Deus Ex: Human Revolution Hands-on - Part 2

By Jeff Mattas, Feb 25, 2011 1:45pm PST

Last week, Square Enix held a closed-door press event in Irvine, California to show off Eidos Montreal's upcoming cyberpunk shooter-RPG hybrid, Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In part one of my preview, I talked about the cinematic moments and gameplay leading up to the opening credits. This time, I'll talk about the first couple of hours of gameplay - the first mission - which I played through twice, taking different approaches.

It should be noted that we were instructed to play on 'Casual' difficulty for the purposes of the demo, mainly because the difficulty settings are still being tweaked and tested. We were also assured that although the game begins in a relatively linear fashion (albeit with multiple available paths), the game will really open up as the story progresses via the use of large hub-areas that allow players to decide what objective to pursue next.

Following protagonist Adam Jensen's near death at the hands of augmented invaders, he is 'rebuilt' with the help of bio-tech designed by his employer, Sarif Industries. It's reminiscent of Mass Effect 2's opening credits sequence, in which Commander Shepard is similarly reconstructed.

Players reassume control of Adam in the office lobby of his employer's multi-story headquarters, six months after the attack on the laboratories that left him near-death. Other employees of Sarif industries go about their daily business, and Adam can overhear their conversations when standing nearby. He can also talk to all of the individuals he encounters. Some folks will just deliver a couple of lines of dialog that help to create atmosphere and flesh out the world, but some will reveal actionable information. (Eavesdropping on enemies works the same way.) Other NPCs will engage the player in multi-layered conversations, and player-responses can be selected from a wheel of choices, also much like the system present in the Mass Effect series.

Adam's entry into the Sarif Industries lobby also marks the first time players are introduced to the game's HUD. Health and energy are indicated via meters in the upper left of the screen. At first glance, there seems to be a bit of a calibration issue, so the player's first order of business is a quick trip to the office of Sarif's Chief Tech Officer, Frank Pritchard. Exploring the main office's indoor courtyard on the way up to the second floor (where Pritchard is located) reveals a host of offices - some occupied, some not - complete with hackable security doors; though many of these areas aren't accessible without beefed-up hacking modifications, which can't be obtained until later in the game.

After a brief conversation with Pritchard and a quick HUD recalibration, Adam is off to the helipad. Apparently, a group of Purists (a faction of vehemently anti-bio-tech rebels) have attacked one of Sarif Industries' processing plants, and Adam is being sent in to defuse the situation.

Waiting inside the transport helicopter is none other than David Sarif, himself. On the way to the processing plant, Sarif briefs Adam on the situation, and asks him if he'd prefer to take a lethal, or non-lethal approach. In my first playthrough, I selected the lethal approach, and was given the further choice of equipping a combat rifle or a pistol. (I chose the rifle.) The second time around, I chose to take a non-lethal, ranged tact, and was given a high-powered tranquilizer rifle.

Landing on the rooftop of the factory, I was greeted by several SWAT troops who were awaiting my arrival. Speaking to the squad leader, I was able to get more info about the situation, such as approximately how many Purists I'd be facing, as well as some helpful tidbits about the leader of the attack. Without further ado, I pressed further into the processing plant.

For the purposes of the demo, we were given six 'Praxis points,' which are used to purchase and upgrade character augmentations. Two Praxis points will buy a new augmentation, and one point will upgrade an existing aug. Normally, these points are doled out based on accrued experience, or found as rare pick-ups via exploration. We were advised not to choose any of the "Social" augmentations, or the aug that allows you to punch through walls, simply because the first levels weren't really designed to showcase these abilities.

In my first playthrough (combat focused), I opted to enhance Adam's armor, beef up his strength so that he could pick up and throw heavier objects, and also chose an augmentation that, when activated, would launch shrapnel out of Adam's suit in a 360-degree arc, incapacitating enemies standing nearby. Augmentations are easily activated using the D-pad.

Speaking of enemies, the ones present in the first couple hours of Deus Ex: Human Revolution are not typical shooter-fodder. They're much smarter. In addition to being cognisant of the line-of-sight and patrol patterns of enemies, players will also have to be aware of how much noise they're making, and hide bodies of felled foes so that they not discovered. I never encountered more than half-a-dozen enemies in a particular area, but their lack of numbers was more than made up for by their ability to search for me, take cover in a firefight, and use flanking tactics. And the firefights in Human Revolution are quick and brutal. Even in my playthrough using augmented armor, taking advantage of cover was critical to survival. Trying to play the game with a run-and-gun style was the best way to ensure a quick demise, and exhaust the less-than-abundant ammo supply.

I focused on a more stealthy approach during my second playthrough, choosing to increase Adam's sneaking ability, enhance his sight so that he could see nearby enemies through walls, and give him a cloaking ability that would afford a few seconds of invisibility. Regardless of whether you're playing stealthily or not, Adam also has the ability to perform both lethal and non-lethal close-range takedowns. Lethal takedowns are noisier than the non-lethal variety, and using either option will drain some of Adam's energy meter. Energy can be restored by finding and consuming nutrients scattered throughout the environments, but players will have to use these takedowns sparingly.

Thanks to very good enemy-AI, the Deus Ex: Human Revolution demo provided me with one of the most satisfying stealth-based gameplay experiences I've had in years. Almost all sections of the processing plant could be traversed in at least a couple of different ways. For example, when first infiltrating the processing plant, the player is confronted with four or five rebels patrolling a large open-air storage area to the rear of the facility. Entry into the plant required either dispatching or circumnavigating the Purist patrol. The straightforward, guns-blazing approach actually proved more challenging than the sneaky approach. Stealthy players can instead find an alternate route across the rooftop, disable an electrical grid, and find another way in (hello, duct!). It's even possible (by using cover, a good sense of timing, and judicious cloaking) to sneak by the guards at the ground level, rather than heading to the roof.

Another interior warehouse area being patrolled by more bad guys further drove the multiple-approach angle home. In my combat-focused playthrough, short on ammo, I tensely snuck my way past most of the guards after a couple of head-on confrontation attempts ended with Adam in a bloody, crumpled heap. In the next (stealthy) playthrough, I actually found a vent crawling route that took me through the ceiling of the warehouse, avoiding the conflict altogether.

In another office area, I was confronted with five more patrolling soldiers, inconveniently blocking my path to an elevator. In my combat-focused playthrough, another extremely intense firefight was won with the help of some explosive containers filled with green gas. However, the stealthy approach was much more amusing. Tranquilizing one enemy with my silenced rifle brought his companions scurrying to his side. (Left to their own devices, unconscious enemies can be woken up by their comrades.) Once they'd all congregated around their sleeping buddy, I lobbed a concussion grenade into their midst, stunning the entire group. After a quick sprint past my dazed foes, I was on to the next area.

It's also (quite pleasantly) surprising to note that most of the gameplay systems from the first Deus Ex are at play in Human Revolution, with some improvements. Inventory management is a Tetris-style affair where players will need to carefully arrange the items they're carrying in a limited grid. Furthermore, using weapon modifications will sometimes change the size and shape of a firearm in the inventory screen. Ammunition is also weapon-specific, though (thankfully) random ammo pickups seem to skew towards whatever weapon-set you have equipped. Turrets and security cameras also return to impede Adam's progress.

All sorts of media, ranging from clever ads for fictional companies and products, to digital 'newspapers,' to the emails that can be read by hacking into just about every computer the player discovers really help add an extra level of immersion to the world. I was told that some of this media would eventually reflect some of the decisions the player makes throughout the course of the game, much like in the original Deus Ex.

Optional side-missions will also play a key role in Human Revolution. Only one such mission was available during the demo, involving a group of Sarif workers holed up in a section of the lab. There's a time based element to this side quest, and if Adam doesn't find the workers in time, they're killed by the Purists. Sadly, I missed finding this sidequest until my second playthrough, and even then, my propensity to hack and explore kept me from finding them in time.

Hacking is another part of the Deus Ex universe that sees a fantastic overhaul in Human Revolution. Most any computer can be hacked, though some will require an upgraded hacking augmentation to successfully crack them. The hacking mini-game itself is way more fun than it has any right to be. When hacking a system, the player is shown a map of interconnected nodes, some representing email messages, some representing SPAM, and others representing secret files. The player's task is to capture as many of these nodes as possible, before the system's security protocol locks them out. Though I was only able to experiment with my basic hacking skill, it seemed just complicated enough to intrigue, and was engaging enough that I felt compelled to try to hack every computer I could. The emails I uncovered both helped flesh out details about the world, though apparently some will provide more actionable information, like security codes. There was even some comic-relief to be found - one piece of email SPAM from a Nigerian prince (involving a money-transfer scam) was particularly chuckle-worthy.

The 'finale' of the demo level came in the form of a dialog-based confrontation between Adam and the leader of the Purist rebels (who has taken a hostage). The scene is a tense one with multiple outcomes, but the dialog options are presented in a way that really encourages the player to think about his responses. Much more-so than in the Mass Effect series, it's often difficult to tell (simply by looking at the dialog choices) which response will have the intended effect, making these exchanges feel like they have more depth and weight. In other words, players will want to think before they speak.

Though I've already played through the first couple of hours of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (twice), I'm already itching to play some more. As a huge fan of the first game, I'm pleased to report that Eidos Montreal seems to have really honed in on the gameplay systems, stealth, and role-playing elements that made Deus Ex so memorable. So far, Human Revolution looks like it could very well be the prequel that fans have been waiting for.


This preview is based on a closed-door press event held by Square Enix in Irvine, California. Deus Ex: Human Revolution Hands-On based on non-final debug code on the PlayStation 3. Square Enix invited Shacknews to the event, and provided one night's accommodations for the purposes of previewing the game.

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