Ask any PC gamer about Deus Ex, and chances are good that it will be described fondly. Designed by Warren Spector and released in mid-2000 to near-universal acclaim, Deus Ex is a classic PC title that successfully merged action, light-RPG elements and a multi-pathing story line. Attempting to recapture that formula in sequels proved to be elusive, but now, more than a decade later, Eidos Montreal believes it has replicated the magic with Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
A prequel to the original game, Deus Ex: Human Revolution promises to bring back the classic Deus Ex mix of action and morality, reintroducing the franchise to a new generation of gamers. In order to give us a head start with the game, Square Enix sent over a partially complete Xbox 360 build. Not all the content was available (the disc cruelly drops back to the main menu right after a major boss battle), but what they did let us see was enough to ensure that Deus Ex: Human Revolution was high on our anticipated titles list.
We started out right at the beginning. After an opening cinematic establishes that there are some pretty dastardly people in the world, the gameplay begins. Playing as Adam Jensen, head of security for Sarif Industries, you are preparing for a trip to Washington. Your ex-girlfriend Megan Reed, who also happens to be a brilliant scientist at the company, is scheduled to present her research on human augmentation technology. It seems that she may have discovered a way for humans to replace limbs (and other body parts) with machinery and not have need for antirejection drugs. This is big news.
Reed was naturally anxious about her trip, and kicking off the story required nothing more than initiating a chat with her. Ignoring her pleas to hurry up, though, the game left us free to explore the office a bit. This one introductory room hints at the depth of the world that awaits outside the walls of Sarif Industries. Rather than being sparsely populated, Reed's office was filled with items. Most were just there for looks, but we could interact with some items, such as her computer, the newspaper, a PDA and even a photo on the desk.
This level of detail is not just limited to one room. As we explored the world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, background clutter was everywhere. It wasn't just random noise, however, as everything you could interact with layered on details to build the illusion of a fully interactive world. PDAs contained personal details about the owners. Newspapers reflected current events, while computers either controlled security systems or contained personal e-mails. Even the detail in the e-mails was impressive, with company-wide messages appearing on multiple terminals, a password reset for a secure system showing up in another e-mail and even a Nigerian scam spam message landing in an employee inbox.
Items that you couldn't interact with served to complete the illusion of reality, whether it was random magazines sitting on a coffee table, cleaning supplies in the restroom or the Final Fantasy XXVII poster on the wall of the IT guy's office. Nice touch, that one.
Once finished looking around, we followed Reed through the bowels of Sarif Industries and into a meeting with the bossman, David Sarif. Suddenly, an alarm went off. The research labs were being attacked and scientists executed. Jensen fought the good fight, but all was for naught. Just when we thought we had the upper hand, a cinematic showed Jensen getting beat to a pulp.
The story picks up six months later. Reed is dead, and Jensen is newly augmented. Ostensibly done to save your life (different characters drop hints that Sarif's motives may have not been completely aboveboard), the augmentations aren't all turned on. As you progress through the game, you slowly earn Praxis points which, in turn, allow you to enable the augmentations of your choice. These can drastically alter how the game plays, but there is a catch: It is impossible to unlock them all.
Before any of that, though, it's time for the first mission. A Sarif Industries warehouse is taken over by "pure human" radicals who are holding hostages. This is where the morality side of the game reveals itself. As Sarif briefs you on the way there, he asks if you want to use lethal or nonlethal force. Your answer determines the weapon he gives you.
Fighting through the warehouse can be done in multiple ways. There is the full frontal assault, which is direct, but not very subtle. Going head-to-head with enemies in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is entirely possible, so long as you make good use of natural cover. Leave yourself exposed, and it'll be game over before you know what hit you.
For the stealthier folks, Deus Ex: Human Revolution could almost be inspired by Metal Gear Solid. Because each area is designed with multiple passages, it is possible to avoid almost every enemy. This is done by staying out of sight through a combination of smart cover usage and looking for alternate paths. Here, vent covers and air ducts allow us to pass undetected.
At the end of the warehouse level is the game's first real persuasion test. In facing off against a terrorist with a hostage, you have to attempt to talk him down. This is done by choosing to respond with a certain tone, such as sympathetic, and seeing how he reacts. Read your opponent well, and you can convince him to give up the hostage without spilling an ounce of blood. We've been told by Square Enix that it is possible to mess up a conversation and not get the desired result if you misread someone's reactions. In that case, the issue is permanent. You can't just go back and try again.
After the warehouse level, it's back to Sarif Industries for some more exploration and opening up of side-quests. All quests in Deus Ex: Human Revolution appear on your HUD; however, side-quest and main story quests show up in different colors, making them easy to distinguish.
Leaving Sarif for the Detroit City hub, we take in the sights and visit multiple locations. There is the police department, where we persuade an ex-colleague to let us in before stealing evidence from the autopsy lab. There's the LIMB clinic, which offers up a tutorial on Praxis points. We duck into Jensen's apartment and find the secret weapons stash. We even go into the slums and take out some gangbangers who are working with the terrorists. Finally, it's on to a multilevel complex that is being used by the mercenaries who attacked Jensen at the start of the game.
Making our way through the complex is another set of choices. Multiple paths abound, some appearing easier than others, depending on the augmentations we had enabled.
For example, in our first run through the game, we specialized in a hacking augmentation, which meant that almost every computer system could be compromised, and locked doors could usually be opened. This in turn led to extra passwords for more systems, so it essentially built on itself. At the same time, specializing in advanced hacking meant that we didn't have the Praixs points to enable Jensen's stealth augmentations or his strength. This meant that certain paths were simply not possible for us to take.
Going back to an old save and choosing different augmentations leads to us playing through the level in an entirely different way. After all, who needs stealth when you can just punch your way through a wall?
As we reach the bottom of the mercenary base, it's time to face off against an augmented soldier named Barrett who had an arm that turned into a machine gun (a subtle Final Fantasy VII nod, perhaps?). In our first attempt, Barrett wiped the floor with Jensen. The second time through, however, we start out with an EMP grenade to disable his machine gun augmentation and then hammer him with rockets and gunfire. After taking down Barrett , a short cinematic plays, we wrap the level and that's it.
Looking back, what made our time with the game so enjoyable was the illusion of freedom it presented, even on the most basic level. For example, when playing the hacking minigame, you are faced with completing the hack quickly or taking extra time and attempting to earn a reward bonus. If you have a password for a computer, you have the option of entering the password or ignoring it and attempting the hack. Why do the hack? For the possibility of extra goodies, of course.
The extra paths throughout each level that we mentioned earlier weren't just included in limited sections of the game. They were everywhere. There are multiple ways to get through individual buildings and specific missions — even the city hub area. With multiple routes to completion for each goal, how you play the game could be very different from how we played the game. This prospect alone has us excited.
Finally, there is the game's sound design. We would be remiss if we didn't mention both the sound effects and the musical score. Deus Ex: Human Revolution makes excellent use of positional audio, so a good surround setup is recommended. We used a set of ASTRO Gaming A30s along with a Mixamp while playing, and the distinct audio cues were very helpful in identifying the location of unseen enemies. As for the musical score, this is a game soundtrack that is worth listening to all on its own.
Despite being a limited slice of the game, the Deus Ex: Human Revolution disc that Square Enix sent over had the intended effect. It has us hooked. Assuming that the remainder of the game is just as engaging, Deus Ex: Human Revolution has the potential to be a game of the year contender — and that is not a term that we throw around lightly.
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