Deus Ex: Human Revolution preview
I was recently invited to the Eidos Montreal studios to get a sneak peek at Deus Ex: Human Revolution. To this day, some of my fondest memories spent on an Xbox were playing Deus Ex 2: Invisible War. I was intrigued by the Tokyo Game Show and E3 trailers of Human Revolution, but during my visit the team offered a much closer look at some of the most exciting features of the game, and a lot of my questions about the future of the series were answered.
The story in Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes place in 2027, 25 years before the events of the first game. This game is not a direct prequel to the original games, but the plot exists within the same universe. “At this time, humanity has grown to a point of great innovation,” explains Lead Director Jean-Francois Dugas. "Technological advancements have been made to help us overcome our physical limitations as well as issues like energy, global warming, and the green movement."
The biomechanical augmentations that are used in the game are one solution to directly evolve humanity. They are manufactured by huge corporations, like Sarif Industries, and sold to anyone wealthy enough to purchase them. Of course, not everyone supports “transhumanism” – the idea of mixing man and machine – and not everyone can afford it. Conservative humanitarian groups oppose the technology, and there is a divide between the social classes as a result of the politics involved. Before long controversy over the control and regulation of biomechanical augmentations creates violence, and the player is thrown in the immediately crossfire, assuming the role of Sarif Industries' security specialist, Adam Jensen.
Sarif's HQ is attacked by mercenaries on the night before a historical event that planned to expose the benefits of the augmentation process. The attackers, using augmentations themselves, kill off important researchers and other members of the company. Jensen is left for dead, and the conspiracy begins.
"The assassins leave Adam in fatal condition. With no other options for survival, Adam is forced to undergo the augmentation process," says Dugas.
"Part man, part machine, Adam is left with questions about the motives and identities of the assassins," explains Mary DeMarle, Narrative Game Designer for Human Revolution. Adam's boss - the CEO of Sarif Industries, David Sarif - sends him on a mission to find the answers. "You will uncover a lot of secrets about Adam's past throughout the game," said DeMarle.
The presentations I witnessed at Eidos Montreal emphasized the elements of story and character development, but the game design leaves many of the choices and consequences up to the player. This should come as great news to fans of the original games: Both involved deep sci-fi conspiracies with intricate storylines and numerous opposing sides to join. The freedom of choice was the crowning achievement of the Deus Ex series, and there appears to be a similar level of freedom offered in Human Revolution. The results of decisions in the game will shape the game experience in many ways, including the routes taken in each level, the way people react to Adam, and the way the story concludes. The team would not specify just how large of an impact you have on the main storyline, but Dugas and DeMarle both confirmed multiple endings based on actions taken throughout the experience.
As a multi-tiered experience with open-ended solutions, Deus Ex allows players to tackle scenarios in many ways. This was demonstrated at the studio using the E3 build of Human Revolution, which takes place in the Detroit Police Station. In this section of the game, David Sarif is sending you to recover an implanted augmentation that is lodged inside the head of a corpse. Unfortunately, the corpse is being inspected in the PD's morgue, and Adam is not authorized anywhere beyond the front desk.
Jensen could try to speak with with Sgt. Haas - the two have a rough history together - and reason his way into the morgue. This is the social option of Human Revolution, which allows you to gain a better understanding of the people and events that are going on around you. Adam will interact with countless NPCs and other important characters in the highly-populated game world. The intuitive conversation system operates in a very psychological way. The encounter with Sgt. Haas is one of many “social boss fights” that require the player to balance passive and aggressive responses to walk away from the conversation with beneficial results. The studio's demonstration of this particular conversation was held up slightly because the player in control of the demo had to glance at a cheat sheet to help him work through the web of dialogue options. According to Dugas, the exchanges can be quite deep.
Jensen can also take the combative approach, but going into a police station with violent intentions is never a great idea. Even with customizable weapons like pistols, submachine guns, shotguns, rocket launchers, crossbows, and sniper rifles, Adam would be severely outnumbered. "The stealthy approach is much safer, says Dugas, "Jensen can listen to the NPCs outside the station to hear that there is a sewer leading underneath the station." Sure enough, around the side of the building is an open man hole that can be used to access the lower levels of the station, and there is even a fire escape that can be climbed to higher levels. With an invisibility or x-ray augmentation in effect, Jensen has plenty of ways to just walk past security, but the use of these tools is limited, so he still has to be careful when trespassing. The third-person cover system makes it easy to slip past police officers, and the silent, non-lethal takedowns are handy for knocking them out without sounding an alarm. Players will need to drag bodies out of sight, like in previous Deus Ex games. Hacking is a necessary part of the gameplay; completing the hacking mini-game allows Jensen to disable turrets and cameras, read private emails, unlock security doors, and more.
“The moral impact of your actions is not a mechanic. Nothing in the story is black and white," insists Dugas. "There are all these shades of gray involved." Weighing the benefits of these scenarios is what the game is all about. Although the impact of these choices will be realized by the player, there is no visual indicator of Adam's "morality level". Instead, the idea evolves throughout the story. You can technically kill your way through the entire game, but Dugas claims that it can also be finished without murdering any non-boss characters. With all of the options at your disposal, you can always adapt to new scenarios on the fly, so you're never stuck pursuing an ill-formed plan. A player who charges into the Detroit Police Station mission with guns blazing won't be penalized, nor will he be privy to some of the details that emerge from the conversation between Jensen and Sgt. Haas.
Although I was not able to get my hands on the demo myself, Human Revolution appeared to capture the feel of the Deus Ex series very well, even with some of its newer concepts. The third-person cover system is a radical change for the series, which affords Jensen the best of both worlds; the personal feeling of a first-person shooter, and the benefits of a third-person perspective for smoother stealth sequences. The RPG elements of the series are largely intact, and possibly improved. Augmentations and weapon upgrades are not one-time additions, and can be enhanced as the game progresses. There is also an inventory system similar to Resident Evil 5’s, in which items can be obsessively organized or combined to create new objects. For example: a mine template can be mixed with a frag grenade to create a sticky mine.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is visually remarkable, even in the unfinished version presented by the studio. Dugas emphasized the importance of small details: From clothing designs to the hundreds of in-game brand logos seen throughout, Eidos Montreal is taking great care to build a living world. "Atmospheric" is a great way to describe the game, which utilizes an illustrative “Cyber Renaissance” design philosophy to diversify its appearance. The result appears to be particularly vibrant, and to further establish the point, there was a collage of over a dozen images taken from other action games that reminded me just how "brown" video games were starting to look. The music is another driving force in the process of engrossing the player, but it is not designed to overpower the scene with forced tension. According to Lead Audio Designer Steve Szczepkowski, "The moody music is used as a means of conveying the emotions and themes that exist within the game world." The score is being composed by Michael McCann, and Szczepkowski was very enthusiastic about its impact on the overall experience.
There is no doubt that Deus Ex: Human Revolution has a dangerous path to walk, with fans waiting on either side, claws unsheathed, ready to pounce at the smallest slip-up. But, we cannot discount the overwhelming feelings of hope and anticipation: Before leaving the studio for the afternoon, I asked Dugas about taking over the reins of the Deus Ex series, which was created by Warren Spector. He smiled and humbly said that it was an "honor" to be working on Human Revolution, but he is excited about the direction that the third game in the series is headed.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution certainly has a legendary status to live up to, and it is looking more and more like Eidos Montreal has the chops to pull it off.