Version tested: Xbox 360
It's a paradox that lies at the heart of Deus Ex: give a player true choice and you ultimately limit their freedom.
Undeniably, with the ability to augment the character of Adam Jensen in a handful of different ways chosen from a selection of many, we gain the ability to express ourselves in how we want to approach the game. We can choose to be stealthy: muffling footsteps with a leg augment, investing in a cloaking device and some extra batteries to power it in order to skulk, Sam Fisher-like, in the dark. Or we can choose to play as a trenchcoat Rambo by paying for tougher armour and a clutch of explosive rockets that fire like hail from his arms.
These choices are meaningful not only because they cannot be undone, but also because there are only a limited number of points to spend on augments across the game. Each augment comes at the expense of another and every choice in Deus Ex deepens your expertise in a specific approach to the game, but makes the game a little bit narrower as you do so.
This truth is never clearer than in the first half of The Missing Link, a four-hour downloadable excursion that fills the last remaining gap in Deus Ex: Human Revolution's story. Jensen's search for the augmented Black Ops soldiers who broke into Sarif Industries and kidnapped its top researchers six months earlier has brought him to China. Stowed away on cargo ship registered to the private military contractor, Belltower Associates, he is discovered, stripped of his clothes and weapons and placed in a holding cell deep in the belly of the ship as it steels itself against a storm.
The ship, as you discover after you break from the confines of your cell and locate your Neo-esque, not-so-chic clothing, is a network of narrow corridors and ladders. And it's in these tight confines that the realities of your augment choices present themselves more clearly than they did in the main game.
Fail to have invested in strength augments and you will be unable to move the larger crates that block the air vents that provide access to other parts of the ship. If you've neglected to augment your ability to withstand poison gas then you'll be unable to pass through the corridors that (somewhat inexplicably) are filled with green, noxious clouds. If you've ignored cranial augments then you will be unable to hack into door keypads in order to gain entry to offshoot rooms or to disable CCTV cameras. All of this was true in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but in the close confines of a ship, where every closed-off avenue stares you down, the consequences of the choices you've made often feel negative rather than liberating.
Thankfully, Eidos Montreal has chosen to give you a clutch of Praxis points to spend at the start of the add-on, which are not tethered to the choices you made in the main game. In fact, you can elect to play The Missing Link at any point from Human Revolution's main menu, dipping back and forth between the two. As such, it's possible to experiment at the start of the DLC, perhaps choosing to fashion a character in a different style to the one you played in the main game.
Despite this freedom, the first half of the DLC on the ship favours stealth play. Indeed, one character positively enforces the approach, telling Jensen: "The longer you stay undetected, the brighter your future will be." Enemies hit hard and, if the alarm is raised, will quickly shunt you back into a tortuous loading screen. There are a few difficulty spikes early on in the episode that lead to frustration. With the lacklustre design of the ship - all identikit ladders and corridors leading up and down in an uninspiring spatial puzzle - motivation to progress is often low.
Play is linear and funnelled, with just the odd side quest to distract from the crosshair marker that leads you to the next plot trigger point. One early example asks you to fix a damaged stasis pod by replacing its electronic server. Not doing so will result in the death of whoever is hidden inside the pod, a rare moment to play saviour in an adventure that is almost all about playing killer. Irritatingly, side quests can be failed simply by leaving an area without having completed them, even though it's possible to freely return.
The structure of the episode takes cues from Metal Gear Solid 2, moving midway through from the storm-ridden ship to a hidden base that the ship docks at. This area, with its wider scope, is much more enjoyable, facilitating the sort of player freedom that marks out the main game. Here you'll even find a couple of allies who, in addition to providing weapons, offer some friendly human contact to inspire progress.
But the dark, repetitive environments fail to inspire in the same way. On reflection, for all Human Revolution's interesting mechanics and immersive elements, the world which you are asked to pit your skills against can fail to match up to the tools in your hands. The range of ways to interact with environments is wide and deep, but the applications can sometimes feel a little limited, and this is never more evident than in The Missing Link.
Close to the end of the episode, Eidos Montreal's developers attempts to exorcise the spectre of Human Revolution's sub-par boss battles with a creation of its own. As this enemy can be taken down in creative ways by players who have not augmented the 'combat' aspect of their character, they go someway to succeeding.
But, elsewhere, The Missing Link feels routine, uninspired. There's no grand hook to the episode, leaving one with the feeling that it's here to plug a narrative gap in the main game rather than justify its presence on its own merits. The opportunity to revisit Human Revolution is a welcome one, but this is a competent expansion rather than an unmissable one.
6 / 10