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I've just started playing Deus Ex: Human Revoution, and the very first non-opening mission that I got had a time limit for starting it proper, with major consequences for dallying too long.

I really don't want to get anybody in a tight spot in this game, so is this a one-off thing, or are there more missions that will punish me for leaving them to rust forever? And if so, how many of these missions can I not leave on the backburner for too long?

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There are two parts of the game that have a time limit of sorts - you won't "fail" a mission by taking too long but there are lasting effects if you take too long to complete the mission objectives. In order, these are as follows;

At Sarif HQ, after the prologue

After the prologue, once you've arrived back at Sarif HQ post augmentation, you will be told to meet David Sarif at the helipad to start the first mission, while commenting that you need to go and meet up with Pritchard to get your retinal prosthesis recalibrated.

If you spend more than 15 minutes looking around, the hostages in the next mission will be dead on arrival. David will warn you once you reach about half way through the available time limit.

Malik's crash

Later in the game upon returning to Hengsha for the second time, Malik's flight will be shot out of the sky (with you on board). You will start in a level under siege with multiple waves of enemies attacking consisting mainly of ground soldiers at first before escalating to security robots. If you take longer than 10 minutes to clear all of the hostiles (shortly after the security robots are activated), Malik's ship will be destroyed, along with Malik.

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