Monthly Archives: September 2013

State of Decay

S

Lead a survivor’s colony through a brutal zombie apocalypse.

PC Release: November 5, 2013

By Ian Coppock

There’s no denying that zombie media have captivated the nation. From the horror-drama of AMC’s The Walking Dead to the countless novels and films that have sprung up in recent years, you’d think that the American populace is yearning for the apocalypse. With that in mind, I decided to delve back into the dark horror games that I love, with a new game that follows a group of zombie survivors. It brings its own twist on what has become a cliche motif, as well as some good and bad qualities to the table.

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State of Decay has no central protagonist. You start out as sports store clerk Marcus Campbell, but can switch between various characters once you get to know them well enough. As long as your party of people has at least one person in it, you can keep playing, even if Marcus dies. Cool and convenient as this feature is, each character might as well be one avatar for all the character depth afforded them.

Even from the get-go, as Marcus and his friend Ed dash out of a zombie-sieged national park, the writing in this game is just bad. It really is. The script is riddled with so many cliches you’ll marvel that there was any room left for the actual text. Characters that I rescued from landfills and burnt-down houses told the most ridiculous, awkwardly written stories that it broke all suspense of disbelief. This may have been the trauma talking, but one guy I rescued from an overrun McDonald’s told me that his girlfriend used to tie him to mattresses for even speaking to other women. Awkward.

The characters in this game are extremely shallow. A few lines and a different skin are all that differentiate them.

The characters in this game are shallow. A few lines and a different skin are all that differentiate them.

The game’s plot is less a plot and more my arch-nemesis, a MMORPG. Marcus and company can piddle around in a few dozen shallow, extremely easy missions, or you can engage in what makes this game addictively fun: finding shelter, managing your survivors, rescuing new people and scavenging abandoned buildings for toilet paper and Cheerios. After engaging in a few short, meandering plot missions, I spent most of my time cartwheeling into buildings and painting zombie intestines all over a taxi I stole from the gun shop.

Managing a refuge from the apocalypse is streamlined with an all-in-one menu inside your walkie-talkie. After selecting a new base, you can build infirmaries, bunk beds, gardens and other facilities within your grounds, and jack it up with barbed wire and guard towers. Supplies are retrieved from a central safe that anyone can access. Each character also has his or her special skills, though I couldn’t help but notice that all of my Hispanic characters specialized in gardening. Apparently Hispanic people are inherently more able to sustain themselves in apocalyptic environments.

State of Decay rewards discretion and athleticism.

State of Decay rewards discretion and athleticism.

Most of State of Decay‘s gameplay is geared toward breaking into buildings and taking the loads of stuff within. Everything you do, though, generates a soundwave that can attract the walkers. Lockpicking doors and stabbing zombies with knives is generally safer than smashing through a window and machine-gunning a picture of yourself into the linoleum. Once you’ve grabbed the loot, you must haul ass back to base with the goods and add them to the resource pool, which is excised from at the end of each day and night cycle. Combat is an uncomplicated button mashing that will create body piles at the expense of the tendons in your thumb, but who needs opposable digits?

State of Decay also revolves around making tough calls. You must maintain relations with other groups and aim either for peace or their heads, as the situation warrants. Some groups are flat-out douchebags, but a few will trade supplies with you. The necessity for trade is somewhat numbed by the absolute crap tons of items you’ll find in houses, though. Some of your own survivors will turn out to be jerks or saints, and you have options for dealing with them. I immediately banished one dubious asshole after he shot a nice lady for no apparent reason. I then shot him in the head (which doesn’t register as murder because he was outside the sanctuary walls and therefore a stranger. GAME LIFE HACK :D).

Salvage is dangerous but will almost always get you the stuff you need.

Salvaging is dangerous but will almost always get you the stuff you need.

You might be sensing some inconsistencies within State of Decay, and at this point, unfortunately, there are lots of them. I played the Xbox 360 version a few months ago and even then there were numerous glitches and bugs. My characters tended to get stuck inside walls and trees. I got word of a horde attack when a cow stared at my base the wrong way.

Perhaps most interesting of all, any car that you have parked at your base for at least a day will spawn back in its spot upon dawn or dusk, no matter where it is. This can turn out to be either an incredible blessing or a death sentence, depending on whether you’re actually in the car when it teleports.

"Come in base, I got the goods, over! Retreating to... what... MY CAR RESPAWNED AT HOME??? #$%^#&!!!!"

“Come in base, I got the goods, over! Retreating to… what… MY CAR RESPAWNED AT HOME??? #$%^#&!!!!”

But despite all these problems and an amateur plot covered in the open wounds that are inconsistencies and shallow characters, State of Decay is damn, damn, damn good. The challenge of constantly maintaining a base of survivors more than makes up for the lackluster story. That may not sit well with people who expect no less than Dear Esther levels of storytelling, but State of Decay is one of those cases where something besides plot is fun enough to make up for said plot.

Few things make you feel more badass than breaking into a gun shop and stealing into the night with your loot, with a few headshots fired off, no less!

S

Trumbull Valley is still pretty even though the world’s ending.

State of Decay‘s graphics are medicore and the character animations are stiff, the latter of which made it hard to tell my survivors apart from zombies. This doesn’t stop the visuals from painting a very pretty picture though. The open world to which I’ve referred numerous times is a vast rural valley, composed of three towns and numerous industrial and farming sites. All of these areas are open to looting and living in. The artwork is of a farming community in the fall, which is both beautiful and somehow quite suited for a zombie apocalypse.

Though the environments are well-designed, a few of them felt quite repetitive. Each of the three towns you can visit are basically the same town facing a different direction and with a different “Welcome to” sign at the entrance. I found myself not caring as much as I would about that, though, because houses are where people live and people USE THINGS I CAN HAZ ROB. The music is a melancholy acoustic track not unlike The Walking Dead, but its subtle enough that it won’t get stuck in your head as you’re robbing and shooting your way around the valley.

You can spend hours tearing around this huge environment. I recommend using your vehicle to grind up the zeds.

You can spend hours tearing around this huge environment. I recommend using your vehicle to grind up the zeds.

I give State of Decay a full recommendation based not on its story but on its beautiful environments and simple, fun gameplay. Zombie fans in particular will enjoy the relatively rare feature that is maintaining a whole group of survivors, and the game is not very scary. Trust me. The focus is on action and developing a community.

As a friendly warning, though, this game will suck you in. The biggest consumer poll of this game going around the Internet right now is called, fittingly, “It’s a quarter to three”.

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You can buy State of Decay here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Burnout Paradise

B

CRASH ALL THE CARS DAMMIT!

PC Release: January 22, 2008

By Ian Coppock

I’ve been looking back at the drunkenly meandering rants that I try to pass off as opening monologues and I noticed something; I bounce between a few given genres each week looking for new gems. I like those genres, but maybe it’s time to not only shift gears, but blow up the entire box. There’s no better way to chase a heart-pounding, emotionally draining game like Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs than with a hearty swig of fiery, audacious street racing. In broad daylight, in a fast car, far away from monsters.

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Now I’ve played racing games before; I played old-school Need for Speed during that franchise’s 90s heyday. I held records for everything that had absolutely nothing to do with driving proficiency, like number of traffic cones knocked over and cruise ships sunk with a well-aimed jump.

I’m happy to say that Burnout Paradise downloads like a charm and let me pretty much pick up and keep going where I’d left off as a hyperactive 8-year old.

WOOOO!! MOAR KRASHING :D

WOOOO!! MOAR KRASHING 😀

Oh, anyway, the story. (Ahem). In a world where humans have apparently died off and cars can drive about on their own, DJ Atomica takes it upon himself to transfer radio orders into my brain. Turns out the DJ can’t shut up about how much he loves cars or the game’s setting, Paradise City. Also known as ‘MURICOPOLIS!

Paradise City is pretty much that; a perfectly serene and therefore underwhelming 'Murican metropolis.

Paradise City is pretty much that; a perfectly serene and therefore underwhelming ‘Murican metropolis.

This is one of the problems I have with racing games: they’re all set in a sterile, sunshiny ripoff of southern California. Sure, it’s great driving weather, but even two seconds into my first race car game in 14 years, I’m ready for a change of scenery. Give me a skull fortress, or City 17, or something a little less stereotypical.

I searched around for a main character and facepalmed when I realized he’d been there the entire time; my car was not a Hunter Vegas, he was the Hunter Vegas. Mr. Hunter Vegas. Automobile superhero for the citizens of Muricapolis.

B1

Hunter Vegas, the world’s most badass badass.

Because race car games are played by hyperactive teenagers whom I suspect are the same two-faced bastards that troll Call of Duty, I couldn’t not get into the spirit of the online mode, immediately adopting some senseless decals and the world’s most sexist paint job. I got into the spirit, but not the actual mode, as EA demands a limb and your firstborn child in exchange for the digital herpes otherwise known as EA Origin. My adventure was completely offline, and on Steam.

Burnout Paradise is an open-world racing adventure, which I commend as a much-needed formula change to the very linear list of very circular tracks. Your objective is to cruise around Muricapolis and pick up various races and challenges. In addition to standard races, Hunter Vegas enters other modes of play. He can smash enemy cars for points, elude the authorities, do tricks along a mad course and find shortcuts.

My favorite mode was Kill-Other-Cars-In-2-Minutes Mode. Sometimes the shoe's on the other foot and YOU have to watch out.

My favorite mode was Kill-Other-Cars-In-2-Minutes Mode. Sometimes the shoe’s on the other foot and YOU have to watch out.

The point of the game is to complete these challenges and upgrade your license. You start out with a learner’s permit and must work your way up to an elite “Burnout” license. I got the lower-level licenses very quickly, because Burnout Paradise resets the challenges you’ve completed every time you advance. EA, you do realize that I can do the same five challenges over and over and move up that way?

“Yes,” they said, “which is why we double the number of challenges each time.”

“But I can still do the ones I’m a master at, thus reducing impetus to explore more of the city?”

“…yes.”

Though that design oversight was particularly entertaining, my very favorite was the lack of a GPS or map device. Races in Burnout Paradise are demarcated only by the start flag and the end flag, the latter of which is somewhere far from you. It’s up to you to somehow navigate a city’s worth of streets and shortcuts without an in-race navigation utility. There’s a compass, but I found my races fragmented by having to pause the game and check my road map to ensure I wasn’t careening into the harbor. The easier races have fairly obvious paths, but this gameplay flaw became annoying at higher difficulty.

B2

The game basically throws down a pointy arrow that doesn’t account for roads or obstacles. Nice to know we’ve come so far since Crazy Taxi.

Oh yes, and take my advice; if you get lost during a race and see some train tracks, get on them. Even if they’re not going the right way, they will carry you at least near the finish line. This is an infallible strategy for winning a race; it worked in Need for Speed, Grand Theft Auto and Crazy Taxi; it will work in Burnout Paradise.

By far the most entertaining aspect of this game and the object of affection for the aforementioned hyperactive teenagers is the crashes. Burnout‘s crashes are spectacular; the physics account for every detail as your car sails off a cliff or smashes into a wall, crumpling like a crushed soda can. This effect is enhanced when more cars are involved, of course.

YEAH! This is strangely cathartic.

YEAH! This is strangely cathartic.

If you construe the car as a character (and it’s obvious he is), Mr. Hunter Vegas is a car on the edge who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s utterly ruthless, destroying enemy cars and employing a jet engine that no other car seems to have to win first place. ‘MURICA! Assuming he doesn’t take the wrong exit and plunge face-first into a McDonald’s.

This game’s plot becomes a plot if you consume plenty of caffeine. I found myself having a lot of fun with this game, but I got seriously, unexpectedly invested in the races. I have little to no competitive spirit, so this is huge for me. As for badass Hunter Vegas, I took him to the shop and gas station after the apocalypse that passed for a racing, and he trucked his way to the top. After this he sort of… wandered aimlessly around the city. I suppose the satisfaction of the resolution comes from getting that Burnout license. That’s not bad; I should put that on a resume!

B3

YAAAAAAAAA

Burnout Paradise is unmatched as an exemplar of the glossed look. Paradise City/Muracapolis is a massive, gleaming city made to look exceptionally ordinary. Shops, skyscrapers, palm trees. The street mapping is reasonably designed but I must point out that everything looks too polished and pretty to be believable. The gritty industrial areas had no rust on their junkyards, or poop in their landfills.

All of this made me feel like a citizen in Syndicate Wars. Perhaps Hunter Vegas has a chip like that in his central computer. The level design is adequate, but again, the environments are too glossy and shiny to make me think anything other than, “oh, yeah. Docks have no grime in real life, either (rolls eyes).”

TOO. MUCH. SHINE. Even in car crashes.

TOO. MUCH. SHINE. Even in car crashes.

The game’s music is a soundtrack that made me smirk. It’s headlined by a Guns’n’Roses remix heralding the awesomeness of Paradise City, as well as various grunge and alt rock sounds that may have meant to up the badass but made me feel a little silly. After all, Hunter Vegas’s skill on the road is all about what’s in his heart, not his ears. Like many other racing games, the set list for Burnout Paradise is also very short, so the songs get grating after the first few hours. What’s there to say about DJ Atomica? He’s voiced just fine, probably by a real-life DJ. But he offers little beyond gravelly-voiced driving advice.

The reason I’m reviewing a racing game is because I think it’s important to step back and have simple, dumb fun with video games. Stories and artwork are paramount, both to the genre and my primary reason for playing games, but I’ve found that some of my best gaming stories happened in games with no stories. Already I’ve dispersed awesome crash tales to my friends, family and former driving instructors. After something as mentally exhausting as Amnesia: A Machine for PigsBurnout Paradise was a nice change of pace. Simple, dumb fun. If you’re into that, and epic crashes, go wild.

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You can buy Burnout Paradise here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs

A

Save your children from the monstrous clutches of a vast, dark machine.

PC Release: September 10, 2013

By Ian Coppock

2013 has been an interesting year for games, but I’m glad that the fall season is bringing with it a stir of activity in the baked corpse that is summer gaming. Which is an apt metaphor, because horror games have started to rear their magnificent heads as we look to Halloween, the next in the series of American drinking fests. I’ve seen far worse starts to the fall gaming season than Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, but let’s see how exactly it goes about doing this.

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I reference Amnesia excitedly and often, so it’s no secret I’ve been waiting for this game ever since it was first announced over a year ago.  I hold Amnesia: The Dark Descent in high esteem because of the game’s deep, dark story and Frictional Games’ frustrating ability to take any semblance of safety and ease of passage away from the gameplay. The monster-infested castle crusade set the bar extremely high for the sequel.

A Machine for Pigs takes place on New Years’ Eve of 1899, 60 years after The Dark Descent. As with the first game’s Daniel, player character Oswald Mandus wakes up suffering severe amnesia (oh, look what they did there! A reference to the game title!). Mandus follows the cries of his young children and starts to get the feeling that he is not alone. The growing creepiness was reinforced with locks and keys covering everything… including the beds.

This mansion is not at all cushy. Why does everything have locks on it?

This mansion is not at all cushy. Why does everything have locks on it?

Like The Dark DescentMachine for Pigs builds up the initial tension quite nicely. Oswald catches glimpses of figures moving around and returns to areas that were pristine five minutes ago but have now been destroyed and vandalized. I learned from a few scattered phonographs that Oswald had taken a trip to Mexico that ended very, very badly.

What’s that? Details? And spare you the trouble of suffering through the game as I did? Nice try. After exploring some pleasantly foreboding bedrooms and bars, Oswald gets a telephone call from a stranger who says his children are in danger, trapped inside a machine that Oswald himself built. Recalling no such deed, Oswald immediately decides to save his kids, and goes into the one place we haven’t checked yet: the basement (chills).

Wow... what the hell? What is all this?

Wow… what the hell? What is all this?

To his surprise, Oswald finds an entire industrial complex buried beneath his house. We learn that prior to the Mexico incident, Oswald was a wealthy and well-respected industrialist who built an empire upon a successful meat processing enterprise.

It becomes clear, though, that this is no mere slaughterhouse. The entire facility is a machine, teeming with horrific creatures.

Do you guys hear... oinking? Guess I'll go round the bend and WOAH! WOAH!!! PIGTHINGMANSOILEDTROUSERSAAAAAAAA!!!

Do you guys hear… oinking? Guess I’ll go round the bend and WOAH! WOAH!!! PIGTHINGMANSOILEDTROUSERSAAAAAAAA!!!

Monsters of any kind are bad, but the wobbling mutants Oswald finds appear to be half-man, half-pig. Fearing more than ever for his children, Oswald also becomes embroiled in a battle of wits with a mysterious saboteur, who is running about destroying machinery. Oswald is also horrified at the implications of what he sees. He built all of this? But why? What does this Machine do, and why is it filled with bipedal piggies?

Oswald, it seems, had questionable ethics before his accident. He gradually recollects past philosophies, past discussions, and a mission he undertook with the best intentions. That mission is hidden away inside the Machine, among the gore and the screams of pigs. Oswald sought to create a new, clean future for mankind, one free of wrongdoings, that somehow produced all of this. The truth, as it is, is not a pleasant one, and not even he may be able to stand it when all the memories return.

Oh for Christ's sake... (no pun intended).

Oh for Christ’s sake… (no pun intended).

Not even I can deny that A Machine for Pigs‘ premise is engrossing, but I suppose I can avoid the question no longer; is this game better and/or scarier than its predecessor?

For all of its strong plot elements and the atmosphere you’re no doubt getting a taste of by now, I can’t decide whether I actually like this game or not. For reasons I cannot fathom, Frictional Games handed off development of their flagship series to The Chinese Room, best known for the story exploration game Dear Esther. I have nothing against The Chinese Room, but it’s clear after playing this game that they went in with a completely different idea of horror. Sorry to bring you down so hard, but it’s time for the complaint bucket. And this is a big one.

Ian got pissy again, didn't he?

Ian got pissy again, didn’t he?

Tension is essential to creating good horror gameplay. The Dark Descent and good horror games create tension by placing severe limitations on your character in a hostile environment. Daniel couldn’t fight, would go insane by hiding in the dark, had to find medicine before bleeding to death and had a lantern that ran out of fuel very quickly.

The Chinese Room came in and neutered the gameplay. Oswald can’t fight, but he can hide in the dark ’till the cows come home. His health automatically regenerates, and his lantern never runs out of fuel. (Facepalm) you cannot create good horror gameplay if your character is enamored with limitless resources. Horror gamers out there, especially Amnesia fans, might understand how A Machine for Pigs’ gameplay felt like The Dark Descent on kindergarten difficulty. And it did.

Additionally, The Dark Descent had challenging puzzles requiring concentration and thorough exploration. In taking away the inventory system, A Machine for PIgs inadvertently restricts itself to simplistic, busywork mini-puzzles that were just over the “puzzle” line of demarcation. No mental effort whatsoever, typically “turn wheel A” or “insert object B”.

Oh... wait, that's it?!? All I had to do was move a frickin box? Are you kidding me???

Oh… wait, that’s it?!? All I had to do was move a frickin box? Are you kidding me?

Another heartbreaker is the monsters themselves, the other source of tension in an Amnesia game. Encounters with the piggy beasts are rare; the game over-relies on spooky hallucinations and mild jumpscares to get the adrenaline going. When you do find the creatures, even the bigger ones, their attacks are weak and the beasts themselves are jaw-droppingly easy to get away from. I never died once in my playthrough of this game, compared to seven-eight times in The Dark Descent. In that game, monsters were almost too numerous and their attacks could drop you in a strike or two. Not here. My reaction gradually transformed from “S***! A MONSTER!” to, “oh crap, better turn around- ow! Stop slapping me!”

Finally, and perhaps most damning of all: the bugs. I’m blessed in that I’ve rarely had a buggy gaming experience, but I suppose all good things must come to an end. Oswald repeatedly tripped on staircases over what were apparently invisible speed bumps. Not many but a few visual elements glitched in and out of existence. His mansion is swamped in a field of bright blue mist, which I refuse to believe was a deliberate choice. To top it all off, the game crashed about halfway through the playthrough due to a phantasmal security violation, a problem that took a few hours for me to fix. These problems have since been patched, but still, what a pain.

I might make this game cry.

I might make this game cry.

And yet… despite all of that… I still think you should get this game.

I have never been more torn up about a game in my entire life. Because though A Machine for Pigs plays differently from The Dark Descent in almost every category, the game is still a deeper, more intriguing story. The philosophical arguments about mankind’s future, what course to take to best guide every one of us, haunted me throughout the game in a very subtle way. A Machine for Pigs also touches on arguments about industrialization, individual rights, wealth, and greed, and ties them into the game’s very essence. Though the horror from monsters and finite resources was subdued, a hidden, insidious terror clung to the game’s incredibly dark atmosphere and gave rise to a different kind of fear that I’ve never gotten from a horror game.

I can't decide if I don't like this game or if it was ingeniously terrifying on a level I'm just now unearthing.

I can’t decide if I hate this game or if it was ingeniously terrifying on a level I’m just now unearthing.

Those discussions and philosophies are when game stories are at their best. A diversity of viewpoints, informed opinions on both or more sides, and a complicated character or cast of characters cast somewhere between the lines. I’ve seen such storytelling gold before; in the original BioShock, my most favorite video game of all time. Perhaps A Machine for Pigs deserves to be cast in a similar light. I’m indecisive, because though the main elements of the first game are superior by far, this game has a few powerful elements of its own. That philosophical, existential fear isn’t as obvious as a slobbering monster, but the subtlety with which it operates is far more pervasive. It’s like each game is half of a greater, scarier whole.

Is that enough, then? Is an incredibly dark atmosphere and story enough to compensate for the subjection of broader horror elements that I’m used to by this point in the series? Bugs aside, perhaps the same amount of tension and awesomeness was always there, just in a different form. Sure, the game is not perfect. It has its problems and contradictions, but so did the first one.

A1

Ew…

Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs beats its predecessor in most categories of the art department. The game’s graphics are updated, but the system requirements to play this game remain low.

I guess a good way to put it is that the visuals achieve detail without being complicated.

The Chinese Room's visuals are both disturbing and beautiful. Yes, those things can coexist.

The Chinese Room’s visuals are both disturbing and beautiful.

Jessica Curry composed a beautiful score. I actually bought it (I never buy game music). It’s complex and precise, ebbing and flowing in synchronization with the game’s pacing. Deep, ominous horns form the music’s base, accented by razor-sharp violins and endtimes-style operatic movements. In many ways its similar to the open-ended and ponderous music of Dear Esther, The Chinese Room’s previous project. It’s a masterful score; I’m not very good with describing music, so I’ll close by saying that this description barely does it justice.

I did another fist-pump of justice when I heard the voice acting. The Dark Descent had adequate voice acting but rarely stirring. A Machine for Pigs has deeply emotional and convincing acting, especially from the performer behind Oswald Mandus himself. Oswald’s inner struggle and the fear that he has done something horribly wrong is well-executed in both the script and in the acting. The game’s other characters all performed at a stellar pace as well. Oswald’s strange partner ushers in an air of mystery with his voice alone.

Well-voiced discussions about ethics and morality go surprisingly well with a cart of dead pigs.

Well-voiced discussions about ethics and morality go surprisingly well with a cart of dead pigs.

Each of the game’s loading screens and most of the journal entries are poetic in their writing. Sometimes this made hints and suggestions difficult to understand, as opposed to The Dark Descent‘s dry to-do lists, but it was a nice touch, a pretty one that helped eschew the game’s dark motifs and spine-tingling imagery.

I know it may seem unfair to compare such an inherently different game to The Dark Descent, but since it’s the sequel, it can’t not be. That’s what makes this review so hard. I’ve been percolating a recommendation decision these past few minutes, and I suppose one thing I can say is that the game is different, but perhaps too different in its mechanics and makeup to fit the series. But, the game’s other strengths are so strong that it deserves reconsideration rather than damnation. The reduction in monsters and gameplay difficulty might be compensated for by the story, pacing and atmosphere. Even now I’m wondering if this game is still a surprise, one that I’m only now unraveling.

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You can buy Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Fallout 3

F

Search for your father in the nuclear ruins of Washington, D.C.

PC Release: October 28, 2008

By Ian Coppock

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has long been one of my very favorite games. It’s an open-world fantasy adventure that I still hold close to my heart. My friend Bret, who is incredibly perceptive, noticed this and my love of really messed up apocalyptic horror, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and combined them into a recommendation of Fallout 3. The game took the open-world model I love and combined it with the deep uncertainty of a world gone terribly wrong.

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Remember those 50s-era images of what the world would be like by the 2000s? Robo-butlers, fusion-powered cars, hover boots, all that stuff? For Fallout, Bethesda Softworks borrowed those notions of retro-futurism and combined them with nuclear apocalypse. The result is a curiously delicious portrait of irony set in 2277, 200 years after a nuclear war destroyed the entire world. This made for a much more interesting portrait of apocalyptia; rather than take the conventional post-modern day apocalypse, the game adds fresh details in the form of everything from rogue butler droids to crackling dial radios belting out Frank Sinatra. Cold War-era movements and attitudes are prevalent among the characters, which is also a refreshing twist.

Fallout 3 takes place in and around Washington, D.C. Your character, referred to canonically as the Lone Wanderer, is an inhabitant of Vault 101. The facility is a top-secret, pre-war bomb shelter whose inhabitants have never contacted the outside world. The game immediately gets the immersion going by letting you fill your character out at various stages of childhood.

Oh wow, we're going back to birth, huh? Can't get more origin-y than that.

Oh wow, we’re going back to birth, huh? Can’t get more origin-y than that.

 These oftentimes poignant little scenes let you choose your character’s future attributes, such as strength and luck. Your father, voiced by the venerable Liam Neeson, guides your character until your 19th birthday, when he escapes the vault.

With little knowledge of what awaits outside, you follow suit, emerging into a harsh new world quite unlike the sterile serenity of your home.

Holy... crap.

Holy… crap.

With your character loosed into a lawless, desolate world, it’s up to you to decide your destiny. As with most Bethesda games, you can pursue the main quest or just wander aimlessly in search of adventure. I immediately began scrounging some bombed-out houses for rations and toilet paper, and it didn’t take long for me to find a settlement constructed around a live nuclear warhead. The game’s main narrative eschews a step-by-step process. Sometimes you just miss your dad as you look for him, and must follow the clues deeper into the Capital Wasteland.

Bethesda games are more like buckets than Twix bars (what?). Rather than having their ingredients tightly wound about a yummy core, they present a container of content from which you can select your favorite goodies first. This setup is reflected in the game’s overall narrative. As with OblivionSkyrim and Fallout: New Vegas, the main story is not the meat of the game. The meat is the dozens of square miles you can explore. It’s fun, because you can shape your character’s story however you want. You can start out as a bounty hunter, working your way around the wastes in pursuit of your dad. You can work for or against slavers, start businesses with locals, etc. There’s a lot to do, and more than enough to hold your attention.

Like that distant landmark? Go wild, no one will stop you. Except maybe raiders. And giant ants.

Like that distant landmark? Go wild, no one will stop you. Except maybe raiders. And giant ants.

The Capital Wasteland encompasses the bombed-out ruins of Washington, D.C., and surrounding expanses of Maryland and Virginia. There are almost 200 landmarks you can visit, ranging from tiny enclaves of survivors to military bases and abandoned factories. One fenced-off village is its own self-declared country. Most of these areas function like a fantasy world’s monster-infested dungeon, with nuclear ruins that teem with mutated creatures and brutal bandits.

Your character can also take up side questing as a hobby or an excuse to kill people. A few factions are fighting for control of the wastes, and some of these are integral to the main story. Though the main story is not that strong, these organizations offer plenty of opportunities to explore the wasteland. As far as I saw, only the two main ones care if you have another boss. The characters in this game are usually pretty vapid, little more than thinly disguised quest dispensers, but there were a few true gems. These included a radioactive mob boss, and an eight-year old mayor who swears more than any other character I’ve ever seen.

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I spent some time working for the Outcasts, who bought the tech I scrounged up in the wastes.

This game as much as any other open-world RPG allows for some great character story building. Your actions will earn positive or negative responses from the waste’s inhabitants. What I didn’t like about this system was Karma, a rather arbitrary system of good luck vs. bad luck that served no clear purpose other than keeping me from stealing stuff. Characters can automatically sense your Karma score and will react with hostility if it’s bad.

I thought this whole thing was pretty lazy. I know that being able to steal things is cheating, in a way, since it gains you resources and money that only higher-level players should have, but I wish they’d come up with something more clever than an omnipotent scoreboard. Bethesda could have leveled the loot as they did with the monsters.

F2

No one saw me break into this house, so why do I get an automatic slap on the wrist? It’s not like a scarlet letter magically appears on my chest…

Fallout 3‘s gameplay reinforces the notion that you are an explorer above all else. You have a nifty little light for navigating the game’s many pitch-black areas. Your wrist-mounted Pip Boy computer can pull up stats and items you’ve gathered. Combat is slightly below-average first, but Bethesda made this game accessible to non-gun hacks with the V.A.T.S. system. V.A.T.S. puts the game on pause and lets you pick where to shoot, but the trade-off is that the percentage chance of hitting something is lower than in freestyle firing. The death camera stays fresh for the first 10 or so hours but soon becomes wearily predicable.

The game tackles health by dividing your vitality among your limbs, head and torso. Severe enough damage to any of these areas can result in broken bone, affecting gameplay and adding realism to shooter injuries. You can also take drugs and alcohol to increase your effectiveness in battle, but this brings about a chance of chemical addiction. Minus the karma system, these gameplay mechanics reinforced the harshness of the game’s story and artwork.

STEROIDS! WHY I NO CAN QUIT U???

STEROIDS! WHY I NO CAN QUIT U?

Fallout 3 was built on the same engine as Oblivion. The graphics look a bit aged, but items and buildings are much more detailed than people. As with Oblivion, the characters in this game stand stiffly and stare into your soul. Bethesda did add in-conversation animations (finally) but these had a hard time offsetting the feeling I was conversing with a statue.

Landscapes are drowning in flow-y piles of gravel. The Capital Wasteland is bleak but by no means dull. You can find monumental collapsed buildings, broken bridges and streams of radioactive waste. Though the environments are interesting, the coloration gets a bit repetitive. Everything has at least a few shades of gray, and a lot of the building and structure interiors become cut-and-paste repetitive, especially the subway tunnels.

I know there's only so much you can do with a subway environment, but for how many there are, the game didn't do enough.

I know there’s only so much you can do with a subway, but for how many there are, the game didn’t do enough.

The audio in Fallout 3 is deeply satisfying. I found myself keeping guns more for the sound they made than whether they were any good. Bethesda got its voice actors to emote a lot more in this game than in Oblivion, so that’s a nice change of pace. The music is a bleak collection of horns and guitar strings that serves as excellent white noise for traveling the wastelands. Overall, I was impressed with the art department’s work. They managed to add new content, but they improved significantly upon the problems present with Oblivion‘s art.

Fallout 3 is one of the finest open-world RPGs out there. You can sink hundreds of hours into this game without skipping a beat, and when you can buy it for $10-20, that’s quite a deal. The game has smooth gameplay, again, minus the karma system, and the art, while dreary at times, will hold your attention. Fallout 3‘s range of downloadable content, from the retelling of a pivotal battle to storming an alien mothership, is all also worth trying out, even if some of it is a bit short. All of this content is available together or separately; try it and love it.

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You can buy Fallout 3 here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Dishonored

D

Reverse a coup d’etat and exact vengeance.

PC Release: October 9, 2012

By Ian Coppock

Before my spring gaming budget ground to a halt, I ducked into a grimy Gamestop to buy a title I hadn’t played yet but by all rights should’ve pre-ordered, based on the concept alone. Ooh goody! A stealth action game? Set in a STEAMPUNK land??? My money could not have exited my hand faster. I came away from this game with a new understanding of stealth and pacing, but was it worth the money?

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As I was quick to point out with insufferable giddyness, Dishonored is a stealth game, set in the Victorian and Steampunk-esque city of Dunwall.

Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress of the Isles, returns home from a long journey just in time for some Dementors in gas masks to slay his beloved monarch. Corvo, that is, you, is framed for her murder. The Empress’s young daughter Emily is kidnapped to add some insult to injury.

Dammit! First Deus Ex, and now this. Someone's in the hospital or the morgue in the first three minutes of the game. Having bad luck this week..

Dammit! First Deus Ex, and now this. Someone’s in the hospital or the morgue in the first three minutes of the game. Having bad luck this week..

Corvo is incarcerated for the crime, but breaks out with the help of a small resistance faction fighting against the conspirators now in power. Though once a bodyguard, Corvo dons the mask and blade of an assassin.

The rebels help Corvo aplenty, but he also receives aid from The Outsider, an enigmatic spirit creature that at least looks human. He bestows upon Corvo his Mark, granting Corvo dark powers that will help him in his quest.

The Outsider gives a weary, heartbroken Corvo the magical means to exact revenge.

The Outsider gives a weary, heartbroken Corvo the magical means to exact revenge.

Dishonored is a linear progression of open-world missions. Corvo’s cohorts drop him off in a given district of Dunwell, from whence he is free to sneak or slash his way to the target. The plot to topple the Empress was executed by high-ranking officials, so Corvo has to avoid guards and enlist help to make it in and out alive. In addition to his blades, guns and crossbow, Corvo’s powers allow him to teleport, silence his movements and even disintegrate someone with his mere gaze.

The game’s story is influenced by how you act on missions, in a way that’s quite obvious when you think about it. The more guards and policemen Corvo kills, the more chaotic the city gets, darkening the ultimate ending. One of my rebel buddies remarked that guards don’t “just appear out of thin air”, which I think pokes fun at similar games, like Assassin’s Creedin which endless legions of guards can descend upon you. Subtle, Arkane. I like it. Luckily, you can non-lethally subdue guards if you’re like me and need the sunshine ending for your self-esteem.

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Corvo takes it upon himself to avenge the Empress and find her daughter, Emily.

As always, Corvo’s missions are more complicated then sneak in, slice, sneak out. Dunwall is being ravaged by the Rat Plague, a rodent-borne disease that turns its sufferers into shuffling freaks not unlike zombies. Corvo is occasionally beset by hungry rat swarms and bloody-faced biters, and finding the source of the disease becomes as much a priority as his quest for vengeance. The infected, called Weepers, add a mild element of horror to some of the missions.

Gameplay in Dishonored is a simple, refined affair. Corvo can sprint or sneak through areas, though the latter is much more effective. You can perform backstabs and heart-rippers upon guards with your knife, not to mention headshots and kills with bear trap grenades (you read that right).

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DIE BITCH

Corvo grows more powerful by finding the Outsider’s whale bone charms. Each charm is good for a point in Corvo’s skills menu, where players can upgrade his powers and abilities. Corvo has a magical, disgusting device to help him find charms and upgrades. It’s a human heart. Yep.

Dishonored rewards stealth, though I’m not sure this mechanic was meant to be so severe. Open fights against the guards are clunky, adding a technical impetus to avoid them. The game is also slightly broken in that you can beat the whole thing just putting your skill points into the teleportation and see-through-walls abilities, as I did. The fancier powers were certainly sexy but I never needed them. Additionally, I occasionally sneaked past guards who were full-on looking at me but weren’t alerted even if I was right in front of them. I hope Arkane Studios breaks out some bug-spray (phnarr, phnarr).

Assassinations are gruesome but oh so satisfying.

Assassinations are gruesome but oh so satisfying.

Dishonored‘s story is reasonably good. Characters evolve and perspectives change as Corvo cuts his way about Dunwall. As with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, your allies will chip in but each has his or her own private agenda in sync with the greater mission. Each level has its own mini-narrative, with Corvo having to adapt to new situations and developments during each assassination. The world is filled out with numerous backstory data sources, including books and letters.

And now it’s time for the Complaint Bucket to lurch greasily into the pale morning sun. Though Dishonored‘s narrative is interesting, the character most significantly underdone is Corvo himself; he is a silent protagonist. It’s difficult if not impossible to mesh a silent character with a previous life and reputation. He does “speak” in text conversations with other characters, but these are silent dialogue choices. As with Dead Space, I feel like an opportunity was missed to add another perspective to the game, and the most important perspective at that.

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I feel like the guy who’s making all the rebellion’s aims possible should be doing some of the talking.

The game also has a rather gaping plot hole, which I will preface with a MINOR SPOILER ALERT, if you don’t like it skip down to The Artwork. I played ’till the end of Dishonoredand found that, confusingly, the Outsider didn’t want anything in return for giving me magical powers. It was (dump) “here you go, buddy! Go have fun!”

Really? A character this enigmatic and complex just gave out superpowers for no apparent reason? The character’s ultimate motive is never explained. I could see this being an attempt to make him more mysterious, but all it did for me was leave a vacuous pit where more satisfying conclusion could have gone. Not one hint was dropped, just convenient magic. Even if Arkane is doing more extrapolation in a sequel, I’m not impressed. Why the Outsider would care about mortal plights and Corvo in particular is never touched upon.

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Well, maybe it’s not so bad that we don’t know everything right away…

As I mentioned, Dishonored is set in a steampunk-fantasy setting. Technically it’s actually electropunk, but I’m willing to lie if it will draw more attention to the steampunk genre, a seriously underrated area of sci-fi.

The city of Dunwall is the capital of an island empire, and it’s a weird blend of upstanding estates and run-down districts. The rat plague has chewed some areas out of existence, giving them a postapocalyptic air. Dunwall was inspired by Victorian London, so you’ll see similarly narrow alleyways, giant, colorful advertisements, and disgusting industrial areas.

Dunwall is an impressive creation, beset by an air of fear and decay.

Dunwall is an impressive creation, beset by an air of fear and decay.

Even the city’s ritziest areas carry a strong air of gloom. The rat plague’s presence is made known in stern police warnings and piles of corpses. Corvo can’t get sick, but he also can’t unsee the devastation the disease has wrought. Heavy city patrols and hushed conversations from the citizens add another layer of bleh. On an unrelated note, totalitarianism is not the answer.

The music sounds like what dead people orchestrate, and I don’t mean that in terms of talent. It adds quite beautifully to the cold, diseased atmosphere the game carries. The strings accompanying flashes of wealth and fanfare are underscored by a forbidding tone. Even your returns to base are musically melancholy. Though the outright lack of energy in many areas made the game a bit stiff, it certainly helped add to the oppression in the game’s atmosphere.

Imagine being in a copse of blood-leaved trees during an October dawn. That's what Dishonored feels like.

Imagine being in a copse of trees during an October dawn. That’s what Dishonored feels like.

I don’t want to give the impression that the game’s art is ugly. I mean, it is ugly, but it has an undercurrent of refinement to it, like a gargoyle. I can’t say the same for the people. The character models in this game are weird; the people have tiny eyes, huge noses and extremely thin hairlines, much more so than natural. This may have been a deliberate attempt to add more harshness to the game world, but it came off a little too stylized to me.

Dishonored is the smoothest stealth game I’ve yet played, though my friends tell me to give Thief a try. The narrative isn’t super-powerful, but the game’s setting and technology is a refreshing change of pace. Too many are the fantasy games featuring dwarves, dragons and thinly-disguised elves (oh, I’m sorry “fae”, not elves). Adding industry to magic is a formula that Arkane managed to turn into a win, and it’s a win I liked to win. Ahem. STEAMPUNK FOREVER! So yeah, if that plus gruesomely satisfying kills appeals to you, get the game or give the demo a try.

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This is a good game.

There are several pieces of downloadable content that have been released for Dishonored over the years. These include several weapons packs, and a time trial course of levels challenging players to traverse maps in a given amount of time, usually with a requisite number of slit throats along the way. Two story-driven DLCs, The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, follow the exploits of Daud, the assassin who murdered the empress.

DLC that follows the perspective of an antagonist is interesting, though usually too short. Daud’s two-part journey sees him face off not only against the imperial government, but against various crime bosses and even insurgents within his own faction. The story’s driving force is Daud being asked by the Outsider to investigate the name “Delilah” and while the narrative isn’t that interesting, fans of the main game will appreciate more opportunities to shoot and stab people.

D

Daud faces off against a slew of new opponents in his own DLC.

Though Dishonored‘s gameplay returns better and more refined than ever in Daud’s chronicles, the narrative suffers much more significantly than that of Corvo Attano. For one thing, Daud is weirdly hung up about killing the empress, which is unbecoming of a cold-hearted assassin who’s been butchering people for decades. The remorse was probably put into the story to make players sympathize with the character, but the attempt is grossly overt, to say the least.

Additionally, the DLC’s claims that Daud uses all-new powers is a misnomer. Daud’s powers are actually combinations of Corvo’s powers from Dishonored‘s main story. For example, Corvo’s abilities to teleport and slow time have now been worked together into a single ability, which, while fun, is not technically a “new” power. In addition to the standard slayings of fat old aristocrats, the DLC also offers up Dishonored‘s take on witchcraft, and a tour of rural eras, a first for the series.

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Daud’s chapters offer a direly need change-up in scenery.

Despite their significantly weaker plot, Daud’s chapters are an excellent addition to the main Dishonored game and are as worthy of a try as Corvo’s main adventure. This steampunk stealth adventure is a novelty in today’s offering of Triple-A titles, and players will find the changes in themes and scenery refreshing, even if the premise is a bit rote. Both the game and the DLC are available separately or bundled together; get it all and give it a go.

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You can buy Dishonored here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

D5

Shape the future of humankind in a global search for answers.

PC Release: August 23, 2011

By Ian Coppock

The games that are true giants are so because they make us ask the big questions. Existence, god, children’s smiles, crap like that. Happily enough, these games are also leading the charge into video gaming’s acceptance as an art form. Magnificent pieces of media from across time push a fascinating worldview and/or make us wonder about the fundamentals of society, and ourselves. We revere them because we can’t get their questions and conundrums out of our heads. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a masterpiece of questions and personal struggle. It doesn’t have the most conundrums and paradoxes I’ve ever seen in a game, but it does speak them the deepest.

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Deus Ex is the third installment in the long-running Deus Ex trilogy, though it’s a prequel, making prior gaming unnecessary. Like its predecessors, this game’s core comprises the questions with no easy answers. Deus Ex envisions a year 2027 in which humankind has innovated brilliantly, but failed to address widespread social upheaval.

Adam Jensen, the player character, is a former SWAT cop-turned-security chief at Sarif Industries, a Detroit firm that produces robotic human augmentations. The company is one of many that participates in the controversial science, building machinery that can surpass the abilities of organic tissue.

Mechanical augmentations are available to those who have to, or are willing to, part with their original body parts.

Mechanical augmentations are available to those with a lot of money, and a desire to part with their original limbs.

Though seemingly miraculous, augmentations have created a new societal rift between “augs”, who make up a small but growing minority, and the general population who oppose them for a variety of reasons. Playing God, inherent unfairness, and other concerns fuel resentment of augmentation. Though not augmented, Adam is indifferent to the affairs beyond his job. He spends much of his time with Megan Reed, his ex-girlfriend and Sarif’s top scientist.

During a routine patrol, Sarif is attacked by masked gunmen with military augmentations. Adam tries to save Megan but is mortally injured by the enemy leader. All of this, on the eve of a technological breakthrough that would make augmentation “available to all.” Adam is left to die as the lab is destroyed.

Not the greatest start I've had to a video game...

Not the greatest start I’ve had to a game…

With no other means to save his life, Sarif’s scientists salvage Adam’s body and augment him to replace what little was not destroyed in the attack. After months of painful recovery, Adam returns to Sarif Industries to conduct his own investigation of the attack. Megan and the other scientists are dead, and whatever they’d been working on prior to the assault was stolen. Adam picks up a new clue during a second attack at a company plant, and pieces together a trail that lead him across the world.

At this point I’m wondering if I should pull out the “tip of the iceberg” metaphor or not, but the experience might be ruined if I confirm or hint at the size of said iceberg.

A second attack against Sarif Industries gives Adam the catalyst for a new journey.

A second attack against Sarif Industries catalyzes Adam’s new journey.

The first thing I immediately noticed Deus Ex doing well was balancing a prior reputation with player-chosen character development. Adam has his own voice and general demeanor, but the player can use Mass Effect-style conversation wheels to determine most all his moods and perspectives. These perspectives build upon each other, making it possible to come up with many different Adams who all retain a similar mood, though not necessarily outlooks. These go beyond Adam’s favorite burger toppings; you can make him love or hate his new augmentations, be peaceful or violent, and generally a nice dude or an asshole.

Not one of the major characters in this game is one-dimensional, which is incredibly refreshing. It means they’re more interesting, but also that they may not be trustworthy. Each has their own agendas and goals in your global search for the truth. Adam is assisted in his search by several checkered Sarif Industries agents, including the deliciously unreadable CEO David Sarif; the up-front and witty pilot Faridah Malik; and Pritchard, a dry, antagonistic computer specialist who aids Adam during missions.

D6

David Sarif, Adam’s boss, was my favorite supporting character. Though he wants answers for the attack, his motivations and agenda are almost always obscure and only hinted at through conversations.

Adam’s conversations with these characters can shape entire missions and sequences. You’re given the opportunity to discuss developments with allies and even a few antagonists. Adam can empathize with, antagonize or plea with the people he meets, and your persuasive success will change major game events. These conversations range from talking down terrorists to trying to get information from David Sarif himself. There’s one bit where a conversation can save you from infiltrating several enemy bases, and another that may stop you from having to gun down innocents. Just to give you an idea.

By shifting the focus to encompass dialogue as well as action, Deus Ex pulls off a milestone in video games’ journey to mainstream art acceptance. This game demonstrates that a video game story can be thrilling and beautiful without reliance on the violence that so many people deem integral to a video game. The game is violent, but only if you choose it to be.

I loved the significance of dialogue. Not just because dialogue is the essence of a story, but also because, in this case, it can significantly alter the story depending on the outcome. Not even Mass Effect's conversations were that impactful.

I loved the significance of dialogue. Not just because dialogue is the essence of a story, but also because, in this case, it can significantly alter the story depending on the outcome. Not even Mass Effect’s conversations were that impactful.

As I mentioned in the beginning, augmentation is at the heart of most plot and character conflicts. Even most of the side missions deal with their ramifications. The game absorb’s your opinion on augmentations as Adam’s own, and even if he likes them, he endures a vicious inner struggle over whether he’s still human. Protests and social movements representing both views happen throughout the game. It kept the tension up, and the question of mechanical augmentation at the forefront of major events.

Deus Ex was built to accommodate multiple playstyles. Bullet junkies can break in guns’a’blazin, or stealth fanatics can sneak through vents and behind guard positions. No matter what you choose, the game rewards you with experience points that go towards unlocking your next augmentation ability. Adam cannot get all of the aug powers, even in an entire playthrough, so choose wisely. You’ll be fine if you don’t try to play a bunch of different styles at once.

I have no complaints about the game's controls. You can play however you want.

I have no complaints about the game’s controls. You can play however you want.

The game’s pacing is a combination of linear and open-world. Adam visits several cities during his journey, including Shanghai and Montreal. These areas are vast and open-world, but the game’s events are linear, meaning you may not be able to revisit a city once you’ve completed your missions. Adam can peruse shops, talk to NPCs and look for hidden money and items.

In each city Adam can also undertake various side missions, which may have something or nothing to do with the plot. Some of these quests involve helping out your close friends with their own agendas. Others see Adam helping or damning complete strangers. Most of these come with the reward of money or a Praxis Kit, which is good for one new aug ability. The Missing Link, a piece of downloadable content, adds a bonus chapter to the main narrative. It’s not too bad, and bundled into the edition of Human Revolution on Steam.

D

I’ve played worse DLC than The Missing Link, but it’s short, and the supposedly crucial revelation it adds to the main game is anything but.

Though Deus Ex is beautifully designed, I’d be doing you a disservice if I glossed over my tri-weekly complaint bucket. Some of Adam’s abilities are severely hampered by battery bars, which are slow to recharge. Even a simple takedown eats up a whole bar, so by that logic he has to wait ten minutes to recharge after lifting a Snickers to his mouth. You can upgrade the bars to recharge quicker and eat magic granola bars to replenish them instantly, but I found this to be a MASSIVE sticking point in my strategies. I think Square Enix tried way too hard to balance the gameplay with that one.

Another problem and perhaps the game’s most infamous pitfall is the bossfights. Even if Adam is super-sneaky, he gets himself into numerous brawls with big baddies. The problem is that Deus Ex was built for stealth, so if you get shot, Adam dies as though his armor is a feather pillow. These fights don’t feature good cover, compounding the problem. The overall issue is that these fights only respond to brute strength. I think they should have been designed to respond to the player’s style, with stealth attacks and dynamic moves to suit my own understanding of the game. It’s possible to get through the entire game without killing anyone, believe it or not. You can stun them with a taser or sneak, but I always carried guns just in case I was thrust into a boss fight.

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I have no recourse with this walking tank other than the methods I’m not playing with? Great.

These guns ate up my inventory space, the third big problem with Deus Ex‘s gameplay. The inventory is one of those old-school cube systems where weapons and items occupy a shaped space in your pockets. It’s that system where you can’t carry something because another item is occupying too many rows, or the various squares of free space are disparate.

To be fair, the game tries to organize your items to allow for blocks of space, but the entire affair was an unnecessary headache. I thought we’d established that if you want to do inventory limits, you do it by weight, like in Skyrim. Isn’t that also how carry weight works in real life?

"Sorry Ian, you can't carry your plasma rocket launcher, your inventory Feng Shui is off!"

“Sorry Ian, you can’t carry your plasma rocket launcher, your inventory Feng Shui is off!”

I can’t give Deus Ex a break on these problems, but I can say that, with the exception of the boss fights, they become somewhat manageable nuisances. Square Enix was a little rusty and old school on some of their implementation, but the heart is in the story and sneaking.

To parallel the game’s sense of conspiracy, Deus Ex‘s artwork is beautiful in its form but somewhat harsh in its essence. All but about 5% of the game takes place at night, creating additional spooky-spooky.

The game's nocturnal timing was a creative way to boost a conspiratorial atmosphere.

The game’s nocturnal timing was a creative way to boost a conspiratorial atmosphere.

Deus Ex can’t seem to get enough of the color yellow. It’s the game’s primary theme, and is boldly or subtly in everything. Even Adam’s displays and conversation windows are in yellow. I suppose this was a choice meant to contrast with the game’s darker visual elements, and I really liked it. My respect for the color yellow went up markedly after this game, hooray.

The game’s environments change and reflect both ongoing events and philosophical battles. In addition to augmentation, the game struggles with the concept of capitalism. If you think our wealth gap is bad now, by 2027 the middle class is on the endangered species list. With societal segregation at a critical mass, Adam strolls through either glossy skyscrapers or downtrodden slums, with little middle ground.

A corporate building at the top of Shangai...

A corporate building at the top of Shangai…

The environmental artwork is beautifully done but a lot of the character animations are stiff and robotic, even for the people who don’t have robot parts (phnarr, phnarr). All of the NPCs have that strange attempt at natural motion which looks more like a robot swinging its head one way and then another in three-second intervals, which made me giggle.

The game’s voice acting varies depending on which role we’re talking about. Adam Jensen and David Sarif’s voice actors put the most into their characters, and everyone else fits on a declining scale. The one that made me laugh and then cry was a rather racist portrait of homeless black people in Detroit (“WEALL SHEEEEYUT, CAP’N”), some of whom Adam can get info from, for a beer.

Tish. Really overdone on the stereotypes. A few misses in the character department.

Leticia. Really overdone on the stereotypes. A few misses in the character department, Square.

The game’s music is a curious combination of old-world vocals and new-world guitar and drum. Mournful baritone voices play with irregular drum beats to create a sense of the game’s plot and environments feeling big, rather than just looking big. The main score, which combines epic strings with high-pitched ballad opera, is my favorite piece of video game music (it plays in the cinematic trailer if you’re interested. Also on a CD).

Despite its drawbacks, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a fantastic game, and a welcome reintroduction of the venerable Deus Ex series. I highly recommend this game; shooter and stealth fans will be sated, but the narrative is one of the strongest I’ve seen in recent games. Informed by a combination of thick atmosphere and meaningful dialogue, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is something truly special.

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You can buy Deus Ex: Human Revolution here.

Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at ianlaynecoppock@gmail.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.