Published on November 13th, 2016 | by Dakoda Barker
Deus Ex: System Rift Review
Summary: System Rift focuses on the strengths of Deus Ex to craft a satisfying stealth romp.
Deus Ex thrives within constrained design. System Rift is characterised by a singular goal: infiltrate the well-guarded Palisade Blades bank. Because this is a standalone experience, Jensen is stripped of his augments and the player is given a handful of Praxis kits with which to re-spec. At first, I was critical of this—adjusting to a non-optimal Jensen again is difficult—but the reduced skill set forces the player to adapt and improve. Be smarter. No longer can Jensen just blunder down whichever path he arrives at first; he must seek out a path that his restricted augments can allow. And these different augments can drastically alter the path Jensen takes through the building.
Breaking into the Palisade Bank was one of the stronger elements of the main game. Revisiting this concept—but trimmed of the fat—is clever design. Mankind Divided struggled to do anything meaningful with its Aug Rights narrative and its absence from System Rift is only beneficial. Its replacement, moralising cyberpunk Robin Hood hackers, is not a significant improvement, but Jensen largely opts to ignore this in favour of the best bit: sneaking. While the multiple alternative pathways concept is not exactly new to Deus Ex, it does feel different in this context—outside of the scope of a larger game. In some ways, I suspect System Rift is testing the waters for future episodic Deus Ex games; episodic shouldn’t necessarily replace the traditional stealth RPG we have, but more of this tight, self-contained design would be an appreciated addition.
In System Rift, perhaps more than ever, the option of a lethal approach seems like a pointless inclusion. The joy comes from sneaking through vents, from avoiding patrols, from hacking computers and doors, from hiding unconscious bodies under staircases. Open combat, by comparison, is bland and unsatisfying. Stealth affords other benefits: the ability to eavesdrop on guards and Palisade employees, all of whom have fun dialogue. My most memorable moment: listening to a guard complain about the bank’s lack of danger, moments before I leap over a staircase, stun gun his partner, and then knock him out. Priceless.
The last—perhaps most shocking—point is that Adam Jensen has actual character. Mankind Divided robbed Jensen of a defined personality and made him a flat player-proxy. But with the return of Frank Pritchard, a man Jensen alleges to dislike, we see him experience some real, human emotions. Pritchard jokes about Jensen stopping to help random civilians; Jensen adamantly insists, to both Pritchard and hacker ShadowChild, that he won’t break into Palisade Blades—right up until the point where he does. It’s clear from these kinds of interactions that Jensen, the character, exists: he likes to help people, he likes to sneak into places. System Rift’s final interaction between Jensen and Pritchard even suggests that the surly, robotic demeanour is an act. At the very least, Jensen likes Pritchard far more than he’s willing to admit.
System Rift is a good sign for Deus Ex.