On Monday evening, The Hospital Club in Soho played host to the press launch of one of the year’s most anticipated games, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Ready Up dusted off its combat augmentations and sent one of its most gun-toting agents to shoot his way through the private club’s security and to enjoy an evening of beer, laser quest and corporate espionage. In the laser quest we didn’t do especially well, setting a paltry score of 90 for the evening in spite of the addition of a bionic arm augmentation. But there wasn’t time to lick our wounds as the game’s art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletéte from Eidos’ Montreal studio took to the stage to introduce the game.
Heralding the revolution of player choice, the original Deus Ex was released in 2000 and is still held up as one of the greatest PC games of all time. New publishers Square Enix and developers Eidos have had their work cut out to not only meet the high demands of the fan base, but to ensure the game’s successful launch on console, following the lacklustre console ports of the previous games in the series and in a time when PC gamers are becoming more and more resistant to console versions of PC properties. If what we’ve seen here is anything to go by they have succeeded nicely in broadening the gameplay mechanics to accommodate modern console action gameplay, whilst maintaining all the aspects that made the original great: its complex and deep storytelling, its smart incorporation of RPG elements, its mature atmosphere and its multitude of approaches to any given situation.
A prequel, set in 2027, Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s story takes place in a cyberpunk dystopia, not unlike the setting of Blade Runner, driven by huge corporations that have mastered the very laws of nature. Jonathan Jacques-Belletéte’s art direction frames this dystopian world in a vibrant palette of golds and blacks that sets it apart from the majority of bland modern action games. This is hardly surprising given the previous titles he worked on at Ubisoft include Far Cry, Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed, all of which boasted unique atmospheres and visual styles. “The world in which the game is set is really the golden age of human augmentation”, says Jonathan. “If you think about trans-humanism, then this is the first era where humans take control of their own evolution via technological means, so we become faster, stronger, more resilient. That era of trans-humanism has started already; even something as simple as a pacemaker is a cybernetic implant.”
Of course not everyone is happy with the revolution of human augmentation, not least because it has completely blown open the already gaping divide between the haves and the have nots, allowing ruthless corporations such as Sarif Industries and its Chinese rivals Tai Yong Medical to peddle a utopian promise of perfection (and to deliver a grim reality of drug dependency and corruption). This tension has resulted in the rise of terrorist group Purity First, a curious amalgam of religious, anarchist, socialist and eugenic ideologues, who have been shown in recent PR campaigns to have hacked into Sarif Industries’ website in order to spread their anti-augmentation agenda. But, as with everything in the game, Purity First is not all it seems.
Into this heady mix is thrown Adam Jensen, a security operative who was critically injured whilst defending Sarif Industries from a mercenary attack and implanted with military grade augmentations against his will. A conflicted, post-modern take on the Million Dollar Man, Jensen now works for Sarif Industries as a super agent, but finds himself at the heart of a conspiracy that promises to push the already barely contained social situation into outright chaos.
Human Revolution is built on four mutually inclusive gameplay pillars that have clearly played a strong part in shaping the game’s design. These are the principle approaches of combat and stealth, allowing the player to upgrade Jensen into a fortified killing machine or to slip through each level like a ghost; complemented by the pillars of hacking, which utilises a mini-game that sees you navigating through a network of nodes before the server detects you, and social, which sees you fast talking your way out of situations and extracting information through non-violent means. The beauty of the game is that it has been designed to accommodate all these styles of game play simultaneously: “There’s never a level where you have to kill everyone, or a level that you fail if you set off the alarm,” Jonathan clarifies when he is caught sneaking through the demo’s corridors and switches to full on gunplay. “Instead you alternate between those gameplay pillars to fit with your own play style. That’s what the game is all about: there’ll be something you have to do, but whatever the hell you want to do around that is up to you”.
The demo on offer, which also featured at E3, sees Jensen storming a Sarif Industry plant that has been taken over by Purity First, in order to secure a top secret military augmentation called typhoon before the SWAT unit moves in and its existence is made public. We opted for a full frontal assault and quickly found that even in a combat-centric approach the game quickly punishes you for trying to wade in with a gung-ho Halo mentality. It’s clear that even here the gameplay is very tactical, requiring you to analyse your surroundings and take down guards quickly and efficiently. Ammo is often in short supply and more often than not you’ll succeed by alternating between gameplay styles for any given situation. Enemy AI is smart, but still human enough to allow you to flank it with clever distraction or use of a cloaking device, and although the cover system doesn’t quite stand up to games like Gears of War or Uncharted, it is well crafted and once you get used to it, the transition between first and third person seems generally fluid.
The game itself promises 25-30 hours of gameplay, with that dramatically increased should you wish to fully explore the environments, which all feature multiple routes and secret areas. Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks stunning, and if the final game lives up to this promise and fully explores the many socio-political issues that resonate through its story, then it could well be one of the smartest action adventure games since Solid Snake first swam into Shadow Moses Island.