Posts Tagged‘hacking’

Watch_Dogs 2: Join the 1337 h4x0r5.

The original Watch_Dogs was in many ways a success for Ubisoft Montreal, ticking all the required boxes for it to meet the standard of a AAA open world title. However the hype that built up around it, specifically from that one E3 video, led many to be disappointed with the final product. To their credit Ubisoft remained committed to the franchise and has spent the following 2 years developing Watch_Dogs sequel. Whilst at a base game level this sequel features many of the mechanics that made the original great the tone and feel of the game is radically different. That combined with improvements in some of the original’s more glaring issues makes Watch_Dogs 2 a notable improvement over its predecessor.

Watch_Dogs 2 takes place in San Francisco, the next city to install the ctOS system which integrates all city subsystems into one giant interconnected grid. You’ll play as Marcus Holloway, a young hacker who’s been targeted by ctOS for a crime he didn’t commit. Because of this he decides to join Dedsec, the hacktivist group responsible for wrecking havoc and exposing corruption. What follows is a story of Dedsec’s crusade against ctOS, the people in power who use it and any of the numerous corporations who would seek to exploit the citizens of San Francisco.

The original Watch_Dogs was criticised for failing to live up to the visuals that were seen in its E3 demo and Watch_Dogs 2 goes a long way to closing that gap. The environments are far more detailed with more cars, people and interactive objects scattered across the San Francisco backdrop. There’s notable improvements to the lighting engine, draw distances and other modern post-processing techniques like motion blur.  Taking into consideration that open world games tend towards the lower end of the graphical spectrum (due to their scale) Watch_Dogs 2 is certainly one of the better looking titles in this genre. It’s still a hair shy of that fated demo, however.

As I mentioned before the core game of Watch_Dogs 2 hasn’t changed much from its predecessor, staying true to the open world norms with the inclusion of their trademark hacking mechanics. The progression mechanics have been reworked to focus around you gaining “followers” to help boost your cause, most of which you’ll gain through Watch_Dog 2’s main and side missions. The online components have been reworked significantly and are far more seamless than they used to be; the transition between offline and online play a much smoother experience. Driving has been improved significantly, no longer feeling like you’re trying to drive a boat through a sea of molasses. The stealth mechanics are also retained however there’s a little less variety in what you can hack, something which is made up for in a few new choice abilities which can cause all sorts of mayhem. Overall Watch_Dogs 2 improves on the original in nearly every respect something which Ubisoft Montreal should take some pride in.

Combat feels largely the same, still following the same two stage formula that its predecessor did. Whilst you can likely complete every mission with just hacking alone it’s very likely you’ll do something to be detected, forcing you into combat. Interestingly there doesn’t seem to be any downside to killing anyone and everyone in your path but there is a very notable downside to taking the non-lethal approach. Enemies downed in that way will eventually get back up and will alert everyone else to your presence when they do. This does add an extra element of challenge if you want to go full non-lethal, stealth based approach but without additional rewards it doesn’t seem like there’s any reason to. Indeed by the end I’d just end up using my vast hacking abilities to simply run past everyone, forgoing any notion of stealth or even non-lethal attacks.

The hacking powers are a little more interesting this time around, especially some of the end-game abilities which allow you to affect everything in the area around you. It didn’t take me long to max out the powers I wanted to get and I spent most of the game with 20 or so research points ready to spend should the need arise. Some are simple quality of life improvements (like the car unlocking one) whilst others don’t have much of a purpose other than causing a bit of mayhem here or there. Probably my favourite out of the lot was the ability to call the police on a target NPC, something which can be used to great effect when you need to get into a restricted area. If I had one complaint it’s that all the higher end powers require you to go and find another item to unlock them which becomes a bit of a chore when you have to do it for the 10th time.

The driving is thankfully much improved over its predecessor, making it actually fun to drive around rather than fast travelling. Watch_Dogs 2 also reduces the number of car chases you’ll find yourself in so you won’t be spending hours trying to escape from the endless supply of police. There also appears to a be a larger number of vehicles to choose from including my favourite: the single person electric car that seems to be as fast as any of the sports cars. The NPC drivers though still seem to suffer from random fits of craziness every so often with cars just randomly running off the road or into each other, even when I hadn’t gone near them. That could very well be intentional, to give the city a more lively feel, but I do wonder if it’s just an errant part of the AI.

The multiplayer aspects are far better done than its predecessor was. I can remember trying to do some of the online activities in the original with most of them failing to even connect to other players. Watch_Dogs 2 by comparison (by default, you can change this) drops you in and out of other player’s games on a whim. It can be pretty awesome when you’re just driving around and a bounty hunter challenge comes up, putting you alongside law enforcement to chase down a rogue enemy player. Some of the other, hacking focused games are a little one sided, being incredibly hard for the hacker to actually successfully hack someone and get away with it (especially if the other player is armed in any way). Still they’re a fun distraction, one that I hope Ubisoft explores even further in future releases.

Watch_Dogs 2 drops the serious tone of its predecessor in favour of a more kitschy, light-hearted take. The characters are stereotypes or satires of particular hacker tropes with the overriding them following the hacktivist ideas that have been popularised by the various real world incarnations of other -sec entities. Weirdly, whilst the game has the usual disclaimer about it being a work of fiction unrelated to the real world, numerous events are carbon copies of their real world counterparts (like Martin Shrekli buying an exclusive Wu Tang album). The pacing and character development is weirdly out of step, seemingly moving at a faster pace than what the missions would imply. This might be because I was mostly doing campaign missions but surely that’s where you want the bulk of your character development to occur. Realistically I don’t think you’re supposed to read much into Watch_Dogs 2’s story but it’s disjointed nature mirror’s some of the mistakes that its predecessor made.

Watch_Dogs 2 is a solid improvement over the original, addressing many of the concerns that players had whilst retaining the core mechanics that made it worth playing. It may not be a revolutionary instalment in the series but the incremental improvements go a long way to making Watch_Dogs 2 the game that many were hoping the original would be. It’s not perfect, with some of the previous issues rearing their ugly heads again, but it definitely feels closer to what the original should have been. For fans of the open world genre there’s a lot to love in Watch_Dogs 2 and is most certainly worth checking out.

Rating: 9.0/10

Watch_Dogs 2 is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $60.95, $77 and $77 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 18 hours of total play time and 51% of the achievements unlocked.

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided: Us vs Them.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution was met with much trepidation when it was first released. Whilst many (like myself) enjoyed Invisible War the wider gaming community didn’t, wanting to banish it from their collective memories. The fear was that another game in the series wouldn’t be able to capture the essence of what made it good and, should it bomb, that would be it for the series forever. Thankfully that wasn’t the case and Human Revolution brought both new fans to the series and old fans back from their remastered versions of the original Deus Ex. So expectations are somewhat high for Mankind Divided, putting Eidos Montreal in the unenviable position of having to yet again improve on the Deus Ex formula whilst keeping the game fresh and interesting. Mankind Divided also comes in the midst of a small bit of controversy around it’s micro transactions and tie-ins to other parts of the franchise. Although, if I’m honest, I’m struggling to think of any AAA title that hasn’t been embroiled in some kind of online fracas.

Spoilers ahead for Human Revolution.

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Mankind Divided takes place two years after the events of Human Revolution. The world has been ravaged by the Aug Incident whereby all augmented humans flew into a rage and viciously attacked anyone at random. This has set the stage for a kind of mechanical apartheid, augmented humans now being segregated away from naturals for fear of what they might do. You’re back in control of Adam Jensen, one of the few people in the world to know the truth behind the incident. With Sarif Industries no more you’re now under the employ of Interpol as part of an elite team that responds to a myriad of different threats. You are also the only member of your team who is augmented, something which comes up far more often than you’d like. Working for Interpol isn’t just a job however, it’s your in to find out more about the Illuminati as part of the Juggernaut Collective, a group of hacktivists who are hunting down those invisible men who would dare to try and control the world. Your base of operations is in Prague however your journey will take you all over the world.

The iconic visual style of Human Revolution makes a return in Mankind Divided, albeit with the yellow hues toned down to a more realistic levels. The graphics come to us via the Dawn engine, a proprietary technology stack developed by Eidos Montreal that was based on the Glacier 2 engine which was used in Hitman: Absolution. It’s a significant step up in terms of graphical fidelity as the screenshots in my reviews will attest. The automatic graphics settings err a little cautiously so you’ll likely be able to bump up a few settings without a huge impact to your frame rate. Whilst the overall aesthetic is largely the same Mankind Divided makes far better use of secondary colours than its predecessor did, the yellow hues still present but not washing everything out. This coupled with the better lighting effects, soft shadows and all the other current generation trimmings makes Mankind Divided one of the best looking games of this year.

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Mechanically Mankind Divided is very similar to its predecessor, retaining nearly all of the original augs, combat mechanics and progression systems. The first mission gives you a taste of all the base augs, allowing you a bit of a trial run of everything before they get taken away from you and you have to decide which ones you want to keep. In true Deus Ex fashion you have a choice between stealth/guns blazing and lethal/non-lethal combat. I personally favoured the stealth, hacker and non-lethal approach which seems to be the key in finding most of the secrets in any Deus Ex game. Your weapons are also upgradeable and modifiable although the variety of firearms at your disposal feels somewhat limited. Levelling comes via the tried and true XP/levels system however it can be sped up significantly by finding or buying praxis kits, many of which are hidden in various parts of each level you’ll traverse through. The main differences between Human Revolution and Mankind Divided though are in the form of the experimental augs, both of which open up a myriad of new possibilities when it comes to sneaking around or destroying numerous enemies in one fell swoop.

Mankind Divided does a good job of making your talent choices mean something, both in terms of feeling like you’re more effective at what you’ve chosen to do and being utterly useless as what you haven’t. As someone who invested a lot of points into hacking, stealth and abilities to help me find secrets in levels I had basically no points in health, armour or any kind of survivability. This meant that, unlike Human Revolution, when I went in guns blazing I’d get shredded almost instantly. Honestly I liked that as it forced me to be far more considered in my approach than I otherwise would have been. Indeed I think that by comparison that made Human Revolution a bit too easy, giving me an out when I simply didn’t want to figure out the best stealth approach. This does mean however that my experience of run and gun combat was extremely limited, usually reserved for the last enemy standing when I couldn’t find an easy, or simple, way to take them out.

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Stealth is done exceptionally well, as we have all come to expect from the Deus Ex franchise. You’ll have numerous different ways to approach problems with nearly all areas having some kind of vent system that you can crawl through to get the drop on your quarry. The detection system works well although there are times when enemies will sometimes inexplicably become aware of your presence. Usually this is due to some kind of trigger event which the game could do a better job of warning you about before it happens. There’s also no clarity given over what constitutes an alarm or detection (for the Ghost achievement and XP) as you can be seen by a guard and take him out before he alerts others. The system seems relatively lax in that requirement though as I seemed to have gotten it more often than not. The additional tools you have at your disposal, like the tesla upgrade, make stealth a much more varied experience than it has been in previous games. Overall the likely default mode of play is well catered for in Mankind Divided which I’m sure is to the delight of all the fans.

Hacking has seen a small revamp although it retains the same node capture mechanics as its predecessor. Now you can run afoul of firewalls when attempting to capture a node, both delaying your hack attempt by one second and alerting the subroutine to your presence. You also have a bunch more tools at your disposal though so the hacking mini-game is far more involved than it used to be. Admittedly it does get a little tedious after you’ve done it 20+ times which, thankfully, the game designers have taken into account. You see in Mankind Divided you’ll actually get more XP for finding a way to open doors or login to terminals without hacking them. Whilst this often means you’ll have to hack something else in order to do so it does mean you don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t hack something.

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Mankind Divided retains the same mission layout as its predecessor, putting you in a large overworld that has lots of missions for you to do and places to explore. Interestingly whilst running around and talking to everyone who will listen is a good way to get side quests it won’t get you all of them. Instead some of them are found through exploration. For instance I found the Neon quest chain by accidentally stumbling on the impromptu rave in one of the back alleys. I didn’t follow up on it much but walking through the sewers I eventually came across the end part of the quest and, not even knowing much beyond the rudimentary parts of the story that I’d picked up from conversations I’d overheard, managed to finish the mission then and there. Indeed it seems there are many missions which are found in a similar way as I had barely anything to do with the cult of the machine god or Divali, but it was obvious there were missions with them when I went through their areas later on in the game.

Now since I’d avoided much of the conversation around Mankind Divided until just before release I wasn’t aware that it’d contain microtransactions or links to other games in the universe like Deus Ex: Go. The fear that many had was that you wouldn’t be able to build your character the way you wanted to without spending real money. Having played through the entire game I can say unequivocally that is not the case as my nearly end game screenshot of my character can attest to. Sure you can’t max out every skill but that’s honestly not the point; your talent choices should be meaningful and tailored to how you want to play the game. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to seek out the secrets and wants to be a wrecking ball from the very start of the game sure, go ahead and spend the requisite cash, it doesn’t affect the way I play the game at all. If it really burns you that much then feel free to not pay and use something like CheatEngine to edit your praxis to max.

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Mankind Divided, whilst a very polished and highly refined experience, isn’t free of game breaking issues. I was one of the unfortunate souls who couldn’t play for about 3 days due to a bug which would crash when I used the subway during my third visit back to Prague. The only fix available at the time was to restart at a previous save point and not do a particular mission, something I didn’t really want to do. Thankfully Eidos was very responsive to it and managed to get a fix out in short order, allowing me to finish off my play through shortly after. There were also a few niggling little issues, many of which are detailed in the Steam community forum, which for the most part have been fixed. Suffice to say that if you’re playing Mankind Divided now rather than at launch your experience is likely to be far smoother than mine was.

I’m in two minds about Mankind Divided’s story. To be sure the world they’ve created is expansive and there’s numerous avenues of intrigue that you’re able explore fully within the confines of this game. However there’s also tons of world building they’ve done for things that are obviously going to be explored in DLCs which makes a lot of Mankind Divided feel really hollow. Indeed this is the first game I’ve played in a long time where I felt it was far too short, even at some 21 hours of play time for my first run. If the previous DLCs for Human Revolution are anything to go by there’s at least another 10 hours to come and that will, hopefully, fully explore the various story threads that are left dangling at the end of the main campaign. The story that is explored and completed within Mankind Divided is engaging and well thought out however, it’s just a shame that it’s not fully fleshed out in the retail release.

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Deus Ex: Mankind Divided retains the high standards that was set in Human Revolution. Yet again it stands out as a graphical marvel, the same iconic visual style making a comeback with all the trimmings we’ve come to expect of current generation games.The mechanics that made the franchise great are retained with the addition of new mechanics enough to keep the game play fresh and engaging. The controversy around microtransactions seems to be no more than a storm in a tea cup, not being required to fully explore the game. Its initial release into the world was plagued by some game breaking issues but Eidos was quick to respond, ensuring that we weren’t without our Deus Ex fix for long. Where Mankind Divided stumbles is in its length and exploration of its main story lines with much of it being left to the two planned DLCs which are slated for release over the coming months. To be sure Mankind Divided is still worth playing today in its current form but its definitely going to be one of those games where the director’s cut will likely surpass the original in terms of an overall experience.

Rating: 9.5/10

Deus Ex: Mankind Divided is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.99, $69 and $69 respectively. Game was played on the PC with 21 hours of total play time and 36% of the achievements unlocked.

Watch_Dogs: Letting Go Isn’t an Option.

The evolution of open world style games has been pretty interesting to watch. The gold standard has (and likely will be for a long time) the Grand Theft Auto series which grew from a humble 2D car stealing simulator to the vibrant organised crime simulator today. Indeed this is how most open world games progress, starting out with a core idea that then has a bigger and better world built around it as the successive titles roll on. Watch_Dogs is no exception to this, with its core idea focusing heavily on hacking, enabling your character almost superpower like qualities. Whilst the execution of this idea has drawn ire from those who bought heavily into the hype Watch_Dogs is one of the better first entries into the open world genre, something which should be expected from the veteran open world developer Ubisoft Montreal.

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Aiden Pearce is a man tormented by his past, the guilt of his niece losing her life instead of his in a botched assassination attempt has weighed heavily and he’s spent every one of his waking moments since then looking for answers. He’s not beyond reproach however as the guilt has clouded his sense of right and wrong, instead dealing out his own brand of justice wherever, and to whomever, he deems fit. Inevitably this comes back around to him and he is forced into doing things lest more harm befall those he cares about. The tale of his journey from here on out is one of obsession fueled by a passion to right what’s wrong with the world with no regard to the cost to himself.

If you’ve read anything about Watch_Dogs recently there’s been numerous complaints about how the graphics don’t seem to be up to the same standard as they were in the E3 demo. As someone who’s playing on a 3 year old PC I felt the graphics were around the same standard as what I’ve come to expect from most open world games which is to say that, compared to the video, mine certainly don’t look as good. However I feel we should most likely temper our expectations since that was shown as a demo and was likely running on a hardware system that few would have running. That follows on to why it probably looks sub-par on consoles as whilst they’re powerful machines for the money you’ll spend they just can’t match a PC for raw grunt. That being said my console playing brother said it looked great on the XboxOne and had no graphical issues at all so it seems your mileage may vary considerably.

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True to its open world genre Watch_Dogs has a lot of things packed into it, from mechanics to skills to the numerous side missions, mini-games and unlockable content. The star mechanic of Watch_Dogs is, of course, the hacking which is best described as a real world superpower that allows you to do all manner of things that regular people simply can’t. The hacking also extends to your car, something you’ll be making heavy use of since you won’t be able to use your guns whilst driving. The combat is your typical 3rd person shooter affair with your arsenal of weapons being extremely varied and including hacking inspired augments that can give you the edge when you’re grossly outnumbered. Should you find yourself bored with the campaign you can take part in the numerous NPC side missions or, if you’re so inclined, invade another player’s game and battle against them for notoriety points. There’s also dozens of unlockable cars, weapons and even songs for you to listen to in your car, enough that even the most venerable achievement hunter will likely give up before they get them all.

One of the biggest aspects in open world games is how the world feels as early versions of Grand Theft Auto had a very lonely vibe to them, almost post-apocalyptic like given the lack of people and cars that were around. For me Watch_Dogs felt about as alive as Grand Theft Auto did although I’ve heard many say that it feels no where near the same. Whilst the city does have a lot of detail in it the variance of the people is a little on the low side as I can’t tell you how many times I ran into the same group of beatboxers throughout the city. On the flip side the little profile descriptions you get for everyone are extremely varied which is a nice little touch. Indeed I think the lack of detail in some areas is due to the wide variety of detail in others which is a classic symptom of time constraints, something Watch_Dogs was unfortunately plagued with.

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You’ll be doing a lot of driving in Watch_Dogs which is a little bit unfortunate as it’s probably one of the lesser aspects of the game. The initial cars you get access to all feel like boats, being incredibly sluggish to respond and even less so when there’s several police cars ramming into the back of you. Thankfully the later cars go a long way to improve this but then it becomes a choice of driving a flimsy, well handling car and something that can take a beating which retains that god awful boat like feeling. In all honesty I’m not that surprised that the driving is sub-par, it’s an incredibly hard thing to get right, however if you’re going to rely on that to be your player’s main way of getting from point A to point B you’d better make sure it’s enjoyable. I’m sure subsequent sequels of Watch_Dogs will improve on this dramatically as this is Ubisoft Montreal’s first game to prominently feature driving as a mechanic.

Combat feels much like any other 3rd person shooter with your typical infinitely regenerating health and aiming systems I’m sure need some assistance when used on a console. Most encounters are done in 2 phases: the first being the part where you stealth around, take out as many enemies as you please and generally cause havoc. Most of the time this will result in you getting detected and a firefight will break out although if you’re careful there are numerous times when that can be avoided altogether. To Ubisoft Montreal’s credit the stealth system is well thought out and the majority of the times I was detected were due to me not being careful enough, rather than the NPCs having eyes where they shouldn’t. For the most part it’s challenging and satisfying, with the short reload times ensuring that you’re not left waiting long to fix your mistakes.

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The “hacking” mechanic is essentially a power that your character has, enabling you to do certain things to the city due to it all being interconnected via a giant system called ctOS. Your powers are rather limited to begin with, being able to hack cameras and traffic lights, but as you level up all manner of crazy powers will be bestowed upon you. Some of them are plausible, like the ability to raise/lower road blockers, whilst others, like blowing up steam pipes, are almost enough to be called magic. The hacking mini games are just an elaborate puzzle sequence, one which can usually be figured out rather easily through trial and error. All in all it’s a solid idea to base the game around however having one button to execute everything makes the powers feel a little too easy to use. Maybe a short quicktime event (I can’t believe I’m writing this) would be sufficient to make the powers feel a little more impactful as right now they make you feel like a script kiddie rather than an elite hacker.

The levelling and progression system strikes the right balance of progression and choice, giving you enough points to get something in everything very quickly and then forcing you to make hard decisions about which way you want to build your character. The unlockable system also feels rather well done as should you want to unlock the new abilities typically it will be the first or second one you’ll get, meaning you don’t have to spend an inordinate amount of time grinding missions to unlock them. Achievement hunters on the other hand will have a lot of work ahead of them as the myriad of guns and cars available to unlock will likely have them clearing out whole city sections before finishing off a chapter in the campaign.

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Like most open world games there’s a bunch of emergent behaviour in Watch_Dogs, some of it good and some of it bad. There’s always the hilarious situations you can cause by changing traffic lights (even when you’re not being chased by the police) and the AI sometimes reacts in the strangest ways to your presence, like random NPC cars running each other off the road should you come a little bit too close to one of them. At the same time I’ve had several missions that I had to restart at a checkpoint due to things like destructible terrain blocking my path, my character’s ragdoll physics glitching out causing him to get stuck on the ground or things not spawning (or the wrong things spawning) preventing me from going on. It probably happened about half a dozen times throughout my playthrough so it’s nothing major but I’ve heard the issues are magnified somewhat on older consoles.

The story of Watch_Dogs deals with a lot of very mature themes however some aspects of it do feel like they ring hollow. Thinking back on it there were a lot of characters that the story seemed to assume that I’d have some kind of empathy for but, and I’m not sure if this is a function of me playing mostly campaign missions, I feel like they didn’t have sufficient screentime to justify it. There are some shining moments though with Aiden embracing his anti-hero qualities with gusto however they seem to get undone almost instantly in the scenes that follow. The lack of player choice and influence on the story will also annoy some but that’s not something I’ll fault Watch_Dogs for. All being said it’s passable, especially for a first entry into a new IP and genre for the developer, and hopefully future instalments can build on this in order to make the story much more engrossing.

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Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into a new open world IP, building around a solid core mechanic and adding in all the things that we’ve come to expect from games in this genre. The combat, progression systems and hacking mechanics are all well done, providing dozens of hours of challenge and rewards for even the most seasoned achievement hunter. The driving leaves something to be desired and will likely be the biggest let down for open world fans who are still coming down from their GTA high. The story reaches a little far beyond its grasp, lacking the appropriate amount of buildup to elicit the emotional conclusion they were looking for, however it should serve as a decent base for the subsequent releases. All in all Watch_Dogs is a great first entry into this new series, one I feel that’s only going to get stronger as time goes on.

Rating: 8.5/10

Watch_Dogs is available on PC, PlayStation3, PlayStation4, Xbox360 and XboxOne right now for $89.95, $89.95, $99.95, $89.95 and $99.95 respectively. Game was played on PC with approximately 16 hours of total play time with 44% of the achievements unlocked.

Deus Ex Human Revolution: Words Fail Me.

Like many gamers of my age I’m a big fan of the Deus Ex series, but my experience with it is somewhat backwards to the norm. You see I missed the release of the original Deus Ex, due to me not being involved in the games community very much at the time, but instead my first experience with Deus Ex came from its sequel Invisible War. Now while the sequel was recieved well critically it didn’t fair so well with the rest of the community. Personally I loved it, giving it 2 solid play throughs tackling it a different way each time. I was so hooked by the story that I went ahead and played through the original, clocking up a good 50 hours on it and finally understood what everyone was talking about. I knew a third had been in the works for a while but I hadn’t heard much about it until the start of this year when I first heard about Human Revolution and I pre-ordered my copy as soon as I was able.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a prequel to the original game, set 25 years prior to it in the year 2027. You play as Adam Jensen, the head of the security for an augmentation company called Sarif Industries. The initial mission sets the scene as you’re walked slowly through the scientist’s labs, show casing all the technology they’ve been able to create in order to enhance the human race. Megan Reed, one of the lead scientists and former love interest, tells you about her latest discovery that could allow artificially controlled evolution. Not long after the building is attacked by an unknown group of assailants and with Jensen mortally wounded he is forced to be augmented extensively to save his life. The game then revolves around finding out who was responsible for the attacks and what their motives are.

The Deus Ex series has been known to push the limits of the technology of the time and Human Revolution is no exception. The entire game is just simply gorgeous with the colour palate that gives the whole world a kind of neon-noir feeling about it. It’s a very cyberpunk setting with technology infiltrating every corner of the world and yet still it feels like some post-apocalyptic world, especially when you take a detour off the beaten track and see that not everywhere is as rosy as it could be.

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The initial impression I felt when playing Human Revolution is just how much it felt like the original Deus Ex. Invisible War was definitely not in the same league as either which I feel can be blamed wholly on its heavy ties to the consoles which it was designed for. The others have a certain feel about them, something in the way the game is played that triggered the same feelings for both of them. I’m probably not doing a great job of describing just what that feeling is, but I know a lot of others are experiencing the same thing.

One feeling that I can easily describe is the engrossing cinematic feeling that Human Revolution manages to capture. From the levels in game to the in game clips to the full motion videos everything has an extremely high quality production feel about it. Take for instance the city of Hengsha pictured below, this scene literally sent shivers down my spine at not just how amazing it looked but the sheer concept as well. My inner cyberpunk fan that had laid dormant all those years since finishing Neuromancer back in college was woken up, and boy was he delighted with what he saw.

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The game play in Human Revolution is very fluid and nuanced enough that everyone’s initial play through will have some unique aspects to it. I played the majority of the game as a non-lethal stealth operative, favouring the old fashioned air duct escapades that the original Deus Ex was so famous for and taking down my enemies swiftly and silently. However there were several points I find myself bristling with weapons and ammunition so I would instead take the easy way out and blast my way through to the end. Both ways were equally challenging and rewarding when completed and I never once felt shoe horned into a certain way of playing.

Like its predecessors Human Revolution makes heavy use of dialogue between characters in order to move the plot forward. Whilst not all interactions are as deep as they are in say Mass Effect there are several key times when you’ll be deep in conversation with other characters which can alter the course of the game dramatically. In fact if I’m entirely honest the first couple hours of Human Revolution failed to grab me like its predecessors did, right up until the first conversation I had with one of my former colleagues at the police station. The level of emotion in that conversation hooked me immediately and I revelled in the fact that I could talk my way through a situation (for the record I never got the social aug).

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The hacking mini-game is an interesting one and is definitely a step up from the old days of progress bar watching or other simple mini-games. Now whilst you will be able to complete the game without spending a single point in hacking (all the story blocking terminals are level 1) it would seem like a good chunk of the game would be unavailable to you. Also apart from the stealth hacking aug, the ability to control turrets/robots and levelling up the terminals you can hack all the other augs seem rather pointless in comparison. The number of attempts left seems rather pointless as well since any long time player will be quick saving like a madman and will simply reload if they can’t hack a specific terminal in the given number of tries. Still it was an interesting distraction, especially when you came up against the terminals littered with rewards.

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Combat in Human Revolution is an interesting beast as with the seemingly endless number of options available to you each combat encounter can be tackled in numerous ways. For starters there’s the easy way out by simply finding the nearest vent and high tailing it out of there. Depending on what augs you have this will sometimes be your only option as some enemies are darned near impossible to go toe to toe with and their pathing never quite leads them to a place where you can silently take them down without being spotted by one of their friends.

There’s also a heavy distinction between lethal and non-lethal take downs which and Human Revolution is heavily biased (as in, double the XP) towards taking them down via non-lethal means. At the start this seems like a strange distinction to make since it’s just as easy to take them out either way but as the game progresses the skill required to take down someone non-lethally starts to increase quite dramatically, especially if you’re trying to stay undetected. Still there are times when taking down an enemy lethally is quite difficult and the less than half XP reward feels a little cheap. There might have been lethal kill bonuses and I just never saw them thanks to my “sniper in the trees” style of play however.

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It seems that Eidos Montreal has a good sense of humour about them too with the game not always being completely serious. Hacking into computers leads to find little gems like people playing office pranks on each other, 419 scams and good old fashioned spam for various pharmaceuticals. The radio show that plays in the background in various locations is also quite a lark with my favourite line being “that would be like getting the pope to ride a float in the gay pride parade”. There are also some quintessential bits of geek humour in there like this monitor bridge in Frank Pritchard’s room (which begs the question, who still has CRTs in 2027?).

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For the most part game play is smooth and bug free, but there are some notable exceptions to this case. I found myself at one point stuck at the other end of a very long hallway with a guard standing at the other end who was refusing to patrol anywhere. Try as I might to find another way around him I couldn’t find one and was thus either doomed to alert him (and possibly trigger an alarm) or find a more creative solution. Thinking I’d be able to skirt around this by some clever line of sighting I picked up a nearby container and walked it up to him. That didn’t work initially but I found that if I instead pushed the crate to him rather than picking it up he didn’t twig that this giant container was screeching its way over to him. In fact he only reacted when I pushed the container into him, but quickly reloading I was able to skirt around the side and promptly take him out.

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There are also some combinations of mods/weapons and/or decisions in the game that can make certain encounters completely trivial or damned near impossible. This is not a bug per say, more an aspect of the Human Revolution’s openness. Just like hacking might make your life easier in some aspects the game developers had to put in an out for those who didn’t want to hack everything in sight, so technically the points spent in hacking are a waste from that point of view (negating the massive amount of XP that’s available doing it). There’s also many parts of the game that are only available to those with certain augs (jump height, breaking through walls, etc.) which isn’t a bad thing either, just that Human Revolution really demands multiple play throughs, even if you think you’ve done the majority of it already.

Like all Deus Ex stories the plot of Human Revolution is a deeply engrossing narrative that is the main driver for playing the game, rather than being an aside to the action. Whilst not all the voice actors are as good as the main plot characters are (all Hengsha natives that speak English are bordering on being racist stereotypes) the interactions between Jensen and everyone else feels genuine and there’s all his emotions come across extremely well. It’s extremely satisfying to be deep in conversation with some of the characters and you can see their expression change as you talk to them. Whilst its not on the level of L.A. Noire it’s still enough to know if you’re going down the right path, usually unlocking something valuable at the other end of the conversation.

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The ending is a strange beast which Yahtzee Crowshaw summing it up perfectly. Don’t get me wrong the essence of Deus Ex is that you can have a real impact on the world with the choices that you make throughout the game. However, whilst there is a choice as to how Human Revolution wraps that is completely under your control, the choice seems rather arbitrary as the ending is just another version of the same thing. It’s entirely possible that a future sequel will use your choice in this game to influence events (or even possibly the upcoming Missing Link DLC) but that hasn’t been announced anywhere so the ending, whilst a decent way to wrap up the story of Human Revolution, is somewhat confusing in its execution.

However all these quibbles pale in comparison to the magnificence that is Deus Ex Human Revolution. It’s so awesome to see a community that was so burned by the sequel coming back to the sequel with a vengeance and I’m happy that I can count myself amongst them. Still even for people who haven’t played any of the other games in the Deus Ex series Human Revolution still has a lot to offer in the ways of a freeform FPS RPG with gorgeous graphics and a gripping storyline. I really can’t recommend this game enough.

Rating: 9.8/10

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is available on PC, PS3 and Xbox360 right now for $89.99, $98 and $98 respectively. Game was played on the PC with the difficulty set to “Give Me Deus Ex” (hardest) with around 22 hours of total game time and 67% of the total achievements unlocked.

Poisoning The Well That Once Sustained You.

A company is always reliant on its customers, they’re the sole reason that they continue to exist. For small companies customers are even more critical as losing one for them is far more likely to cause problems than when a larger company loses one of theirs. Many recent start ups have hinged on their early adopters not only being closely tied to the product so that they form a shadow PR department but also many of them hobbyist developers, providing additional value to their platform at little to no cost to them. Probably the most successful example of this is Twitter who’s openness with their API fostered the creation of many features (retweets, @ replies, # tags) that they had just never seen before. It seems however that they think the community has gone far enough, and they’re willing to take it from here.

It was about two weeks ago when Twitter updated their terms of service and guidelines for using their API. The most telling part about this was the section that focused on Twitter clients where they explicitly stated that developers should no longer focus on making new clients, and should focus on other verticals:

The gist of what Sarver said is this; Twitter won’t be asking anyone to shut down just as long as they stick within the required api limits. New apps can be built but it doesn’t recommend doing so as it’s ‘not good long term business’. When asked why it wasn’t good long term business, Sarver said because “that is the core area we investing in. There are much bigger, better opportunities within the ecosystem”

Sarver insists this isn’t Twitter putting the hammer down on developers but rather just “trying to be as transparent as possible and give the guidance that partners and developers have been asking for.”

To be honest with you they do have a point. If you take a look at the usage breakdown by client type you’ll notice that 43% of Twitter’s usage comes from non official apps, and diving into that shows that the vast majority of  unofficial clients don’t drive that much traffic with 4 apps claiming the lion’s share of Twitter traffic. A developer looking to create a new client would be running up against a heavy bit of inertia trying to differentiate themselves from the pack of “Other Apps” that make up the 24% of Twitter’s unofficial app usage, but that doesn’t mean someone might not be capable of actually doing it. Hell the official client wasn’t even developed by Twitter in the first place, they just bought the most popular one and made it free for everyone to use.

Twitter isn’t alone in annoying its loyal developer following. HTC recently debuted one of their new handsets, the Thunderbolt.  Like many HTC devices its expected that there will be a healthy hacking scene around the new device, usually centered on th xda-developers board. Their site has really proved to be invaluable to the HTC brand and I know I stuck with my HTC branded phones for much longer than I would have otherwise thanks to the hard work these guys put in. However this particular handset is by far one of the most locked down on the market, requiring all ROMs to be signed with a secret key. Sure they’ve come up against similar things in the past but this latest offering seems to be a step above what they normally put in, signalling this a shot across the bow of those who would seek to run custom firmware on their new HTC.

In both cases these companies had solid core products that the community was able to extend upon which provided immense amounts of value that came at zero cost to them. Whilst I can’t attribute all the success to the community it’s safe to say that the staggering growth that these companies experienced was catalyzed by the community they created. To suddenly push aside those who helped you reach the success you achieved seems rather arrogant but unfortunately it’s probably to be expected. Twitter is simply trying to grab back some of the control of their platform so they can monetize it since they’re still struggling to make decent revenues despite their huge user base. HTC is more than likely facing pressure from carriers to make their handsets more secure, even if that comes at the cost of annoying their loyal developer community.

Still in both these situations I feel like there would have been a better way to achieve the goals they sought without poisoning the well that once sustained them. Twitter could easily pull a Facebook maneuver and make all advertising come through them directly, which they could do via their own in house system or by simply buying a company like Ad.ly. HTC’s problem is a little more complex but I still can’t understand why the usual line of “if you unlock/flash/hack it, you’re warranty’s void” wasn’t enough for them. I’m not about to say that these moves signal the down fall of either company but it’s definitely not doing them any favors.

Unlocking the Hidden Value in your Technology.

Most of the time when you’re buying the latest widget you’re buying it with a purpose already in mind for it. I know the majority of the things I’ve bought were initially bought to fill a need (like the server this web page is coming to you from, it was a testbed for all sorts of wonderful things) and then are left at that. But what about that hidden little bit of value that’s inside pretty much every tech purchase these days, can we essentially get more for money we’ve already spent?

With technology moving at such a rapid pace these days pretty much every gadget you can think of has what amounts to a small computer inside it. A great example of this would be your stock standard iPod, whilst Apple is always coy about what is actually under the hood in these devices a little searching brings up this list which shows that the majority of them run on a re-branded Samsung ARM processor. While this might not mean anything to anybody a couple intrepid hackers took it upon themselves to port the world’s most popular free operating system, Linux, onto this device. Whilst this at first might seem like an exercise in futility a quick glance at their applications page shows many homebrew applications that have been developed for this platform.

This is not the only occurrence of something being used way outside its original purpose. Way back in 2005 Sony released the Playstation Portable, an amazing piece of hardware that was basically a Playstation 1 console made portable. Thanks to my working in retail at the time I had one in my pocket the day it was released, but it wasn’t until a couple years later that I discovered the huge hacking scene that was behind this device. I then discovered that I could run emulators, media streaming programs (I was able to wow my housemates by streaming media over WiFi to my PSP), homebrew games and so much more. Sure, I was running the risk of completely destroying the device in the process but the additional value I got out of it was worth the risk. Well, it was out of warranty anyway 😉

This kind of value-add is something I now seek in pretty much all of my technology purchases. Recently I bought myself a Sony Xperia X1 mobile, but not before hitting up my favourite HTC hacking site, XDA-Developers. A quick look at their Xperia section shows all sorts of wonderful things you can do with this handset. One of the most amazing things you can do is run Google’s Android platform on this handset, something which sealed the deal on the phone instantly. It’s things like this that help me justify such huge tech purchases (that and the fact that my work paid for the mobile 😉 ).

So I encourage you, look around your room and see if there’s anything there that you wouldn’t mind tinkering with and have a look around on the Internet to see what can be done. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.