E3 2011: Deus Ex: Human Revolution hands-on preview – theres more than one way to skin a robot

We’re not so sure Deus Ex: Human Revolution should have been on the show floor. E3 is rock concert loud, and it’s hard to concentrate for any amount of time on tasks that require any amount of cerebral thinking. Usually, developers choose a section of their game that works well for such events—throwing players into an action sequence or something equally primal—but that wouldn’t really do the Deus Ex name justice.

Instead, the demo level at the show was something that does a better job at living up to the series’ legacy, and as we waited for a developer-guided presentation to begin, we picked up the controller and gave it a go… and it didn’t really go all that well. As we soon learned, it really wasn’t the game’s fault that we sucked. In a world of mindless shooters, this is a thinking man’s game…

Our goal was simple: get the protagonist, Adam Jensen, to the top of the Tai Young Medical Facility to access the company’s servers. Jensen was wounded in an attack on his employer, and now, rebuilt with the miracles of futuristic cybernetics, he’s on a quest to find the people responsible.

Not really knowing what we were doing, we started handling it like we would any other FPS. When we saw enemies, we shot them. When we came across locked doors, we hacked them. When we were spotted by security cameras, we blew them the hell up. We played through some minor platforming segments, fought in a few gun battles, and eventually made the mistake of pulling our weapon out in a room with one too many guards in it. It ended poorly. It was fun, but we weren’t seeing what made it different from the dozen other shooters within 100 feet of the Square-Enix booth.

Conveniently, just as we were killed, the developer-guided demo was beginning. When we sat down and saw that they would actually be playing through the same area we’d just seen, we weren’t all too excited. Within seconds, however, it was clear that while we had technically played through the same segment, we hadn’t even scratched the surface of what Deus Ex: Human Revolution had to offer.

“Everything can be approached in different ways” is a promise that developers often make, but it usually means you’re given two options: stealth or commando. In Deus Ex, the options are much more robust than that. When we played, we started shooting as soon as we saw the first guard. When they played, they initiated a conversation, and bribed him to turn a blind eye to his infiltration. This let Jensen wander the facility freely, as long as he didn’t pass into any restricted areas.

When he did wander into a restricted area, he was able to quietly take down guards with melee attacks (he can be quiet?), and drag them into rooms (he can do that?) as to not attract unwanted attention. By upgrading and equipping different augmentations (there were upgrades?!), Adam gained abilities to let him walk quietly and survive long falls (WHAT?!). It’s not all about stealth, either. Augmentations can be equipped to help in combat situations, be it by steadying Adam’s aim or letting him left heavy objects. Our sniper attack did little but attract the attention of more guards—theirs, executed with an augmentation that steadied Jensen’s aim, cleared the room.

Other abilities can be used out of combat altogether, helping Jensen access otherwise inaccessible areas. When we played, we assumed the room filled with electric water was a dead end, but they found a way to turn off the power. They could have purchased an augmentation that would have allowed Adam to walk through such hazards unscathed, too. His abilities are limited by his battery cells, which are upgraded throughout the game, but that didn’t stop him from taking full advantage of his cybernetics to make our work look somewhere between “executed by an amateur” and “carried out by a drunken caveman.”

While augmentations are important, they’re by no means all that Human Revolution has to offer. There are other elements of the game that are more organic, and if we hadn’t been running through the hallways of Tai Young Medical like a maniac firing machine guns into the air, we might heard the scientist talking about losing his security card, which would have made the aforementioned room full of guards a much more pleasant experience.

So we’ll chalk up our poor performance to a lack of knowledge. You win some, you lose some. When Human Revolution comes out on August 23rd, we expect to have time to take it slower; handling situations in whatever way feels best, and taking advantage of all of the tools at Jensen’s disposal. Worst-case scenario, we can always go back into rampage mode, right?

Jun 15, 2011

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