With the release date of the highly anticipated third part of the Deus Ex franchise just around the corner, a number of journalists were flown from around the US (and me, taking a train from Ottawa), to Montreal to see first hand the final version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. We were given a chance to talk to the developers, see the game in action, and finally get some hands-on with the gameplay before it's released.
We started with the past, or, I guess, the future: discussing Deus Ex and what effect it had on the industry, segueing nicely into how the development team has learned, and incorporated the mechanics of previous titles into the oft-quoted "Four Pillars of Gameplay": Combat and Stealth (the primary mechanics), Hacking and Social (secondary). These four pillars are present everywhere in the game, allowing you to choose how to play the game and adapt accordingly.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an open-ended action-RPG that blends combat with dialogue, missions, upgrading your character (Adam Jensen), making choices and facing the consequences. Citing history and possible futures, the developers at Eidos wanted to get a good grasp at exactly what transhumanism meant for the future. Instead of going over-the-top with possibilities or nanomachines, they took a look at what could happen if people were able to replace parts of themselves including elements such as social reaction, criminal elements, and more.
You're able to upgrade various parts of Adam Jensen to suit whatever playing style you desire, such as increasing his ability to hack, making him temporarily invisible, take more bullets before going down, and so forth. This is part of the multi-path design that has been incorporated in the game, with each level reflecting the amount of choice you're given in how to reach your objective. There are a fair amount of upgrades too even with collecting every single point of experience the game has to offer, it's likely you'll only be able to upgrade about 75% of your augs to full capacity. Even that's a lot of gameplay: regular playtests run at about 20 hours, while completionist runs are said to go to about 40 hours of gaming.
The sidequests reflect the multi-path solutions that games give and are more than just regular fetch quests. Many are important to Adam, or at least interesting to the player. The emphasis here was on quality over quantity, so instead of having half a dozen unimportant courier missions to run, you'll find yourself with few missions that actually have engaging side-plots to follow. Some missions can even be completed out of order, and the game will recognize when this has happened, instead of restricting you from doing so. And, of course, the opportunity for extra rewards and hidden secrets is always present.
The social aspect of the game, while not as prevalent as the other pillars, is definitely important to playing. Described as 'boss fights', these involve a battle of wits between Jensen and the person he's talking to. It's hard to describe, but given three conversational options (absolve, plead, and crush), you're to 'counter' what the person has said to you, in order to get on their good side. This goes back and forth as the conversation continues until they relent, or you lose. Despite how this sounds, it still plays out like a normal conversation, and the challenge is in reading what the person is saying and their reactions, not just in making a bar go up and down or something of the sort. It's even got an element of randomness to it, which means you can't just follow a guide to know exactly what order to say things in this was done explicitly so as to get the player to really pay attention to the words being said.
Hacking was an interesting game to play, whether we were watching it or playing it ourselves. It involves a graph of nodes, and trying to get from your node to other goal nodes (of which there can be several). All the while, the computer security does the same, trying to reach you. To defend yourself, you can use 'worm code' to stop the computer's progress or instantly capture nodes around you. If you have time, you can also get extra nodes to gain information and monetary rewards along the way.
Stealth was the final part showed to us. As a primary pillar of gameplay, a strong amount of attention was applied to it, making sure that every level has multiple ways to get through it stealthily. In fact, we were told that you could get through the entire game without killing anybody (except for bosses). It's important to note that the stealth is based entirely around line of sight and sound, with no shadows to be seen. There are two basic ways to play through, either as a ghost don't be seen, as if you were never there and the ninja don't raise any alarms, take out everyone you see.
Playing the game let us see how all these elements gel together as a cohesive whole, and it seemed to do it pretty well. The biggest issue I had with it was the fact that we were thrown into the middle of the story, so it was hard to feel connected to anything that was going on. Regardless, I was able to see every element of gameplay at work, whether I was shooting my way out of an apartment complex flooded with security forces, sneaking my way through an office building, hacking the many computers around the area, or trying to talk to people to get what I wanted.
What also impressed me was the size of the area, in sheer content. The amount of stuff to find, hunting through apartment buildings and side alleys, was impressive, and nearly took up all of my time at the demo. There were entire locations that you could hack your way into, trying to scrounge up some credits or backstory, and along the way you get rewarded with experience for exploring or performing tasks.
Though the preview was just a short part of the game, it got me excited for the rest of the title. Deus Ex: Human Revolution certainly looks like the most Deus-Ex-like game to come out since, well, Deus Ex. When it comes out on the 26th, if you were a fan of the original, then this is certainly something to look for.