Daily Archives: February 16, 2017

World-Building in Deus Ex

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As it currently stands, there are four main installments within the Deus Ex franchise. That’s not counting the variety of mobile iterations, versions, or other side content and activities. As with any good universe, there’s also a fair share of novels and fiction in regards to the Earth of the dystopian future depicted in each game. Deus Ex (2000), Invisible War (2003), Human Revolution (2011), and Mankind Divided (2016) are the four canonical entries I will be discussing to varying degrees here. I got the idea for this particular post somewhat out of the blue, and yet it is equally fitting due to the fact the series is going to be on somewhat of a hiatus whilst Square Enix decides how best to handle their new Marvel deal.

Without going into great detail and ruining the stories of each of the aforementioned titles in the series, I will say that each shares similar settings and ideas, especially in terms of overall world-building. Whether you refer to the first two titles or the most recent releases, some things have simply evolved rather than changed as the series continues on. Now what do I mean when I refer to world-building exactly?

In my mind, it is interesting to examine how a developer approaches crafting a living and breathing world for their players to exist within and for game-players to explore. This includes all of the lore in a fictional setting, the overarching design of the world and its environments themselves, the characters and how they are affected by or impact the environment, and any other details that fall into one or more of these categories. While this may seem like a complicated and extensive subject to handle, I am going to keep things simple and merely hit a few points here and there that remain largely constant throughout the series.

Deus Ex is so much more than the aesthetically pleasing triangles and grey tones that it seems to be nowadays. Rather it is a much deeper experience and one that oftentimes mirrors machinations and political or corporate ideology in today’s world as well. It is very much about corporations and secret societies influencing the general populace in efforts to exert some form of control over the world or another. And for this reason, as with the show Black Mirror, technology can be a strange and terrible thing- whether posing as an ally or used in corrupt schemes. Deus Ex is about alteration and advancement- as much of the human element as of technology.

There is such a degree of choice offered even from the getgo in the original Deus Ex all the way through Mankind Divided which released last year, that in many ways players can shape the world as much or more than the attributes of it have been altered or provided by the developers themselves. It is very much a living, breathing environment at all times and as with the augmentations that progressively alter the human race itself, the environment can be largely unrecognizable by the end of a game. Although you could boil down much of the chaos and change in each game to the Illuminati or other cabals’ influence, the player and player-character is largely the most influential aspect of all in and on the world.

In order to understand the majority of the worldview and built up infrastructure and integrity of the franchise, one must first get a handle on how each game fits into that structure chronologically. While Deus Ex and Invisible War are the first two titles, they are the last two on the chronological spectrum as it stands currently. Meanwhile, Human Revolution and Mankind Divided fall somewhere earlier on the spectrum. While the exact years are not necessary in order to understand this thought-blog, HR and MD take place in 2027 and 2029 respectively whereas DE and IW take place in 2052 and 2072.

In the world of Deus Ex, augmentation is no new thing. Both chronologically and chronologically in terms of release date, human augmentation has been an existing thing in the universe. It becomes bigger in Human Revolution and Mankind Divided, yet it is also a key component of your character in Deus Ex and Invisible War. It is more of a side-note in the original games, yet it becomes a very ethical and important factor as you progress through both of the most recently released titles. Technology rules the world and whomever owns that technology therefore owns the world- this is definitely a constant theme that Deus Ex seems to push and often goes to extremes to enforce and keep relevant.

In many ways, Deus Ex has some blanket themes that constantly overlap in both lore and actuality within all four titles. HR and MD both hint at much of the coming strife and activities of the original two titles, as would make sense in games that act as essentially a precursor or prequel to the events of the first two. Without spoiling much, there are underlying themes and additional lore to be found around the world that constantly hints at things to come. Whereas the Illuminati has always been a major player in the series, player choice largely depicts whether or not the world is plunged into anarchy and chaos, whether or not technology is heralded or despised, and how plenty of other equally monumental and important player choices pan out.

In terms of aesthetics and mechanics, the series has definitely evolved from the same core elements and still features such aspects as inventory management, gunplay, stealth, and choice-driven gameplay today. And in many ways, this ties into the whole world-development thing as well. There is a larger ability for players to determine not just the outcome but the evolution of the narrative and world today than there was when the series debuted, and yet that’s always been a constant. Whereas the original two titles largely focused players on determining the eventual endgame, Human Revolution and Mankind Divided continually place players in situations that demand determinations to be made on the fly and with unknown consequences potentially hovering down the road. Few things are what they seem and even the best of intentions, as in reality, can lead to dramatically unforeseen consequences.

Deus Ex has always fascinated me in ways that System Shock and Bioshock have managed to as well- largely due to the fact that their worlds are intriguing and believable, even for all the fantastical nonsense they also offer. Deus Ex has perhaps the darkest and most readily believable overtones, especially nearly two decades later as we come closer and closer to potentially seeing the effects of such globalized corporations and hegemonic entities today. And largely for that reason on top of the entertainment value of the series itself, the world, world-views, and choices intrigue me more than ever.

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Sniper Elite 4 VS Sniper Elite 3

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There are two things that I would very much like to stress to begin this particular blog entry: one- this is not a review, and two- many, many, many despotic dictators were hurt in the making of this blog post. Now that we’ve covered that, I think we can truly begin in earnest.

Sniper Elite 4 (Italia) recently released to mostly critical acclaim and I must say, as a fan of the series since its inception and soon-after reboot, I’m a fan as well. There are some aspects of Sniper Elite 4 that make it much more accessible than the previous two major installments, and yet curiously these same aspects sometimes make the game more challenging. Whereas Sniper Elite 3 (Afrika) featured a relocation warning of sorts between sniper shots or loud noises, Sniper Elite 4 does no such thing and immediately (as well as more realistically) expects players to handle this business on their own, free of warning.

As if the series could further refine its base concepts- that being gunplay that is predominately dominated by sniper battles, it somehow succeeds on this front as well. Sniper Elite V2 was received quite well for its mostly realistic portrayal and depiction of sniper mechanics in-game. Sniper Elite 3, though less-acclaimed overall, refined these techniques even further and opened the playing field to a wider variety of takedowns with the addition of sniper versus vehicular enemy type encounters. Needless to say, Sniper Elite 4 ups the ante for the third consecutive time with additional sniper options, more sensible and refined mechanics, and of course added takedowns- featuring more creative ways to kill the Fuhrer (to boot!).

I worry that the series may accidentally stagnate here in the near future if the trend of solely basing its gameplay off of WWII skirmishes and Karl Fairburne continues, however I do have hope that once they’ve thoroughly visited every major theater of war, they can continue into perhaps even modern conflicts with refined mechanics and technological advancements in combat. Sniper Elite’s modern day competition is essentially limited to Sniper: Ghost Warrior and thus far it is a battle Elite easily wins despite the latter series slowly improving itself over time (and the third title dropping later this year). Experiencing the tense action of Sniper Elite and utilizing a visceral setting such as the jungles of Vietnam would be truly awe-inspiring and potentially the best sniping idea since All Ghillied Up.

That having been said, let’s not stray too far from the matter at hand and the topic for discussion- how does Sniper Elite 4 compare to its immediate predecessor?

Despite its truly disappointing qualities and a great many flaws, once I got into Sniper Elite 3 (Afrika) I had a blast. The mechanics were rich to begin with in V2 and yet somehow they took everything from level design to weapon and equipment models so much further with the slight edge in technology over the console gap. What a difference three years can make. And the same can be said for Sniper Elite 4 in comparison with its direct predecessor as of right now as well. Sniper Elite 4 is truly a next generation Sniper Elite, and it is abundantly clear. Whereas Rebellion was still learning the ropes of what was possible with Sniper Elite 3 and as ambitious as it was it fell short at times, Italia is fleshed out a lot more and an overall better experience and more aesthetically and mechanically gripping world.

Granted, the experience by now can only be refined so much here and there, and yet the tweaks and additions that have been made in terms of assists and lack thereof work in perfect cooperation with the preexisting mechanics and ideas. There is a greater array of options when it comes to combat although stealth is still one of the ironically most finicky parts of gameplay in the series. There are more environmental opportunities and the game can be played in an entirely new way even when compared to Sniper Elite 3, much less to V2. All things considered, while each title in the series has had their fair share of minor flaws, Sniper Elite 4 is characteristically the most complete package to date. There is much less of a grind when compared directly to Sniper Elite 3 despite the campaign featuring the same number of stages that take roughly the same length of time to complete. And let’s not even get into the depth of the cooperative offering- it’s potentially expansive to say the least.

All in all, Sniper Elite 4 only does a few new things and even those are mostly aesthetic or minor gameplay and mechanical adjustments. However, the overall presentation is what Sniper Elite 3 could’ve or should’ve been, and therefore it is the clear winner where the two are compared. I’ll not lie when I say this post should and probably will be more helpful to those of you who have at least played a game in the series prior to this one and are deciding whether or not to purchase the latest and potentially greatest iteration. However, bear in mind that this is also by no means a review of the game or anything other than its mechanics in comparison to those of its predecessor. So I make no guarantees as to how it’ll hold up under much closer scrutiny than a day or so can give.

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millie schmidt writes... with cats

millie schmidt writes...

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