So, the one panel we actually stood in line for at PAX was Deus Ex: Human Revolution, coming out in August from Eidos Montreal. This is because me and Chris both played the living shit out of the first game. I’ve honestly spent more time on the demo for Deus Ex than I have completing several full games.
To me, the original Deus Ex seemed like the future of gaming. It wasn’t the world’s greatest shooter (enemy AI was completely laughable), and it wasn’t the world’s most intricate stealth game (hide behind boxes was the law and the whole of the law), or the world’s most in-depth RPG but it was all of those things. And all of those things were really fun to do! The majority of the nostalgia about the game is focused on the multiple mission options allowing you to stealthily get by people without killing them, but I think the part that made it great was that all of those options are pretty viable and interesting. Everyone talks up the stealthy infiltration of Liberty Island without mentioning that one of your possible starting weapons was a massive goddamn rocket launcher. You could, if you so chose, blast the living heck out of everything put in your path. You could also win an epic boss fight in 3 seconds by remembering a bit of dialogue from a while back. And whatever you chose to do, you could kit out your character just the way you wanted and see how awesome that made the next fight/sneaky bit. I know the moment I got the ability to explode missiles before they hit me, I couldn’t stop laughing at the pathetic humans attempting to stop my berserk cyborg rampage. The sheer level of attention put in to making you feel badass for figuring out your clever solution to a problem was impressive. Rather than feeling like a kludgy assemblage of disparate parts, every gameplay “pillar” tended to enhance the others whether directly or simply by providing an interesting contrast.
Combine all that with a rather fine, if slightly disjointed and poorly acted, little story of intrigue and some very well-done twists and moments of surprisingly poignant characterization and the game stands the test of time. Seriously, go back and buy it if you haven’t already. It’s like $10. Make yourself a sandwich for lunch today and give it a shot. It’s on Steam.
So. Given all that rampant nostalgia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am super Deus Excited for Human Revolution. How was the panel? Glad you asked:
It began with a sweet movie showing off the basic storyline and giving us a vision of Detroit in a utopian future where it is a futuristic dystopia instead of just a modern one. Then, a man who bore a strange resemblance to a young David Spade coming on stage to introduce himself as a Community Manager which pretty much means guy who doesn’t yell at people for asking really awful questions. He introduced the two people who would be showing off the game, Game Director Jean-Francois Ducas and Art Director Jonathan Jacques-Belletête. The format was the designer would play the opening mission of the game, and the art guy would talk about what was happening and why.
A few elements of the playthrough stood out to me:
– You recharge your batteries (seriously, there are little cell-phone style battery indicators that drain with power usage) using power bars specially designed for cyborgs. Awesome.
– Incidental character dialogue seems pretty decently acted overall. More than a few characters were willing to chat for a long time about the situation, and there were a few nice little tableau scenes where people discuss things like whether or not it was a good idea to shoot that guy because now we’re all going to go to jail for so much longer.
– They showed off the stealthy options for the most part in this demo, and they seem pretty nicely done to be honest. It’s based on noise and sight-lines, and seems pretty simple but effective. You hide behind things to not be seen, and you move slowly to not be heard. You can grab a stealth augmentation that makes you basically invisible for 5-10 seconds, but it doesn’t make you inaudible, so people will still come check things out if you’re making too much noise.
– The AI seemed slightly too easily confounded by stealthiness. For the most part, it worked pretty organically. They check over their shoulders, see things out of the corner of their eyes, and hear odd noises if you’re not careful. They do, however, come over one at a time after announcing that they heard something, and it appears that taking cover behind something makes the AI basically not see you unless they come to the other side of the object and then turn around. That caused a few laughs, as the AI stood inches from the player, and then said “Must have been nothing!” and turned around.
– Non-stealth gameplay seems pretty solid! Like the original, I don’t think it’s going to win Best FPS Ever awards, but it was solidly engaging, satisfyingly lethal looking, and used a pretty simple cover system that will hopefully highlight how awesome you become late-game if you choose a bunch of combat augmentations. They only showed off the more generic weaponry, but they promised a “BFG” and some other weird weapons as the game progressed.
– NO SWORD. NO SWORD EVER. Well, except the cool arm-blade things. There were about 20 people who asked about that.
– The Augmentation screen seemed interesting. Once again, you pick a part of the body first, then you pick from a series of possible cybernetic augmentations. This system has been altered a bit though. They provide a pretty complete “tech tree” of what you can get up front, so you won’t be just sort of guessing whether you’ll want to pursue a certain line of augmentations.
– You won’t be getting all your new augs from stuff dropped around the level. Instead, you’ll be getting “points” based on mission performance, levelling up, and other factors (and well, occasionally stuff dropped around the level). These will be your currency for unlocking/upgrading. They explained that it’s supposed to reflect the idea that your augs are all “on” at the start of the game, but you only become comfortable manipulating them over time, and that’s reflected by your unlocking them. They likened it to a baby having arms and legs for a while before they coordinate anything with them.
– Hacking, although they only showed the simpler levels of it, seemed really interesting. It’s a game whereby you need to get from a starting point to an ending point through a series of “Nodes” with branching lanes connecting them. Go the wrong direction, or take too long, and you might end up having security activate and chase you down. Like I said with the Mini-Games article a year ago, it seems to tick all the right aspects. It’s something that takes a bit of skill to do, can be done quickly, and provides a reasonable way to “cheat” if you find it boring. Plus, the game design itself means that you can avoid this mini-game almost all the time if you’re willing to just run and gun, or gather the right intel.
– Takedowns are really neat! I mean, okay, they’re a bit old-hat by this point. But it’s a much much better way of dealing with stealth gameplay for minor-to-middling mistakes. Now, when someone finds you snooping in a room you’re not supposed to be in, you can snap their neck instead of circle-strafing while they run for the guards and then deciding to reload your save anyway.
– They mentioned that they’re still balancing everything out, trying to find the fun level. So guard perception distances, whether or not things take energy to do, and a few other configuration tweaks are all under discussion.
– They mentioned wanting it to feel “Deus Ex” like 3, maybe 5 billion times.
– This is a really really pretty game. The art design is choice. Even elements that make no sense, like easy-access swing-up vents, are stylish and well-considered given the gameplay.
– They didn’t show off the “conversation warfare” but they did mention a system that seemed basically similar to hacking: you can either know exactly what the person’s feelings/motivations are by finding things in the environment and talking to people, or you can sort of brute-force it with augs that give you a social advantage. Or you know, shoot them. The emphasis on multiple gameplay pillars seems really solid throughout.
– There are three difficulty levels: Easy, Normal, and Deus Ex
That’s about all I can think of for the panel! The presenters were really nice guys, they answered a lot of questions and showed off a pretty big chunk of gameplay. I’m more excited than ever for this game, guys. You should be too!
Here’s a shitty video someone took at the panel! Possibly without authorization! It shows a small chunk of the gameplay.