The rumours are true! Yesterday, clad in black jacket and sunglasses, I rode a train to the Square Enix offices in cyber-Wimbledon to get the latest on Deus Ex 3, no matter the cost. Gaining entrance was challenging- I tried hacking a keypad and going in through the back, with no luck. I'd just started climbing a drainpipe to the roof when a PR came out and asked if I wanted to see Deus Ex 3. I said yes.
Don't worry if you're keen to not spoil a single bit of Deus Ex 3 for yourself. The following is entirely spoiler free.
Do you know what? They demoed the exact same sequence shown in the leaked E3 demostration. Disappointing, but I find it interesting for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, when I say exact, I mean it. The demonstration's two levels were completed with the same sequence of actions, while pointing out other possible routes at the same moments. Presumably this is Eidos' mathematically-deduced Best Way Of Showing The Game Off (showing dynamic levels with the utmost preparation and linearity is a bit of an industry tradition), but it's still a shame.
Secondly, despite it being the same demo I got far more of a feel for the game through simply being present. Pretty sure I now know what we're dealing with here.
In short, I think they've got the mechanics of the original Deus Ex down pat. The presentation began with Eidos Montreal's Marketing & Communications Director, Sebastien Bisch, talking about the "four pillars of gameplay" the team had identified- combat, stealth, social and hacking. Which might set alarm bells ringing in your head, but sure enough, you can see all four come together to create the exact same level design you'd expect to see in Deus Ex.
The Shanghai level he showed was a pleasant, circular slice of a city with a selection of side quests. The docks level was an open-ended level containing guards, cameras, computer terminals, overheard conversations and multiple entrances to each building. With the exception of the new cover system, context-sensitive takedowns, the pretty visuals and the lack of an inventory, it could have been Deus Ex.
Everything is here, from the keypads, to ventilation shafts, to playing through the game using nonlethal means, to using stacked boxes to create steps. The dialogue seems pleasingly pacy and adult, and there's a consistent competence in the voice acting that this series has never had (mixed with the contrived overhead conversations it always had- "Damn! I lost my datapad with the entrance code to this door on it again! oooh I am so clumsy.")
Where things could get a bit contentious is in the areas where Eidos Montreal is clearly attempting to upgrade Deus Ex, which is to say with its combat and presentation. Those fiendish schemers over at Eidos Montreal seem to be trying to fund this project by making sure Human Revolution "sells", and they want to help it "sell" with its art design, that aforementioned cover system, the cucumber-cool takedowns, some action-packed cutscenes and a clear focus on these cyberpunk augmentations. You know, all the stuff that makes the American games press unironically stand up from their chairs and scream at the screen.
The reason this rankles me isn't to do with them trying to get some decent action in my Deus Ex. The combat in Deus Ex was always shit. That they're trying to improve it is laudable, and on paper, none of these improvements step on the toes of that Deus Ex core I mentioned above. In practice, it might result in more action-centric levels, but we'll almost certainly have to wait for the game's 2011 release to find that out. And in any case, it won't be anywhere near as violent a shift from System Shock 2 to Bioshock.
No, the reason this makes me sad about Human Revolution's status as a sequel is the attention paid to recreating Deus Ex's design, and then the team getting on with their own thing. Deus Ex wasn't a game about hacking, stealth, shooting and chatting. It was about providing us with more freedom than we were used to, freedom which extended not just to level design but to being lied to and making our own long-term mistakes. Which again, Eidos Montreal say will be in the game. Hell, they're even whispering about providing multiple endings that don't only rely on a choice made in the final 15 minutes of the game. But this is them only seeing, or caring about, the surface of Deus Ex rather than the mentality behind it.
But then, this is the era of X-Com getting reinvented as an FPS. I'm asking a Hell of a lot.
What would I have liked to see? God, it's a tricky one. Something that demonstrated the range of actions NPCs use to form opinions on you, say. Or just how big and ripe for exploration a certain area was. Or perhaps I would have settled for what they have now, but with frequent checkpoint reloads that show how this new range of stylish augmentations can be used to bypass standard obstacles in ways that weren't options in Deus Ex. Something more than the original Deus Ex plus trendy bits.
Ooh, how grumpy I am. To end on an upper: I am hugely excited about Human Revolution. I adore the art direction, the plot seems plenty interesting, the team clearly care about the original game and the action looks awesome. I mean, it's the original Deus Ex plus trendy bits! Isn't that worth breathing a sigh of relief over? Yeah, there is going to be grumbling about the path the team are travelling down to secure some sales. But seriously, after half a decade of grumbling about this kind of thing, I think I'm done. What else is new? Human Revolution is, and I think it looks great.