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I liked a whole lot of things about Deus Ex: Human Revolution, chief among them the way it felt like a loving tribute to so many different games that I love. It successfully combined a ton of familiar mechanics— Metal Gear-style stealth, Mass Effect-style dialogue, Deus Ex-style open levels, and even L.A. Noire-style interrogations.
But it made all of those things its own. This was due in large part to the its two most distinctive aesthetic attributes: Its glowing, gorgeous art design and its menacing, melancholy musical score.
Composed by Michael McCann, the soundtrack for Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an understated triumph. It recalls (and even occasionally quotes) Alexander Brandon's iconic score from the first Deus Ex while combining synths, electronic beats, and sampled vocals into a distinctive and evocative aural stew.
The Human Revolution soundtrack is an understated, brooding affair; even when the shit hits the fan, the music rarely if ever reaches the melodramatic highs of Batman: Arkham City or inFamous 2. But all the same, it presents a thicker, more atmospheric vibe than either of those games.
Here are three favorite tracks, though with this game in particular, the entire soundtrack is more than the sum of its parts.
The main theme from Human Revolution captures much of what makes the soundtrack great, while laying out a harmonic and sonic template for the rest of the score. Most of the pieces in the game do a steady build, from ambient synths up through layered vocals with an eventual beat, and finally, a chord change. (Usually to a chord based on the flat sixth—in this case, it goes from a G minor to an E-flat major.) That particular chord change is kind of compositional shorthand for "epic" - it turns up in many a superhero game (like, say Arkham City and inFamous 2) and conveys a uniquely intense, heroic vibe.
It's not the most explosive track on the soundtrack, but "L.I.M.B. Clinic" might be my favorite. More so than most games, the music of Human Revolution is tied to the places and experiences of the game. This is, of course, true of most games, but it's even truer of this one. The first time I entered the Detroit L.I.M.B. Clinic was probably the first time I felt the vibe of this game. It reminded me of nothing so much as the brilliant (and occasionally overlooked) Spielberg film Minority Report, all clean whites, locked hospital rooms, muted robotic clicks and aseptic menace.
This mournful track plays during a major revelation about 70% of the way into the story—it's another slow burn, with an even more paranoid, dark churn to it than "Icarus" before it. Notice some of the same tones from "L.I.M.B. Clinic," the high-pitched synths carving room for the sorrowful female voice. Then, the darkness sets in and builds, builds, growing synth stomps paving the way for the beat to drop. Distorted strings and ripped-up vocals mix together with a sweet electronic beat as past themes make their way into the fringes. It's a dense-as-hell track, and a great example of strong electronic music design and mixing; somehow, there's room for everything amid the dirge.
You can download the soundtrack on Amazon, and it makes a great accompanying track for any computer hacking or digital lockpicking you may have to do. It's also cool to listen to in less intense/futuristic settings.
We'll have more of the best video game soundtracks all this week!
Gameworlds have become ever-more lavish, but has there been a dark price paid for this? Craig Lager believes so. Production values are up but these worlds don’t seem to react to players’ actions as fulsomely as they once did, he worries – are we allowing games’ strange logic to take us for granted? But there is yet hope. Frowned at: Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dragon Age II, Skyrim. Smiled at: The Witcher 2, Dwarf Fortress, Outcast. Please note these are Craig’s views, not necessarily those of RPS.>
In my version of Human Revolution, the police station should be surrounded. There should be SWAT teams, negotiators, probably even an evacuation zone. Adam Jensen’s face should be being projected from every single screen that litters Detroit’s streets as Eliza explains him as being a more-than-prime-suspect in a new, horiffic incident. An hour ago, she would explain, Jensen asked for access to the police morgue and was declined. Now the back door has been broken into, and a path of corpses and hacked computers lead to the morgue in which a body has been clearly tampered with. Instead, Jensen walks into the main lobby and is greeted with “Hello”. (more…)
Some of gaming's most cunning foes have been computers. Think GlaDOS from Portal, or Shodan from System Shock 2. At least part of what makes them so memorable is that their artificial intelligence is brought to life by a cold, calculating, female voice.
Friendly artificial intelligence usually skews female as well. Anyone who's played Deus Ex: Human Revolution will know this, while Halo and Mass Effect are two other big franchises with prominent computers voiced by female actors.
Actually, when you think about it, a lot of real fake robot voices sound like fake women as well. Apple's new Siri, for one (at least she is for American users). Or just about any automated subway announcement system. Or default GPS navigator.
Ever wonder why this is? Why designers and engineers the world over choose a woman's voice for their systems and not a man's? A great piece on CNN seeks to answer this question for the ages.
Stanford University Professor Clifford Nass has an idea. "It's much easier to find a female voice that everyone likes than a male voice that everyone likes," he says. "It's a well-established phenomenon that the human brain is developed to like female voices."
While this is a primal theory, there are more historical ones too, such as the fact early telephonists and aircraft navigation aides were voiced by women, creating a precedent.
Silicon Valley analyst Tim Bajarin has a cooler idea, though: He reckons HAL, the evil computer from 2001, is the reason most artificial voices are female. He was so evil, and so memorable, that he scared companies off using a male voice. "A lot of tech companies stayed away from the male voice because of HAL," he said. "I've heard that theory tossed around multiple times."
Some people love boss fights; others dread them. Commenter TheBlackHole25 is in the latter camp, and he'll explain why in today's Speak Up on Kotaku.
Does anyone else here really dislike boss fights? I don't know why this is the case, but I always enter boss fights with a feeling of dread. And the dread is not the cool kind of dread filled with tension, excitement, and anticipation. It's the dread of feeling like "Oh great, a boss I have to slog through".
I'm certain that my dislike for them stems from the fact that most of them just really break the flow of the game so much. It's not the extra challenge that or the prospect of dying a million times that irks me, it's just that so many times the boss fight is so different from the game I've been playing.
I can't help but bring up Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its boss fights, as it's pretty much the poster child for this. However, this feeling extends to a ton of other games I've played.
I hate when you play the game a certain way, doing whatever it is you need to do using your well-honed techniques and skills... and then you get to a boss fight and suddenly the game becomes a pattern-discovery game sprinkled with a lot of deaths until you find the pattern.... that really encapsulates a majority of the bosses out there.
Here are the most common types to me:
Type A: Look for its shooting/movement patterns, watch for when its OBVIOUS weaknesses are exposed, when those OBVIOUS weaknesses are present, and pummel with weapons.
Type B: Run around like an idiot until the boss finally decides to stop shooting at you (for no reason at all) or until the boss stops running around in its "invincible" form (why would it ever STOP using its invincible form?). When that happens, shoot back for three seconds. Lather, Rinse, and Repeat.
Type C: Hit all the proper switches, hooks, platforms, or buttons to cause some environmental event that lets you indirectly kill the boss.
It's like I'm playing a puzzle game with lots of deaths. So many of them just break the flow of the game to me and sometimes I'd honestly like to just not have boss fights at all. I don't mind the CHALLENGE of the encounter... instead, it just feels so contrived to me. Really, these days, with such well-constructed and immersive worlds present in games now, the idea of "bosses" feels so artificial to me. (Especially human bosses that for some inexplicable reason have 100X the amount of hit points as other humans in the same world.)
Don't get me wrong, there are some wonderful boss fights out there that are well-designed, challenging, and use the skills you've learned through the course of the game to maximum effect. However, I just find the majority of bosses out there just break the flow of the game so much and are so out-of-place, I'd really prefer to not have them at all.
This week, Eidos released the first downloadable content for their acclaimed role-playing game Deus Ex: Human Revolution, titled The Missing Link. We're all looking forward to some more Deus Ex, but is The Missing Link worthy of the brand? It's time to ask our guts what they think.
Kirk Hamilton, who has written more about Deus Ex than anyone else at Kotaku: So here we are with a big huge flaming "No" at the top of this post and now you're probably wondering why I hate The Missing Link. But I don't hate it! I just don't recommend paying $15 for it.
The Missing Link picks up near the end of Human Rvolution, with protagonist Adam Jensen stowed away in cryo-sleep aboard a transport ship run by Bell Tower security. In the proper game, Jensen goes into the sleep-tank and then wakes up at his destination, slightly disoriented but ready to kick ass. In the Missing Link, he is discovered mid-trip by the crew and goes on an adventure to uncover and stop a nefarious Bell Tower plot.
Missing Link stands as a separate entity from Human Revolution—items gathered in the game don't carry across to your proper save, and all of Adam's augmentations are stripped away at the very start of the mission. Fortunately, the game gives you a handful of Praxis kits at the outset, which allow you to power up and specialize your character somewhat. The points are limited, however, so you won't be able to create a godlike uber-Jensen like you may have had in the game—you'll have to choose between strength, stealth, etc.
It's cool in theory—one of the shortcomings of Human Revolution was that Jensen could become too versatile, and dealing with each branching situation was more a matter of preference than necessity. Not so in The Missing Link. Especially in the first part of the story, you'll only be able to deal with situations in the ways that your augments allow.
Luke Plunkett, Fellow Human Revolution Fan: Missing Link is yet another disjointed, opportunistic piece of singleplayer downloadable content that drops you back in a story you've already finished in a world you've already saved/doomed/whatever. There's just no point to this! Remove the consequences of your actions and the context of your mission and Deus Ex is a very slow and very boring game. Making this a very slow and boring piece of DLC. No.
Okay this sounds pretty good, so why isn't it worth $15? Basically, it's uninspired. The opening hours are all corridor-sneaking aboard a rain-swept ship, with none of the open-room office desk creeping that was so enjoyable in the first game. It feels like an homage to Metal Gear Solid 2, but in setting only. It's flat, the environments are enclosed and constantly reused, and nothing is particularly exciting.
The hallways all look the same, the challenges are the same repetitive mix of computers, laser-grids, patrolling guards and locked doors. The enemies' voiceover performances are flat even by Deus Ex standards. And as a result of the closed nature of the story, there are so many possible solutions offered to every problem that things somehow feel false in a way that they never did in Human Revolution, almost like Jensen has been inserted into a Deus Ex simulator.
Most of the guards are carrying pocket secretaries loaded with codes and passwords—they're much more prevalent than in the main game. Most of the time, I'd go to hack a keypad only to find that I already had the code. Every room has the requisite alternate entrances, every camera can be bypassed in the same multiple ways. There's just nothing new going on—it feels like more of the same assets and systems from the main game.
I haven't finished The Missing Link, so take this for what it is—a gut check, me answering the question "Do I think you should spend your $15 on this?" As much as I loved Human Revolution, I just can't give this first DLC the same recommendation. As a part of an eventual GOTY collection, sure. If it goes on sale for $5? Sure. But there are better things you could spend your $15 on, especially this time of year.
Given the rumors that at least two entire hub-worlds (Montreal and somewhere in India) were withheld from Human Revolution (Luke tells me that actually, those two hubs never made it past the drawing board, but that Upper Hengsha was finished but regardless), I'm optimistic that we'll be seeing more substantive Deus Ex DLC soon. I'd say save your money and wait for that.
Last week, I attended the Game Developers' Conference Online in Austin. I was there to give a talk about game storytelling, but I stayed for the entire event, and caught a good number of talks, workshops, and keynotes. On Monday, Gamasutra (who helps put on GDC each year) ran a fun collection of quotes from the event, which do a great job of capturing the vibe and overarching messages of GDC Online. I thought I'd add a few of my own favorites, and share some of theirs as well.
"GDC Online" is a bit of a confusing name, since it implies that the conference itself takes place on the internet. At least, when I first heard the name, what's what I thought it was—a sort of remote GDC, similar to the one held each year in San Francisco but available online. But of course that isn't the case; GDC is a standard convention, but one aimed at online games. For the most part, the talks are given by developers working in social and online games, from Facebook titles to iOS games to MMOs. There is also something going on called the "Narrative Summit," in which game writers meet to discuss the challenges of their trade and to workshop game writing.
The bulk of the sessions I attended were in the narrative summit. Video game storytelling is something I'm really interested in, and I feel like sometimes I'm overly hard on game writers when they aren't actually at fault for a game's lackluster story. Often, the problem is that writers are brought in at the last minute to "fix" the game's story, and it's far too late for them to do anything more than apply a veneer of narrative over an already finished game.
One of the talks I most enjoyed was the one given by Deus Ex: Human Revolution's head writer Mary DeMarle, who showed the entirety of Human Revolution's story in spreadsheet form. When Eidos was getting ready to make the game, DeMarle said, they did something very smart: "They hired me." It was a bit of a laugh line, but throughout her talk, she made it clear how integral her ground-floor presence had been to making the game have a story that was coherently crafted. DeMarle also shared that the outsourced boss fights and the somewhat tacked-on ending were both sacrifices that the team had to make due to a lack of time. "We did want to have a deeper level of choice than just being in a room and hitting a button," she said, "but unfortunately that also came down to scheduling and time."
Here are a few of the quotes from Gamasutra's collection that I, too, enjoyed:
"I'm inherently super-duper lazy, so if I think of something, it's going in."
Valve writer Eric Wolpaw responds when asked if he has a larger vision of his games' worlds than what players experience on screen. Teammate Marc Laidlaw agreed, saying that creating things that don't make it into the game is "kind of counterproductive."
"You click through everything until it explodes with blood and treasure."
-Blizzard's Kevin Martens' mantra for the upcoming Diablo III. He, along with several other writers and designers, provided a fast and off-the-cuff talk about their inspirations and what makes a great gaming moment.
"Writers don't often get to sit at the adults table."
-Game writer and Extra Lives author Tom Bissell calls for writers to be ingrained deeper in the development process.
"A few Kotaku articles and IGN front pages do not make a hit game."
-BioWare San Francisco's Ethan Levy, from an insightful and open talk about how the studio's social game Dragon Age Legends attracted a lot of temporary Facebook likes, yet wasn't a big hit.
Again and again, developers shared the opinion that social games as we know them are changing so quickly that soon they will be unrecognizable. As much as those of us who prefer harder-core games may disparage social and facebook gaming, there is a sizable difference between "social gaming" and "casual gaming," and while casual gaming is in many ways similar to what it was 20 years ago, social gaming has changed significantly even in the last six months.
I thought PopCap co-founder John Vechey said it best when he said, "The way we make social games is going to be different in two years. I don't know how it's going to be different, but it's going to be different." Later in his keynote, he reiterated this belief: "Everything we think we know about social is going to go away." I was impressed with how engaged many of the speakers where when discussing these games, not just about how they can make money off of them, but how they can make them legitimately fun games. The entire concept of "social gaming" is changing with remarkable speed.
The rest of the conference provided some great quotes as well, from celebrated Sci-Fi author Neal Stephenson playing Halo 3 on his elliptical machine to Atari founder Nolan Bushnell, who dropped a gold mine of outstanding quotes into his talk. One of my favorites was this gem: "Everybody who's had a shower has had a good idea. The question is what you do when you get out of the shower. It is the doers who make the difference. ... An idea is due to ownership. Ownership of an idea is something that you earn; it's not something that you get. Having an idea is not even the first step."
All in all, it was a very cool week, and refreshing to hear so many game creators talk candidly about their trade, away from the hype and PR spin of press events.