At E3, Square-Enix had a demo station set up for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. On one monitor, the PC version. On the screen next to it, the butt ugly Xbox 360 version. Bad idea! Left alone, the 360 version looks just dandy. But put it next to $4,000 Alienware PC, and it has no hope.
But how does it play? Honestly, pretty much exactly like the first two games. The menu system has been revamped, and the cover mechanics are what Gears of War could only hope to be, but everything else is just... more of the same.
I started off my playtest with a conversation. It was one of those conversations where you decide what your playstyle is, and how you feel about killing people. Do you want to be sneaky? Do you want to be a hacker? Do you like picking off enemies from a distance or do you want to get up close and personal? Lethal or non-lethal weapons?
I picked non-lethal. That form of fighting lasted only until I knocked out my first enemy, then it was time to kill. I didn't want to play it that way (you get more experience points for upgrades if you go the sneaky, slow, non-lethal route), but that's how I played the first two games. No one will survive!
Come to think of it, the only game I went out of my way to not kill people was Mirror's Edge, and that was only for the achievement. Maybe I'm just a violent person that needs rewards to not kill you. Or maybe I'm just like that in games because there's no real penalty for holding human life in low regard in the virtual world. Who knows?
Anyway. Human Revolution - with a variety of tutorials peppering seemingly every corner - did a good job acclimating me to the game. You get experience for actions such as hacking a computer to rewire a turret to attack your enemies, or sneaking past a guard by using the ventilation shaft, or performing a silent takedown on an enemy. You can tap the B button after sneaking up behind someone to knock them out, or you can hold the B button to kill them. Knock-outs are quieter, but the guard will wake up eventually and come to find you. Either way, make sure you drag the body to a hidden place so no one finds it!
One of my favorite parts about the first two Deus Ex games was the storyline. Conspiracies, backstabbing, secret governement agencies - it had it all. In the thirty minutes I got my hands on Human Revolution, the story just felt... kind of jumbled. I was breaking into this base because I had history with someone who flubbed a mission or was a double agent now or some bollocks, and in actuality I didn't really need to know about the story at all. I was just funneled down corridors with very, very clear choice options that were almost insulting elementary.
Example: you're in a corridor. At the end is a guard relaxing and a turret. On the left side there's a room with a computer you can hack to make the turret attack the guard. On the right side there is a ventilation shaft you can sneak down, Solid Snake style. If you don't like either of those options, you can pop around the corner and shoot both of them. See, there's plenty of choice to be had in Deus Ex - more than, say, Call of Duty - but it's laid out so as to be clearly obvious. I don't know... Were the first two titles in the series so obtuse? For being the "thinking man's RPG," it felt very "presented" to the player. Perhaps this was just to show off to people that have maybe never played the game before, and the later levels/non-demo paths will have a greater sense of discovery. We'll see. For now, however, I am unimpressed with the negligible advances the series has made.
I did enjoy the experience system. You are rewarded points for just about everything you do, and after you earn a set number, you are able to level up a part of your body's augmentations. Level up your legs to run faster, jump higher, and sneak silently while sprinting. Level up your eyes to see through walls. Level up your mind to hack stronger computers. You can become a balanced character, or you can specialize. It's up to you.
The hacking minigame is another point of contention for me - I'm sure it'll be a love it/hate it kind of activity for a lot of players. There's a sort of grid system, and some time-based gameplay, and a playing of the odds, and it's all too complicated to really understand. I moved from one spot on the grid to the next and held down X until the bar filled. I'm sure there's a more strategic way to play, but that did get me through every door in the demo. So... hm.
In the end, however, it is a very Deus Ex game. Character progression. Conspiracy theories. Play how you want to play. All the elements are there. But the first game released 11 years ago. Merely adding a pretty graphical upgrade and a cover system isn't enough for me. What else will the title offer on top of the tried-and-true shooter/RPG formula? We'll see how it plays out this August.