Deus Ex : Human Revolution’s developer Francois Lapikas spoke at Game Developers Conference on March 7th and admitted that he is “truly sorry about [the boss fights.]” He explained that they “saw them as a thing to break up the pacing more than a way to test the player’s skill” and that they “figured by putting in enough ammo in the room, we would be fine and could move on.” He later lamented that they “didn’t know what they were for” and promised that “next time we’ll think about them more. They were a big part of the game and we should have put more effort into them.” After hearing this announcement, I went back over the game and rethought the boss fights. I always thought they were out of place but couldn’t explain exactly why. Well, I thought about it, and I’ve reached a conclusion. There are unavoidable spoilers, but plot points aren’t brought up.
I blame their lack of depth primarily. Let’s compare how to fight a boss and a typical mission. The player must enter a highly guarded building so they can either jump on to its roof and secretly enter there or use it as a snipers’ nest, crawl through air ducts on the street unseen, or do a full frontal assault. To fight one of the bosses, the player must throw explosive containers at his head and then shoot him a few times before ducking into cover and repeating this pattern three or so times. You can see the problem. The climax to missions shouldn’t be so much more restrictive and shallow than the buildup. On my second play through, I got so fed up with the boss fights that I ended up looking up the exact prescribed method of fighting them because there truly is only one successful way of approaching them.
That brings up the other problem with the boss fights, they are really gimmicky. For example, throwing explosive barrels is something I never did except in that one boss fight, and another fight is just a shootout where the player’s vision is obscured. I overlooked this until the final boss fight, which is literally wave upon wave of gimmicks. In that fight, the player must go from hacking turrets, to timed attacks, to avoiding an electrified floor, to fighting insane people, to evading security robots. That boss fight was noticeably artificial feeling when I first played it, especially because I encountered all of those gimmicks naturally on their own. When they were nonsensically strung together, it felt like the game was yelling “show me EVERYTHING you have learned” at me as I summersaulted around the level.
But don’t get me wrong, Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn’t a bad game. In fact, it’s one of my favorites and I highly recommend it. Honestly, the boss fights aren’t even so bad. They are short and rewarding, but they’re also below average in a game where everything else was truly exceptional. They definitely fulfilled their purpose of breaking up the pacing and, if the developer’s promise can be trusted, their future games will continue to be outstanding.