In the year MM (that's 2000 for you non-Romans), I was accompanying some family on a trip to Dublin City. While engaging in my giddiest pleasure of the time (sifting through PC games new and old), I happened upon a game released that very day. I recalled reading something starkly positive about it in PC Gamer magazine prior to this and decided I'd take a chance on this one.
That game was Deus Ex.
Needless to say, I was completely taken aback by it. My first impression was something of distaste, oddly enough, like the first time you try beer. I was almost disappointed by my inability to kill everything with reckless abandon and similarly offended by my inability to survive what would've been considered a relatively tame fire-fight, certainly by the standards of the time. But persistence (and a little insistence on not wasting my £40) soon paid off. The thrill was no longer about being some one-man army, hell-bent on nothing short of absolute destruction. Now the thrill came from being an unseen, unheard ninja, a living virus to any computer system he touched. But what was most important about all that was the sense of BEING that person. Never had I become so immersed in a character and his world. It changed the way I played games, but more than that, it changed the way I looked at them and entertainment as a whole.
Flash forward ten years or so and we have Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Without going in to too many specifics, I am still playing through the game and have thus far found the experience an excellent one. That said, this also prompted me to re-install my copy of Deus Ex for the first time in about 6 years.
First of all, the similarities. The game world FEELS quite similar. The environment, which would've been considered quite dynamic at the time, is largely the same, although by today's standards it may seem somewhat static. Augmentations are actually a bit more balanced (if not biased a little more towards the stealth method of play) and useful this time around and that sense of freedom remains.
What does not remain, at least not as much, is the sense of impact that my actions had on the world (in the original). My choice to go stealthily and mercifully about my business doesn't seem to affect my relationships with other characters as much. While this could lead to benefits in the original, such is rarely if ever the case in Human Revolution. The benefits of stealth play now come in the form of more experience points, which, while more recognizable to the modern gamer, seems to have cheapened the experience somewhat for me.
More to that, the game highlights just how games have evolved, or in some cases, devolved over the years. Many actions in this game have become automated. Stealthily dispatching of an enemy requires a single keystroke within close proximity, and lethally doing so requires the same effort. Perhaps this offers a thrill of some kind to other gamers, but I personally feel detached from the action, as though I had nothing to do with it. The player's hand is held at almost every turn, and obligatory boss battles have been shoe-horned in, presumably because your game can't be considered epic unless at least one climactic, cinematic confrontation is included. In the original, you could nearly talk your way out of or into any situation, if you worked at it hard enough. If boss fights like these were included in the original, I've no doubt you could've avoided them somehow. In HR, talking summons a mini-game of sorts (via an augmentation) that takes much of the challenge out of carefully traversing the conversation trees. Now you're told specifically which personality type your target is and which conversation options affect this type most in your favour. Modern conventions like incessant "tooltip" help messages appear, and regenerating health has been added, while individual limb damage has been removed.
All things considered, even though it's 10 years later and the it's sporting a slicker presentation, there's simply less GAME.
In summary, my question to you is this: have games REALLY evolved over the last ten years? Their presentation certainly has, this much is obvious. However, the core gameplay experience, that which truly defines a game: has it stagnated, or worse, devolved over the years? Deus Ex was meant to have heralded a new age of modern shooters, where thought was provoked as much as the inner genocidal maniac. Nowadays, shooters have reverted to corridors and mindless slaughter. RPGs are still about fetch quests and even their depth, a defining characteristic of the genre, has been replaced with hand-holding, instant gratification and linear progression. Fighting games and platformers are returning to their 2D roots in an effort to regain their glamour through a return to simplicity (although much lauded, it isn't progression). More and more user actions are stripped away so we can watch one more slick "canned" animation, one more action-heavy cut-scene and all for what?
Another $10 on the price-tag?
Announced in 2021, the ground-up remake has seen little to no updates this year. Check out some possible explanations here.
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