a rogue government agent and a mysterious hacker to try and bring down the Illuminati.
You control Badam Saxonsen in what we can now, oddly enough, refer to as the "traditional" twin-stick on touch device fashion: the leftish region of the screen corresponds to movement, and the rightish region moves the reticle. In The Fall this actually has a hint of nuance to it; the longer a swipe you make, the more your movement or look speed accelerate, so that you can effectively move at a walk or run, or look at something quickly or... incredibly quickly. Too quickly. There are some issues with the aiming, actually.
But that's okay! Because Deus Ex: The Fall has a semi-auto aiming system and- WAIT WAIT. Hear me out. It's not all that bad. At most, the auto-aim just sort of points you in the direction of an enemy you've tagged by tapping twice. You can then fire body shots which will probably hit, or aim for that headshot.
Cover is handled similarly. Sure, you can manually move Gruff McTech next to a low-lying crate and tap to enter sticky cover, switching to third person and all that good stuff, or you can double-tap on a wall or crate, even just a spot on the floor, and our hero will ZOOM over there like a Roomba lighting up on a dog turd smack on the new carpet. It's disorienting, but effective, and necessary if you want to make any graceful maneuvers in combat.
Where fights in Human Revolution were a deadly ballet of improbable flips between crates and silenced potshots, in The Fall the control scheme really only facilitates one kind of play style: pick some cover, start shooting, and aim for the head. It's not unpleasant, and the finicky reticule actually feels more like an aiming challenge than anything else (you REALLY need to nail that first shot), but, still, it's problematic that I didn't trust the control scheme enough to go for a stealth build. My Ben was a hacking tank who heavily invested in aim-improving augments, and I felt forced into that choice. (Then again, maybe it's just a matter of adjustment, and the more we play faux-twin-sticks titles on touch devices, the better we'll get. Hell, in the early 2000s people were confused by the iPod's scroll wheel.)
And yes, augments. Of course there's augments, the narrative bionic lifeblood of Deus Ex. As are weapons and weapon mods (handled via a "market" that's always accessible from the pause menu), and the hacking minigame. These elements are almost perfectly transcribed to iOS. Going mad hax on a computer is still nail-biting fun (that could easily be its own game), augs and weapons are fairly easy to wield thanks to The Fall's customizable interface, and, somehow, the game actually has more options in the guns department than HR, even if many of these are just variations on the same basic gats.
Quests and side-quests are predictably trimmed down, but are all the more focused because of it. On top of the typical revenge clatter, Deus Ex: The Fall's plot deals largely with the supposedly important Neuropozyne shortage that Deus Ex: Human Revolution brought up and... kind of dropped. Here, our main characters openly discuss the existence of the Illuminati with ridiculous blasé, while simultaneously sweating about where their next hit of the augments-preserving Nu-Poz will come from. It's a refreshingly grounded inversion of Human Revolution's plot arc, and feels like a return to form for a game that's ostensibly cyberpunk.
So, where do we stand? Well, it's here that the scoring system fails me. If you look down below, you'll see a "3 out of 5." And that's a fair score, I think. Deus Ex: The Fall is a game with more potential, and more ambition, than execution. But there is some execution here. And maybe by three out of five what I really mean is I'd recommend this game to 60% of People Who Like Games, which isn't exactly the same sentiment. Call it a 3* then. But, also, call it the future of mobile gaming. Because if Deus Ex can work on mobile, so can countless other shooters and first-person RPGs. And there are plenty of games less clever that Deus Ex: The Fall.
The game was played on the iPad for this review.