I've learned to walk in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, seeing its first-person shooter side, getting my feet wet in its sci-fi drama and corporate espionage, before diving into its cyberpunk depths.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a massive, open-ended action role-playing game set against a vast conspiracy. In this cyberpunk fiction, humanity is at a turning point. This near-future world, set 20 years prior to the events of the first Deus Ex game designed by Warren Spector and Harvey Smith, is one on the brink, just before disease, natural disaster and widespread cybernetic human augmentation radically alter humanity's course.
"It's not the end of the world, but you can see it from here," says Eidos Montreal art director Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, likening Deus Ex: Human Revolution to a futuristic Renaissance, with new discoveries poised to alter history. That analogy has been threaded through the Deus Ex storyline, character and costume design and the architecture of this world.
In Human Revolution, you play as Adam Jensen, security specialist at bio-corp Sarif Industries. During the first 20 minutes, Jensen's still fully human. And at that stage, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is largely a first-person shooter that only hints at the game's potential.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution opens with a conspiratorial tone, rivals of Sarif Industries plotting sabotage against the company. Cinematics hint at the reluctance of humanity to accept human-designed evolution through the process of cybernetic augmentation, or "augs."
We meet Adam Jensen and Dr. Megan Reed, each distressed by an impending meeting in Washington, each in the employ David Sarif, head of Sarif Industries. Sarif seems to be a likable guy, down to earth, father figure-like with just a hint of asshole. Jensen and Reed depart to meet with Sarif, kicking off an on-rails segment—a Deus Ex take on the Half-Life tram ride intro, maybe—that situates the player into this world. Along the way, it's implied that Jensen's understanding of Sarif and its research is well above his paygrade—and to some degree, his interest.
A sample conversation...
"We're still getting biochemical fluctuations across the artificial flow samples," a nervous researcher says to Reed as Jensen tags along.
"But the increased neuropeptides from the pidot cluster could be throwing off your calculations," she responds. Adam Jensen simply listens or injects light cynicism during these moments.
As the guided intro sequence nears its end, Jensen also meets imminently unlikable know-it-all computer geek Pritchard. Pritchard speaks down to Jensen, Jensen responds in kind, gruffly, setting up their tense relationship.
During Jensen's meeting with David Sarif, something goes wrong. There's a break-in at Sarif industries labs and we run off the rails and into standard first-person shooter mode. It's a peek at one of the four key mechanics Human Revolution is built on, combat. (Stealth, hacking and social components are the other pillars, according to Jacques-Belletete, some of which we see hints of during later segments of our play-through.)
Deus Ex is largely a cover-based first-person shooter at this introductory stage. Jensen can take cover behind walls, crates and machinery popping in and out to take shots at enemies. He can move agilely from cover to cover with taps and holds of the X button (playing on a PlayStation 3, as we did). Players must hold the L1 button to stay in cover, moving the left analog stick to emerge from that cover, a control implementation I initially found awkward.
Despite that initial control discomfort, the rest of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, when Adam Jensen is still just a mere human, is familiar stuff. Pick up objects to throw at enemies or to establish cover, make careful shot choices, all relatively straightforward first-person shooter mechanics. Pop-up video tutorials explain the basics: how to crouch, how to sprint, how to take cover against walls and avoid fire. We weren't being stealthy or tactical here, just shooting, getting our feet wet with Human Revolution's behavior.
There are stealth considerations to be made, even at this early stage. Deus Ex is not about walking into a room with guns blazing. I moved Jensen from cover to cover, peeking around walls and over deks, switching from first-person to third-person shooting, hugging walls to stay alive. Even playing on "casual" difficulty, as recommended, and with a regenerative health system, the lowest difficulty setting never felt overly easy.
Time playing here was short lived, but enough to get a feel for Human Revolution's first-person shooter style. Adam was soon captured, beaten to a bloody mess by an augmented human to the point where he becomes less than human, where Sarif Industries makes him an unwilling cyborg and Deus Ex: Human Revolution's opening credits scroll.
This first taste of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was just a peek into its much bigger world. We'll have more to say about Deus Ex: Human Revolution in the coming weeks, when we explore Adam Jensen's cybernetically augmented side and the true depth of this huge RPG.