Change is a-brewin’.
The very morning that Eidos chose to show off their latest progress on the new Deus Ex game, a story ran on the news about scientists in Germany who were able to make a man, blind since birth, finally see in limited vision. They did it with microchips implanted behind his eyes that are able to receive light and transmit the electrical signals to the brain. Some might call it fitting on such a day, some might call it eerily portentous, and as always, some will call it merely coincidence.
[image1]That's because Deus Ex: Human Revolution is in large part about the benefits, consequences, and radical directions that humanity may take as a result of enhancing our bodies through technology. And of course, while making impossible leaps with bionic legs or lifting extraordinary weight with robotic arms are a far cry from pixelated black-and-white vision, it's those first small steps toward bridging the gap between science fiction and reality that make us sit up and take notice the most. Sorry, too many sobering thoughts (from being too sober, no doubt… time to find a beer). We do usually play video games to escape and have fun, after all. And the critically acclaimed Deus Ex series has delivered on that front twice – time to go for the hat trick.
Human Revolution takes place in the not-too-distant future of 2027, 25 years before the original game. And while it has references here and there to the stories that have yet to take place chronologically, it is for the most part a story that stands on its own, while at the same time giving more depth to the universe that serves as the backdrop for the following two games. At this critical juncture in mankind's development, cybernetic enhancements called augmentations are all the rage. Instead of doing stuff the hard way like, say, working out or practicing one's talents, augmentations are a quick fix for overcoming any and all physical limitations. Just add an internal computer chip or snap on a new mechanical limb like some kind of human Lego and you're good to go with more utility and way more elegance than Robocop.
Your protagonist this time around is an unaugmented security specialist named Adam Jensen, working for a leading augmentation manufacturer called Sarif Industries. Adam is given the job of protecting researchers on the eve of some historical hearings regarding the use of augmentations. But all hell breaks loose when they’re attacked by mystery assailants, the researchers are killed, and Adam is left mortally wounded. His only option for survival is to be augmented himself – and once that’s out of the way it’s time to track down the attackers and unravel the conspiracies surrounding the entire incident, conspiracies that (true to Deus Ex form) put the whole world at stake.
The hallmark of the series has been innovative, multi-path gameplay, and Human Revolution has more ways to play than a kid who walks into a toy store for the first ime. As a general rule, you can split up the play-styles into three categories: combat, stealth, and social. In most situations you could charge in guns blazing and fight your way to the objective, or find some storm drain or vent shaft to crawl past the opposition, or use that silver tongue to talk your way through and maybe even make some friends along the way.
[image2]But it’s far more layered than that. Within those categories there are still lots of ways to differentiate your approach to a mission – multiple points of entry and exit, security systems you can choose to override with a hacking mini-game, obstructions barring certain paths that can only be bypassed with the right augmentations, people to bribe or to eavesdrop upon for clues. There are so many different factors that contribute to how a mission plays out that no one person’s experience will be the same as another’s.
To ensure that all that non-linear goodness is utilized properly, you’ll have to customize your character and weapons with different augmentations, which will shape how you play the game. If you’re more of a shooter fan you can buff up your combat abilities, while if you’re a Splinter Cell kind of guy, you should opt for stealth ones. If you want to get by the more advanced tech systems, it’s best to upgrade your hacking, but to get by craftier people, you should augment your social skills.
Some augments can even be combined with others for further customization. One of the coolest scenes in the trailer is when Adam uses X-ray vision to see a guard leaning on the other side of a wall, then goes all Super Saiyan on his ass by punching through it and snapping the dude’s neck. This isn’t just trailer eye candy – you can do that very thing in the game by combining the X-ray vision augmentation with strength.
Behind the myriad ways to play is a deep and detailed cyberpunk vision of the future. A huge amount of effort went into the art direction for Human Revolution. The developers at Eidos refer to their version of Earth as a “cyber-renaissance”, both a very Blade Runner-esque, gritty world, yet filled with eerily beautiful settings and architecture. My favorite concept for a level thus far is a double-decker city, where the rich live above on a platform suspended by pillars, the foundation for which is a lower level of slums.
[image3]Beyond that, it’s the little details that draw you in. Eidos dreamed up over 100 fake brands and their corresponding logos to be plastered around the urban locales. A lot of thought went into the fashion for these future dwellers, with the end result being a smorgasbord of elements from The Matrix, Fifth Element, and of course, Blade Runner. Parallel to the convincing visual tableau is a haunting, moody soundtrack composed by Michael McCann (whose work includes the soundtrack for Splinter Cell: Double Agent).
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is looking like a real thought-provoking title that doesn’t skimp on the entertainment and immersion in its dystopian world. Although with the whole making-blind-people-see thing, it’s a little unnerving to think that we may actually end up there someday. Until then, however, you can live it out through fantasy when the game arrives early next year.
Oh, and don’t worry – my bribe to have the name changed to Game Revolution should be cleared any day now.