You know you’re playing Deus Ex when, six or so hours in, you realise you have no idea what’s going on. The ability to weave objectives into a slowly unraveling mystery of intrigue and espionage has always been a driving force behind the joy of the franchise. In Human Revolution it has been combined with dark, brooding cinematic scenes; it shoots for an experience that is more visceral, edgier and just a little bit darker.
In the first teaser trailer
a link was drawn between Human Revolution and the renaissance. The human-augmented world of 2027 is the renaissance of man: people can run faster, see better, link with computers and more poignantly, kill more effectively. Sarif Industries is at the forefront of this new renaissance with the key to unlocking controlled human evolution, a divisive subject to say the least. In fact, one would think that being the security manager for a cutting-edge corporation running the gauntlet of public opinion would be dangerous… and you’d be right.
Jumping forward six months and Adam Jensen is fully augmented by way of an extremely impressive intro scene that hammers home the stylised vision the developers have gone for. Invisible War had a lot in common with the original Deus Ex visually but Human Revolution is a new creation; understandable given that it moved from Ion Storm to Eidos Montreal. The visual approach has moved on from a graphical representation of what you do: In Human Revolution it is not enough to just make yourself jump higher, shoot straighter and heal faster – you need to immerse yourself in the story and decisions you make and the way you want to play.
In the aftermath of the [CENSORED FOR SPOLIER] at Sarif Industries you’re dumped in Detroit, where both your apartment -- complete with obligatory secret stash -- and the Sarif offices are based. You have your primary mission, but by talking to the right people, you can gain secondary missions that will boost your XP and get you an extra praxis module to upgrade your augmentations. It is when you hit Detroit that the true vision of Deus Ex becomes evident. Yes you have a mission and a map with the location marked on it but Deus Ex has never held your hand. The mission might be to go the police station and investigate but you get there and find they won’t let you in. "Fine, I’ll just go around the back" you think, but you can’t go through back way because an electrified water spill will kill you; "I’ll just pile up some boxes and jump the fence then", but you can’t do that because, at first, you jump like Woody Harrelson in a basketball movie.
Human Revolution continues the Deus Ex way of doing things, which is never limited to one way and secondary objectives on primary missions are never handed to you -- you have to seek them out. In a similar vein secondary missions don’t always find you, you seek them out by talking to people in the various city hubs on offer. Even then, the missions require careful consideration. I stuffed up an entire mission tree by simply going to the closest location, not realising that by waltzing in and gunning everybody down I would be making the rest of the objectives unachievable. How can you pose as a hitman, kill somebody, sneak into enemy territory and plant the gun in a rival gang’s stash in order to set them up if you brazenly kill everyone to begin with?
Upgrading in any RPG is always about tailoring your character to how you want to play -- in terms of how strong you are or what spells you can cast -- but the Deus Ex system of augmentations is classic opportunity-cost. You need to ask yourself: "do I need a rebreather? Do I want to lift heavier boxes, or jump higher? Do I want more health, or to heal faster?" This is most evident in the hacking system which is completely overhauled and a far cry from the hacking tool of the original. A certain level of security is required before you can gain access for a hack attempt, a mini-game of capturing nodes with detection based on probability. If you’re detected hacking you have a limited time to complete the hack and override security or the system temporarily locks down and the difficulty increases the less attempts you have. Upgrading your augmentations can make you faster, or stealthier; but more than that, the hacks expand into wider networks of difficulty -- offering opportunities for bonuses if you can reach them undetected. Even if you are detected you can work to slow the trace, increasing the time you have. Overall the hacking system now requires a combination of skill and luck and has been a long time coming for the Deus Ex series and it suits the new menu and HUD system.
Much of what appears in Human Revolution could be characterised as a new approach to traditional Deus Ex concepts. Much is overhauled but the underlining intricacies remain or are expanded. Conversations remain an integral part of the experience as you build relationships through conversation trees, and opinion of you is swayed by your actions. The hub itself is dynamic: throw a trash can at the wrong person and you could end up in a gunfight, but if you do and end up inadvertently killing somebody at the wrong time, the game adapts, conversations change and life goes on.
The action itself is a tantalising mix of gunplay and stealth attacks. Crouching behind objects and leaping gaps through the use of a context sensitive button press, or taking out people silently with another context sensitive button which triggers a short action sequence. You thus have the choice to thin their numbers before a frontal assault, or just to sneak around altogether- aided by the locator on the HUD which will indicate the awareness level of nearby enemies.
As this is but a sampler of early preview code, this is obviously not a review and the developers should get the benefit of the doubt that major bugs will be ironed out before launch, but there were issues that deserve a mention. The preview build (console debug versino) took a long time to load – about 30 squats or a two-page article in Motorcycle Trader – the sound would drop out in cut-scenes and when I died, which was often on the "Give me Deus Ex" level of difficulty and it kept loading the wrong saved game. In fact, the first two hours of play were starting to tell me the whole thing wasn’t worth it. The game starts off linear and you wonder if Deus Ex has been reduced to a glorified FPS and begin to weep. Then you are given the keys to the Deus Ex kingdom.
The depth of objectives, the layers of design within the city hub which allow you to explore multiple entry points and approaches for each objective and the promise of becoming invisible; seeing through walls; of falling from any height without consequence – and in total silence. The more I play the more I want to play, the more I want to finish it and start again. Yes this is Deus Ex, and I can’t get enough.