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E3 2011 Preview: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

By Jeff Buckland, 6/23/2011

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It's been a long and tough road for developer Eidos Montreal (and publisher Square Enix) in making and promoting Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Over a few years now, they've been pushing a return to the gameplay of the first game, and not the over-simplified style of ION Storm's poorly-received sequel, an effort that compromised much of what made the original so great. It's been tough to get gamers behind this idea, too, especially since this will be a simultaneous PC and console release; oh, those unified release dates happen pretty often now, but it that was relatively new practice back when Deus Ex: Invisible War was released years and years ago.

But after getting to see it multiple times, play it last March, and finally get a better glimpse of how Human Revolution plays outside of its tutorial hand-holding, I can say without a doubt that this game lives up to the Deus Ex name established by ION Storm more than a decade ago. It doesn't precisely re-create every single thing about the original, but it most certainly picks up on the big themes, and offers strong political and philosophical viewpoints - all while giving the players the FPS combat and RPG elements they have come to expect out of this sub-genre ever since Looking Glass Studios made Ultima Underworld way back in 1992.

Our E3 2011 demo went pretty far into the game as the mechanically augmented protagonist, Adam Jensen, is infiltrating a high tech company's secure labs in search of evidence. His own company, Sarif Industries, was attacked months prior, and Jensen was left for dead, leading him to have to get the augmentations just to save his life. Of course, Jensen's boss, David Sarif, also kicked in a few extra augmentations and Jensen wasn't given a choice but to have to deal with them, so he's having to reconcile his views on how human he could possibly be when his arms and legs have been replaced by machinery and his nervous and circulatory systems are now heavily assisted by technology.

There's a global conspiracy going on here, one centered around a particular discovery that Sarif Industries had made and was about to go public with, so those looking for big crazy conspiracies like in the original Deus Ex will not go away unhappy; from what I gather, this worldwide search Jensen is undertaking will lead him to far more than a bit of high-tech corporate espionage. We got a taste of it in this E3 demo, and while Jensen had many choices for infiltrating this company's facility - bribe the front desk guy, sneak through some vents and use cloaking to hide from guards, hack the security, find a high ledge to jump to, things like that - the paths that were taken in E3 did a good job of showcasing all types of infiltration. You'll get experience points that go towards a type of leveling up, all of which fuel Praxis Points that allow you to add new augmentations and then upgrade them.

And there are plenty of augs you can eventually choose from, far more than players had in the original Deus Ex. You can become nearly omniscient when it comes to enemy guards and soldiers, knowing where they are, what they're doing, and what they can see. You can become a master of stealth, making silent landings from high jumps, cloaking to make yourself nearly invisible to cameras, people, and even laser detection fields. You can beef up your combat abilities by eliminating recoil, carrying an arsenal of weapons in your expanded inventory, and allow yourself to take massive damage without too much of an issue. And you can become a tech expert that can unlock any door and bust through any computer security in only a few seconds. One difference is that unlike the original Deus Ex, choosing augmentations here doesn't lock out others that would otherwise go in the same slot. You're going to have a limited number of Praxis points to use, but now the whole thing will be available to you no matter what you've already chosen.

Eidos Montreal's E3 demo this year mostly focused on the three ways you deal with situations and complete missions: technology, stealth, and combat. But it's important to point out that the game's art style, intrigue, and hints at philosophy are all fantastic, too. It's balanced well: for every part with balls-out action using shotguns, rockets, and super-human strength, there's an equal portion of the game where you can explore, converse, and search for interesting secrets. All of it is tied together in Adam Jensen's struggle to find out why Sarif Industries was attacked, his ex-girlfriend murdered, and his own body left in tatters, and Eidos Montreal is doing a wonderful job of putting that story on the larger backdrop of their imagined future.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution hits stores on August 23rd on PC, PS3, and 360.



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