The more I think about it, the more I realize that I didn’t really enjoy Human Revolution very much. I gave it a positive review, mind you, but it was so close to being an unenjoyable experience for me that I bounced back and forth before deciding it barely scraped by in the “win” column. I picked up the PC version of Deus Ex: The Fall, then, mostly to be able to argue about why it’s a bad game without having to argue that it sucks purely because it’s originally a mobile game. What I didn’t expect was that I’d actually end up enjoying much of it. This will be a negative review overall because of some horrible design decisions that all but ruin the experience, but know that it’s much less of a train wreck than you’d expect.
Characters are its greatest strength
Much of what made Human Revolution a “meh” experience for me came down to the characters; there was always a ton of stuff happening, yet I never felt properly invested in anyone or anything that happened. Adam Jensen was just some down-on-his-luck nobody who suddenly became a highly-advanced augmented demigod (and for some reason kept the same job despite literally being one-of-a-kind), and this somehow felt equal parts forced and boring. The Fall, on the other hand, does a surprisingly solid job of making you invested in main character Ben Saxon and side character Anna Kelso, and a large part of its success in doing so comes in the form of audio logs that help you get a feeling for who they are, as well as who they were in the past. The story’s progression, then, is a natural consequence of their personalities rather than something that just happens.
The story is its greatest flaw
I enjoyed the story in The Fall. It focuses on augmented individuals and their subsequent physical dependence on the Neuropozyne that keeps their body from rejecting their augmentations, and it eventually builds up to corporations capitalizing on that in evil ways. The problem isn’t the strength of the story, though, so much as the fact that it’s completely and utterly unfinished. The Fall isn’t marketed as an incomplete or episodic title, yet you get hit with a “to be continued” that takes the wind out of your sails a third or so into what you expected to be a full game. This is doubly awful when you consider how poor the reception to The Fall was. Will the story ever actually be finished? It’s impossible to know, really, and that makes the sudden cliffhanger ending that much worse.
The (admittedly few) locales that you visit over the course of the story are another point in the game’s favor. While the limited technology of mobile tablets carried over to the PC version so that there’s nothing even approaching the graphically advanced, areas are nevertheless incredibly interesting to explore. The beginning tutorial mission’s location is reminiscent of Human Revolution’s dull level design, but after that you get to explore the Tyrant’s (enemies from HR) ship and run around multiple parts of a large city that’s broken up by loading screens.
This city is easily one of the more memorable locations in the series because of how diverse it is; in one section, you have slums with garbage flying down the street, while another section is near the water and has a nightclub, complete with people walking along the streets. Even without cutting-edge graphics, the city manages to be a surprisingly pretty place.
The familiar meets the weightless
The engine that Human Revolution was built on gave the game and characters a sense of weight. It’s a subtle thing that you never really notice until you play through something like The Fall and realize that the weight is suddenly missing. It’s difficult to explain in words, but it makes the shooting feel more like the floaty first-person games released around the turn of the millennium (like the original Deus Ex) than anything released in the more modern era. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you, like me, enjoy the first Deus Ex despite its aging mechanics, but many people will find it a turn-off and be instantly repulsed by its old-timey-ness.
Hacking, cover, and takedowns
All of these things return, and while they feel like pale shadows of their former selves because of the game’s strange sense of weightlessness, they still work as well as they do in Human Revolution. Cover, however, proved to be a bit on the buggy side. In one part of the game, I was dodging a security bot. I forget what I did, but it suddenly became aware of my presence and came to investigate. I had nowhere to run, so I just stayed crouched against the wall I was hiding behind (using the third-person cover system) and waited to be discovered. Instead, the robot moved through me, looked around while I was hidden inside of it, then decided that no one was around and went back to minding its own business. That may be a bug, but it was one of the more amusing bugs I’ve encountered.
You can’t jump in The Fall. You can climb ladders and walk off of buildings, sure, but simple hopping is apparently too difficult for augmented super-agent Ben Saxon to handle. This is something you get used to fairly quickly, but it’s still a bit of a shock for a game that tries to be so true to Human Revolution to limit you in such a strange way. Speaking of new limitations, you’re also unable to perform cutscene finishers on random NPCs anymore. You can walk around and shoot them in the face, sure, but no longer are you able to run around, knocking people out willy-nilly for the sheer pleasure of doing so.
One save slot
This is another limitation that obviously came from this game’s tablet origins. While you’re able to quick save and quick load in addition to the game’s autosaves, you only ever have a single game slot. The game—or episode, to be more accurate—is short enough that this isn’t a huge problem, but surely they could have fixed this to allow multiple save slots in the PC release.
Ben’s a material girl
The tablet version of the game seems to have been designed to allow for microtransactions in the form of weapons and ammo that you can buy from a menu at any time in the game. The PC version, on the other hand, has no microtransactions. Whether you’re playing the mobile or PC version, however, you’re able to spend in-game credits in that menu to unlock new weapons and ammo. This is never necessary, though. In fact, I played through almost the entire game with a silenced pistol without facing any ammo or weapon strength problems whatsoever, only having to rely on cutscene finishers and stealth toward the end against stronger helmet-wearing enemies.
This is obviously a game that was designed primarily for the limited graphical capabilities of tablets. The art design of some of the locations outweighs this somewhat later in the game, but the character models, especially toward the beginning, are of a very low quality, ensuring that you’ll never forget the game’s mobile origins while playing. That said, the ugly yellow filter that suffocated Human Revolution is used with a bit more restraint in The Fall, and the VTOL model is one of a few that look surprisingly good. Overall, the graphics are okay, but they certainly could have been polished more for the PC release.
No Icarus here
One of the things that Human Revolution nailed was its soundtrack. While the background music that played in most of the game was meaningless fluff, it had some themes so memorable that you could hear them once and recall them even days later. The Fall, on the other hand, also includes the aforementioned meaningless fluff, but it doesn’t include any standouts to alleviate their blandness.
Speaking of audio, The Fall has the worst NPC voice acting of any game I’ve ever played in my entire life. While Ben dialogue is pretty good and Anna’s is acceptable for the most part, the NPCs you can talk to have voice acting that makes Grandia’s voice acting seem incredible by way of comparison. You could tell me that they hired the voice actors for NPC characters straight out of a mental institution and paid them with lollipops and I’d believe it.
Here’s what you should do: