ThinkBoxly is the personal developer blog of Lucas Chasteen, author, programmer, artist, and always learning. Read more

Friday, January 31, 2014

Deus Ex: The Fall Review (iOS/Android)

Well, it finally happened. Back at E3 2013 when Square Enix unveiled the next installment in the long-running Deus Ex series would be a mobile game, I said I would buy it if—and only if—they released the game on Android. How very fanboyish of me—I know. For six months Deus Ex: The Fall remained iOS-bound, but last week an Android port of the game was relatively quietly released to the Google Play store, and of course I wasted little time in living up to my end of the bargain. While a mobile game is certainly not what fans of Deus Ex: Human Revolution were hoping for, Square Enix promised from the get-go that it would live up to that game’s high standards despite not being a console title. Did they succeed?

UPDATE: It appears Square Enix will be taking to Steam and releasing a fully controller-supported, texture-enhanced PC version of the game on March 18, 2014. Please bear this in mind as you read the following review, as controls and textures played a part in my overall impression of the game.


Deus Ex: The Fall takes place somewhat alongside the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution and acts as a direct sequel to the Deus Ex: Icarus Effect tie-in novel. As the player you take on the role of Ben Saxon, protagonist of said novel and a former associate of the Illuminati gone rogue after the elimination of his squad turns his relationship with the secret society awry. While not the most original “you killed my men” setup things quickly take a turn for the better as the game moves beyond recapping the novel and begins to delve into the deeper subplots of the Deus Ex universe, broadening the horizons of its own narrative in the process. The story isn’t complete yet (updates are on the way), but what’s there is as deep as one would expect from a Deus Ex game, though perhaps not quite as memorable as those of its console and PC predecessors. It would be too much to go over each news broadcast, ebook, and auto secretary, so suffice it to say that in true Deus Ex form the story of The Fall is everywhere throughout the game world and is easily among the most well-executed plots currently on mobile devices.
As a side note, I wouldn’t recommend series newcomers to dive in without first playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Not only does The Fall pack major spoilers for its older brother, but this is not the sort of mobile game you’ll want to try playing five minutes at a shot as you might with other shooters on the Google Play store. So long as you know what you’re getting into and are prepared to put the time into experiencing the game properly the story is there to deliver, but should you attempt to play through it like Angry Birds you will easily find yourself lost and disconnected from what’s going on. That’s not really a commentary on The Fall itself, just a warning for those considering it as their first foray into the world of Deus Ex.


When it comes down to actually experiencing its story, Deus Ex: The Fall is immediately familiar to Human Revolution veterans. I found myself easily slipping back into the habits formed in the latter game even though I was playing the former, and that on a touch screen. While the touch controls are not as fluid or intuitive as a game controller they do a more than adequate job of carrying over to mobile devices the established cover-based combat and intricate exploration we’ve come to expect of Deus Ex. My one gripe with the setup is that it tends to be a bit trigger-happy, which can be problematic when you’re going for stealth and conserving what little ammo is available. Thankfully you can purchase ammo and basic powerups at any time via the in-game menu—and with a reasonable amount of in-game money, not just in-app purchases (though Square Enix will happily take your money for those, too). There are also a few different control options at your disposal, so if one method doesn’t feel comfortable to you, there’s a good chance making a few tweaks will improve your game experience.

In just about every possible way, The Fall perfectly emulates the look and feel of Human Revolution, right down to the stream of in-game achievements awarded for your every choice, be they on the ‘good cop’ side or the ‘bad cop’ side. A few minor elements feel scaled down rather than actually designed for mobile devices, but the impact here is minimal and worth it to maintain the series’ new feel.


Unfortunately, despite all that it gets right, Deus Ex: The Fall is certainly not the best use of Unity engine we’ve seen on mobile devices. Low-resolution and washed-out textures are all over the place, and character models also trend towards the awkward side, though to be fair Human Revolution suffered from the same problem on consoles, to some degree. And let’s not even talk about the lip-syncing—let’s just say that if you played the original Deus Ex you’ll feel right at home.

Environments are largely a different story, with nice lighting effects, good geometry, and much more detailed textures that frequently don’t pixellate even when up close. However, in Deus Ex games it’s a given that you’ll spend a decent amount of time interacting with more than just scenery. Recent Apple and Android devices could do better on the finer points that inevitably come up looking distractingly low-detail, but sadly the game’s current level of optimization wouldn’t allow for many upgrades. Even high-end Android phone/tablet users can expect to see some stutters here and there. All that being said, this is definitely a premium mobile game and despite some kinks looks good enough even to be enjoyed on an HDMI-equipped TV.


Deus Ex: The Fall gets much more right than it gets wrong, and its shortcomings can universally be attributed to the current limitations of its platforms, especially on the iOS side. If anything, the game is too “Deus Ex” for its own good. Square Enix should be applauded for creating such an authentic and enjoyable Deus Ex spinoff, but one has to wonder if the novelty of playing it on your smartphone is worth the touch controls and seesaw of graphical quality that come as part of the deal. Despite such minor flaws Deus Ex: The Fall still manages to be an engrossing game well worth experiencing, and definitely ranks up there as one of the most “console-like” currently on the app store. If you’re a fan of the Deus Ex universe and/or Human Revolution in particular, your $6.99 can’t go wrong with this one.