Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut review
Another Wii U flop that deserved better?
I don't know about you, but when I hear the words "Director's Cut", I usually assume that the director has returned, adding or subtracting elements to produce the definitive version of their work. So it's a little weird to fire up the Wii U version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director's Cut and discover that it's been at least partly assembled by Straight Right, the Australian studio responsible for the Nintendo version of Mass Effect 3. Doubly so when you consider that the main criticism of the original release was that the boss fight content had been quietly outsourced to a third party.
Still, this is how games are made these days - development tasks scattered across the globe - and there is no suggestion that main developer Eidos Montreal wasn't instrumental in reworking this new version. It's also clear from interviews that original game director Jean-Francois Dugas at least fed into the renovations, and he appears along with some of his colleagues on the developer commentary that you can enable in the main menu. In any case, the issue of who is most responsible for the Director's Cut becomes less pressing once you begin playing it, because whoever it was has done a decent job.
The biggest improvement is probably the one everyone knows about: the boss fights. Take the first battle with Barrett, for example. Coming around a quarter of the way through this first-person stealth game, it used to be a fearsome assault by a heavyweight military guy with a machinegun and grenades in a small, boxy room with a few pillars and explosive barrels, and the only way to defeat him was gunning him down. Most players had largely spent the game up to that point crouching behind walls, firing stun gun darts and hacking computers, so this was somewhat jarring. When I first got to Barrett, way back in the summer of 2011, I didn't even have a weapon.
In the Director's Cut, however, there is room to manoeuvre. You still have to kill Barrett, which is annoying in a game which otherwise only forces you to kill in the intro tutorial, but now you can climb ladders to reach a higher floor, you can crawl through air vents to evade detection, and you can hack terminals that give you access to supplies and programmable gun turrets. Subsequent boss battles have also been reworked so that you can access new areas and employ more varied tactics. In the battle with Fedorova, for example, you can break down walls and hack environmental controls.
In other words, you can tailor your approach in boss fights so that it's closer to the style of play you use in the rest of the game. The battles themselves - particularly the fact that they have no non-lethal outcomes - still feel at odds with that game, but now these sections are more like frustrating parts of something they otherwise belong in, rather than content designed by someone who had heard about the rest of the game in a pub.
Even if the boss fights had remained untouched, though, Human Revolution on Wii U would still be a hell of a game - a conspiracy thriller where you pick through the seedy futuristic cities of Detroit and Hengsha as Adam Jensen, top security man for cybernetic augmentation company Sarif Industries, searching for clues about who is targeting your organisation. At the start, Jensen is caught up in an attack on Sarif HQ that leaves him seriously injured and claims the lives of many researchers, including his ex-girlfriend Megan Reed. She had been on the verge of a controversial breakthrough, and as Jensen pursues the culprits, he starts linking these things together and stumbles onto something big.
Jensen's adventure takes place almost exclusively at night and against a backdrop of death, loss and intolerance, which you might imagine would feel cold and ominous, but one of the game's greatest tricks is that the opposite turns out to be true. The hub cities of Detroit and Hengsha, which you explore and then branch out from into key mission locations, are small by the standards of modern open worlds, but this works in their favour. Rather than getting lost and relying on your map to navigate, you get to know the basic layouts pretty quickly, after which every new shortcut, hidden area and side mission is a discovery that enriches locations you've come to know and like.
You also get to know the people and places. I play a lot of video games where people come up to you and ask if you know much about the local gang situation. And you know what? Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the only game I've ever played where I do know stuff about the local gang situation. The Ballers? They're over there on D-Row. They're at war with the Motor City Bangers. Framed as a global conspiracy in a globalised world, everything feels local to you, and whether by accident or design, that works.
The mechanics are also warm and comforting, particularly the intimacy of the stealth systems. You can play Human Revolution like a shooter, but it's not really designed for that, so instead you're usually crouched at table height, rummaging through drawers, PCs and your pockets to put pieces together, or creeping through vents and hacking terminals in a simple-but-tense mini-game about capturing control nodes. One of the reasons everything works so well is the immaculate cover system, which shields you completely from view behind every logical object, even on staircases. You spend a lot of time reloading saves in Human Revolution - and one of the biggest criticisms I have is that this takes ages - but it is always because of an error you made, not the game. These systems are on your side.
On Wii U, they are also improved slightly by the use of the GamePad. You will still want the mini-map radar on the TV screen, because glancing down into your lap to note guard positions and movements is awkward, but it's great when you are in cover, allowing you to survey a slightly wider view of the surrounding area, and you can also manage your inventory, review objectives and flick through upgrades, which pauses the game. The GamePad is not an iPad, so manipulating things isn't as slick as your muscle memory sometimes expects - the hacking mini-game suffers for this, for example - but it's a useful way of reviewing information and I like the way it acts as your email browser.
The GamePad is also used for aiming ranged weapons like the sniper rifle, something at which I turned my nose up initially, before discovering that I quite liked it. My favourite thing on the GamePad, though, would be great wherever it was located. The augmentation upgrades page may seem a little overwhelming at first, with dozens of options hidden in slightly unintuitive categories linked to the area of Jensen's body they augment, but burrowing around looking for things you want is fun - doubly so when you discover that there are several things you desire and you have to choose between them.
Some sections of the upgrade map are more or less interesting depending on your style of play, but Human Revolution gives you options within each approach. Me, I like to take things slowly, avoid detection and loot and hack things comprehensively. For a change, though, I've also played the game a bit more violently, using the retractable blades in Jensen's augmented arms to incapacitate enemies rather more permanently than my usual tranquiliser rifle, popping out of vents to drop mines and trying to manipulate enemies into tight clusters so I can break out the devastating typhoon augmentation. Stealth is usually the key, but that doesn't mean you can't play rough, providing you plan carefully.
There are several sections of the game where all these good things reach crescendo, and I could play these parts again and again. I have, in fact. One of the earliest missions involves stealing something from the police station, and I love talking my way in there and then pushing my luck as I try to loot everything I can right under the cops' noses, reading emails about petty squabbles and bureaucratic nightmares as they waltz up and down the corridors outside their offices, unaware I've broken into them. Everything you see and read feeds into the narrative on a low level, too, perhaps embellishing a side mission or adding detail to the world, and it all dovetails with the themes that the story explores.
The most prominent of those is 'transhumanism'. After the initial attack on Sarif Industries, Jensen's injuries force his employer to give him substantial augmentations to save his life, and this sets him up nicely to walk between the two different sides of the augmentation argument, which sees pro-augmentation companies and the recipients of augmentations under fire from politicians and extremists who believe the technology is dangerous or lessens our humanity. Jensen didn't choose to become augmented, so you can decide for him in conversation how he feels about it - whether it's something he accepts, rejects or is ambivalent about - and you're also invited to explore tough subjects like corruption and inequality. The way these situations play out is a little trite in places, but it's nice to have them as more than just the usual wallpaper.
Historically, Deus Ex's big thing has been that it lets you choose how you approach things, and this is true of these broader questions as well as your approach in gameplay, but the writers do well to keep a leash on Jensen by maintaining his determination to find out what happened to Megan Reed and why Sarif Industries was attacked. The set-up does a neat job of propelling Jensen from place to place, throwing in colourful twists and allowing him to explore the augmentation debate further through the people he meets. It particularly helps that Human Revolution makes these conversations slightly adversarial, using a special augmentation to read people's reactions so you can try to talk them around to your side. These encounters are novel enough that you don't mind that they feel contrived, while your partners in verbal sparring are interesting characters like your boss, David Sarif, and Eliza Cassan, the enigmatic host of TV broadcasts you see scattered throughout the game.
Giving you a bit of agency in conversation also means Human Revolution can end on something unusual - a debate with the bad guy, rather than a gunfight. In my mind's eye, this encounter has always been the end of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, as the world threatens to fall apart and it's up to me to talk someone out of pushing a button. With the boss fights patched over, the game that emerges from this final conversation is smart, coherent and interesting, full of special moments. The Wii U version of that game is still imperfect, but it's better than the one I played in 2011, which is no small achievement.
If only it had ended there, then. But, inevitably, Human Revolution closes on a final boss fight, while the section leading up to that debate is guilty of introducing a dull new enemy that interferes with your usual tactics in a way that doesn't make them more interesting. It's not enough to ruin the game, but the final boss feels unnecessary and ill-fitting, however much it has been tweaked. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is still a wonderful game, but as with the other three boss battles, I can't help feeling that this Director's Cut would have been even better if the directors had, you know, cut it.