Never having played previous entries in the series, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I stepped behind the curtain at the Square Enix section to take a look at the latest Deus Ex entry. One thing I did know was that as the show wore on, more and more people I met were talking excitedly about it.
By the time I left the hands-off gameplay demo room, I thoroughly understood what all the buzz was about. There’s a lot of awesome on tap for this upcoming title; just for a taste, you can punch through a brick wall, grab a guy, and snap his neck. Do want.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in the near-future of 2027, with all the cyberpunk trappings that come with such a setting. Cybernetic enhancements and hacking? Check. A hyper-teched out Blade Runner-esque art style? Check. A trip to a neon-splashed Asian city with all the seedy Triad danger you’d expect? Check.
The first thing to note is that this game looks gorgeous. I use the Blade Runner comparison, because it’s the closest thing to Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s visual aesthetic and setting. But where Blade Runner has a muted, gritty quality to it, Deus Ex: HR features sharp, bold, and crisp visuals that really highlight the futuristic nature of the game.
Setting aside the issues of gameplay and story for just one more moment, the amount of polish already present in the graphics is astounding. The game is still in a pre-alpha state, and I would be thoroughly content if the current state of the visuals represented how the game shipped, although I’m hoping for a few more coats of paint to give it just that little extra oomph.
The mission we watched took place in a 2027 version of a real life location – a small island off the coast near Shanghai. The city looked amazing, and you could tell the developers were proud of the work they’ve put in. They walked through to the first dialogue point slowly and deliberately, with occasional breaks to take in all the sights and sounds of the streets and back alleys.
Eventually, the demoer reached the entrance to a club, The Hive. This is where the main character, Adam Jensen, was supposed to look for a hacker with information on the whereabouts of one of Jensen’s targets. The bouncer was unsurprisingly uncooperative, so Jensen paid him to issue a membership card to the club.
While that was the way the demoer chose to resolve the problem, it could have been handled in a myriad of ways, which is befitting the RPG angle this game is taking. Jensen could also have smooth talked his way past the doorman, given him a robo-pimp slap and shot his way in, or infiltrated the club through another entrance.
This essence of having truly varied approaches to level design promises to allow for a wide variety of play-styles to be successfully accommodated. I can see this attention to variety giving the final product a massive amount of replayability. They emphasized a number of times that tweaking your build towards one of the 4 pillars of the game (combat/stealth/hacking/social) will provide a different experience depending on your upgrade path.
Stealth gameplay was the bulk of the second mission we saw, and I was salivating at the many dynamic takedowns that were already incorporated in the game. Sneaking around was fluid and faster-paced than other games I’ve seen; the guards will look back over their shoulders and peek around cover, meaning you can’t just wait until their backs are turned. You’ll have to pay close attention at all times.
The melee takedowns had a smooth Jason Bourne-like quality to them, and hitting a baddie with a crossbow bolt to the head from far away was wicked. The body slumped, but the head was still dynamically pinned to the wall.
The piece de resistance was when the demo reached the final destination for the mission, and Jensen shot through a glass skylight and dropped down into the center of a group of 5 soldiers. Catching them by surprise this way allowed Jensen to trigger a takedown where he spun in a circle, releasing a bunch of small circular explosive devices from his cybernetic arms that then exploded and wiped out the whole group simultaneously.
From there, the demo focused on pure combat, as the remaining enemies were obviously alerted to Jensen’s presence at this point. The game looks like it will offer a wide variety of weapons and weapon upgrades, along with cybernetic enhancements that will increase accuracy or allow you to track enemies behind cover, if you choose to make a combat-oriented build.
Combat looked visceral and smooth; the sound design for the weapons is headed in a great direction, and for a pre-alpha build to have no frame-rate hiccups even in a hectic firefight was extremely encouraging.
If the same care in dialogue, level design, enemy AI, visual presentation, and story are given to the rest of the game as were present in the demonstration we attended, Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks to be a beast of a title that will catch a lot of gamers by surprise with the variety and quality of gameplay on tap. Did I mention you can punch through a brick wall, grab a guy, and snap his neck? I was pretty much sold there.