To the ‘core’ gamer – such as those who might find themselves reading an RPG-specific website - mobile gaming has a bit of a bad reputation. It’s a minefield of poor-quality knock-offs and micro-transaction hell, and while there are diamond indies buried in the rough, they’re few and far between.
When major publishers enter the mobile fray, another set of alarm bells start to go off. Mobile spin-offs to Mass Effect and Dead Space from EA were solid, for instance, but in the end fail to completely capture the magic of their big-screen counterparts, limited by horsepower and even more limited still by the control inputs on touch screen-based devices.
I was apprehensive, then, when Deus Ex: The Fall turned out to be not a fully-fledged sequel to the console title but a mobile-based spin-off taking place before the events of that quality console title. After playing through the title twice, it relives me to say that this isn’t another Final Fantasy: All the Bravest from the company – this is a well-realized, fully-fledged title in the Deus Ex series.
E3 hands-on with the game, Deus Ex: The Fall is instead a smartly-built downscaling of just about everything console title Deus Ex: Human Revolution had to offer, this time twisted and compacted to fit onto iOS devices.
Everything is smaller here than in its console counterpart, but I'm relieved to say the $6.99/£4.99 price-tag is included in that definition. Rather than the multiple sprawling hub worlds of Human Revolution, The Fall features one, Panama City. Rather than a sprawling thirty-hour story, The Fall’s narrative zips past in around five.
Rather than detailed current-generation visuals you’re instead going to be looking at something that feels to fall a little short of that – it’s instead closer to Human Revolution running on its lowest settings, which makes sense.
Even at a lower fidelity the world is still recognizably Deus Ex, dominated by the black-and-gold colour scheme Human Revolution kicked off for the series. A fair few assets appear to be ripped right from that game, with everything from UI elements, air ducts and weapons carried over convincingly. Some clever lighting goes a long way to disguise some of the game’s other visual shortcomings.
It’s the same world of corporate intrigue, private military contractors and big pharmaceutical power-tripping as the previous game, and comes packing all the story depth Human Revolution did.
There are emails to read (including one suggesting Final Fantasy XXVII is the winner of game of the year 2027), alternate paths through areas, items to find and a full upgrade tree to peruse, all of which works in more or less the same way as Human Revolution. There are praxis points, weapon upgrades – all that stuff remains, uncompromised.
Somewhat predictably the main compromise The Fall has to make comes in the form of its controls. They at first feel competent, going for the typical thumbs-as-thumb sticks control method, but it quickly becomes clear that system lacks the accuracy needed to successfully sneak or shoot your way through a difficult area of the game.
That’s partly remedied by the ability to tap your way from cover to cover, but even on a full-size iPad this feels clunky; and it’s hard to imagine how iPad Mini or worse iPhone owners might fare.
Inventory management benefits, at least, with both the full inventory menu and quick switching benefitting from how easy a prod and a swipe is; the tablet interface is simply perfect for this kind of thing – it’s just a shame about the actual action.
Handling combat with stealth certainly helps, and my first, stealth-driven play through of the game was the one I found far more enjoyable.
The obvious hardware limit is shown in input method, but smaller caveats are littered throughout The Fall in less-expansive mission areas and odd graphical compromises here and there.
With all these complaints noted, it can't be stated enough how impressive a recreation of the world, style and gameplay mechanics of Deus Ex: Human Revolution this is - especially given the distinct and still large difference between mobile and home console platforms. It's impressive, and the core Deus Ex experience the console game revived is still damn fun, control and AI issues be damned.
The Fall’s greatest asset turns out to also be its greatest detractor, then – in being such a faithful and impressive recreation of the gameplay mechanics of Human Revolution, it exposes the areas where it falls short all the more. Worse, it exposes the fact that despite being entertaining, this mobile release actually doesn’t offer anything new over that console title.
If you’re invested in the Deus Ex universe, are just looking for another slice of the series or simply want a serviceable tablet RPG, The Fall is ideal and an admirable first experiment of this kind from Square Enix. There’s a way to go, but this is a solid if clunky step in the right direction for ‘AAA’ mobile games.
Deus Ex: The Fall is out now for iOS for $6.99/£4.99/€5.99, with an Android version coming soon. Reviewed on iPad with code provided by Square Enix.