Deus Ex: Human Revolution Impressions Pt. 2

By Quintin Smith on February 24th, 2011 at 4:01 pm.

Why isn't this the view out of my window yet? WHY?

Earlier this month our dramatic Deus Ex: Human Revolution info blowout comprised of a new trailer, Alec and I having a chat about its atmosphere, setting and construction, I interviewed lead narrative writer Mary DeMarle and Alec broke apart the tutorial level like a handful of Twiglets. As of today I can finally talk about the first level proper, and I want to describe what Eidos Montreal has done with action, stealth and those curious new dialogue battles. Fear not, ladies and gents. I’ll be avoiding spoilers as best I can.

Ready? We’re going in.

Adam Jensen is perched, dark and predatory, at the lip of a vent overlooking the interior of a warehouse, office and simple research facilty where armed, jittery radicals stalk and bark between aisles of goods. The stakes of his mission- and yours- are high. Not only do you need to recover an experimental weapon belonging to your company, not only are there hostages being held in the complex, but this is the first test of the newly augmented Jensen following the disaster that left him at death’s door.

As a player, crouched up there, watching your opponents patrol and thumbing your way through your comprehensive map of the area, it’s a gorgeously intimidating situation. And, being a task that could have been pulled cleanly from the design document of the original Deus Ex, it feels like a statement of intent. As such, when you play this mission you may not be entering from the roof. You may have gotten your hands bloody in a direct assault on the front door. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, and this mission demands patience.

I pick my moment like a jewel thief snatching up an exceptional stone and drop from the vent to a the peak of a pile of crates, then down, and down again, moving quickly from each crate towards the floor. Having sequestered myself down in the shadows I slide quickly up to a corner, slide up to another corner, picking my way over to the far side of the

*BANG*

Jesus Christing Jesus who’s shooting at me? Where’s the

*BANG* *BANG*

Ow! Balls! Oh he’s behind me I’ve got to I’lll get out my taser and

*BANG*

Jensen keels over and slaps the floor like a leather sack of expensive consumer electronics. I’m dead. And this is me playing on Normal, as opposed to the two settings above it- “Hard” and finally “Deus Ex”.

Which is as efficient a way I have of telling you that this is very much a Deus Ex game. For the developers, throwing the player against a ton of weak opponents is not an option, because, in most cases, it’s not immersive. What they have to do instead is set you up against a smaller number of opponents than an FPS would, and then makes those opponents total dicks.

Reload! Try again. Adam Jensen is perched, dark and predatory, at the lip of a vent overlooking the interior of a warehouse. I take my nerves and use them to galvanise my plan into something more fool-proof. I start by taking my taser out of my sodding pocket. In the chopper on the way over here I was given a choice of four guns (politely out-doing Deus Ex’s original choice of three), first stating I wanted to go nonlethal, and then choosing the taser over a tranquiliser dart rifle. My thinking was that I’d go lurching from shadow to shadow, blasting perps at close range. Doing the maths now, it doesn’t look like I’ll have enough ammo for that. Too many bad guys. Just too many.

Okay. I’ve got it. I pick my moment like a lover timing a final, irreversible goodbye and slip once again down the pile of crates. I tap the cover button to send Jensen rolling over to a packed shelf, whip around the corner and deliver a godly taser blast to the chest of the gunman on the other side. I drag his body behind a crate, slip his pistol into my coast and leave the scene immediately. Ignoring the rest of the criminals I make a quick sprint for a nearby door, eyeing my minimap on the way over to make sure nobody’s behind me or the door, and slide through it, an electric ghost. I find myself in an office and drop down behind a desk to check my map. Where the Hell am I?

How’s this for a surprise: Deus Ex: Human Revolution has some of the finest stealth I’ve enjoyed in years. It’s a side effect of being an immersive sim. The world feels so weighty, dangerous and plausible that slipping past a man (or many mans) unseen is an incredible thrill. The minimap in the lower right corner of your hud is generous, but believable given the other cyberpunk tools at your disposal, and makes the stealth enjoyable rather than easy.

After several more rooms’ worth of cinematic sneakery I’ve examined plenty of datapads, been impressed by the new hacking minigame, left a trail of heavily electrocuted bodies slumped and learned that I love the new one-button takedowns for much the same reason I love the new cover system, which I talked about with Alec here. I know takedowns are the cause of another great lagoon of doubt within the hardcore PC community, but like the cover system, you don’t have to use them, but if you do use them you’ll find you interact with the world in a way that makes that much more sense.

Case in point, in one instant I was busy rummaging through a desk or something similarly uncool when a member of the group occupying the warehouse rounded a corner and spotted me from a distance of about three metres.

In the original Deus Ex, this meant JC Denton could look forward to a bout of circle strafing and baton smacks more at home in a police brutality video than a game about playing an ice-cool future superhuman. In Human Revolution, you can close the distance, press a button and loose a grin-spawningly cool bit of self defense at them, either knocking them out at the cost of bio energy if you tap the button, or ending their life with the blade hidden in your arm if you hold it down. Far from the cut to third person breaking immersion, the manoeuvre makes you feel more like Adam Jensen, because you never have to rub up against the glass wall of being unable to do something that fits within the narrative, and the need to get within spitting distance of an enemy makes the takedowns no more a “win” button than pulling the trigger on your gun is after you’ve put an enemy in your sights.

Finally, after slinking through what I thought was a relatively comprehensive run of the site (yet failing, I discovered later, to find the holding area for the hostages) and making one terrible error that leaves me hunkering in a ladies’ bathroom, taser pointed at the door, taking out several panicked guards as they come sprinting in one after another, I locate the group’s leader up the stairs in an office. It feels strongly like a parallel of the end of Liberty Island, when you discover the NSF leader in the base of the Statue of Liberty, with the twist that this time your discussion of ethics and motives have a deathly heaviness to them, as the leader is holding a gun to the head of a female hostage.

Up to this point, Human Revolution had mimicked Deus Ex in allowing conversations playing out with your avatar viewed through a cutscene-style third person camera. Not this time- I’m locked firmly into Jensen’s head as the leader spiels aggressively at me and I make my choices. Right off the bat I’m presented with the option of telling him that keeping hostages alive is not the primary concern of my company, a line ending with a sinister [Attack him]. I decide I can do a little better, and cautiously make a choice from between using reason, appealing to his code of conduct by flattering him and trying to empathise, or trying to humble him. I choose the latter, and Jensen launches into a surprising tirade along the lines of telling him that he’s not some gang banger, and that he’s better than what he’s doing right now.

The way Human Revolution’s new battle conversation-type moments work is that depending on what you say, your opponent may respond in a number of ways, and you need to read into that reaction and make the correct choice as to where to go next. It’s a game of rock-paper-scissors where your opponent’s choice is there in front of you, yet obfuscated into subtleties of language and psychology. You can often guess what the bad choice would be (trying to belittle a man who’s close to snapping and doing something stupid, for example) but the good choice is a much trickier thing to work out. As a minigame it feels real, and it feels adult, and to me it felt pleasingly difficult, by which I mean I was staring at my choices and picking over his every word and I still had no idea what to say. In the end I did save the hostage, but at a particularly embarrassing cost.

With this drama concluded, I left the complex feeling quite pleased myself and walked straight into the folded arms of a waiting SWAT team and my pilot. I really thought I’d done well. Her first words to me? As cautious an expression of doubt as to my methods and results she could possibly give to her superior at Sarif Industries. I chose the option that had Jensen telling her, in gravelly voice, that she had no idea what went on in there and that he did the best he could. But her words were still ringing in my ears as I boarded the chopper.

I could have done better. I could have done it differently. All I wanted was to load up an old save and play it all over again.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution continues to shun release dates, and will be released at some point in 2011. Want more? Quinns and Alec discuss what was seen in this hands-on session right here.

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61 Comments »

  1. Schadenfreude says:

    Mr Meer’s hands-on has just gone up on Eurogamer too
    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-02-24-deus-ex-human-revolution-hands-on

    I am reading neither of them. I’m sure they’re good and all but I wanna go in to this game blind.

  2. Casimir's Blake says:

    I bet they ruin it completely with quest arrows.

    (Translation: If the devs have, indeed, bothered to make an immersive sim system for Deus Ex 3, then I fucking hope it’s nearly as enjoyable as Thief or System Shock, has large non-linear levels, and no dumbing down.)

  3. The Sombrero Kid says:

    considering their promo material says may & given the only reason it’s not out now is because Square want to make their books for next year look as good as possible, my moneys on may.

  4. Teddy Leach says:

    Desperate. Your turn.

    • stahlwerk says:

      Desperate.

    • Bennus says:

      Desperate.

    • coldvvvave says:

      Old men.

    • Dozer says:

      Ready? We’re going in.
      And go in, and go in, and go in, and go in like the US Marshall and his three daughters and we lose the vaccine?
      and Jensen launches into a surprising tirade along the lines of telling him that he’s not some gang banger
      He must not be some kind of standard. What a shame.

  5. Binman88 says:

    I’m always picking my moments like a jewel thief.

    This sounds great so far. Replayability is somewhat key to my enjoyment in stealth games, and it seems there will be a decent amount of that in HR.

  6. Zephro says:

    God the randomised conversation sounds good. BIOWARE I’m looking at you right now! It’s not a happy look. This could have been done years ago.

  7. Marshall Stele says:

    I am however a bit cautious when I read the words “cover button.”

    • Handsome Dead says:

      oh god new things i am so scared right now hold me

    • torchedEARTH says:

      Where’s the hold button!!

    • lurkalisk says:

      Things like Gears of War apparently sell so well that “cover mechanics” (an amazingly inniovative 1 button automated action that simplifies an already dead simple task) are becoming somewhat of a standard. If you wish to continue playing games with shooting, you’ll just have to get used to it.

      But who knows, maybe it’ll just die, or worse, spill over into racing games and such as well…

    • Captain Hijinx says:

      Cover systems have been around a hell of a lot longer than Gears of war, which merely popularized them for the Xbox masses. It works well when applied to a game that can use the system and have it make sense within the context of the game play on offer, it’s not something i’m worried about now, knowing that they’ve incorporated it as part of the stealth mechanics and not some shooter fest, that was my big fear, a COD style shooter fest. The more i hear about this new game, the more excited i become.

      I doubt they’ll reach the high watermark of the first, but they’re definitely going to make a better game than IW. This may well be the true sequel we’ve been waiting for.

  8. Wilson says:

    Sounds good. Shame about the guards charging one after another into a room though. It would be neat if they could tell when you’re cornered and gather a few men up before making a more coordinated attack. But hey, some game in the future I guess. Or maybe skilled guards later in the game, but I’d be surprised. Cover system, takedowns and the conversation system sound like they should be fun.

    • Zephro says:

      I think that’s a problem with games generally over the last decade. AI seems to have stayed entirely static almost.

    • Wilson says:

      @Zephro – Oh yeah, I don’t mean to single out Deus Ex. It wouldn’t spoil the game, but it’s something that would be nice. I suppose AI is one of those things that doesn’t lend itself well to trailers or screenshots, and it can be hard to quantify how much it improves someone’s game experience, so given how difficult it is to do most games don’t bother too much trying to push the envelope.

    • Linfosoma says:

      @Wilson: The ideal thing (which a few games have done) is to have the AI throw a grenade into the room when they know you are cornered.
      That has worked well in the few instances I’ve seen it happen.

      Anyway, the game looks fantastic, Im sold.

    • Wilson says:

      @Linfosoma – Yeah, that’s nice, but only if all enemies have grenades, which might get a bit old. That said, I would probably prefer everyone carrying grenades if this was exploitable (maybe if it made it super easy to get enemies into range for the takedowns) but hopefully that’s not the case.

    • FriendlyFire says:

      AI is extremely difficult to do. If this was only released on PC, a good quad-core CPU could have one core entirely dedicated to AI routines, but since this is also released on consoles, they simply don’t have access to the necessary processing power to simulate a good AI and I’m afraid giving the PC version a new AI would be too costly to be an effective maneuver (especially since dual-core CPUs would have a hard time, too, so you’d effectively have a very small number of people who’d benefit from it).

      Making the AI able to see that you’re cornered, for instance, involves keeping track of the building’s layout for more than just pathfinding, which is already rather complex. You need to identify exits for all rooms and then mark the room the player is currently in. You then need to make the AI aware of not only itself, but also of other AIs in the area. Then, you have to script the AI’s reaction based on available material and personnel. All of this just for very specific situations. What if you have two exits, but both are covered by AIs? Need to make sure that works too, and can be expanded to N exits. What if one exit is not covered? If you want to make the AI as realistic, you need to have the group AI dispatch one or more individuals in the direction of the exit to block it…

      There are so many possibilities it’s not even funny, and I’m only speaking of basic squad AI in indoor situations. Unfortunately, most if not all instances of the AI cornering you and properly executing said cornering (covering itself, sending grenades, etc.) are scripted beforehand.

    • omgwtflolbbqbye says:

      Yea. I remember in Metal Gear Solid 2 and 3 the enemy A.I. followed very specific protocols for room clearing. If they suspected you in a room, they would first throw in stun grenades then do a clearing sweep, watching each others back.

      I remember the developer based the protocols on actual SWAT tactics.

      But it also required the game to spawn extra enemies into the map.

    • Wilson says:

      Of course AI is difficult to do, and I do appreciate that. But as Zephro says, it just doesn’t seem to have progressed as much as other areas of games. Probably for a variety of good reasons, it’s just a shame.

    • torchedEARTH says:

      I would have thought adding some weighting to path finding for AIs based on their counterparts not coming back from said paths would make them exhaust different routes until the survivors of various assaults are left with the single option of waiting for you to come to them.

    • Zephro says:

      I think it’s largely a politics thing if you’re assigning budget to spend on parts of the engine it’s always graphics first I think. AI is seen as too hard to define and budget for. Not that the problems are insoluble as they clearly aren’t. It does seem to be an area where academia is actually ahead of the games industry though, as the biz just seems to show no interest.

      EDIT: By this I mean that an A* algorithm doing pathfinding is basically the same technique that was known in the early nineties. You can throw more power at it now but it’s still the same technique. Weighting is just a usual part of it really.

      More behavioural stuff I’ve heard of more recently seems to be more about lending personality that intelligence sometimes. Bit out of touch now.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      @Wilson: That’s what I thought too. But then I remembered that it was the exact same way in Deux Ex, and that it did not detract from the experience at all.

    • torchedEARTH says:

      @Zephro

      I agree.

      Non-technical budget holders rarely get it. Graphics can be interpreted as “It looks amazing!” whereas refined AI will be interpreted as “I keep getting shot. It’s too hard, nobody will buy it!”

  9. stahlwerk says:

    I will now ruin the game for you:

    Sarif don’t like it. *dun dudun dun*
    Rock the Casbah! Rock the Casbah!

    Now try hearing or reading that name without thinking of this song. You’re welcome.

  10. TuesdayExpress says:

    “…making one terrible error that leaves me hunkering in a ladies’ bathroom, taser pointed at the door, taking out several panicked guards as they come sprinting in one after another…”

    Could you clarify this a bit, Quinns? I can read this as either a group tried to bumrush you in a small room, or the guards were on ‘Altert! Intruder!’ mode and just kept piling in without any situational awareness (instead of finding cover outside and shooting when you tried to exit, for example). I hope for the former, but find the latter more plausible. Any other impressions of the AI tactics/strategy?

    Re: the conversation options, that sounds like a breath of fresh air after the travesty of DA2′s demo dialogue.

    • Quintin Smith says:

      Sure. It was the latter. Someone spotted me, I ran into a bathroom, he took a shot at me with his gun before I managed to disable him, and two guards came running in (one several seconds after the other) to investigate the sound of the gun.

      You know, AI grouping together before they investigate does sound like a very reasonable thing to expect from AI, doesn’t it? Hm.

    • Tengil says:

      Conversation sounds a little like Alpha Protocol, where you would have to guess which approach worked best with a character under time pressure. Good to hear other games are doing similar things.

    • Dave says:

      I was thinking Alpha Protocol too – playing that at the moment and quite enjoying it. I know how it got particularly average reviews at launch, but I’m loving the fact that everything you do and say seems to have an effect on the story later – even the order in which you do the missions. It may be very cleverly not doing those things in the background, but it makes it seem real in a way that I’ve only wished for before -usually even when a game has marketed itself as having these types of features before it has fallen well short

    • Urthman says:

      I so desperately want to play a game where I run around a corner and a guard chases me and I ambush him, and then I hear two more guards coming and I prepare to ambush them in exactly the same way (watch them step into precisely the same spot with the exact same animation, die, and fall in exactly the same place as the first guy).

      But instead, the two of them gang up and ambush me! Maybe they both jump around the corner together, maybe they toss a grenade at me, maybe one goes around and they ambush me. But something like that. Please? Surely our super-awesome future-machines can do that?

  11. Furius says:

    Now can we have a gameplay trailer with the Deus Ex theme with additional Welsh Miner’s choir.

  12. Longrat says:

    The more time goes by, the more hope I get for this game. I really do hope it’ll be as amazing as it seems.

  13. Bureaucrat says:

    I like how Sarif is apparently sans-serif.

  14. mmrik says:

    Stop it! I can’t take it anymore! Why can’t it be released now and be crap so I can go on with my life?

    • Joshua says:

      Because then they’d patch it so it would no longer be crap, and you would have to return to it.

  15. ALJA says:

    “slip the pistol into my coast” ….

  16. LionsPhil says:

    you don’t have to use them

    Stop this. It is a ridiculous thing to use to justify a design decision. “Oh, the rocket launcher’s terrible in Quake 5, but you can just use some other gun.”

    At least clarify to what extent it’s avoidable. Sure you can not press the cover button. Can you still play sneaky-sneaky stab-stab that way, or are you taking a massive penalty to the AI’s chance of spotting or hitting you? If you eschew the takedown button, are your melee weapons used normally just as effective or not?

    • DiamondDog says:

      You’re right, just saying you don’t have to use them is ridiculous. What he should say is this game has a cover mechanic and takedowns, if you find these concepts heinous then you’re shit out of luck. This is how the game was developed.

      Take it or leave it.

    • Muzman says:

      It’d be interesting if they removed them for ‘Deus Ex’ difficulty. Otherwise, yeah, no point complaining. The game will be what it is.
      I’d still like to see them develop a good first person melee system rather than this stuff (yes I know it would be hard).

      This section stuck out like a sore thumb to me:
      “Case in point, in one instant I was busy rummaging through a desk or something similarly uncool when a member of the group occupying the warehouse rounded a corner and spotted me from a distance of about three metres.

      In the original Deus Ex, this meant JC Denton could look forward to a bout of circle strafing and baton smacks more at home in a police brutality video than a game about playing an ice-cool future superhuman. In Human Revolution, you can close the distance, press a button and loose a grin-spawningly cool bit of self defense at them, either knocking them out at the cost of bio energy if you tap the button, or ending their life with the blade hidden in your arm if you hold it down. Far from the cut to third person breaking immersion, the manoeuvre makes you feel more like Adam Jensen, because you never have to rub up against the glass wall of being unable to do something that fits within the narrative, and the need to get within spitting distance of an enemy makes the takedowns no more a “win” button than pulling the trigger on your gun is after you’ve put an enemy in your sights.”

      The trouble is I’ve heard that argument/PR for third person since the XBox era began and it’s never worked. Not once. It creates distance, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you’re inside a stiff rock-em sock-em robot on a skateboard for the duration of the game, you’re closer to the game inside than out. It’s just the way it is. (It’d be interesting to see if some hack or option appears to do these without the switch to TPP and see if that’s any better. Interesting to me at least. Some of the smaller ones might work rather well. The longer ones we’ve seen where you dive through the roof and grenade everyone, probably not).
      So, no, I don’t buy it. But never mind. It sounds groovy otherwise.

    • Jac says:

      Sounds generally fantastic except the takedown thing. I like batoning people to death in ridiculous fashion. Hopefully one button takedowns and batonings can co-exist peacefully.

    • JackShandy says:

      Yeah, but this IS deus ex we’re talking about. If you don’t like one aspect of the game, it is extremely easy to avoid it.
      Where takedowns are concerned, you’re really given a choice every time you see an enemy start running at you- pull out your gun or go for the takedown. I imagine they’re spectacularly easy to avoid.

      To go into the third person thing: Deus Ex had moments that broke immersion spectacularly, and I’m sure this game will have some too.

    • Dave L. says:

      @Jac: Unfortunately, based on this and the previews on other sites, I don’t think there even IS a baton. The only melee weapons are Jensen’s arms (which makes sense. why bother carrying a smacking stick or a knife when you’ve got sword blades hidden in your forearms). Please correct me if I’m wrong, RPS Hivemind, but the stun-gun in this demo is a ranged (albeit quite short) taser thingy, not a Deus Ex 1 style riot prod, yeah?

      I’m increasingly torn on the takedowns. I hate the idea of them pulling into third person, as it’s absolutely an immersion killer. They could’ve stayed in first person and the takedowns would have played out like Faith’s disarms in Mirror’s Edge (which, despite being a one button thing, always made ME feel all sorts of badass when I pulled them off). But the idea that they devour an entire energy cell with every use seems to turn them into a limited resource, which I like in theory, but if there’s no other short range unlimited non-lethal weapon a la the baton, it puts a pretty severe limit on how effectively you can be non-lethal sneaky man. I wouldn’t want to have to shoot a guy with a tranq dart when he’s six inches from me because I don’t have enough bio-electricity to smack him into a coma, cloak, and run back around the corner before his buddy sees me.

  17. Ian says:

    WWWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANT.

    That is all.

  18. WJonathan says:

    Someone please remove this giant, rusty hook from my upper lip. I know as soon as I’m reeled up to the counter the man won’t let me go for under $50.

    Man if this is truly the second coming of the greatness that was Deus Ex, well…no…I won’t get that excited. It will only lead to tears. Yes, safe in my tower of pessimism.

  19. outoffeelinsobad says:

    At this point, the only thing I’m worried about is that it is so good that it makes the original look like a pile of crap to a new generation of gamers.

  20. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I very much hope they’ll release a demo.. so I can see how badly it runs on my computer before I go out and buy the bloody thing without being able to play it in any decent way, shape or fashion.

  21. bill says:

    I rather liked circle straffing and hitting people with battons… at least i felt like it was ME doing it, not me watching an animation.

    But on the whole this sounds pretty promising… how can they be doing this so right and then making a linear 3rd person action game called tha4f?

    • Dominic White says:

      Remember how people decided that DX3 was going to be universally terrible and how the developers were the worst people on earth… right up until people actually played it and discovered that it’s a VERY good sequel?
      Yeah. Try stowing the internet kneejerk reaction, just for once, and wait and see instead.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Well said, Dominic. That was exactly what I was thinking.

  22. xesharpx says:

    Can’t wait :)

  23. Soon says:

    Don’t you mean an immersing sim, Quinns?

  24. Daiz says:

    I would like to weight in on the third-person thing: personally, I think it’s only a good idea for a game including stealth elements. Why? The reason is pretty simple. The usual Field of View for a third-person view in videogames is much closer to what we see in real life in first person. In other words, using third person allows the player to be at least as aware of their surroundings as they would in real life. In first person, your view is much more restricted than in real-life, which works quite counterintuitively for something like stealth where you’re supposed to have a great awareness of your surroundings.

    Due to that, I’m not worried about the usage of third person in this game at all. I do have one question, though: Do you see your own legs when you look down in first person? Because I really hope that you do.