You may remember Deus Ex: Human Revolution getting, or you may just recall it as a splendid game you played earlier in the year (it’s ok, we know not everything revolves around us). Either way, the prospect of a fresh DLC chapter in Adam Jensen’s augmented life is an enticing one.
The Missing Link (TML) takes place during Jensen’s ‘lost weekend’ on board a freighter bound for Singapore. And if that sentence caused confusion, you should stop reading this review and finish the main game. The add-on is almost a stand-alone piece, in the sense that although you need the original title to play it, it’s accessed separately (no need to have a saved game near that point in the story) and even saves to separate files.
Having the details of Jensen’s maritime voyage filled in wasn’t something I was initially all that thrilled by. After all, the original game summarised it as an exciting fade to black and the caption “a few days later”. But my cynicism turned out to be unfounded, as TML handles the narrative demands of squeezing into an existing storyline rather well, and still provides a compelling stand-alone experience.
You have to ignore the fact that Adam doesn’t talk about anything that happened during TML in the Human Revolution levels that take place ‘after’ it (or bring any of the stuff he finds with him), but otherwise you can treat this as a neat one-off episode in Jensen’s ‘off camera’ life. It’s an episode of Police Squad! to the main game’s Naked Gun, if you like. Except Drebin didn’t have freaky arm-blades.
The mission is a long one; it took me around six and a half hours to complete on normal difficulty with a mixture of stealth and violence. Although you might want to knock half an hour off that total for the period where I’d completely forgotten how to be any good at Deus Ex (to the extent that I accidentally tossed a grenade while trying to open the radial weapons menu).
By any count, though, it’s longer than the longest off-hub level from Human Revolution. In terms of scale and scope, it’s close to being a combination of the Singapore and FEMA detention centre jaunts. Style and level-design wise, the nautical basis reminded me quite heavily of the boat mission from the first Deus Ex, with a touch of the ocean lab thrown in too. Think sections of tight corridor (albeit with multiple pathways through vents and on pipes), plus lots of open, expansive cargo bays with cover options galore.
Like all the best Deus Ex levels, there are a range of options for getting around obstacles (usually in the shape of Belltower goons), from hacking to sneaking through vents, or just chucking boxes in people’s faces as a distraction. Blasting away is pretty ill-advised at first (in fact you don’t even have a weapon to begin with), so TML forces a stealth approach for the opening forty five minutes or so.
The classic ‘you’ve had all your weapons and skills taken off you for [plot reason]’ is a pretty standard videogame conceit, but it works well enough here, allowing players to ‘rebuild’ their Jensen and perhaps experiment with some augs they only got late in the main game. You won’t be able to max out your abilities (far from it), but it doesn’t take TML long to hand you seven praxis kits, with at least the same number coming to you again throughout the rest of the mission.
In fact, I wish the section where Jensen has to get around with just his wits and scavenged equipment (like a pistol with about four shots in it) had lasted just a little longer. Rather than going directly from ‘you have nothing’ to ‘oh, you’re pretty powerful again now’, a slower, steadier progression may have felt more rewarding. Minor pacing issues also affect the final third of the DLC, which suffers from one back-track too many.
Something is amiss with the camera angles during conversations in this add-on, too. The camera is oddly twitchy, flitting between shots like it’s trying to peek around Jensen’s shoulder but isn’t quite sure how best to do it. Animations during cut-scenes and dialogue are, in general, a bit jerkier than the main game. Quite what’s causing this (especially when other parts of the graphics engine, like the lighting, have been improved), I’m not sure.
I’ve deliberately avoided plot specifics so far, since a big part of Deus Ex is uncovering details and information through eavesdropping or reading private correspondence. TML provides plenty of emails to delve into (though, alas, no fresh chapters from Hearts of Steel), which serve to provide admirable backstory and verisimilitude to the location.
The DLC’s primary theme combines aspects of the US ‘war on terror’ and the dehumanisation of detained inmates by those in positions of authority. It’s pretty harrowing stuff, especially if you’re aware of any of the cases of ‘extraordinary rendition’ involving innocent parties. This doesn’t just serve as a thematic hook for the add-on, but also gives some new insight to the ending of Human Revolution (you’ll now have a clearer idea what the hell that was all about).
Eidos Montreal appears to have listened to complaints about the ‘boss fights’ from Human Revolution, because the showdown with the main antagonist of TML feels a bit less artificial than that game’s forced encounters. This time, not all solutions have to be fatal. You can also look forward to a touch more fan-service involving the appearance of another character from the first Deus Ex.
The $15 USD price tag might seem prohibitive to some, but then ‘value’ is always a slippery beast to pin down. TML is comparable with the DLC releases for Fallout: New Vegas (in terms of length and scope) but, yes, $5 more expensive than those. However, if you compare it to a $15 map pack it’s an absolute steal.
Something to factor into your decision is that TML has some potential for repeat runs. Despite progressing quite methodically, I didn’t explore every single area (I know, because I missed an item from a scavenger hunt side-quest) and I’ve just learned elsewhere that it’s possible to have your cake and eat it with the major dilemma moment of the DLC. That’s something I need to go back and try.
The Missing Link is inessential in terms of how it affects the main Human Revolution narrative, but it’s a well constructed, self-contained chapter with terrific level design that’s comparable (in places superior) to the base game. As is the way with conspiracy-themed stories, it raises just about as many questions as it answers, even hinting at further DLC or a fourth Deus Ex title. If the quality of this release can be maintained, either of those options would be welcome.