What makes a Deus Ex game? Gang hangouts and grimy, techno-playing bars? Conspiracy theories and moody visual themes? Emails and ebooks left in hotel rooms? Or is it air vents and open environments? Rooftops and basements? Multiple approaches to the same task? Because The Fall offers plenty from the first list, and just about enough from the second. The Fall might not be a port of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but astonishingly it feels like it could be. So much has been retained – the visual style, the combat mechanics, the upgrades – that The Fall can comfortably claim to be one of the most assured iOS translations of what was originally envisioned as a console or PC experience we’ve ever played. And, yes, we know that’s faint praise.
Fittingly for a Deus Ex game, The Fall can’t decide which control options work best, so it lets you choose. Virtual controls are by far the most usable, although the tap-to-move approach seems well suited to diving in and out of cover while the optional tap-to-lock-on system aids you in shooting moving targets. Inevitably, then, The Fall is more comfortable when it’s about planning and positioning – in short, when it’s played as a stealth game or an aggressive cover shooter. Try to treat it as a traditional firstperson shooter and all the mechanical augmentations in the world simply won’t help you overcome the controls. The UI is thoughtful and considered, however: hold the fire button while using a ranged weapon and you’ll instantly transition into a free-aim scope view. And if you played Human Revolution’s hacking minigame with a gamepad, we don’t have to describe the relief a touchscreen brings.
The Human Revolution art style, meanwhile, holds up spectacularly well. While character models and environments lack detail compared to their big-screen cousins, the heavy stylisation and use of golden-hued light and dark shadows translates perfectly to the iPad screen, and even benefits from the crisp Retina display. The Fall’s single hub, a futuristic Panama City, evokes a hint of balmy atmosphere while clearly belonging to the same universe as the previous game’s Hengsha and Detroit locations. A journey on a rain-lashed cargo plane, meanwhile, manages to conjure a noirish mood, even without liberal particle effects and a higher polycount. The Fall is one of the most visually detailed tablet titles we’ve seen – which is necessary to ensure that snooping around the basement floor of a nightclub or industrial warehouse doesn’t feel boring.
You explore Panama as Ben Saxon, a mechanically augmented British ex-SAS operative who’s just effected a rather dramatic resignation from the Tyrants – Human Revolution’s boss enemies and The Fall’s major link to that game. The Fall’s story takes place at the periphery of Human Revolution protagonist Adam Jensen’s – and, while it doesn’t have much to add to that game’s timely consideration of a possibly transhuman future, if you’re invested in the series’ interleaved conspiracies you’ll find plenty to mull over in the hackable computer terminals and pocket secretaries secreted around the maps. What you won’t find, however, is much of a resolution: it turns out The Fall is merely the first part of a longer series. This suits Deus Ex well enough, however, as the game’s hub structure is inherently episodic.
Saxon’s search for anti-rejection drug Neuropozyne draws him deep into Panama City’s underworld and requires him to pinball between a typically Deus-esque mixture of underground clinics, gang hideouts, plush hotels and nightclubs. If Panama seems a little more segmented than Detroit and Hengsha, it’s certainly no smaller, although there’s a disappointing lack of optional interiors and side-missions. Deus Ex’s open levels have always had a hint of artificiality about them – they’re too small and self-enclosed to genuinely believe in as places – but the lack of any spaces not directly connected to Saxon’s mission doesn’t help.
Main missions feel similarly reduced. The options are there – be it for stealthy approaches, wall-smashing entrances, frontal assaults and air-vent-assisted infiltrations – but they’re crammed into a tighter space than in the previous game’s levels, and this can’t help but make the variety seem rather contrived. Still, it’s easy to forgive this when so much of the Human Revolution experience – studying guard patrols before creeping up for instant takedowns, infiltrating security rooms in order to subvert guard drones – has been preserved. Stealthy approaches are inadvertently encouraged by a disappointing limitation of the hardware: bodies now disappear a few moments after Saxon fells them, making it easier to remain undetected.
Still, Saxon himself remains free from hardware limitations. Almost the full suite of augmentations found in the previous game are available here, although the relatively short, four-hour length means you don’t, in this first part at least, get the satisfaction of developing Saxon over time. That said, only one new augmentation – a stealth dash that instantly transports Saxon to wherever you tap on screen – feels designed with the possibilities afforded by a touchscreen.
That, in a sense, is The Fall’s wider issue: n-Fusion has done such a good job of making a cut-down Human Revolution on iOS and Android that all it’s done is make a cut-down Human Revolution. There’s nothing here that wasn’t done bigger, in more detail, and with more options, in Eidos Montreal’s game, while the story so far fails to introduce new ideas or themes. Still, what it aims to recreate it does so assuredly: The Fall offers a compact, streamlined follow-up to Adam Jensen’s adventure, and a welcome means of returning to Eidos Montreal’s vibrantly imagined future.
Deus Ex: The Fall is out now on iOS. iPad version tested.