Deus Ex: Human Revolution – gameplay impressions
PS3 Attitude got an early look at Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s gameplay at the Eurogamer Expo. The game was getting put through its paces in front of an audience of earnest gamers, and to say that it pleased the crowd would be an understatement.
Narrating over the demo is Eidos Montreal’s Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete. Before starting, he discusses the team’s objectives for Deus Ex: HR. It’s really important for them to look back at the “origins of the series” and remember what made the first two titles so memorable.
Deus Ex became an instant hit in 2000, ushering in a new age of gaming. Its impressive combination of RPG and FPS mechanics attracted almost unanimous praise at the time of release, and the game still features heavily in the ‘best games of all time’ lists. It’s especially popular amongst PC users.
It’s reassuring to hear Belletete stress the need to take the series back to its origins because that’s what Deus Ex fans expect. The formula is still fresh, and with today’s improved technology Eidos Montreal have a great opportunity to create a masterpiece. Excitingly, our first impressions leave us with one thought: Human Revolution looks stunning.
The most important thing to know about Deus Ex is that it doesn’t force you to play the game in a certain way. Human Revolution’s gameplay is broken down into four areas: combat, stealth, hacking and social, and you can focus on whichever style you prefer. The first part of the session demonstrates the social aspects of the game. These are the slower, dialogue-heavy sections – but if the demo is anything to go by, they can be very cinematic.
Belletete set the scene: “we’re in the year 2027, so it’s cyberpunk. It is a world of chaos and conspiracy.” We see Adam Jensen fly - in a very futuristic ship similar to the dropship in Aliens – to the island of Hengsha. Hengsha is a real place, located just outside Shanghai. The Hengsha of today is an island of beautiful natural scenery, unspoiled by industry. However, the Hengsha in Human Revolution is completely different. The island’s main feature is a massive built-up, double-decker city.
Jensen lands in a quiet area; the place doesn’t feel welcoming or warm. Jensen makes his way down a staircase before approaching a man in the street. Cruelly, the developer pulls out Jensen’s gun and aims it at the loiterer. At first we suspect that Eidos are just having a little fun, looking to please the bloodthirsty in the crowd, but actually, they want to show us the man’s reaction. We see a terrified look on his face and watch him lift his hands above his head and plead for his life. Small but important details such as these are what we’ve come to expect from Deus Ex.
“The crowd is not just there for aesthetics… these are not just extras. It’s an RPG. You get to talk to every single person in the streets. They all have something to say. They may give you information about the environment you are in and they may give information on the mission, and they may also give you new sidequests.”
Jensen walks away from the man and heads into the busy street. We can see shopkeepers conversing with their customers, and other signs of real-life authenticity. He then heads along the street towards his destination, The Hive. At the nightclub, Jensen hopes to find information about the hacker Arie Van Bruggen. Jensen believes that Van Bruggen can reveal the identities of those who attacked him.
The attack we’re referring to happened at the beginning of Human Revolution. A shadowy organisation attacked the security firm that Jensen works for, and they left him near dead. He would have died had his firm not turned him into a cyborg. It’s not something he’s happy about, but his mechanical powers will come in very handy on his journey for revenge. However, more on his powers later.
A bouncer obstructs Jensen’s entrance into The Hive. He expects him to pay for a membership. You have the choice to either pay up or find another way in. You could kill the bouncer; head in through the sewers; find an entrance in the back allay; or even head in through the roof. There is no right or wrong way – it’s your choice – so you have to decide which option suits your personality best.
Once inside the Hive we watch the player head up to the VIP area to speak to Tom, the Hive’s owner. He is said to know where Van Grubben is. Jensen runs into an uncooperative barman who doesn’t want him wasting Tom’s time. Jensen unsuccessfully tries to force the situation. Here, the player is given two options: to advise or to insist. We witness Jensens try to advise the barman but he is having none of it.
Belletete educates us on Human Revolution’s psychological conversation gameplay:
“The psychological conversation gameplay that we have, which is to try and read who you’re talking to by the kind of character he is. Is this someone you should be pushing with? Is this someone you should be calm with?”
The conversations are superbly acted and exceptionally scripted. The characters are direct and straight to the point, and the dialogue is never tediously long. Deus Ex: HR has a true cinematic feel about it.
Clearly the game doesn’t end if when you say the wrong thing. This is Deus Ex, there are always other ways to reach your goal. We watch Jensen eavesdrop on two bouncers who are discussing a PDA which holds the security codes for the club. The PDA can (oddly) be found on the bathroom floor. It offers Jensen access to the back offices of the nightclub, but he isn’t welcome there, so he must stay hidden. This introduces the first stealth section of the demo.
The stealth sections bear similarities to Metal Gear Solid: Jensen can hug the walls and peek round the corner – the camera moves from first to third person in these situations. He can also enter tunnels in order to gain access to restricted areas.
Silent takedowns play a big part in the stealth sections, and they are eye-catching moments. The first takedown we see has Jensen sneak up behind a security guard in the corridor, tap him on the shoulder with his left hand before delivering a devastating punch with his right. This takedown is more grounded than some of the others we see in the demo but it’s still incredibly brutal and even stylish.
From a tunnel, Jensen eavesdropping on Tom. We find that Tom was really the barman all along, and it’s made clear that he knows more about Arie Van Bruggen than he was willing to let on.
The next section shows more action-orientated gameplay. Jensen drops his urban outfit and puts on his commando gear. It starts with Jensen climbing a ladder out of the sewers, before stepping into the shipping yard. The camera switches to third-person as Jensen climbs the ladder. The climbing looks good. This may sounds like a small detail, but climbing ladders has traditionally been an excruciating experience in FPSs.
We then get our first introduction to Human Revolution’s augmentation system. Augmentations are body modifications that can give Jensen new skills. E.g. Strength augmentation can be used to move crates out the way that are obstructing your path. Adam uses his jump augmentation to leap onto of a shipping container where he finds a scoped crossbow and some ammo. Jensen uses the crossbow to silently take down an enemy; the arrow pins the security to the wall, leaving him dangling.
There are a number of augmentation skills in the game, according to Belletete; some can be earned while others have to be purchased. There is also room for flexibility. Some augmentation will suit certain playing styles more, so you should be tactical when you’re faced with a selection of augmentations to choose from.
The next step in the demo sees Jensen drop down from the container and perform and impressive doubt takedown. Jensen weakens the two soldiers with quick martial arts moves before finishing them off with his two retractable blades. The blades are stored in his cyborg arms. It’s true that Human Revolution lacks subtlety at times – you can punch through walls and snap an enemy’s neck – but this is all very cool.
Eidos Montreal are happy to show off the more macabre moves that Human Revolution has to offer. However, Belletete informs us that you can go through the whole game using non-lethal force, and that there are non deadly takedowns available.
The action really heats up in the final section. Jensen heads to the roof of a warehouse, and shoots through the glass before dropping to the floor. Jensen is surrounded by four soldiers. They are stunned by his entrance. The game switches to a third-person view and we see Jensen fire small explosives from his arms, at all angles – in bullet-time. The moves takes out all four soldiers.
The drawback of doing such an awesome move is that it alerts the rest of the soldiers. From here, the game starts to resemble your typical cover shooter. The player has Jensen hugging crates, and popping out occasionally to fire a shot or two. It doesn’t take long for Jensen to wear the enemies down though.
He takes them out using his machine gun, and he can spot them hiding behind crates by using his infra-red vision. Jensen makes mincemeat of these soldiers, but he is about to face a tougher challenge when a four-legged tank drops in through the roof. Unsurprisingly, you use a rocket launcher to destroy it but – with this being Deus Ex – don’t expect to be using an everyday rocket launcher. It’s a homing missile that bends round obstacles to get to its target.
Jensen then gets caught in an explosion. While dazed and confused, a larger cyborg arrives and takes him out. The demo ends with Jensen facing certain death. We will have to wait to find out what really happens, but we suspect Jensen will survive.
We’re struggling to remember a demo that shows off as many cool new features as this one does. We saw an interesting blend of playing styles and cool gadgets, and we loved Human Revolution’s brilliant graphics, excellent dialogue and engaging script. But more importantly, it felt like Deus Ex should feel. Here’s hoping the full game will live up to this early promise.
Belletete describes Human Revelation as being “their baby.” Well, the child is in safe hands.