E3 2011: 10 Thoughts on… Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360)

As a fan of the first two Deus Ex games, it’s very pleasing to see the series being revived in any capacity. The games brought FPS games with RPG elements to the console market years before anyone was ready for this thing, and while games with these sorts of elements are starting to become more and more common, it was a shame to see the franchise that really pioneered the concept essentially left by the roadside. With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the theory goes, the franchise was being given another chance to shine as it deserved in a time period when people could potentially be more receptive to such concepts, and so long as the game retains the concepts that made the original game as well received amongst the minority it was, the game would, one assumes, be a return to form for the brand. As such, I was quite looking forward to the idea of jumping in and playing some of the game at this year’s E3, mostly because I haven’t had a chance to spend time with the series in years, and breaking out Invisible War every so often is only so entertaining.

1.) The demo starts off somewhat on the demoralizing side, explaining a long, involved story surrounding our hero, Adam Jensen, and how he came to be in his current situation. Apparently, Adam’s girlfriend somehow developed some sort of safe method of biologically modifying people with electronic implants, and Adam got completely ruined and nearly killed as a result of an attack made against her. Adam has now been revived from his near demise and is working for the company who jacked him up with implants, doing their bidding while also looking for answers about what happened. The story as it is seems like a fine enough spy thriller sort of storyline, but compared to the somewhat minimalist storytelling elements of Deus Ex and Invisible War, the fairly involved introduction given before you even get a second to play is kind of… a little too modern, one supposes. The game is being published by Square Enix, as it happens, and after seeing how the storyline is going to work so far, well, you can tell.

2.) The game does look great, at least, and features an aesthetic that’s very reminiscent of something like Blade Runner, much like its predecessors. The environments in the demo range from high-tech scientific laboratories to crappy, run-down rooftops and alleyways, giving the game a good contrast to work with. The character models are also very well animated and feature lots of excellent detail, and the weapons look great both in modeling and in action. Ditto the audio, which features some very nice ambient music and voice acting that helps set the tone nicely. It’s no kidneythieves, mind you, but it gets the job done fine.

3.) After the initial cinematic introduction that brings us up to speed, we join Adam on a helicopter as he’s set to be dropped off at his destination, a cybernetics facility that’s been taken over by pro-humanity terrorists. In simple terms, in the current world of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, there are now revolutionary groups wandering around that object to the idea of cybernetic modification, and Adam is someone who, among other things, helps suppress terrorist acts against his parent company. Fine enough. The introductory sequence also showcases the choice-making systems of the game by way of allowing the player to choose whether to use lethal or non-lethal force and allowing the player to choose their starting weapon. As choices go, the former might vaguely impact the experience at some point in the future, while the latter is mostly to allow the player a gun they’re happy with. Me? I don’t care what happens if there’s no forward progression, so I chose lethal force, and I have no interest in short-range combat, especially when the enemies in the facility will be dropping handguns like crazy, so I picked an assault rifle as my weapon of choice, and I was good to go.

4.) The game gives you the chance to talk to one of the guards before going in as well, and this is more reminiscent of how the previous games would handle things, as you can interview the guard for various pieces of information, including presumed enemy force, what the SWAT team present wants to do, and so on. There’s not a lot of use in any of the discussion options, mind you, though the flavor text that comes out of it makes it a point that Adam isn’t especially popular amongst what are apparently his former co-workers, which is closer to the sort of vision of the older games, where you didn’t have to spend hours slogging through storyline but could receive benefits if you chose to do so.

5.) Once you enter the facility, that’s when the combat begins. For the most part, the combat mechanics are fairly bog-standard; you can aim with the left trigger and fire with the right, and Adam can take cover behind obstacles, fire from cover, sneak around, employ stealth tactics, toss grenades, and other such things to maneuver and slaughter his way through the building. Hopefully the main game will think about this, however, because the demo didn’t, but it’s nearly impossible to really go running through the demo employing stealthy actions because, surprise, you’re not offered the option of a silenced weapon with which to do your business. It seems like the game really wants to offer this sort of option, because there are plenty of pathways around most areas, and you can easily sneak through vents and hide around corners to dispatch guards, but you end up trading bullets with guards sooner or later because none of your guns are suppressed in any way, which makes things less potentially interesting than they could be.

6.) Of course, you could theoretically sneak around melee attacking enemies to keep them out of your hair and eliminate them slightly, if not for the inane melee mechanic. When you melee an enemy, the game switches over to a third person cutscene as Adam takes out the enemy, allowing you to then loot them and stash them out of sight if you wish. However, using melee attacks burns one of the batteries that shows up in your HUD, and if you’re out of batteries, you can’t melee. That’s the sort of decision that makes you feel like the developer never played a first person shooter at all and doesn’t know anyone who does, because melee also acts as your last resort against surrender when you’re out of bullets, and since the bullets in the demo are so sparingly available to begin with, crippling the use of melee in the game is asinine. It wouldn’t matter if the plot came across as amazing and the combat and other mechanics came across as miraculous, this is obscene and terrible, and whoever came up with this concept is the worst and everything they do is the worst. Having to hide behind cover while you wait for your melee to recharge because you have no bullets left is an incredibly stupid concept, and one that I hope someone somewhere realizes is stupid before the game sees release.

7.) The game also shows off its character management in the demo, through the inventory management and upgrade system, and one is significantly better than the other. The inventory management simply gives you a large empty grid where inventory objects are dumped as acquired, so you’re given plenty of space to store your goods as you get them, and you can basically see it as being reminiscent of the inventory system in Resident Evil 4 if you’ve played that. The upgrade system, however, is basically your standard skill tree system, where as you find Praxis points in the game world or through earning experience by completing missions, you can in turn unlock and upgrade cybernetic enhancements in Adam. Now, it makes since that, since he’s mostly cybernetic enhancements anyway, Adam can upgrade his skills by dumping points into them, but finding new skills works the same way? It’s not that it’s bad per say so much as it is that the system is dumbed down and, frankly, nonsensical. So, biotech can just be assumed to be installed and in an “off” position until activated, but with nanotech (from Deus Ex and beyond) needs actual equipment added? Does… does that seem like a sensible way of doing things?

8.) The hacking mechanic in the game is pretty neat, however. Basically, when you attempt a hack, the game brings up this little map of the network area, with the node you’re entering from marked by a globe, the node you want to get to marked by another, and a bunch of small computer looking icons surrounding both nodes, which are connected by network paths. You start off by hacking into your main node, which will set off the master node, which will then start running a trace to find you. You’re expected to hack the appropriate monitors to make a path to the node you need, bearing in mind that some paths are only one way, to get to the destination node and complete the hack. Now, I’m not saying they should do something like this, but I am saying that if someone wanted to make a little iPhone or XBLA/PSN or whatever game based around this concept, only more involved? It’d probably be pretty good.

9.) The demo ends on a big mystery, as the whole point of the hostage situation is that you’re trying to get to its leader, a guy who has made a big point of being anti-modification, and when you get to him he’s massively modded up and acting against his will. This is actually a good idea for a wide-release demo, and I’m hoping that this is actually the demo Square Enix intends to release to the general public to advertise the game, because it ends in a way that screams “BUY ME DAMMIT!” and does so effectively. That said, I’d hope that they increase the bullet count in the demo, if only because the enemies drop next to no bullets and you start with a pitiful amount, and while a skilled player can get through the mission okay, the person before me took half an hour because he’d depleted all of his ammo long before he got to the end, which I suspect will be a problem when trying to sell your product.

10.) Deus Ex: Human Revolution isn’t going to impress anyone who was a fan of the first two games. Let’s get that out of the way up front. If the demo is anything to go by, it’s a fine game and will likely be worth the asking price, but the game is modernized to a point that it’s going to draw ire from the hardcore fanbase, which isn’t going to help the game on a PR front. That said, there are some good ideas in here and the gameplay is mostly fine, so if someone can either add in melee weapons that don’t require two minutes to recharge or excise that mechanic entirely, the game will be a mostly enjoyable experience, if the demo ends up being indicative of the final product.

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