I can't really express just how excited we were by the Deus Ex: Human Revolution trailer. I know I know, it was just a shiny CG movie that seemed to have very little bearing on actual in-game experience, but it was so utterly gripping, flush with steampunk design, intricate cybernetics and brutal takedowns that it was almost inevitable the video ended with me shouting 'This is a thing that I want!' Today we were privy to a brand new developer demonstration of the gameplay and so, perched on the edge of our seats, we awaited something akin to a gladiatorial verdict. Would it prove thumbs up, fulfilling our weighty expectations and making good on the visual promises in the trailer; or would, perhaps the more likely verdict, we walk out of the presentation with disappointment in our hearts.
As it turns out, it pretty much blew us away.
The graphics weren't up to much, that much was clear right from the start, but the art style – the black and the gold – washed over everything. This isn't a greyscale game, don't expect the faux-realistic muddy fog of today, but rather the golden, mechanical haze of tomorrow, instantly recalling Blade Runner and, to a lesser extent, The Fifth Element.
We were shown a simple mission three times: essentially a mole within the company protagonist Adam is working protection for at the game's start escaped with a data card full of intel before snuffing it. Adam was tasked with infiltrating a police station, finding his way to the morgue and retrieving said data chip from the mole's skull before anyone else found it.
The first runthrough was designed to show us the combat. At first glance it was a standard FPS affair, with our guide demonstrating the strength augmentation's uses by picking up heavy office machinery and cabinets and using them as mobile cover. Much like Rainbow Six: Vegas, the cover system snaps the camera into a close-range third-person perspective and Adam was able to dive and camo roll between cover to evade bullets and cameras. We were shown upgradeable weaponry – the pistol, for example, could be outfitted with explosive rounds, mine templates could be combined with different kinds of grenades to make different kinds of mines and there were weapons that blew the environment to bits and armaments that simply stunned adversaries. The mines were especially useful for the morgue door which, after all of the alarms had been triggered by Adam's escalating violence, had been locked shut.
This was the playthrough where we were also privy to The Wall Smashing Move of Awesomeness that we saw in the trailer. Using the Smart Vision augmentation, Adam was able to see through walls and pinpoint enemy positions. Walking up the wall directly behind a guard on the other side delivered a context sensitive button thanks to another augmentation and so, with a simple button press, Adam plunged through the wall and broke the neck of the guard on the other side. It was around this time that my doubts started fading away.
But Deus Ex was never just about the combat, it was a game of choice. Like all of the best RPGs, you were given a situation and had the choice to use, nurture and perfect a wide array of tools and skillsets from which to operate and is was the subsequent runthroughs of the same mission that fully delivered exactly what we'd been looking for.
Second up we got a chance to see the social side of things. Striding into the precinct again Adam was confronted with restricted areas but, after chatting away to an old 'friend' on the front desk – utilising commands such as 'Crush', 'Plead' and 'Absolve' to get his way, access was finally granted after some cheesetastic emotional acting. The freedom to move around the precinct at will opened up new avenues of possibility. As everyone went about their business as normal (rather than dying in a hail of bullets or a flurry of cybernetic arm-mounted claymores like last time) Adam was able to eavesdrop in on conversations, gleaning new info about stashed weapons, expositional information and background snippets relating to the story and also passageways and routes through the precinct that the player might not have known about previously. Once at the morgue we found that the door was readily unlocked. No harm, no foul. According to our subsequent interview with one of the game's producers (more on that from Jon later) it's entirely possible to complete the game without killing a single person outside of boss battles.
The mind boggles.
Finally, we were able to get a glimpse at just how deep the sub-level design went thanks to a runthrough that relied upon stealth. Every ten seconds it seemed, our guide would stop to point out a manhole or vent grill or doorway that could be broken into or hacked, fences that could be scaled with the right augmentations and other secret entrances that would have been discoverable with a bit of exploration.
Locked doors were quickly overcome thanks to the hacking mini game, a timed puzzle that saw you try and hack the system mainframe by upping the probability of success by breaking into system nodes beforehand. But even this wasn't too straightforward as the rate of detection rose with each hacked node. If detected a timer would begin and you'd have to choose whether to hack more nodes or go straight for the mainframe and hope for the best.
None of these modes were exclusive either, all of the elements of the game could be mixed and matched to suit the player's style. One imagined scenario was that the player made their way to the roof and combined several augmentations to do a massive leap into the air, shattering ceilings and floors with a ground pound before whipping out the claymores to finish off the stunned guards beneath. With augmentations mappable to the face buttons, the possibilities for chaining such things together is mouthwatering to say the least.
But it was the level of choice which impressed most, evoking memories of the first game and providing opportunities for the player to navigate situations however they saw fit. One obstacle, for example, involved a security door that only a guard could pass through as it was laser locked and guarded by a dual-beam camera. There were passages that ran under, over and around, and Adam could have just shot the guard and blown the security system up, but instead our guide waited for the patrolling guard to stroll near to his cover spot before beginning a takedown move, but cutting it short so that the guard only fell unconscious and dragging the body over to the door, which then unlocked, before stashing the sleeping policeman somewhere out of sight on the other side.
Eidos Montreal have been working on this baby for four years, and it shows in the level of detail, and appears to encompass everything that original stood for and more. But this isn't just a rebooted homage, nor does it tear apart the lore that's already been built up, it's something new. Yes there's regenerating health, but getting hung up on a lack of med kits is not the point. From what we saw today, Eidos are right on track with this reimagined prequel. It looks like a steampunk classic and discloses a vast amount of different opportunities for the player if you go looking for them, the hallmarks of a game, like the first, that you can come back to time and time again and play in a completely different way. It's been a long time coming, and we'll have to wait until next year for the final product, but from this evidence, I'd say we're in pretty damn safe hands with this one.