Preview: Deus Ex: The Fall – more than just a console hack

Deus Ex logoWe first caught wind of a Deus Ex game coming to iOS shortly before the hands-on we attended, but going into the event, we had no idea what to expect from this big console and PC/Mac series in its first mobile foray. The iOS Mass Effect tie-in games were hugely simplified, serving more as promotion for the console games than a real experience of their own. For Fable III on the Xbox, Microsoft just released a set of minigames that earned you money in the real game. So this game could have been anything.

It turns out that Deus Ex: The Fall is simply the Deus Ex experience, on iOS devices, with little held back. Touchscreen analogue sticks replace the mouse or gamepad, but it’s more or less exactly what you got in Human Revolution on the Mac, just made smaller.

Deus Ex Grab 1The Fall is a new story in the Deus Ex canon, taking place during the time that Adam Jensen was being reconstructed in Mac title Human Revolution (and just after the tie-in novel The Icarus Effect). With Jensen still partly on the drawing board, partly on the walls, you take control of Ben Saxon, an augmented human who starts off aligned with the subtly-named Tyrant organisation from Human Revolution, before realising that it perhaps isn’t the most supportive and honest employer, and striking out with friend and obligatory exposition sponge Anna Kelso. Unsurprisingly for a Deus Ex game, they stumble onto a conspiracy – this one related to neuropozene, the chemical that augmented humans, including Ben and Anna, need to survive.

Deus Ex grab 2In terms of controls, it’s just like Human Revolution, with you controlling Ben in first-person for the most part, but switching to third-person when in cover. You move and look around using virtual analogue sticks, with buttons for shooting, crouching and using augmentations dotted around the screen. Contextual pop-ups offer extra options, such as stealth takedowns or switching between different cover locations – the same options as in Human Revolution.

The key thing, though, is that the controls are customisable to a really impressive degree. You can move just about any button to a more convenient location, or move the analogue sticks somewhere easier to reach, as we wanted to when playing. You can also enable a tap-to-move option, which is great for darting for cover, and an aim-assist that outlines enemies in a yellow box, mitigating the lack of precision inherent in touchscreen analogue controls.

When we first saw someone else playing The Fall, the sheer number of options and context-based stuff that happens was slightly overwhelming, but when you start playing it yourself, following what’s happening in context, it clicks into place quickly. In fact, the control scheme felt to be among the best 3D games we’ve tried on the iPad in our short time with it, and though it’s still more awkward than using a physical controller for this kind of game, it’s really playable.

Deus Ex grab 3That said, even in a short playthrough in one area, we did find ourselves exploring the nooks and crannies slightly less than we might have in a Mac game, and we found that just being lazy and shooting enemies is far more tempting than in Human Revolution because of its more awkward control – in the Mac game stealthily taking down everyone non-lethally was half the fun, but we’re a little concerned it’ll feel like hard work here.

However, the non-lethal option is absolutely still there (and there will be tranquilizer guns and the like, too), along with the other intricacies you’d expect from a Deus Ex game. Conversation have multiple paths, difficult situations can be gotten around in several ways, choices have consequences, different augmentation paths affect how you play…

Deus Ex grab 5There are things that have been tweaked or limited for mobile devices, of course. The areas seemed slightly smaller in the section we played, though are still a decent size (and load times were very short), and the graphics are inevitably weaker, though Ben’s character model really aren’t far off being console-quality. The build we played also had some framerate issues, but the developer is still working on it, so hopefully it’ll be smoother at launch. (It’s being developed by N-Fusion, creator of iOS hit Air Mail, with Deus Ex developer Eidos-Montréal overseeing all aspects of it.)

What makes us slightly more concerned is that Square says you can’t move and hide bodies in The Fall, because they were worried it would be too complicated to have another pop-up offering this option – which seemed odd to us, because there are plenty of other pop-ups. When pressed, the developer said there are also technical considerations to the decision, with physics presenting a problem on less-powerful iOS devices compared to consoles, but maintained that it was mainly a design decision.

Deus Ex grab 4Another slightly concerning change is that you can now buy any weapons or other items from your inventory at any time (rather than having to visit shops), and you no longer need to worry about carrying too many items. This is a bit awkward in terms of story (Adam Jensen probably would have loved the ability to magic up any gun or ammo he needed, and he was top-of-the-line), and this is where In-App Purchases inevitably photobomb our otherwise idyllic dystopia. Square says you absolutely shouldn’t need to spend any extra money to enjoy the full game (it will cost £5/$7 at launch), but that the option is there for more casual players (along with new items, like a Revive kit that resurrects Ben from near-death).

We’re inclined to believe that Square’s serious about delivering a proper game without the IAPs, though. The sheer depth of the Deus Ex experience, along with the thoughtful control customisation options, and features like a New Game+ option for added difficulty after you complete the story once, are definitely a case of talking the right talk. We just hope Ben Saxon’s bionic legs can walk the right walk, too.