Thursday, July 3, 2014

Review of E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy

I like Deus Ex: Human Revolution (the 19 hours I've played of it, at least), and I think that overall it did good job streamlining and re-imagining the essentials of Deus Ex for the modern era.  However, I do feel that it was missing an important part of what made the original game so charming: utter madness.  The original Deus Ex was, for lack of a better phrase, out of its flipping mind. A zany twisty nigh incomprehensible conspiricy-laden plot layered on top of ludicrously robust gameplay that took an almost obscene amount of glee in letting you DO ALL THE THINGS.  It was a messy, convoluted, over ambitious work of wildly entertaining genius.  And to me, that sense of unhinged inspiration was a big part of the charm.  Human Revolution, while a worthy sequel, was a much safer game and I felt it lacked the charm of the original as a result.

Deus Ex: Game of the Year Edition

E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy is not a Deus Ex clone, but it has many similarities.  It's an FPS/RPG with an emphasis on character creation.  It's set in a dark cyberpunk world filled with shadowy organizations and questionable loyalties.  And it is also out of its flipping mind.  It's janky, it's flawed, it's woefully over ambitious, and it's some of the most fun I've had with an FPS/RPG hybrid since replaying STALKER Shadow of Chernobyl.  A work of mad genius?  Perhaps not.  A work of lovably mad enthusiasm?  Most certainly.

Dis gonna be hardcore man...

As I said, it's not really a Deus Ex clone, but the foundation of E.Y.E is basically the same.  You are Cyberpunk Guy, in Cyberpunk Land, with a variety of weapons and abilities to help you overcome obstacles.  Cyberpunk Guy gains experience points in the typical RPG manner, by killing things and accomplishing objectives, and the skill points you earn from leveling up can be put into different abilities, making him better at firing weapons, hacking computers, healing, using psionic powers, and maneuvering around the world.  There's also an in-game currency called Brouzoufs which is not only used for purchasing new weapons and equipment, but also for doing research and purchasing cyber implants.  Research will grant you access to new technologies, and cyber implants will grant passive buffs that layer on top of your character stats.

One of several stat screens.

If this all sounds rather complicated, it's because it is.  And one of the biggest complaints leveled at E.Y.E is that it doesn't do a very good job explaining its convoluted systems, opting to throw you into the game with nothing more than a few basic instructions and a laundry list of tutorial videos.  Personally, this is what I think: good.  Before taking a look at E.Y.E, I was trapped in the beginning hours of Far Cry 3, which (in true Ubisoft fashion) refuses to let you start having any fun whatsoever until you've jumped through their woefully dull tutorial hoops.  Ok, sure, I can see why not having any idea how a game works could be frustrating.  But you know what else is frustrating?  Being forced through an hour of lugubrious hand-holding, reminding you to press the left mouse button to shoot, and trapping you behind an immobile NPC until you've sufficiently demonstrated the ability to throw rocks.

I'm...really not sure.
I like being able to jump into a game and immediately start messing around.  I like to figure things out for myself.  And I like that E.Y.E just gives you a list of tutorial videos right off the bat, to watch if you happen to need them, rather than forcing them down your throat over the course of a long, dull corridor of scripting.  Besides which, it's not like the game is that hard to figure out.  For the most part, all the information you need is readily available, and most of the basic systems (equipping weapons, assigning skill points, using powers, etc) are relatively intuitive and easy to understand even without resorting to the tutorials.  And I found the process of figuring the game out to be rewarding in its own right, as every layer reveals more and more interesting facets.

If you can find a place for it, you can carry it.

Even outside of just learning the ins and outs of the mechanics, E.Y.E gives you a lot of toys to play with.  From the very beginning, you have access to a wide variety of firearms, all of which are useful in different ways.  Better yet, these weapons remain effective throughout the entire game, and are only effected by one stat: accuracy (which actually effects both accuracy and damage).  So rather than having to specialize in a specific weapon type a la Deus Ex, you simply increase your accuracy stat to improve you ability with all guns, allowing you to switch between pistols, assault rifles, shotguns, submachineguns, sniper rifles, and miniguns as the situation calls for it.  You can also purchase new weapons with Brouzoufs, and these do require certain stats to use.  But they serve more as bonuses than anything else.  The weapons you start with are still perfectly capable by the end of the game.

This thing is adorable.

 You also start with a few psionic and cybernetic abilities, which (along with almost every action in the game) can be bound to a quick select wheel.  These let you clone yourself, jump higher than normal, create a "ghost image" to distract enemies, and convert dropped weapons into health.  Over the course of the game, new abilities (including invisibility, infrared vision, and a strange "telefrag" attack) can be purchased depending on your stats.  There's also a quirky little hacking system, which plays out like a sort of real time JRPG battle and lets you open locked doors, steal money from bank terminals, take over defense turrets, and even posses enemies and force them to kill their friends.

Notice how much I'm gaining Brouzoufs?

So there's a lot of stuff you can do.  And it can be a lot of fun to experiment with new strategies or loadouts.  At one point, I decided to hack an enemy turret and make it my own.  Then, I picked it up and carried it around with me, as it shot anyone that got in my way.  Then I got bored and chucked it at an enemy, killing him.  Then I activated my invisibility and ran off.  And it helps that for the most part, the levels are quite open, serving more as hubs with objectives scattered around than anything else.  You're pretty much free to explore, and exploration is sometimes rewarded with optional sidequests.

You fight random aliens/monsters/whatever as well as humans.
 You probably won't go too long without shooting something, though.  Enemies are plentiful, and not only do they roam around freely, they also respawn after a certain amount of time.  Thankfully, shooting things in E.Y.E is actually quite a lot of fun.  Every weapon feels good to fire, and the majority of enemies go down in a few hits.  You've also got some combat avoidance options (cloak and sneak past, run and jump past with increased agility, or maybe find a hidden air vent to bypass enemies) as well as some combat delegation options--hack an enemy, lay down some combat turrets, or let your clones do the work for you.  You can even block bullets with your gun if you find a use for it.  And all of it combines together pretty well into an emergent gameplay soup that is, for the most part, loads of fun.

These guys--literally called 'Deus Ex Machinas'--can be a bit of a pain.

This isn't to say that the gameplay is perfect, because it's far from perfect.  There are a lot of times where things don't work quite right, or the combat starts to feel a little messy, or you're left unsure of what you're doing or why.  But for me, it was always fun.  Often janky, sometimes frustrating, always rough around the edges... but fun.

Seriously, how could you not love this?

And part of that fun has to do with how lovably crazy the game is.  I mean, first of all, it's got all that stuff I mentioned above: the tangled smorgasbord of abilities, weapons, and mechanics.  Second of all, its OMG SO CYBERPUNK.  Like, really cyberpunk, and really neo-gothic at the same time, with a world steeped in multisyllabic made up words, ludicrous architectural extravagance, and gallons of gritty impoverishment splashed over everything.  It is impossible not to adore.  And you know what else is impossible not to adore?  The story.  E.Y.E's story could be described as Deus Ex meets the wonderfully bizarre translation issues of STALKER, covered in some anime-worthy over-the-top silliness and topped off with chunks of incomprehensible existentialism.  And branching narrative paths with exclusive levels.  Is it good?  Well... I don't know about good.  Saying it's good would imply I understand it in some way.  And I don't.  Let's just say it's a sublimely ridiculous experience that you can't not enjoy in all its unwieldy, lurching glory.

A surprisingly combat-free area, accessible in one branch of the story.

E.Y.E runs on the Source Engine, and it is not a graphical powerhouse.  That said, the art design is good and the levels are varied, and overall it looks pretty nice.  The music is likewise not extraordinary, but fitting.  And in general E.Y.E is actually a fairly atmospheric game.  The sound work is all over the map.  Sometimes the game sounds great, sometimes it sounds really canned.  It all depends what's happening at any given moment, and specifically, what weapons are being fired.

This doesn't look like something I should be breathing.

In summary, I love E.Y.E: Divine Cybermancy.  I love it because it's got a personality--an excess of personality, even.  Yes, it has flaws.  Yes, it has quirks.  But honestly, I think those are what make it so lovable in the first place.  Perfection is overrated.  Perfect things are boring things.  Flaws aren't necessarily a good thing, but sometimes one man's flaw is another man's...erm...treasure.  This is why I find myself so uninterested in the iterative one-upping and dollar-fueled ultra-polish of AAA gaming.  Sure, rounding off all the sharp corners and jagged edges will keep your game from alienating as many people... but then, what is there left to love?  There's a reason I gladly abandoned Far Cry 3--which is, by everyone's accounts, an immaculate piece of entertainment--to play E.Y.E.  Because when given the choice between "yeah, it's stuff you've seen before, but better" and "zany little RPG/FPS full of interesting quirks," I'm going to pick the one with "interesting" and "zany" in the description. 

Seems accurate.

Personally, when I love something, I don't love it in spite of its quirks--I love it because of its quirks.  And I've played games twice as good as E.Y.E that I didn't love half as much.  Do I recommend it?  Well... yes?  I suppose?  I mean, it's only $10, and if anything I've written sounds interesting to you, I think it's definitely worth a look.  On the other hand, I do have to admit that the force of popular opinion is against me, and at best E.Y.E received mixed to negative reviews from both professional critics and "men on the virtual street."  So chances are, you won't like it.  But at the same time...well... I really do.  And I'm happily going for new game plus--something I almost never do.  Take that for what it's worth.