Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: One
In a dystopian Blade-Runner style future, a Gravelly Voiced Protagonist (referred to as ‘GVP’ from now on, his name is Adam Jensen and his voice sounds like a Rawhide era Clint Eastwood) seeks retribution after some mysterious and technologically enhanced people brutally attack the laboratory where he is the Head of Security, killing his work colleagues, his ex-girlfriend, and leaving him close to death. As a company perk and to save his life the company rebuild him with bionic augmentations and keep him on as the Head of Security with a sideline in finding out what happened. Even at this early point in the game you get the feeling that Eidos have gone to a lot of effort to make this a compelling experience. The consistent grimy high-tech aesthetic, the sweeping musical score, and the hints of deeper plot to be unveiled to the player through play really draw the player in.
As GVP explores the different environments in the game world (from a familiar first person perspective), the game tries to be flexible in the way the player solves problems. For example, in a warehouse full of enemy soldiers and dangerous robots, the game may offer ways of sneaking around to avoid confrontation, or hacking computer terminals to open up other avenues of exploration rather than wading in with an enormous gun.
Even then, the options are a little more fluid. Would you prefer to render GVP's opponents unconscious with dart gun, blow them to pieces with rockets, or leap on them from a hiding place and stab them with enormous yet concealed in-built arm blades? DE:HR subtly encourages exploration and experimentation by rewarding the player with extra bonus experience points for attempting these actions e.g. the “Ghost” award for completing a game section without being seen by any enemies, or “Merciful Soul” for knocking enemies senseless but not killing them. The game further encourages this by allowing the player to save anywhere in the game rather than at specific save points, which promotes the feeling of “I'll save right now, then try something silly” that in turn sometimes works.
It's with these experience points that GVP is able to improve his built-in augmentations, and this is another of the ways that the player may choose how to play the game. If keen on exploration and finding new routes, then improve GVP's legs so that he can jump much higher to reach previously inaccessible areas, or if the player prefers to be sneaky, activate the augmentation to become invisible for a short period of time. Despite all these toys, the game makes an excellent job of never allowing you to feel invincible, which in turn keeps up a level of tension. No matter how easily the player can pick up and throw vending machines GVP can always come unstuck against a security guard with a gun.
This game’s fluidity can be fickle though. It purports to give the player choice over the way the plot branches, which is a bit of a fib. Sure, our GVP is offered a limited number of different conversational choices which cause different outcomes, but nothing that takes the plot in radically different directions. Also, the plot throws up a “Boss Fight” style encounter when GVP meets one of the conspirators responsible for all his woes. To go from a game that gives you options around how to tackle different obstacles to run-away-from-the-big-thing-and-shoot-it-loads is very jarring. This is especially true for characters augmented to be better at non-combat skills rather than having a great big gun. Would it have been so bad to offer the player the chance to escape and find a sneaky way of fighting the big robot, or talk down the bionic maniac?
DE:HR also throws a ton of next-to pointless reading material at you; from computers that you hack (complete with scam-spam and inane inter-department emails) to everyday news and data pads (see screenshot above, centre), you can waste literally hours reading stuff that has no relevance to the plot whatsoever, with only a few interesting tid-bits of information to show for it.
These complaints feel a bit mean. Nowhere on the box does it say that it's a sandbox-style game where GVP can go wherever and do whatever he wants. Also, the strong story driven plot would be difficult to drive if you could meander around the environment too much. If anything, the on-rails story structure and confined busy-feeling game environment actually enhance the sensation that you’re surviving in an oppressive and fragile futuristic world.
While DE:HR doesn't suffer from a Bethesda level of graphical glitches, but it's not perfect either. The frame rate slows and stutters from time to time. The lip-synching and facial animation on some of the characters is a bit off. The news reporter at the beginning of the game has a mouth animated to look like one of the apes from the 70's “Planet of the Apes” TV series. Some of the character animations during conversational cut-scenes look wrong too. During one of the more serious heart-string-tugging conversations where GVP vows to find so-and-so, he leans on one leg and delicately places a hand on one hip. Who would have thought it would be possible to wreak vengeance against an unknown enemy in such a coquettishly flirtatious way?
In summary, this game is its own worst enemy. The things it does very well magnify its minor flaws that much more. But it is definitely worth a go because it’s substantially different to anything else out there right now.
- Alternative ways of completing missions. - Slickly creates a mood. - Glossy production values.
- Occasional but significant graphical oversights. - Jarring boss fights that fly in the face of the game’s ethos.