Every time the interweb was fed new details about the new Deus Ex, I got a little bit more worried about it. Was it being ‘dumbed down’ for more mass appeal? After watching a live on – stage demo those fears are largely gone – but they’ve been replaced by new ones. This was one of the few games to be treated to a developer session that didn’t have a playable demo on the show floor, and perhaps you’ll come to understand why.
We’re told that the demo starts about six hours in, and that the intro cinematic is rendered entirely with in – game graphics; which are very, very impressive. Once the game proper starts, with the protagonist Adam Jensen looking for a club going by the name of ‘The Hive’, two things hit you immediately. The first is that the highly impressive graphics draw a stunningly atmospheric and impressive world. The second is that this world does not, in all honesty, belong to Deus Ex.
Have you heard the phrase ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants’? Deus Ex: Human Revolution doesn’t so much stand on the shoulders of Blade Runner as kick it unconscious into a bush, and run off with its clothes. The Deus Ex universe has always owed a debt to Blade Runner, set as it is in a grim futuristic dystopia where the lines between man & machine and right & wrong are blurred. Human Revolution goes a few steps further. The streets, a mix of gaudy futuristic neon and prosaic contemporary marketplace, could have been just out of shot of any scene in the movie. The soundtrack may be stylish and atmospheric, but that’s because it’s more Vangelis than Vangelis is. The ideograms scattered around the scenery are Chinese rather than Japanese, but that’s the biggest difference.
Also as in Blade Runner, the streets are busy – and, we are told, the NPCs are not just moving scenery. As the dev takes Jensen slowly through the streets, we’re told that each and every person on the street can be accosted for a conversation; they all have something to say. And with the amount of people visible just on this one street, that is impressive indeed.
Jensen reaches The Hive. There’s a bouncer on the door, who isn’t initially keen on the idea of letting him in. The dev talks him round but, of course, there are alternative ways he could have dealt with the situation. He could simply have killed the bouncer and walked straight in or, we’re promised, we could have snuck in via the sewers. Whether or not the resultant stench would have made clubbers suspicious is not revealed. Now to find the club’s boss, Tom.
After slowly making his way upstairs, Jensen finds a barman to talk to. It has to be said that, thanks to the barman’s hostile attitude and proprietary manner (not to mention the knowledge at the back of your head that Deus Ex games will always try to throw you a curveball), it was – to me at least – immediately obvious that the barman was Tom. This fact was not ‘revealed’ until later however, in a cutscene that clearly thought it was delivering a surprise. If this is indicative of the twists and turns that the script will take, colour me disappointed and, if you wish, call me Susan.
Incidentally, ‘Tom’ looks less like a Chinese crime lord and more like Dick Van Dyke circa Diagnosis Murder.
Jensen fails to get the barman on side but, we are told, this is possible – and he would have given the player full access to every area of the club. As it is, the dev makes his way back down to the dancefloor empty handed. On the way, he overhears two staff talking. What’s that? Something about a security code? One of them has thoughtfully left details of the code lying around somewhere in the club? Off we go. Knowing where to go of course, the dev makes a beeline for… the toilets, where he finds the guy’s PDA lying on the floor. I was going to complain about this highly unlikely piece of happenstance, until I remembered that we live in a world where Apple employees leave iphone prototypes lying around in bars and British civil servants leave laptops full of sensitive information in taxis. When you look at it like that, it’s actually quite realistic.
Code acquired, Jensen makes his way to another area where we get a look at the stealth and combat mechanics. He starts off sneaking around, making use of the third person cover system. This didn’t grate as much as I had feared, perhaps because I’m used to the mechanic from playing the two Rainbow Six: Vegas games. I wasn’t so keen on the predictable guard patterns, the way a shipping crate containing a crossbow and plenty of ammo was left open, or the way that Jensen rolled from cover to cover right in front of a security camera without being spotted. Hopefully, this won’t happen in the final game. What I really hope cannot be replicated in the final game, and (almost) certainly can’t be, is the instance in which the dev carefully lined up a headshot from about four feet away from a guard… which failed to register. Yes, this is a bug that will be top of the hitlist; but I had to mention it, because it was incredibly funny to watch.
The longer I spent watching the dev use Jensen to kill people, the more I began to fear for the game. One – hit stealth kills and non – lethal takedowns I don’t have a problem with (even these needlessly, attention seekingly gory ones); the idea worked brilliantly in the Thief games, after all. However, when your character is a superpowered cyborg with a large selection of weapons at his disposal – who can not only turn invisible, but see and punch through walls – human opponents surely don’t stand a chance. Isn’t that going to feel like swatting butterflies with a bungalow? As has been said before and was repeated during the developer session, it will be possible to play through the entire game without killing anybody. Only a very small minority of people, however, will even attempt that.
When a transforming mech appeared, it seemed that perhaps Jensen finally had a tough fight on his hands; but a rocket launcher packing heat seeking missiles soon put paid to that idea.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution oozes potential from every pore, and as such will fulfil some of it almost by accident. How much more of it will be exploited by skill and judgement? I don’t pretend to know until I get my hands on the full game. All I know is that this will be either one of the greatest videogames ever made, or the most criminally wasted opportunity since the final series of Big Brother failed to lock the house down, and simply record the housemates sobbing pitifully as they starved to death.