Deus Ex: Human Revolution Hands-On Preview
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 04:29pm 28/02/11 | Comments
AusGamers goes hands-on with the hotly-anticipated Deus Ex: Human Revolution...
Let me just say one thing first: I’m glad the original April release date for this game has been thrown in the bin with a simple “2011” taking its place. The reason for this is just over a week ago AusGamers was invited out to Square Enix’s UK headquarters to essentially play the game, unassisted, from its intro to a specific point which, depending on how you play games, meant we could knock it out in anywhere between 90 minutes and three hours.
I ended up doing it in the latter. I’m the sort of player who explores every nook and crannie of a game; the 170+ hours I threw into Fallout 3 is proof enough of that. In fact I’m proud enough to say I even broke the demo; finding a secret vent that lead to a hide-away I’m pretty sure was related to a side-quest I uncovered through taking my time (the product manager on-hand, who said he knew the demo backwards, didn’t know how I’d found it and admitted to not even knowing it existed)... but I digress.
Like the demo, let’s start at the beginning.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution starts off not quintessentially Deus Ex. The game’s intro sets up your new characters, the world as it is before the events of the first game (this is a prequel, after all), and the complex and intertwining relationships both humans and technology will have with each other throughout. The “Human Revolution” tag in the game’s title is more than just a cool add-on; it’s a superlative sub-text that unravels itself through deep, emotional connections between certain characters, their inner demons and how they fit into the world Eidos Montreal have crafted. There’s a deeper, more ubiquitous question being asked in this sub-text; like a ghost narrative you don’t even realise is there, but it drives almost everything you see and do.
This can be immediately witnessed through subtle visual clues, or certain lines of dialogue early on. The marriage of renaissance and the future, for example, is more than aesthetic, it’s symbiotic, but it’s so subtle you’d be forgiven for not seeing it from the outset.
The game offers up a deep narrative starting point, where you’re sort of locked on to rails. It’s a bit like classic game intros we know from the likes of the Half-Life series, or more recently, Batman: Arkham Asylum. The pacing is slow at first, but all the more inviting for being so, though in saying that you still have a few sections you can explore; picking up glowing PDAs to learn more about where, and who, you are. You can even cycle through personal emails revealing the very human nature of the game.
As ex-SWAT officer, Adam Jensen, who now works as head of security for the industrial Sarif Industries, your first narrative port of call will be with Megan Reed, who you also happen to have a past with. The game does a bang-up job of working out their awkward, yet memorable relationship with just a few minutes of dialogue, while the aforementioned email spying gives her warmth as a character; a worried mother, a need for doggy day-care, warding off potential romantic interests - it’s nice to see such attention detail. But then we also come across the all-important cryptic messages you just know have something to do with you, and your impending future in the game.
There are cool things that happen throughout Deus Ex: Human Revolution, one of which is the implementation of time and tardiness. The first example of this is when Megan asks you to follow her, only the game gives you some room to stretch your legs and explore. Spend too much time doing this though, and Megan will scold you; often relating to whatever it is you’re specifically doing. If you’re looking at a photo, for example, she’ll start talking about the memory attached to it before snapping out of it and telling you to put it down and get a move on. Later in the game this element actually has long-lasting, moral ramifications that will really separate the men from the boys.
Without giving any other story-specific moments away, at some point during the game’s ‘on-rails’ intro Sarif is attacked and you’re now on the action move. Again, there’s not a lot of branching gameplay here, this is all obviously part of an elaborate introduction, but it serves its purpose well. From a gameplay perspective, PC fans will be happy to know they’re going to get the best version of the game. Not in so much that Eiddos Montreal have crafted a better version for PC, as platform parity is actually a touted aspect of the game, but simply because the console controls don’t feel right (yet).
I play a lot of FPS on both PC and console, and until I picked this up, I thought the console had come into its control own for the genre, but the interface in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is sluggish and ill-responsive in that, even shifting up the sensitivity with either the Y or X axis didn’t make any great difference, and in fact made it often more difficult to come to grips with. Moreover, the sticky cover mechanic, which the team have borrowed heavily from Rainbow Six Vegas is, at the moment, simply not manageable; Adam is slow to move around objects, often leaving you out in the line-of-sight open of the enemy.
There’s something to be said for customisation, and it’s annoying the team haven’t offered it here. Buttons have been awkwardly re-mapped to the face of the controller in opposite fashion to what has become the norm - there’s maintaining a sense of self and there’s being overzealous in rebellion. Eidos Montreal have definitely gone with the latter.
I did get used to the scheme and feel of the set-up after awhile, but it was never fully comfortable in the three-odd hours I played, and it made the gun-play throughout annoying and tedious. But thankfully Deus Ex is all about play-style, and Human Revolution has varying options on offer in this department, and in spades.
You can run-and-gun a level, be stealth, be passive, passive-aggressive and so on. It’s interesting, because while there seemed to be enough option to actually move in and out of each style or approach, I still found myself attempting to go all the way with one. There were a few times I had my ass handed to me while trying to play stealth until I just became so frustrated I picked the action up and went in guns-a-blazin’. It’s not so bad being caught out though, because you’re fully equipped as a character, and player, to deal with such situations. This sort of thing was difficult to fully explore in the demo because it’s an organic process that manifests itself over a period a time.
On the whole I had no issue with blending the different styles together, and I think the game is going to actively push players to chameleon their way through; most notably in the character customisation department, which is where three-hours hands-on time really just wasn’t enough.
The RPG component of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is, to say the least, full-on. There’s no way any one person can play through the whole game with every ability, skill or level full or maxed; apparently it’s impossible. To this end Eidos Montreal are hoping players will knock the game over a few times, branching their skills and abilities in different ways with every play-through, and with multiple paths for even just crossing the street, it’s easy to see why this approach is going to work.
But to make sure, they’ve bundled in a few different endings for the game, and these, apparently, won’t be simply up to a few choices at the game’s conclusion, it’s related to the path you create for yourself through the entire play experience, which is a refreshing approach in a world of shooters and RPGs constantly narrowing things down.
Currency in the game works in the form of Praxis Points, which you earn for levelling up certain skills and abilities through successful use. You then use these to purchase newer abilities and upgrades; crafting your own organic skill-tree based on the style of play you like the most. Interestingly, the interface for this stumped a few of the people around playing the demo also, and I scratched my head at it for a while too. It’s not so much that it’s uber-complicated, more that it’s bloody intimidating (especially when you’re only going to nibble on the end of it with a three-hour play session).
The scripting and voice-acting throughout is excellent, and Jensen’s “Clint Eastwood: In the Future” persona is great. He’s an easy protagonist to relate to and like, while everyone else around him had something of a Shirow Masamune feel. There’re a lot of nods to Ghost in the Shell you can see with the game early on, especially during the opening credits. And that’s not a bad thing at all, in my book.
Along with the vocal portion of the game comes the dialogue system, which has branching options not too dissimilar to Mass Effect. However, each approach you highlight, such as “Push”, “Console” or “Relate”, for example, immediately shows the entire line Adam will deliver, which, to me, seemed redundant. While I understand the team don’t want to copy Mass Effect directly, which offers a hint at what Shepard might say with your line of choice, they could at least just offer the line’s emotive tag. Leave it at “Push” and allow the player to work out the Jensen character and how such a dialogue choice will play out. It’d also actively reflect the rest of the game’s unique player-style approach; rewarding you with a greater sense of achievement as you progress and grow as a character.
From a visual perspective, the game looks stunning in some areas and barely polished in others. NPC animations are still way off, and talking to any character strewn about the place does little to invite a sense of interaction with the seemingly bustling word around you. I also heard plenty of doubling up in characters talking over one another as I went in for a chat. This definitely didn’t seem like a sense of added realism, but rather a dialogue bug that needed to be fixed. Hopefully alongside it they’ll give the background characters more of an attentive tree of animation, even if small, to properly address you when you talk to them.
The environments do look fantastic though, and the lighting is exactly what you’d expect out of a sci-fi title. The ‘piss-tone’ the designers have gone with actually suits the subject matter, and helps set the game apart from its namesake lineage and more recent sci-fi epics like Mass Effect. Jensen himself looks cool, and all of his animations amplify the power that he possesses, while enemy AI and animations are both equally cool. They’ll react to sounds off in the distance and because stealth is based on line-of-sight and not shadows, there’s a greater challenge to be more aware of where you are and what you’re doing. You can hide bodies you’ve taken down, for example, but if they see even a foot being dragged away around a corner they’ll come running.
Finally, the game’s audio is incredible. Perfect 80s sci-fi synth, exactly as you want it in this type of game. There’s a lot of cool new stuff going on in the game, but the designers know where their beginnings humble from, and are more than happy to pay appropriate tribute throughout.
So as it stands the game is set to sink you for many, many hours thanks to a deep and complex plot, with plenty of side-missions and exploration for those inclined. It’s still rough around a few edges though,, so hopefully it gets tighter before shipping. I’d definitely prefer the option to customise controls on console, and for the team to play with their X and Y axis analogue feel; it’s just not quite there yet.
Moreover, animations for most NPCs definitely need work, as does much of the background dialogue, but I suspect much of this is being addressed even as we speak. For the die-hard Deus Ex fans, it’s looking very good. For everyone else wondering what all the fuss is about, put on your challenge caps because Call of Duty this ain’t; it’s a thinking person’s shooter and a damn impressive one at that.