E3 2011's Most Anticipated: Deus Ex
31st May 2011 | 17:49
The games on show at E3 2011 are some of the best in living memory. So you really owe it to yourself to vote in CVG's inaugural E3 2011 Awards... in the Most Anticipated Title category.
Shortly before the show, we'll work out which of these 60 special E3 game previews have enjoyed the most page views, Facebook 'Likes', ReTweets and poll votes (see below) and crown our first victor. Shower your favourites with online love!
Game: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Publisher: Square Enix
Likelihood of E3 2011 showing: Certain
You start on Monday. You play it for six hours a day, every day, for six days. And if you're anything like the other Deus Ex: Human Revolution testers, you still won't finish it. The game is finally in a state to be played all the way through, and it's meant to take about 25 hours to do so. "So far," says Eidos Montreal producer David Anfossi, "with them playing about six hours every day, most of them don't complete the game." Impressive.
The original Deus Ex was a uniquely well-judged mix of role-playing game and shooter. Blasting was always an option, but never the only one. The second game, Deus Ex: Invisible War, went for a similar blend, but was too cramped and ugly to capture the feel. What's exciting about Human Revolution is that it genuinely does seem to have that delicate balance of hacking, stealth, combat and dialogue options open to you throughout.
What the Eidos Montreal team have discovered is that even players who like to blow through big budget shooters are stopping when that proves tricky, and changing tack. "The ones that are more casual gamers, who are used to more 'corridor, cutscene, corridor, cutscene' type of gameplay - they play it that way for a while. Then suddenly, there's this new world that opens to them, and they start getting a bit more creative."
MADE OF FAIL
Anfossi says the players who don't immediately grasp the open-endedness aren't necessarily put off. "When they fail - and I feel really happy about this - they don't feel frustrated or cheated, they just feel like, 'Oh, a challenge!'
"They start to see the depth of the game and jump in and really get excited about it. Eventually they start to play it like Deus Ex." That's definitely a good thing. There are hints of that in the latest trailer hero Adam Jensen crawls into a vent, cloaks through a laser grid, hacks a bot and stabs some dudes.
Apart from the stabbing dudes, which was rarely a good idea in the first game, it's very Deus Ex. But that's one playthrough. The whole point of Deus Ex is the number of different approaches you can take.
So we quiz the Eidos Montreal devs as to how else could he have approached that bit of the level... "In the section with the laser grids, there are some parts where you can get in and shut them down," says Anfossi. "If you don't have the cloaking augmentation, there's a pattern you can follow around the room to avoid being detected by the lasers.
"And there are alternate paths: in another room, you can break a wall and go around. Or you can climb in to the lift, if you have the proper augmentation or the proper tools. Or you can use an EMP grenade on the lasers without triggering the alarm." Decisions, decisions... "There are even some guards talking that you can overhear," chimes in writer Mary DeMerle, "and you hear them talking about a fault with the mechanisms behind the lasers - there's a trick to bypass them entirely."
"One of the things about the demo, that the trailer doesn't show, is that it's a really big map," says artist Jonathan Jacques-Belletete. "There's all this stuff with the lasers that David just talked about, and there's a whole other office section as well. The line between friendlies and enemies is blurred - that's totally part of that multi-path, multi-solution, multi-consequence [philosophy] we were talking about. It brings a lot of different approaches on that map, depending on how the scientists or the guards are going to see you based on your actions. So there are alternate routes... but they're not all obvious."
The testing process has already changed one of the game's most fundamental systems since we last saw it. The game is set in a world where cybernetic implants are possible but controversial. You're injured early on, and saved by augmentations installed without your consent.
From then on, it's up to you how much of your body you replace with cybernetics. Originally, the idea was that you'd have to visit a Limb Clinic in a major city and pay in-game currency to get a new augmentation installed. You'd be able to upgrade it in the field, with experience points earned, but you wouldn't be able to get new ones without going back to a clinic.
"We've modified it since last time," says Anfossi. "As we went through playtests we discovered that players hardly had a chance to get to the augs, because Limb Clinics are not all over the place. So we went back to the drawing board."
"It's not totally different," Anfossi continues, "but it's more flexible I would say. So right now the way it works is: you still earn experience points, and when you have a certain amount of XP that is turned into Praxis points. These points are used to purchase the augmentations, and when you have enough of them you can purchase upgrades and augs anywhere, on the fly.
PRAXIS MAKES PERFECT
"You can still go to a Limb Clinic when you are in cities, and when you get there you can buy items that refill your energy bar and things like that. You can also buy Praxis software, and you can use this software to upgrade abilities. So you can turn the money you earn into augmentations as before. What the new system does is give you more choice; you can think 'Shall I keep this money to buy a weapon that I won't find in the world, or useful things like that, or do I want to access these augs?'"
There's even a third way to get them: "In the game world, as you explore, you can find Praxis software which kind of plays a role similar to the canisters in Deus Ex 1."
Those were basically an aug-in-a-box: find one and you could install the augmentation for free. There are 21 augs in total, but most have a bunch of different functions to be unlocked. Those functions are laid out like an RPG skill tree for each aug, where spending Praxis points on one upgrade leads to others. With all those taken into account, the number of distinct functions you can add to your body and mind shoots up to 54.
When we ask the team for an example of one aug that can be specced in different ways, Anfossi thinks legs. "With the leg augmentation, the first one allows you to jump higher, but now you can go either to the right side [of the upgrade tree], which lets you do cool stuff when you land, like knockback enemies, or you can go down the left path which makes you run faster and so on."
The interesting difference between this and the original game is the concept of investment. In Deus Ex, you almost never spent anything on augs - most were found, or given as mission rewards, and provided only one choice: which of these two predefined options do you want?
In Human Revolution, every aug in the game is available to 'buy' from the start. They have varying costs, and you'll need a lot of experience to get some of the more effective ones, but you have much more freedom about how to build your character. Where Invisible War simply scrapped the original game's skill system, Human Revolution is going in the opposite direction by expanding it - under the guise of augs.
Anfossi gives me some examples of different ways to build Jensen: "You can decide to be this stealthy guy, who's all about subtle augs like getting cloak, even just managing the sound you produce, things like that. You can become more combat orientated, with augmentations to stabilise your aiming, to be able to do more take-downs.
All kinds of augmentations that make you kind of a tank. You can decide to be a Jack-of-all-trades, by getting a bit of everything but not necessarily an expert in any field. So you have a lot of options in every situation. If you're the exploration guy, you might decide to max out your strength to not only be able to do take-downs and break through walls, but also so you can move objects around or things like that, to let you access places that would be harder to reach.
"Or you can decide to go for hacking, to be able to get into containers and safes, and to be able to take the alternate paths." It's getting harder to be sceptical about Human Revolution. It's clearly a much more futuristic game than Deus Ex, despite being a prequel, and plenty about it is different.
But most of that difference, such as the generous scope for character progression and the Blade-Runner-meets-Rembrandt art style, is all the more reason to be excited. "The Deus Ex experience is really about choices and consequences," Anfossi tells me. His team's choices with Human Revolution have been brave, but close to the original where it counts. We can't be sure of the consequences yet, but we're damned excited.
[Words: Games Master]