With Deus Ex: Mankind Divided fast approaching, I really couldn’t put it off for much longer. Having spent close to half a decade lying dormant on the shelf, I took my copy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, dusted off my DualShock 3, and made a promise to there and then to wipe it from the backlog.
That was definitely easier said than done. Although a solid game all-round, Eidos Montreal’s hybrid shooter isn’t quite as timeless as some critics would have you believe. There’s definitely some intriguing systems at play but not all of them have aged particularly well. Then you have to consider the game’s shortcomings when it originally launched back 2011.
Chief among these – quite undeniably – were the boss fights. I can still remember, almost five years ago, taking a brand new copy to supermarket counter having read and watched a string of reviews the night before. If there was one negative point that kept recurring, it was those blasted boss fights.
Predictably, these have only gotten worse with age. From that initial spar with Barrett to the game’s bizarre final encounter, they’re all rotten and feel completely out of place.
One of the features I really enjoyed in my belated playthrough was the freedom to customise Jensen as a I saw fit. Being the stealth action sucker that I am, naturally I opted to give him a spread of augments that would suit that playstyle, centred around hacking and giving myself a better view of the surrounding environment.
When it comes to boss battles however, each player is funneled down the same chute, into an arena where their preferred approach to gameplay is completely subverted. You can’t talk your way out of these, nor can you scout around for the perfect ambush spot or a terminal to hack. You’re simply forced to play by a different set of rules and that can be incredibly damaging.
Although I can see this being a very small minority, there were no doubt those who went full-on beast mode, fitting Jensen with only the baddest implants, from armour plating to the explosive “Typhoon” defence system. It’s these augments in particular that can help to stop bosses dead in their tracks.
For instance, levelling up your bodysuit grants you immunity to EMP blackouts, making one of the encounters almost laughable. If, like me, you had your points spent in hacking and other miscellaneous skills, that same fight became almost impossible.
The worst thing about these self-contained calamities is how they break the game’s illusion of freedom. The more bosses I came up against, the more I began to question whether Deus Ex favoured some loadouts as opposed to others. Of course, some playstyles help to make things that much more convenient, yet those geared towards non-combat functions are left in the cold as soon as the shit hits the fan.
It’s not as if Square Montreal was completely blind to this issue. Anticipating that some players would be better equipped than others, the developer litters each of the boss encounters with a copious amount of guns, ammo, and other gadgets. These do little to account for the discrepancies between character builds, however. Having access to lethal weapons all of a sudden doesn’t put me on a level playing field if this is the first time I’ve been forced to use one.
This is, by far, the game’s biggest drawback, giving players the scope to customise yet failing to address the imbalance that comes as a result of players tailoring their own unique character.
Over time, some of Human Revolution’s lesser grievances have been allowed to ripen. Both the cover and shooter systems, while serviceable, are incredibly clumsy compared to modern standards. Scrolling your way through maps and menus can also be a pain but this is much easier to overlook considering how games like The Witcher III and Fallout 4 still haven’t quite nailed it.
Going back to the initial question I’d say that Deus Ex: Human Revolution has still aged well. Although some core gameplay elements are a little stiff and rusty, these do little to parry its sharp aesthetic and strong concepts. Hopefully, now – with a new generation of hardware to work with – Deus Ex: Mankind Divided will continue to deliver the same brand of sci-fi soirée, minus the restrictions on player freedom.