Last week Alec and Quinns were tasered, blindfolded, put in a black van, tasered again, tasered one more time for good measure and taken by Eidos for a hands-on session with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The whole thing was very rude, our men report. At last they have recovered from the publisher's powerful sedatives, and present to you a discussion about what they played and Wot They Thought.
Quinns: I think I should start by saying that it's been a long time since I've been quite this excited going into a playtesting session.
Alec: Me too. It seemed absurd. We're going to play a Deus Ex game? C'mon, that's got to be a joke. That's impossible.
Alec: IT WAS NOT IMPOSSIBLE. What's odd is that the further we get away from DX and the closer we get to DX3, the more DX2 just disappears
Quinns: I was about to say. DX2 is nothing more than this radar smudge in my mind. It's not tangible, and DX3 isn't tainted by it in the slightest. Partially because everything I see of DX3 speaks of powerful competence, and partially because DX3 is (in terms of setting) a prequel rather than a sequel.
Alec: Anyway, we probably shouldn't hang around that point or the entire thread will fill with people bitching about Invisible War again.
Alec: Let's note at this point that the evil Dr Embargo has prevented us from discussing most of what we played until Feb 24th, but we can now talk about the introduction, tutorial and marvellously gruesome credits sequence. What were you expecting? Did it match it?
Quinns: Well, I was thrilled to find out that we'd be playing the first couple of hours of the game, rather than a couple of disjointed levels. That was a relief. But when we got to playing, what I found most striking is that the game's flavour- the art design, the dialogue, the characters, the architecture and fashion- is even better than I hoped. And I was hoping for a lot.
Quinns: I was transported. What Eidos have done here is nothing short of beautiful, and that's all the more interesting because- while Deus Ex did an incredible amount- beauty was not its focus.
Alec: Yes, there's a real urge and satisfaction to looking around, soaking it in. There's remarkable distinction between even incidental NPCs, which is something I hope they can maintain throughout the game. The lab you're lead around near the start was a helluva sight - so bright, busy, cheerful. Sort of the exact opposite of DX1's dingy, sparsely populated spaces. Such a bold statement of "here is our brave new world." Which in turn means it's more affecting when that lab gets the smackdown a few minutes later.
Quinns: Mm. Believable is the word I'd use. Without wanting to give anything away, the game's tutorial level sees you being steered around your company's laboratory, meeting some of the more important members of the game's cast (who are all on edge as your biotech firm is about to go public with some heavy shit) and then being fed all the combat mechanics when the building reports some intruders. The annoying part of all this is that the levels afterwards are still under embargo, so all we can do now is report that the tutorial was extremely linear. But then, so was Deus Ex's.
Alec: I'm pretty sure that no-one's going to get cross if we say the game is a lot less linear later. But yes, this is plot setup, and an introduction to some basic controls - including the nuts and bolts of stealth.
Quinns: Oh my god the stealth.
Alec: That's something I found immediately rewarding, even though Jensen is without any superpowers at this point. It's not a darkometer or guards with radars above their heads. It's hiding, watching, waiting, timing, running. Totally organic, based on observation and caution.
Quinns: It's some of the most satisfying stealth I've ever encountered. Again, I'll use the word believable. Peering over desks, going lurching from hiding place to hiding place. It's like you say- no darkometer, no mechanics. Just the simple act of a man trying not be seen, with the player given enough spatial awareness to do it well. (Or balls it up amazingly.)
Alec: That said, I found it sliiightly fussy on when it would let you press the 'dash to next cover' button. But the structure of it was splendidly real and subtle.
Quinns: Let's talk a bit more about the cover system. Last time we posted about Deus Ex 3 I read some people in the comments saying that they'd be OK with the cover system as long as it wasn't integral to the game, so they could play it like the original Deus Ex. That's mad as a bag of hats. The cover's great.
Alec: At the same time, it isn't integral. I spent a lot of time simply running and hiding. But using the cover system enormously amps up your tactical capabilities. Peering around and over, squeezing off a quick headshot, doing a quick dash... It just makes you a bit better at being an assassin. But you can totally go without if you're a big fussy oddo.
Quinns: I was talking to Kieron about this. The only part of the "Cover is shit!" argument I'm inclined to take seriously is that when the game swaps to a third person camera, you lose immersion. But having that extra bit of peripheral vision, being able to roll or slide to and from each piece of cover- that's what I /want/ to be able to do. It's what I believe Jensen /should/ be able to do.The boost to immersion from being able to make Jensen do precisely what I want outweighs the fact that I'm looking at him from behind, something I barely notice.
Alec: Y'know, I didn't even think about that. Of course- it switches to third person. But they've done it so seamlessly I simply did not realise. My god.
Quinns: Haha. Did you have a favourite of the cast members introduced?
Alec: The headless robotic torso running on a treadmill.
Quinns: Did you see the packet of eyes?
Alec: Hah, no. Frankly, I'm not sure about the characters yet. Jensen has an interesting past hinted at, but he seems a bit Growly Videogame Hero #23432432. The weasley tech guy, Pritchard, was interesting though. The game really goes out of its way to make you dislike him, which I suspect is about toying with our suspicion and paranoia.
Quinns: That the game drops a clinical antagonist straight onto your team is interesting, yeah. I like the boss of the company. And his secretary. They're a believable pair.
Alec: The boss was wearing a waistcoat which made him look like Kryten
Quinns: Yeah. We've got a picture of him, actually.
Alec: But yes, his ethics are clearly going to be a major undertone for the game. Essentially, he's Tony Stark. OR IS HE?
Quinns: I enjoy that his secretary isn't some cheerful bit of fluff, but a slim, ultra-professional sounding middle aged woman. He needed the best. He got her.
Alec: I won't be happy until they get the angry blind old lady from Mad Men as an in-game secretary.
Quinns: Let's end by talking about your love interest, Megan Reed. Because, uh- there's a love interest. Which is curious in and of itself.
Alec: Yes, although they don't go full on with it either. You're not even totally sure, until those three little words appear during the credits. It's just hinted at with touches and looks. It's new territory for Deus Ex, and puts a new inflection on 'human revolution.' This is a Deus Ex game that might just explore humanity as well as philosophy and science.
Quinns: Yeah, those three little words. As I said to you on the way out of the session, it really struck me that at the end of the tutorial, during the horrible montage where Jensen's getting all of his top-of-the-line, priceless implants, you hear Megan saying "I love you." Those words gently whipped the carpet out from underneath me.
Quinns: It didn't feel like an emotive extra to give strength to a scene. The delivery of the words was more desperate than it was cloying. It sounded like a statement of intent. Not least because when Jensen wakes up Megan's... ah. Embargo!
Alec: the shutters are coming down
Alec: the gas is flooding in the room
Alec: we just need to tell you that...
Quinns: She's... Megan's...
Deus Ex: Human Revolution still bears the clandestine release date of "2011". We'll be posting part 2 of our preview later this month. In the meantime, we have an interview, a trailer and blow-by-blow details on the first level.