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Deus Ex is back with an entirely new developer, but underneath it's largely the same experience...
For some the decision to resurrect the Deus Ex series without the input of the series co-creators, Warren Spector and Harvey Smith amounts to little more than sacrilege; something akin to Nintendo releasing a Mario game without ever mentioning it to Shigeru Miyamoto. However it's hard to knock Square-Enix's ambitious plans behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Establishing a considerably sized studio back in 2007 gave a hint towards how seriously the Japanese publisher is taking things, but it's the luxury of a lengthy development timeframe that suggests the upper echelons of Square-Enix appreciate how seriously this game needs to be taken; one or two mistakes and there's no denying that Deus Ex would be confined to the history books.
Set as a prequel to the previous two games in the series, Human Revolution takes place in a period when mechanical enhancements are just beginning to take off, before the nano-augmentations that characterised the series and JC Denton brought about The Great Collapse. As per the previous games, such developments are causing a split between the world's population (which was always part of the plan), with some opposed to the idea of augmenting and those that can only see the benefits. Taking on the role of Security Consultant Adam Jenson, Deus Ex: Human Revolution begins in a familiar manner when his employer, Sarif Industries comes under a terrorist attack. The reason behind the attack is unclear to begin with, but as you quickly discover the company is a big player in the augmentation industry and one that has murky ties with the depleted US Government. So at the core of its plot you can be safely assured that Human Revolution is still very much a game of shadowy conspiracies, sinister corporations and clandestine operations. Deus Ex fans will note a pleasant sense of familiarity to the way in which Human Revolution kicks-off and to the start of the original Deus Ex.
There are certain things taken for granted when it comes to Deux Ex (we'll ignore the fact that Project: Snowblind ever tenuously attempted to fit into the timeline). Primarily it's the sense of choice available to the player, everything from character upgrades that determine how your version of Adam Jensen will go about things to the way in which you approach matters: blasting through the main doors, sneakily manoeuvring through the air vents or chatting your way straight through. Fortunately it appears from the early stages that Eidos Montreal is well aware of this as an early decision makes this abundantly clear with the options of a lethal or non-lethal approach to the first mission - namely a handgun or a tranquilliser rifle. This approach to design appears to permeate throughout everything we've seen so far.
Traditional stealth games have fallen out of favour in recent years, but there's no denying that if you want to play Deus Ex this way then there's a forgotten and at times frustrating experience waiting for you. There's still work to be done on the AI side of things when it comes to playing from a stealth perspective, but in general things are shaping up pretty well and the game capably creates a sense of immersion through apprehension that typifies a good stealth game. Opponents will patrol areas and immediately make things very tricky once they've found you. Trying a few techniques learnt from the old-school 'Stealth 101 Reference Book' highlighted both issues and surprises. Having unleashed the entire Detroit police department upon ourselves on one mission, we were pleasantly surprised to find the station's finest unfazed by the puzzle of a closed door, instead blasting it into smithereens rather than standing bemused as we thought might be the case. That said, it seems the airvents continue to cause problems with a Cat and Mouse dynamic quickly setting the tone for the proceeding events. With the stealth approach, aspects such as computer hacking and security cameras play a crucial role and we're happy to say that there's considerably more substance to the hacking mini-game then is usually the case.
As a shooter, Human Revolution is shaping up to be a tough prospect, with a couple of shots bringing a certain death on the medium difficulty of the three levels offered. Eidos Montreal is undoubtedly refining such areas, but we're pleased to note that the Rambo-esque approach certainly won't be an easy one. To aid in this area, Eidos Montreal has added a cover system and instant takedown moves which switche the view from the primary first-person to third-person. It works well, but in keeping with the series ideology, the choice is up to the player as to whether they want to use it or not and equally whether a takedown is lethal or not.
That said, it may not be quite the heavy RPG that some will demand. We're happy to see features such as inventory management making a comeback and there's no evidence of the mollycoddling that became prevalent in the sequel - so no unified ammo! But it comes nowhere near to the sheer levels of customisation available in the original Deus Ex, where augmentations sat alongside traditional skill points. In this manner, Human Revolution is closer to Invisible War with a unified Augmentation setup that still manages to provide a considerable amount of choice as to how Adam evolves with the added scope of weapon modifications making a comeback. Character upgrades are no longer demonstrated with RPG statistics and figures, while in tailoring towards a shooter audience your aptitude with a weapon is no longer dictated by the relevant skill levels but instead coming down to how accurate you are with a thumbstick.
However, conversations with NPCs play as much significance as how good your aim is. An early example finds Adam having to infiltrate the aforementioned police station, and in turn being able to converse with the desk sergeant who appears to be an acquaintance with some prior history. One or two wrong choices quickly blocked this off as an option and so ensued a bloodbath after the stealth approach failed. Such interaction and choice with NPCs is ample throughout the first few hours, so it certainly seems that Eidos Montreal has appreciated the core three tenets that make up the Deus Ex experience.
Given the lengthy time since Invisible War appeared and the fact that Ion Storm Austin is but a distant memory, it's perhaps to be expected that Human Revolution feels a little different in terms of the style and general ambiance of the game. Perhaps this is a good thing, given that the third title in the series is set in a considerably different point in the timeline and Eidos Montreal should be given the license to stamp their mark on the series. Early indications suggest that further ties to the series continuity will continue to develop as the game progresses, leading up to the establishment of UNATCO and perhaps culminating in the attack on the Statue of Liberty that sets up events for the original Deus Ex. Spector and co certainly left lots of questions unanswered that will probably remain unknown given the fact we're playing a prequel, but further revelations towards the events of its predecessors will be something that will top most of the fans' demands lists - or mine at least.
Although Human Revolution has been in development for at least four years, the build we've received is still very much an early one and in some need of polishing during the final stages as it leads up to the game's planned August release. Little niggles such as characters popping through the environment, looped audio samples and various glitches hint towards the need for continued refinement but also highlight the considerable demands faced by the many facets of the Deus Ex experience - what once was dubbed the interactive simulation. We're hopeful that Eidos Montreal is on track to iron out such wrinkles, but having suffered a previous delay we've got to say it's crucial that the studio gets everything absolutely as tight as possible in the remaining few months of development.
It's been a long time coming, but perhaps the best compliment we can pay to Deus Ex: Human Revolution at this stage is the fact that in many ways it feels different, but at the same time remains faithful to a series that has become enshrined in video game lore. Because of the nature of the game, Human Revolution can be difficult to assess: it's not a shooter, it's not an RPG and it's not a pure stealth game, but then again it wouldn't be Deus Ex if it wasn't such a mixture.
Now that we've seen exactly what Eidos Montreal has created, perhaps the one question remaining is what Spector and Smith make of it.