I must admit to being a little sceptical when I first heard that Deus Ex: Human Revolution was in the works, but after seeing it in action behind the scenes at Gamescom, I’m willing to put my reputation on the line and categorically state that it’s going to be excellent. - Jonathan Lester, Best Video Games Of 2010
There's infinitely more riding on Deus Ex: Human Revolution than the reputation of one lowly journalist. Square Enix desperately needs this long-awaited sequel to be a roaring success, and the original Deus Ex is probably the best game of all time in terms of raw competency. Yes, there's a lot riding on this one... and folks, I'm delighted to report that Human Revolution is set to deliver.
Behind the scenes at the Square Enix media booth, I sat down with lead writer Mary DeMarle to take a look at a new segment of gameplay. Tom's recent MCM preview should help to fill you in on the general story and setting, so I'll save time and leap right into the demo that they brought along to E3. Adam Jensen has to infiltrate the Tai Yong Medical company, a direct competitor to Seraph industries, in order to discern whether they had anything to do with the devastating attack at the beginning of the game. Since they're situated atop a soaring super-city that's built over the old city of Shanghai, however, he'll have to get to it first...
The demo starts out at the public entrance to the Tai Yong company in the lower city, where an armed guard challenges Jensen as soon as he enters the lobby. DeMarle explained that Jensen could have used an alternate entrance, stealth, alternate conversation options based on completed subquests or all-out gunplay to get past him, but for the sake of convenience, you can also spend a fair bit of money on a hefty bribe. It's the easy way out that'll leave you short of funds (and satisfaction), but after being warned that access will be rescinded at the first hint of misbehaviour (of which there will be plenty, I assure you), our hero saunters into the building and locates a maintenance catwalk on an upper floor.
Other lower paths were clearly visible, thronging with guards and security cameras, but a little computer hacking deployed a hidden catwalk ramp that bridged a yawning gap over a sprawling forest of cryogenic augmentation tanks. After spotting a guard ahead, Jensen zoomed in with his silenced sniper rifle - but his aim swerved and jittered too much to guarantee a clean kill. Luckily, a quick visit into the intuitive augmentation menu allowed DeMarle to equip the Aim Stabiliser modification. One muffled thump and one dead guard later, Jensen was soon faced with a security booth containing two armoured security goons on the other side of the cavernous warehouse.
DeMarle explained that killing one guard would cause the other to raise the alarm, and even Jensen's augmented aim probably wouldn't be enough to snipe both of them. However, a little searching around on the opposite catwalk revealed a dizzying drop into a hidden chamber. This fall would instantly kill a regular human, including Jensen, without modifications... but our hero has a nifty trick up his sleeve. The Icarus Landing System augmentation automatically kicked in a few feet into the decscent; spraying out energy thrusters and brining Jensen to a graceful, gentle halt at the bottom of the pipe. After heading through a vent at the back of the security booth, both guards were brutally dispatched with a double takedown courtesy of Jensen's horrifically efficient wristblades.
Using the radar, Jensen sneaked past a selection of cameras and guards using clever timing and a versatile stungun that can temporarily disable security devices and paralyse even heavily-armoured enemies. However, it was extremely importnt to drag the body into a secluded locker room, as the unpredictably-patrolling goons can rouse their stunned comrades if discovered.
A deadly machine pistol, gleaned from a downed foe, would have made a fine addition to any arsenal... but sadly, our inventory was completely full. DeMarle explained that you could juggle and drop items using the Diablo-esque items screen or directly augment Jensen's arms for greater carrying capacity, and with the new weapon safely tucked into our expanded inventory, we pressed on to the lift that leads to the upper city via the Pangu. This giddying superstructure of girders and catwalks provides the foundations for the suspended super-city, and after defeating an electicity puzzle using a concealed vent (as opposed to hacking the generator, finding another way around or simply walking straight through it with the Energy Dampening augmentation), Jensen located one more lift that sped him up to the luxurious R&D department high in the rarefied air.
The green markings on the walls and floors marked the area as a civilian zone, meaning that Jensen could freely stroll around unchallenged as long as his weapons were concealed. This was a welcome change of pace from the tense stealth and expl0ration, and we were free to listen in on private conversations or talk to the inhabitants. Several of these discussions hinted at a number of optional ways to enter the R&D department's restricted section (such as a carelessly discarded data pad), but after silently dispatching a guard with a choke hold away from prying eyes, Jensen secured a keypad for a door on an inaccessible higher floor. Spending some upgrade points on enhanced strength allowed him to pile vending machines into an improvised staircase - which provides an unexpected shortcut that few players would have even thought of using. The amount of non linear player choices is absolutely staggering.
Security was getting tighter and tighter, but Jensen's handy cloaking field and sound supressor allowed him to slip past patrols and pass through infra-red beams with graceful ease. Swat turns between cover helped to expedite this process, and context-sensitive prompts made it extremely easy to do. Unfortunately his last power bar depleted just as the last set of beams bathed him in crimson light, which triggered the alarm and highlighted our position. Guards burst out of their security booths and swarmed the factory floor. It's go time.
Three hapless guards were quickly slaughtered using smart cover behind crates, liberal use of the X-Ray vision mode and the upgraded machine pistol, but a menacing caterpillar-tracked security robot soon trundled into view and brought its powerful machine guns to bear on Jensen's position. Robots are extremely tough and resistant to bullets, but the powerful machine was soon rendered completely helpless by a deftly-thrown EMP grenade. Celebration was short-lived, though, as the distraction had allowed another three guards to flank the protagonist and close in to point-blank range. Everything seemed hopeless... until Jensen unleashed his Typhoon Augmentation. This attack turns the player into a "human claymore"; unleashing a devastating wave of energy that pulverised the would-be aggressors and sent their broken bodies flying backwards across the room.
The battle won, Jensen was free to enter Tao Yong's data core... which is a story for another time. He could have gotten there using an all-out assault, pure stealth or even clever wordplay, but it will ultimately be up to the players to choose their own path.
Sure, there are a few issues to iron out. As well as a couple of audio bugs, the AI occasionally resulted in some catastrophically stupid decisions in pitched firefights. But with the extra time afforded by the recent delay, I'm in no doubt that the experience will be polished yet further. The visuals are already looking vastly superior to the Gamescom demo I saw last year, and it's clear that Eidos Montreal have been using their time wisely.
2011 is already one of the biggest and best years for videogames of the new Millennium. But mark my words, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is going to be one of the - if not the - jewels in its crown.