Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution: The Missing Link review


    This review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution's only major piece of downloadable content (DLC) is going to be divided into two parts. First, I'm going to talk about add-on itself. Second, I'm going to discuss its social message. Video games are rapidly becoming a new medium for conveying ideas beyond, "rescue the princess from the castle" and it's important to analyze these messages when they appear.

    For those who just want to know whether or not it's worth the Microsoft Points to download, the short answer is yes. The Missing Link is an expertly designed adventure which contributes an additional nine hours or so of game play.

    The level design and graphics are top notch, with obvious care towards making it as fun as possible for people of varying game-styles. Gamers who prefer to sneak around problems will find as much to do here as those who enjoy blowing their problems away.

    The premise of the adventure is that, during the third act of Adam Jensen's journey, he stows away in a cargo container. In the game proper, this just takes him to his final destination. In The Missing Link, he is found by Belltower mercenaries, the bad guys for the majority of the game, and has his cybernetic augmentations turned off. Adam has to find his way out of their secret base as well as expose the corruption going on. It's a simple enough premise and nicely interwoven with the main narrative.

    Well, sort of.

    While it intersects neatly with the final section of the game, The Missing Link is actually played separately from the game proper. You have to physically go to a link called "Downloadable Content" on the main menu and start a new game as opposed to just playing through Deus Ex: The Human Revolution. Even worse, you can't take any of the experience or equipment you gain to the final levels of the game. It's a completely unconnected story and might as well be considered a distinct, if short, game like Portal was to Half-Life 2.

    I can understand the design choice, this allows players to enjoy the DLC's contents at any point rather than during a narrow time window. However, for me, it was mood-breaking and I would have preferred them to stick it after the main storyline or somehow incorporated it into the game itself.

    The game play is touted as being much smoother than the rest of the game, being created after they "perfected" it, but I don't think so. The Missing Link is noticeably harder than the rest of the game, even on Easy Difficulty, with a much larger collection of foes than even the penultimate level. There's fewer breaks in the tension than in the main game and fewer chances to decompress. Faster and more intense doesn't mean "better" in my mind, though.

    Sometimes, it felt more like Metal Gear Solid 4 1/2 than Deus Ex. I would have preferred the game include a section where you're able to peacefully interact with NPCs on the Belltower base like Detroit or Hengsha. The gameplay, while entertaining, was a little too action-orientated for a franchise built on characterization.

    While there are only a few NPCs you can interact with on a nonviolent level, I liked each of them. The character of Keitner reminded me that not all of Belltower's mercenaries were puppy-kicking evil. Irish black marketeer Quinn was amusing for reasons I'd be spoiling the game if I revealed. The main antagonist, Burke, was thoroughly-loathsome and defeating him was immensely satisfying.

    The storyline of the adventure was also well-written. Adam finds himself effectively visiting one of the prisons he encounters earlier in the game, containing huge numbers of individuals seemingly captured because of their political activities. I'll devote a whole article to the social issues raised in The Missing Link but, for now, simply state that the work has a large number of things to say about a wide-variety of subjects from private military contractors to extraordinary rendition.

    I appreciate when games try and think outside the box and possess a social conscience. That, alone, brings my score of the game up considerably. Those who are not interested in a game's political message, however, can safely overlook it for an otherwise enjoyable game play experience. The game manages that careful balance of having something to say without becoming overly preachy.

    I can honestly say that The Missing Link was enjoyable and well worth the money spent on it. The DLC removed most of my complaints regarding the game being too short and gave me more than my share of vent-crawling takedown-using cybernetic action.

    The only major flaws it possesses are the fact its removed from the rest of the game and there's not nearly enough social interaction for what amounts to an entirely new zone in the setting. The difficulty spike was, further, something I could take or leave.

    I give the DLC an 9/10 and mark it as a worthy addition to the game proper.

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