Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Deus Ex: A Criminal Past review

    This is going to be a bittersweet review since A Criminal Past is probably going to be the last Deus Ex game in this continuity and almost certainly the last game starring Adam Jensen. For those of us who were hoping for a third game as an appropriate send off to the second most famous cyborg from Detroit, A Criminal Past is a disappointment but it's still a solid game addition worth playing.

    Those who wanted a resolution to all of the outstanding Deus Ex plots covered in the main game like the Illuminati, Juggernaut Collective, and Augmented Rights will be disappointed. This DLC is an independent story set in a maximum security prison. Adam Jensen has been assigned by Task Force 29 to infiltrate an Augs only Federal penitentiary called "The Penthouse."

Who will you befriend? Who will you antagonize?
    There's a rumored terrorist attack occurring against the United States and they need to make contact with an undercover operative who can confirm or deny the truth. Adam soon finds himself neck deep in a conflict between the corrupt prison guards and the riot-minded inmates who are ready to tear the prison apart. Interestingly, all of this is told via a conversation with underdeveloped Task Force-29 psychologist Delara Auzenne.

    As indicated by my above description, this is an entirely self-contained plot which doesn't forward the main plot of the games in any real way. It expands on the character of Doctor Auzenne but she was a minor character to begin with who the "shocking revelation" about the at the end of the main game provided almost no shock value for. Players didn't really have an attachment to her but this does do a lot of setting up for her in a future project which will, sadly, never come to pass. Still, as a self-contained plot it's pretty damned good as I've mentioned and now I'll explain why that's the case.

    The big appeal of A Criminal Past is it really puts Adam in a hostile and unpredictable situation. While I complained about Adam missing his Augmentations in System Rift and Desperate Measures, it makes perfect sense here since all prisoners are afflicted with a virus to keep them from making use of their superpowers-granting cybernetics. The fact there's multiple treatments for Adam's condition spread throughout the prison is a major boon.

This is a really nice prison.
    A Criminal Past also has a colorful cast of characters, too, which is good after the somewhat dull collection in the main game. In addition to the corrupt Warden Stenger and sketchy undercover agent you're contacting, there's also the too-smooth Flossy who is running the prison after the death of its previous boss. There is the autistic Fixer, who seems harmless but is somehow working with every faction in the Penthouse. Figuring out which of these characters is on the level, which can be trusted, and which are irredeemable forms a majority of the plot.

    The prison is full of security devices to hack, power-armored soldiers, and heavily armed forces who have the potential to tear you apart. Moving slowly and carefully through the prison may not be enough for some players with the question of killing your enemies a severe one. I was actually tempted to turn the drones on the guards despite being a nominal pacifist due to how many times I'd been killed trying to complete the DLC. Much like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Doctor Auzenne corrects you every time you die since that can't be right as you're telling her the story in her office.

Things kind of go sideways for the Penthouse. Really.
     A Criminal Past isn't a very long story and I completed it in about four and a half hours but it was an entertaining one with a decent length. I suspect it could have been as long as six hours if I'd spent more time exploring. Speed runners might actually get it done in a much shorter time period with some having managed to solve it in around two hours but that's ignoring the sidequest objectives as well as just ploughing through all of the threats Adam Jensen faces.

    One small bit of irony to this DLC is that it makes it clear the Penthouse is run by the state of Arizona and is neither a corporate-run or federal prison. I found this amusing since so many prisons are run by corporations in real-life and you'd think they'd be even more so in charge of the penal system in a cyberpunk dystopia. Still, I appreciated the fact the villains were small-time criminals and corrupt officials versus the Illuminati this time around (albeit, it's implied they're involved somehow--because of course they are).
Poor Adam is way out of this depth this time.

    There's a few places I think the game could have benefited from changes. I think the character of D-Town could have been used as an actual boss fight rather than a one-off meaningless encounter. I also believe we should have found out why the Illuminati were interested in this case to begin with since it's not like we're ever going to see them brought to task in the main series. There are also a few places where there's only the option to shoot out your enemies that I think could have been handled with a bit more subtlety.

    Overall, I really enjoyed A Criminal Past and if it's not the high point of the franchise which Adam's missions should go out on, it's certainly a solid piece of characterization, gameplay, and writing.


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