While you're better entering it having read through tie-in novel Icarus Effect, which introduces the protagonists properly, and played Human Revolution, to which this touches on certain elements of ("hey look, it's them!"), that doesn't mean you're at a loss if you've done neither. The Fall's opening - betrayal served obviously, but ending in surprisingly uplifting fashion - tells you all you need to know about who you are, and why you're doing what you do.
The game is a microcosm of Human Revolution. The same gold and black trim dominates the visuals, gameplay the same mix of stealth, action and branching conversations. The design is a series of small hub areas stitched onto each other, transfer between a matter of finding an area exit and waiting on a quick loading screen. A new but familiar Michael McMann score pulses out of your device's speakers.
This, on a tablet. While the graphics are a downgrade on Human Revolution, most notable with identical background NPCs, body language and facial animation, that gold trim gives everything a sustainable gloss that detracts from the obvious loss in fidelity. Human Revolution's open areas were small too, and The Fall's are no less dense. It's a piece of work that is, to use a phrase used all-too-often, an impressive feat in execution.
The Fall isn't a lesser take on the new-look Deus Ex, but it does have less to offer. You're aware of the linearity because there isn't as much to do here. A fairly straightforward handful of objectives will have you working your way through areas you'd spotted on the first exploration of districts (a nightclub, a Limb clinic, a hotel, a slum) while story reveals have you working steadily up the food chain of the drug underworld (a street doctor dealing with addicts, a politically-motivated surgeon wanting supplies sorted, a cartel taking a cut and pushing on the streets). There's little in the way of surprise.
Due to the visual backstep, branching conversations aren't as involving anymore. Due to a small number of fixed animations, judging conversation success on body language is out; gut choice is solely on text and voice-over.
The main characters you interact with seem straightforward in their motivations, but at least an improper conversation push still means they'll make you earn what you want from them. (But as these mission-based favours lengthen the game time, you find yourself curiously wishing for a social misstep to gain some added content).
Exploration is the same as Human Revolution;you'll ghost through areas, rooting in trash bins and break into rooms and lockers with the familiar hacking-mini-game. Pocket sectaries and computers flesh out the world and its characters, as well as pinpoint hidden ammo drops nearby. Gangs will warn you off certain areas and turn violent if you continue, while civilians will get concerned if you haven't holstered a weapon when walking past.
Combat and stealth is handled much the same too. First-person for the majority, but turning to third-person when you stick to cover. Augmentations both passive and combative. Quite a few weapons (as Human Revolution, you begin by favouring quiet or offensive ordinance) and grenades.
Handling these aspects of the franchise on a touch screen-only interface was cause for concern. The treatment isn't perfect; but it's true to say the studio have tried their damnedest to give you the most complete and best set of options available. As a result you spread yourself, unevenly, across touch-screen swipes, taps and more complex virtual stick inputs, trying to find a comfortable middle ground that - because of the shortness of the game and the briefness of the combat sequences - is yet to come as the credits roll round.
Item and Augementation selection are offered as a drop down menu on top left, with a top right menu set for weapons. You've dual shoot buttons situated bottom left and right. Between, you have a grenade toggle, a situation-sensitive cover button. Another to duck or stand. Then you have prompts that appear mid-screen to down an enemy or kill them. You can also double-tap somewhere on screen to make your character move to wherever you've selected.
On a console or PC, you'd have all these mapped to button presses a thumb shift away. You're more assured you've done what you want in feeling a button or trigger. Here, you need to glance down to make sure you've got your digit on the right spot. It takes a while - most of the game - to adjust.
Smartly you're able to customise your UI extensively. We immediately shift cover and crouch to just above our normal thumb placement, firing buttons just below, so all four lie halfway up either side of the screen. It works much better, but having to lift hand off screen to tap for takedowns is clumsy, more so if you're running this on a larger iPad as we were during the review period - readjusting our hand positioning and balance just long enough for our would-be victim to move out of range. Other colleagues in the network ran the game through iPad Mini, and found it much more comfortable an experience.
It's the best attempt of an overly-complex system. Dumbing it down wasn't an option; it'd soon cease to be Deus Ex and become a QTE. Maybe more playthroughs would make us comfortable enough to accept it, but as it was we choose stealth simply because favouring combat would have seen us snapping the tablet in half trying to score more than one headshot in a intense shootout. Maybe in later episodes, if they come, we'll settle down.
As it is, we'd have favoured more chatter and a stronger sense of repercussion. The ability to explore the world further. That the game deals with the seedier side of Augmentation, and drug trafficking is a interesting premise, but the touch is too light. We'd want more time and situations to get comfortable with the combat system. While the voice-work isn't as stellar as Human Revolution, nor the story twists as surprising, it's good enough to convince.
As it stands, we do want to see more, play more. But it'll take a few more runs to see if the combat system clicks. Those used to action titles in this ilk on the format may have an easier time of it. This is an impressive title for a format that continues to surprise us. Deus Ex fans shouldn't feel that they're being short-changed. One thing it does trump Human Revolution though, hands-down? None of those damn boss fights.