PC Gamer

The Statue of Liberty doesn t play a huge role in either Deus Ex or its sequel, but I ve still come to think of it as the symbol of those games. It book-ends the series-as-was, prior to Human Revolution. The first mission of Deus Ex, the last mission of Invisible War. In the first game, it s a symbol of ambition: one of the largest and most intricate game spaces designed up to that point, full of secrets and ways to chart your own path.

In Invisible War, it s more a sign of submission, where the sequel s many concessions to the original Xbox hardware are all on display. The inferior aesthetics that make every location look the same. The map split into chunks because the system can't keep it all in memory. The once natural choices now stated outright, blunt and simplified. Everything that the original map did so well, its return trip fails miserably to match. Such is the risk of following up one of the best games ever made.

Looking back all these years later, the question isn t whether or not Invisible War was a better game than Deus Ex, because the answer is a flat no. It just isn t. Coming second to one of the greatest games of all time would hardly be a shame, though. Now that the disappointment has faded, and a new incarnation of Deus Ex has gotten its own sequel, is it time to re-evaluate Invisible War for what it is, rather than what we hoped for 13 years ago?

It d be great if the answer was yes, but replaying it now, Invisible War has aged about as poorly as a game can. Much of this is, again, the result of having been designed for the original Xbox, though the bland futuristic setting and inferior writing somehow make it feel like both the big budget sequel and cheap straight-to-video knock-off of the first game.

The 20XX files

Invisible War raises the stakes by going 20 years further into the future and tries to drive more of the story through characters and relationships, but it never quite manages to land the quantum leap or compensate for the issues those choices introduce. Invisible War s hub areas are poorly conceived locations, tiny and bereft of detail. Easily the worst is the Cairo Arcology, home to the great and good, which feels like it s modeled after an airport departures lounge and features an open recruiting booth for the Knights Templar. It s explained that they re simply advertising where the people they want to recruit are, but its conspicuous placement still feels a world away from Deus Ex s gritty conspiracy theories.

The frustration is that Invisible War isn t a lazy sequel by any stretch. It s desperate to reinvent both itself and the series, and to find the next big leap. It tries so hard from the very first moment, an awesome intro that sees the entirety of Chicago wiped out by a nanite weapon. It goes out of its way to offer more choices on its main path than Deus Ex, with multiple factions to work for at any point instead of a forced transition from government yes-man to rebel agent.

This time, we re not dealing with goodies and baddies, but distinct groups with their own agendas: the World Trade Organisation, religious group The Order, and the awkwardly named ApostleCorp, run by Deus Ex hero JC Denton. The missions only offer slight variants, like killing a scientist or stealing his gun, but it s enough.

Invisible War tries, but its reinvention just doesn't work. It s not all because of the technology, though that certainly doesn t help. The missions are too short due to the tiny map sizes, and the world both too futuristic to resonate and too far beyond the engine s capabilities to properly depict. Seattle, for instance, is a two-tiered city connected by an inclinator , but forget any picturesque views while travelling. It s an interior location that, like much of the game, looks like a succession of slum and warehouses, slightly melted into metallic blue and grey.

Invisible War could be forgiven its technical shortcomings, but they're just the start of its problems. The deeper issues are rooted in its basic design. The faction system, for instance, spends most of the game bouncing between being comical and just plain broken.

Seattle looks like a succession of slum and warehouses, slightly melted into metallic blue and grey.

Wander into an apartment block, the Emerald Suites, and the head of the WTO a complete stranger at this point phones up to ask if you d mind raiding the Minister of Culture s bedroom. The intro starts with you under attack by the religious faction, nominally to rescued from a fate as a test-subject for the not-particularly-scary Tarsus Academy, only instead the leader of the assault has decided to kill everybody. Yet despite this, the Order can t get it into its head that, just maybe, you might hold something of a grudge. Instead, for the rest of the game, they re constantly in your head as if you directly work for them.

This reaches a head in Cairo. If you choose to ignore the Order and choose to instead kill the plants in a greenhouse on behalf of the WTO, they actively send a couple of agents after you. Kill them, and the Order respond with, more or less Now you see what happens to our enemies. Unrelated, got another assignment for you if you re up for it. Hello? Hello?

Imperceptible war

This isn t just cherry-picking a couple of silly moments. The whole sweep of Invisible War is basically like this, with none of Deus Ex s focus or sense of danger to pave over the silliness. Even the element of freedom is badly affected by the small levels and minimal payoff for taking different paths and approaches. The story is terrible, most characters completely forgettable despite its best efforts to give them depth. The ridiculous, apocalyptic scale of the endings goes far beyond anything that the game has earned up to that point.

Yet ironically, when Invisible War steps back from the big picture to sweat the small stuff, it s often surprisingly effective. Its subplots are far better than anything in the main story: the mystery of AI helicopter pilot Eva, the way that each faction is represented and given an enthusiastic face by one of your fellow Tarsus students, or the feud between rival coffee shops Pequod s and Queequeg s, which turns out to be a mirror of the real global situation (false competition, with the Illuminati secretly owning and puppet-mastering both the WTO and the Order).

And yes, as everyone who played Invisible War has been waiting for, there s the genius of NG Resonance. This virtual pop-star, knowledge broker and not-very-subtle government informant (played by the singer from the band Kidneythieves, whose music appears throughout) is easily one of the best inventions in the game, being a case where humanity and technology are allowed to combine to create something interesting. Sinister, yet friendly. Futuristic, yet approachable. It s no wonder that when Invisible War is brought up, NG is almost inevitably the first fond memory.

The other futuristic changes proved more controversial. To its credit, Invisible War wasn t afraid to change things up. Its biggest innovation though, universal ammo, really didn t work. The idea is that rather than having dedicated bullet ammo and rocket ammo, you have an ammo pool. A bullet uses up a mere blip. A rocket uses up a ton. The idea was to expand on player freedom by ensuring that all their tools would be available at all times.

In theory, it s a great idea. The catch is that it was so easy to waste your shots, especially not knowing when the next refill would be, that it often left you without any of them. Worse, even if you played carefully, it was impossible to play tactically without any real idea of when the next ammo stash would be. At least with conventional ammo you can be fairly sure that more bullets will be along soon, but it s probably best not to waste a precious rocket.

Some people loved this system. Overall, though, the implementation was judged a failure, and not a model that future games opted to bring back for further exploration. It was, however, the kind of innovation that helped Invisible War s reputation over the years as a game that at least attempted to break new ground and take Deus Ex forwards as a series, instead of just assuming its problems were solved. It certainly wasn t a lazy, coughed-up sequel designed to make a quick buck, or one that lacked for talent behind the scenes.

Instead, it was the victim of technology that wasn t ready, and a team that hadn t quite grasped the spirit of Deus Ex team leader Harvey Smith later confessed to having taken it too far out of the familiar, and relying on the advice of hardcore players and fellow designers about what was wrong with the original game, rather than leaning on players who loved the original to hear what it did right. (Smith would of course later more than make up for this with Dishonored, which despite being overtly mission based rather than offering a continuous Deus Ex style flow in sprawling social hubs, is as close to being a Deus Ex successor as anything that officially bears its name.)

The future, yesterday

And what of the other argument, that while it fails as a Deus Ex game, Invisible War is still a solid RPG on its own terms? Sadly, going back really doesn t convey that. It s not an awful game, but even if you forgive its technical faults (and it really doesn t run that well even today), it s a stodgy, lifeless, uncharismatic adventure. Invisible War got its reputation as a decent RPG because in 2003 and much of 2004, the demand Well, show me a better Deus Ex style game could only be answered with Well, there isn t one.

This wasn t, however, because there were inferior attempts, but because Deus Ex and Invisible War stood alone.

Today the most obvious comparison is Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines, from less than a year later. It s a game that holds up despite itself most of the time, and not even that at the end. As clunky as it is, Bloodlines setting, its characters, its choices and its general vibe help obscure the kinds of flaws that shine bright in Invisible War.

Much like fellow disappointing sequel Thief III (minus the Cradle and a couple of other good bits), Deus Ex: Invisible War is a game that sits in a bubble as the result of its time s weaknesses rather than strengths. It d be great to think of it as a lost classic, but even at its best, the kindest compliment is: It tried.

PC Gamer


In Now Playing articles PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today Lorna Reid goes to the opera in Hitman: Blood Money.

Throwing myself down an opulent corridor in a hail of bullets, dressed as a painter, was not how I pictured my return to Hitman: Blood Money. As I stumble down a flight of stairs, still holding a bloody hammer, I m forced to concede that picking a lock in plain view of a guard wasn t a good idea. Nor was using the hammer in the undignified kerfuffle that followed.

In light of the new game s release, and with its Paris Showstopper shredding me, I decided to return to arguably the Hitman series crowning glory. And I just had to pick the Paris Opera House, didn t I?

Feet that had been so used to the layout of the grand building suddenly falter in the labyrinth of passages. Where the hell am I? Why is there inadequate signage? In the event of a fire, this place would be an outrageous death trap. The irony.

I m too busy getting worked up about Parisian health and safety standards to pay attention to where I m going, and get stuck in a door that opens inwards rather than outwards. I m turned into a bullet sponge. Again. My time in the Opera House is a three-act farce, more lethal to my self-esteem than I am to my two targets.

As my former prowess with the game fails to materialise I keep going back for more, working towards an ending where my targets, not me, get carted off in body-bags. This time I decide to stay out of trouble hah by engineering an accident, and set off to sabotage the winch for the chandelier, tucked away at the top of the opera house. One little problem... I can t find it. I only have to go up. How hard can that be? Staggeringly, it seems. I yank open doors, alarm guards, barge into the ladies dressing room and retreat amid a shower of screams. I pick locks and swear at staircases that go the wrong way. Fate and a shitty sense of direction conspire against me and I end up accidentally killing someone in a toilet before being gunned down by guards.

Restarting, and this time attempting to be a smart arse, I disguise myself as an actor, complete with a fake World War I pistol. I appear on stage as an executioner, hitting my mark beautifully. Then, in an unforgivable bit of overacting, I accidentally shoot my target a second time. My cover s blown. Shots erupt around me, I stumble off stage, and, in the ensuing chaos, inadvertently discover the door I d previously spent an age searching for. Feeling a Basil Fawltyesque meltdown coming on, I rattle up flights of steps to the roof space of the auditorium and find myself near the bloody winch room. There s no time to whip anything with a Silverballer because, in my frustrated rage, I slip off a gantry and die an ignoble death on the stairwell below.

As an assassin and an actor I ve failed. Worst of all, I died wearing an embarrassing moustache.

Despite the curtains closing on yet another of Agent 47 s lives, I couldn t help but conclude that Blood Money s sense of fun remains. I may have failed multiple times but I enjoyed it. I also learned that you should never send Frank Spencer to do an Agent s job.

By Lorna Reid

PC Gamer


In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil's blown away by JC2's best weapon.

I was disappointed with Just Cause 3 for many of the same reasons that Andy outlined our 67% review. It s an incredibly repetitive, grindy experience that turns chaotic action into a chore. Overthrowing evil dictators should only feel like a job if it s your actual job. But worse than the failings of JC3 s progression systems is how unimaginative its tools are. 

There are a few exceptions. There s the wingsuit, which is brilliant. There are the tethers, which are ridiculous. There s the opportunity to upgrade your infinite C4 into a rocket-powered physics toy, which is an idea of unparalleled genius. Elsewhere, though, it s all pretty standard. In the context of an absurd action sandbox, the game s many assault rifles feel painfully dull. Putting a stream of bullets into endless waves of people wasn t fun to watch in Rambo IV, and it isn t much fun to do here. 

Fortunately, I don t think JC3 is beyond saving. All you need to do is look at its predecessor. Much like its sequel, Just Cause 2 is surprisingly short on ways to push against the outer limits of creativity. The tools that do exist are even more basic and restrictive. You have a single, weak tether, and a finite amount of regular, non-rocket-powered C4. Its structure is more suited to improvisational violence, but you have only a limited set of options with which to create it. Two things expand that sandbox in delightful ways: mods and DLC. 

It feels strange to praise Just Cause 2 s DLC, because much of it isn t noteworthy. Rather than large content packs, all of the game s optional extras are small, seemingly insignificant microtransactions. Much of them are pure filler, but one small addition—available as part of the preposterously named Black Market Boom Pack—changed how I interacted with that world. 

It s called the Air Propulsion Gun, and, as the name suggest, it shoots air instead of bullets. It s a high-powered short-range burst of force that results in some of the best physics-based mayhem since Half-Life 2 s Gravity Gun. It s not quite on a par—Rico still doesn t have much small-scale agency beyond making things explode—but sending a soldier spiralling into the air with a propulsion blast is funny in a way that doesn t get old. 

It provides the best physics-based mayhem since Half-Life 2 s Gravity Gun.

The problem with guns and explosions is they remove things from play. An enemy helicopter is an interesting problem to tackle, but shooting it down simply takes it out of the equation. That s why the more interesting option is to grapple up and hijack it. The problem has been flipped into a solution, thus forcing the enemy to respond. 

That s also the genius of the air propulsion gun. It doesn t remove things outright. A soldier is sent flying backwards, but the impact won t necessarily kill him. A vehicle can be flung into a group of soldiers, possibly exploding, but maybe not. It s a weapon in form and function, but one that doesn t do direct damage. By shifting the kill to the moment of impact, you re no longer instantly removing the threat. Even if your enemy only exists for a few extra seconds, those lengthened interactions feel more dynamic, surprising and enjoyable. 

It s even better when combined with the community s BOLOPatch trainer—a tool offering invincibility, and infinite ammo and unbreakable tethers. Avalanche has never quite perfected the balance of the Just Cause series, and so I ve always found it better to forego the difficulty for pure, unrestrained action. Military bases are cleared through a constant stream of powerful propulsion. Tens of soldiers dance and flip helplessly through the air in a mass juggling act performed by a petty, unkillable god. It s one of the silliest power fantasies you can play. 

I d hoped Just Cause 3 would build on this amazing DLC gun. So much effort has gone into improving its physics and effects but there s precious little that makes use of such enhancements. Like Just Cause 2, the majority of JC3 s weapons are designed simply to remove aspects of play. I find it really frustrating that the game can be so creative in some aspects, and so tediously restrained in so many others. 

My hope is, just like with JC2, Avalanche is saving its best tools for DLC. If that s the case, it s a shitty business model, but I d still happily pay a few extra pounds for weapons that manipulated the world in more interesting ways. Just Cause 3 falls short of its reputation as a cartoonish action playground. With some more imaginative weapons, it would be instantly, immeasurably more fun.

PC Gamer

Square Enix has a pretty massive sale on its online store at the moment. In keeping with the spirit of Black Friday, the publisher has discounted a tonne of its back catalogue, but more importantly, you can get discounts on preorders too. More important than either of those, though, is that you can download Hitman 2: Silent Assassin for zero dollars.

Just head over to the website, make an account, 'purchase' Hitman 2: Silent Assassin and then use the code FreeSilentAssassin when you check out. While you're there you can get 10% discounts on preorders for Just Cause 3 and the new Hitman, among other titles.

The game is available until Sunday, November 29.

PC Gamer

Remember that Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod? You know, the one we made our Mod of the Week back in September 2013? Do you go on to remember that it received a beta update recently that added Steam achievements, and assorted other stuff? My, you have a fantastic memory. Er...remember when I lent you twenty quid?

Thanks muchly. I have some fuel for future memories in the form of hot news—hot news that the aforementioned update releases tomorrow for everybody. Hooray! From tomorrow, that brill multiplayer mod will come with Steam achievements, plus a few extra, equally exciting features. Feature The First: you'll be able to make your own NPCs, and not by shoving two NPCs together until a baby appears. (You can just drop them into the world.)

You can also display giant text in the game world, Splinter Cell Blacklist-style. I can imagine people having a lot of fun with that one. More details on the mod's forum (ta, PCGamesN.)

PC Gamer

The Just Cause 2 Multiplayer Mod, which came out nearly two years ago, is getting a big update. The changelog is long, but the most significant additions are Steam achievements, scripting for NPCs, and an overhaul of the main menu.

On the achievements side, you've got examples like "Careful Down There", which you get for standing on top of a flying plane for one minute, or "Taxi Service" for... driving people around in a taxi. Example scripts include Wingsuit, Companions, and a minigame called 'Drift!'

If you want to try out the public beta of update 0.2, you can opt in via the Betas tab in JC2: Multiplayer's Steam properties menu.

PC Gamer

The first couple minutes of Hitman: Agent 47 are pretty much a video game cutscene, with grainy video and voiceover talking about secret and bad human research. The segment s purpose is to explain, Hey, this is a video game movie, and it s about genetically modified hitmen, and you re just going to have to deal with that. It s cool if you re late to the movie, though, because they explain all this in the clearest terms possible again about halfway through.

But who cares about the story? I watched Hitman: Agent 47 to judge whether or not Agent 47 is a good hitman. A good hitman, at least in the Hitman games, is one who succeeds at killing his targets with as few witnesses as possible, ideally without killing anyone but the targets. Sure, you can go nuts if you want, but stealth is encouraged, so that s the standard I m holding the movie version of Agent 47 to. With that in mind, I've graded his performance in the film's major action scenes. He did badly, as you'll see. 

Obviously, reading about every action scene in a movie is going to lead to some spoilers, if you care.

Nighttime fight

As the movie starts, Agent 47 is out to get some bad guys, and you better believe he s gonna get them. First off, why can no one in the film industry design a UI that anyone would actually use? Agent 47 literally presses a button that says upload virus at one point. Then he tracks the bad guy cars with the Watch Dogs companion app while they all fumble with their infected, also stupid interfaces.

Pretty quickly, it s clear that our friend 47 is doing a bad job. He kills so many dudes he doesn't have to. He even shoots two guys sitting at bad-UI computer terminals and then props them up as if they re still working just so the other bad guys will get mad at them for not responding, discover that they re dead, and then see him emerge from the shadows. That s just rude as hell, and not very sneaky at all. F.

"Hm, looks good, looks good, can we get thirty more red squares though?"

Subway fight

This showdown is set up when the camera pans through the ground, letting the audience know that subways are underground, as Agent 47 chases Zachary Quinto. So, Agent 47 and Zachary Quinto (who I ve decided is a character in the film for simplicity s sake) are fighting in a subway station, on the tracks, and the camera is shaking big time. We know martial arts, they yell into each other s faces at the same time, but they don t really. They just know how to work with direction that obscures the details of a bad fight.

There is a cool bit where Agent 47 almost, but doesn t, get killed by an oncoming train—remember that, from The Matrix?—but as a hitman he does very badly. Everyone in the subway station sees him. He shoots bullets into all kinds of crowds. There s no way he isn t being chased by law enforcement. F.

Mass panic doesn't typically indicate a stealthy approach. 

Military fight

Next there s a part where Agent 47 walks into a heavily guarded military complex covered with guns. The metal detector and X-ray scanner detect all of these, another thing that happened in The Matrix, but instead of killing all the guards with sick moves, he lets himself get captured so that he can use his sick moves on everyone later. Getting captured is not a good hitman thing to do, even if you plan to escape later, but especially if you plan to escape later by loudly shooting people. F.

Look at my guns, I have many.

Jet engine fight

This is a prolonged fight involving a jet engine, and it isn t bad. Some dudes even get sucked into the jet engine, which almost approaches the creativity you'd see in an actual Hitman mission. And Agent 47 is a little stealthy here, sneaking up behind people and killing them with stuff he finds lying around, which shows improvisation and stealthiness. Still, he almost dies and is only saved by the villain s fatal flaw: pride. You can t always count on a villain to have a fatal flaw, 47. Sometimes they re just regular guys. D+.

This is a little bit sneaky!

Audi RS 7 chase

This is the best scene because it stars an Audi RS 7 drifting around the bends of a parking garage and killing the hell out of a bunch of motorcycle jerks chasing it. I guess Agent 47 is driving it, but let's just pretend the Audi is its own character with its own motivation.

I really felt the Audi s pain when it was being shot full of cables from rooftop bad guys, who held it in place with their evil grapples, and then tried to zipline down the cables to kill Agent 47. No one mourns the Audi, but I suppose they don't have time what with bad guys coming from every direction. It turns out, those zipline guys made a bad mistake. They could have just shot at Agent 47 from the relative safety of the rooftops, but instead they get all plugged by his dual handguns while slowly descending. This happens in the middle of the street. Everyone sees it and Agent 47 is not stealthy at all. Also, he picks up Hannah Ware and carries her through streets full of people and no one cares and that's dumb. F.

Holding one gun is hard enough, two is just impossible!

Skyscraper fight

This is a cool scene, because it involves helicopters and the roof of a skyscraper—you might say that the final gunshot was an exclamation mark—and Hannah Ware finally becomes the badass she secretly was the whole time. It s also the most visually arresting scene, with 47 s white shirt losing its edges against the impossibly white walls of an evil office building, which was the signature technique of one of my favorite American illustrators, Coles Phillips. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the movie oozes with all style of stock art: Bald man uses laptop. Depressed woman s empty pill bottle rolls across the floor. Establishing shot of car.

Anyway, it s fun to look at, but is Agent 47 finally a good hitman here, at the end? No way. He comes up with a convoluted plan to hit his man, sure, but everyone is looking at him like, I know who you are, you are a hitman, and I have seen your face. That s just not good hitman work. F.

None of this is very sneaky at all.

So, is it a good movie?

Not really. I ve tried not to spoil the details of the plot because the only thing it has going for it is a couple misdirections. Other than that, it s pretty boring. Turns out an emotionless dude with a moderately close head shave is not very exciting to watch any time he s not shooting people.

Zachary Quinto is also boring, and doesn t convince me that he is a tough man, though he tries. Hannah Ware plays the best of the characters, because she s allowed to express feelings with her face, but the story doesn t let her be much more than a human MacGuffin. She appears at the beginning in a movie-ready state: a woman whose only defining qualities are plot points, like Lisbeth Salander if all we knew about her was that she has a dragon tattoo, and that the tattoo is a treasure map.

And that d all be fine if Agent 47 had James Bond or John Wick or The Raid levels of style and choreography, but it only timidly approaches those films to ask if it can borrow some of their stuff, and then breaks their stuff. Daniel Craig s contemplative rooftop swim in Skyfall, for instance, said a little about his headspace, and was a damn cool establishing scene. In this movie, Ware takes a nighttime dip in a hotel pool for no reason. I guess she s swimming because she s… upset… about the hitman?

This important scene establishes that the hotel has a swimming pool.

Meanwhile, even with John Wick's David Leitch on staff, the action is good but never exceptional. Hitman is so concerned with making sure its characters look badass that it s often cut like a trailer, obscuring the greater form of the fights, and the complete windup and follow-through of each movement. The Matrix, on the other hand, shows us the full breadth of every dumb flip, kick, punch, block, and grimace in that subway scene. It s silly, and not really convincing, but it's still a wonder to watch all that continuous action and reaction. In Equilibrium, Christian Bale looks super dumb doing gunkata forms, but he doesn t give a crap, and not giving a crap is what makes him so cool. There's no attempt to obscure his choreography, allowing the action to be unreal and goofy and way more fun to watch.

There is some cool action choreography in Hitman, for sure, and I spotted not one but two helicopters in it, but that s all it has to offer. Helicopters, a good car chase, and a bit of good gunplay. Otherwise, the sentimental bits are entirely inert, the plot consists of cutscenes I'd skip in a game, and rather than being cool and effortlessly badass, Agent 47 seems like a self-conscious Bond impersonator. Check it out, guys, I just got out of this big fight, and what do I do? I just casually adjust my sleeve. Is that cool? It was cool when Bond did it but is it cool when I do it? Ah, it's cool, yep. I'm cool.

PC Gamer

If you've tuned into Deus Ex: Human Revolution's entertaining and insightful director's commentary you'll have a sense of Jean-Francois Dugas and Jonathan Jacques-Belletete's ability to laugh about their own project. Now you can experience that in video form with this 42-minute let's play, featuring canny observations about Jensen ("his shoulders were so damn wide") and cut environmental details ("this is where we used to have George Bush's face"). It's good fun.

There's a Mankind Divided tease hiding in there too, relating to your VTOL pilot, Malik.

"Speaking of Malik, a lot of people are so bummed that we're not bringing her back in the stuff that we've shown yet of Mankind Divided. How come she's not your new pilot?"

"Time will tell."

"Time will tell, yeah."

TIME WILL TELL. Human Revolution's dynamically lit, high-poly, slim-shouldered sequel is due out next year. You can watch 25 minutes of in-game footage right now.

PC Gamer

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Tom and Wes argue about boss fights, which have been around nearly as long as video games themselves, and whether they re an outdated concept.

Face off

Wes Fenlon, Hardware editor Wes wants modern boss fights to be a bit more original.

Tom Marks, Assistant editor Tom thinks boss fights are still a nice change of pace.

Wes: YES. I ve played many great boss fights in my day, but far too many big games shoehorn in boss fights when they don t need them. Boss fights once made perfect video game sense in linear, side-scrolling levels. Get to the end of the stage, fight the big bad in charge, and move on to the next. And that s still fun! But as games have evolved with open worlds and non-linear levels and forms of gameplay more nuanced than shoot slash punch bad guy, boss fights don t fit as well. Bioshock and the more recent Deus Ex: Human Revolution are two modern examples of boss fights gone really wrong. Bioshock needed an emotional climax, not one that involved shooting a roided-up bad guy. And Human Revolution betrayed the core of its gameplay by making you shoot it out with its bosses, which is something the new Deus Ex is thankfully addressing. Boss fights can still be done well, of course, but they re most definitely antiquated.

Tom M.: NO. Boss fights aren t always fun, but used correctly they can be vital to the pacing of a game. Boss fights don t just represent the end of a level, they are a change of pace after a long stretch of similar gameplay. You ve been running around shooting and beating up bad guys for a while, but how are you going to deal with this new enemy? That s when the concept of a boss fight really shines; when it s not just a bigger harder enemy, but instead challenges you in some interesting and different way. I completely agree that AAA games have recently misused the boss fight trope, treating it more like an expected practice than a place to shake up the game s design, but that doesn t mean boss fights as a whole are an outdated concept.

Wes: Sure—I d look like a big dumb idiot if I said all boss fights today are lame and crappy. There are still good ones! But I think there are two big problems with how boss fights are implemented. In big-budget games, they re often used to facilitate some dramatic cutscene or story moment, which means taking control away from the player or forcing you to play in a specific way. That sucks. And in general, I think too many games use boss fights because they re expected. Boss fights are part of the language of video games, but they re a very old word. And I d like to see more games creating new words instead of falling back on the Middle English that is the boss fight.

Tom: I actually don t mind boss fights being more rigid or scripted than the rest of a game. Making open world experiences where the player has lots of choice is a very difficult thing to do, and too much freedom can sometimes make for a crummy story. Boss fights are the perfect moment for a developer to bring the story back under their control a little bit to let them reliably tell the story they want to. Of course, the boss fight shouldn t take certain options or playstyles away from the player that the rest of a game has made them accustomed to, like in Deus Ex for example. Those fights should be climactic and should represent a shift in the story. Even if they re expected, they can play a vital role in the rhythm of a game.

Wes: Ah, so idealistic! Time and again, boss fights in big-budget games do change up the play style you ve been taught just to show you something cool. Even the Batman games, which have fantastic combat, lose their lustre when they put you in an arena to slug it out with a boss. Think of the end of Asylum, when the Joker gets all beefy and slugs it out with Batman. It s a great game, but that s a cookie cutter boss fight that relies on antiquated video game language. How do we make a big, climactic battle? Hm, how about lots of punching? But the Joker would never do that! He d do something clever. A smart, modern take on the boss fight there wouldn t end with a punching match. I d like to see more games have confidence in what they do best. To use a pretty traditional 2D game as an example: I don t even remember the final boss of Rayman Origins, but I do remember the incredibly challenging and rewarding final platforming sequence leads up to it. Surviving that level is the true boss of the game.

Tom: Lots of games have also tried doing boss sequences or boss levels instead of a straight up fight, and I love that. I think it s great when games don t adhere to the formula, but that s not the solution for every game. Assassin s Creed doesn t really have many boss fights, instead a particularly special baddy will get a mission all to himself. That s cool and different and doesn t shoehorn a stupid arena fight into an assassination game, but I also don t remember a single one of those missions. You know what I do remember? Every single boss I fought in Dark Souls 2. I still agree that developers will put cookie cutter boss fights unnecessarily into games that don t need them, but it s by no means a concept that s lost it s value. It s just more valuable in certain types of games.

Wes: I may not remember the characters of many Assassin s Creed targets, but I do remember some of my more epic assassinations—and I loved that those characters could be killed silently and instantly, if you planned the perfect stealth kill. That s a smart modern twist on the classic boss fight, too me--it elevates what s best about Assassin s Creed, instead of suddenly changing how you play the game. And hell, I love Dark Souls bosses too—I don t hate the traditional boss fight, I just think many games today could do something more interesting with them. It seems like we re mostly on the same page. So...what games are really doing creative boss fights right these days?

Tom: The first example that jumps to my mind is Titan Souls, a game made up of nothing but boss fights. It takes the kill the big monster in an arena concept to its extreme and cuts the fat off everywhere else. If you need to be convinced that compelling and exciting boss fights are still possible in modern games, Titan Souls will do that and then some. Terraria is another good example; each boss is difficult and unique, but also represents a tier of progression. The game has an open world with no fake constraints, but you can mostly only reach bosses in a certain order, each one giving you the means to fight the next. These games embrace the boss fight as the effective tool it is; a change of pace, a milestone in your progression, and a generator of wow moments.

Wes: I ve played my fair share of Terraria, but I ll be checking up on Titan Souls. If killing each boss doesn t make me feel a deep and intense sorrow in true Shadow of the Colossus fashion, though, I m going to hold you responsible for my irrational expectations.

Tom: Titan Souls was the first game that made me physically jump out of my chair when I killed a boss, and I did so for every single one. Consider your expectations rationally high. 

PC Gamer

Deus Ex is being augmented with another Deus Ex. After a nonsensical ARG and an entirely sensical leak, we now have official confirmation of Deus Ex: Mankind Divided.

Once again, it'll feature Deus Ex: Human Revolution protagonist Adam Jensen, who this time says things like, "sometimes you just have to let go and embrace what you've become." From the sounds of it, he'll be going up against some shadowy organisation and, for some reason, an augmented version of the Heavy from TF2.

Here's the plot, straight outta the trailer's description:

"Deus Ex: Mankind Divided directly follows the aftermath of the Aug Incident, a day when mechanically augmented citizens all over the world were stripped of control over their minds and bodies, resulting in the deaths of millions of innocents. The year is now 2029, and the golden era of augmentations is over. Mechanically augmented humans have been deemed outcasts and segregated from the rest of society. Crime and acts of terror serve as a thin veil to cover up an overarching conspiracy aimed at controlling the future of mankind…"

A press release promises new augmentations, new locations, and a "cloak of conspiracies". That, I'd imagine, is a metaphorical cloak—otherwise the conspirators would be all too easy to identify. In addition, the PC version is confirmed to support DirectX 12 and AMD's TressFX technology. Expect some seriously augmented beard stubble.


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