Deus Ex: Human Revolution preview: Humane decisions

When Deus Ex: Human Revolution launches, two things are going to happen: 1) People are going to inevitably compare it to Mass Effect 2 and 2) Fans of the original game are going to find a prequel that carefully and methodically takes its cues from Warren Spector's masterpiece. I know it's not actually out and I didn't get to toy around with the final product, but my near three hours playing through the beginning of the game and its first major mission were incredibly telling of what Eidos Montreal is trying to accomplish here. This is going to be a special game.
%Gallery-115455% More to that first point, the most exciting times I had playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution were when I was engaged in conversation, tasked with making decisions -- just like in Mass Effect 2. Late in the demo, when I was dealing with a radical terrorist who had taken a woman hostage, I would carefully weigh every response in the conversation. I didn't want this poor secretary to die, nor did I want to treat this terrorist like some kind of sub-human piece of filth. I didn't know what he was going through. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The game opens up with a bunch of corporate fat cats speaking about a scientist who was to appear before Congress the following day with a medical breakthrough. The exact nature of the breakthrough was alluded to be some type of nervous system discovery, though the exact details of which were unknown. These shadowy types (represented by silhouetted images on a monitor who had their voices masked) were after Dr. Reed, the scientist in question, and as text displayed on a monitor detailing how she had finally been located, the cutscene ended.

Next thing I know, I'm watching Adam Jensen, the game's protagonist, and this Dr. Reed sit in an office, discussing tomorrow's planned trip to Washington. Jensen is the security manager for Sariff Industries, one of the biggest bio-technical and augmentation firms of this futuristic version of the United States, and was soon summoned up to the offices of David Sariff, the owner of this big mega-corporation. This was all rendered in-game and, soon enough, I was given control.

But that was only for a brief moment, as I snuck onto Dr. Reed's computer (she doesn't believe in passwords, apparently) and began to read her email. She quickly told me to cut it out and for the sake of not being a complete jerk, I obliged. I followed her out of the office, which then initialized a walk-and-talk cutscene where I could look around, but my character was on a guided path.

Reed takes Jensen on a tour of one of Sariff's numerous sciencing labs ... where they do science stuff

As we walked (and talked), the bigger picture began to become more clear. Reed was hiding something and when she tried to bring it up (multiple times), something would get in the way. First it was a scientist asking her to check some figures he'd found, then, later, it was when another coworker interrupted Jensen and Reed in an elevator. There was an ominous feeling to everything and as I made my way into Sariff's office, the alarms went off. Somebody had broken into the complex.

A man decked out in augmentations and expensive prosthetic limbs, along with a team of armed soldiers, were the cause of the distress. My first look at this more-machine-than-man, uh, man occurred when I rushed into a burning corridor only to watch him murder a scientist behind some bulletproof safety glass. I struggled to move debris from a blocked doorway and get around in time, but had no such luck: this scripted sequence could not be stopped. After making my way around to where the scientist perished, I was given my first taste of combat.

The initial break-in at Sariff

Deus Ex: Human Revolution's combat is, at its heart, a cover-based shooter. Hitting the L1 button would place Jensen up against the wall or box and zoom the camera out into a third-person view. From here, it was only a matter of popping up by pushing the left analog stick upward and shooting anyone in my line of sight with the R1 trigger. Combat felt good, but later on, in more confined spaces, the camera would freak out and zoom in on Jensen when taking cover, keeping me from seeing the action around.

After a few encounters (this whole area was a tutorial section and a vehicle for setting up the game's story), I made my way to the man in question, who had Reed in his mitts. Here, another cutscene would play out, with Jensen attempting to take on this burly bionic bastard in a round of fisticuffs. Jensen (obviously) got taken to the tool shed and initially appeared to be dead, with the invaders making off with Reed. The opening credits rolled, during which Jensen underwent the painful process of augmentation.

Jump to six months later and Jensen's back at Sariff HQ, ready to resume his role as security manager. From here on out, I was promised complete control by the game's art director, Jonathan Jacques-Belletéte -- and he wasn't lying. I was supposed to go see Sariff for my first mission, but my optical implants were freaking out, causing my HUD elements to flicker. As I strolled around the lobby willy-nilly, trying to find my way (and eavesdropping on people who were talking about my seemingly sudden return to duty), I engaged in my first round of conversation.

Two individuals were talking, one questioning why Jensen would be back only a mere six months following the break-in and his life-saving augmentation. Here, I was given the option to be confrontational or empathetic -- I took offense to this individual trying to tell me how to live my life. It's just a pet peeve, so I got in his face and told him if he had any snide remarks, he could bring them right to me instead of gossiping in the lobby. He apologized and ran off in fear, I chuckled to myself but, more importantly, I got some experience points from it. There wasn't any kind of indication on how the experience points would play into the game -- I didn't level up, strictly speaking, throughout my time in the demo.

David Sariff contemplates some science stuff (and, perhaps, how badass it is to have a robo-arm)

Before moving on to Sariff's office, I made a detour to Pritchard's, this future world's equivalent to the IT guy -- snarky and utterly condescending. Jensen's optic implant was on the fritz, causing the HUD to flicker. I imagine I could've went on through the game without getting it looked at but for the sake of visible HUD elements, I erred on the side of caution and addressed the problem. After my requisite dose of jerkery following treatment (it's how IT guys trade goods and/or services in the future, I imagine), I made my way out to the helipad to meet Sariff and undertake my first mission.

A group of anti-augmentation radicals (those with implants are affectionately referred to as "can openers" by these individuals) have taken over Sariff's Milwaukee labs and Jensen's gotta go in and take care of the situation. Prior to landing in Milwaukee, Sariff asks Jensen how he wants to take care of the situation. Lethal or non-lethal? What kind of weapon load-out? Take out enemies from a distance or up close and personal? Playing my Jensen as a sympathetic, yet terse man with a new-found value for human life, I went with the non-lethal and close-up options. This equipped me with a tazer gun that could zap enemies unconscious.

Once I was on the ground and ready to sneak into the complex, I was first directed to the heart of the augmentation menu, which is accessible through the Select button. It uses its own specialty points system, either rewarded at certain parts of the game or acquired from PDA-like tablets found throughout environments and allows Jensen to upgrade different parts of his new body. For the sake of the demo, I had six points available -- much more than the final game will give users at this point, Jacques-Belletéte promised. By spending points, you can either unlock brand-new abilities (with their own tech trees) or upgrade passive stuff, like the suit's internal batteries or threat-assessing algorithms.

So right away, I decided to tackle the plant-under-seizure by going the stealth route. I purchased an ability that allowed me to cloak, along with a Metal Gear Solid-like ability that allows me to see enemy cones of vision on the mini-map. With my last remaining point, I boosted my internal batteries -- a good choice, given that the stealth ability gobbled up batteries at an alarming rate.

Armed with my new abilities, I began my infiltration into the Milwaukee plant. My goal was to avoid detection, so I began systematically taking out patrolling guards by sneaking up behind them and hitting the circle button for a takedown maneuver. These were pretty agressive (so many broken arms!), but oddly enough, required quite a bit of battery power, so it really slowed my progress throughout the mission and caused me to avoid more guards and instead hide in some dark corner given the scenario.

And now that I was free to move about wherever I wanted, I took the cue as an opportunity to play around with the enemy AI. In some ways, they were incredibly smart -- a guard patrolling near a bathroom came in to investigate when I had flushed a toilet and hid in an adjourning stall, who I then snuck up behind him and knocked out cold. On the other hand, later when I had found a guard rummaging around in a store room, opening the door directly in his line of sight merely caused him to go "Huh?" and cautiously proceed forward, as if any door in the history of doors has ever opened itself. The AI, overall, was a mixed bag.

There were two goals for the Milwaukee mission: retrieve a prototype the company was working on, with a secondary objective to free some hostages in a storeroom. The hostages were housed in an upper-level room overlooking a lab, guarded by a bomb that I had to defuse. This gave me my first major sample of the hacking mini-game, where nodes need to be captured and converted before a timer runs out, locking me out of the device in question. Thankfully I got it the first time, which yielded me some serious experience points and allowed the hostages to be saved by SWAT after everything was all said and done.

Next up was the prototype, which I found in a server room in the bowels of the plant. There wasn't much resistance and after I acquired the device, I made my way up to the plant manager's office, to find the head honcho who had taken a secretary hostage. Remember him from the beginning of this preview piece?

He hates anyone with augmentations, as well as anybody who works for a company dealing in such tech. Granted that, he wasn't immediately willing to listen to what I had to say. Being empathetic to his situation and talking about how he values the purity of human life, yet is willing to murder an innocent woman, I eventually talked him down and he made off through the back door of the office. Oddly enough, that same back door would lead me to a helipad swarmed by SWAT; regardless, it was a tense situation and talking this terrorist down was an exhilarating experience.

Now that I had saved the woman (who thanked me for doing so), it got me some brownie points with other in-game characters. The first was her husband, a janitor at the same Milwaukee plant who had somehow managed to escape during the initial skirmish resulting in the takeover. I'll just let that sink in for a second.

Jensen is given the pre-flight safety talk

Approaching the helipad, the pilot also thanked me for my compassion and ability to resolve the situation in a way pleasing to all parties. I managed to avoid shedding blood and saved all of the hostages, which made the company look good, and I also retrieved the prototype. At the risk of sounding biased, let me say it was quite the performance.

After my session, I immediately wanted to boot the demo back up again and play it a different way. While I was unable to see how the weight of my decisions would play out later on in the game -- not killing the terrorist; the promise made by the husband; retrieving the prototype -- the combination of all these genres and how competently they are injected into the game, along with my desire to jump right back in after finishing the demo, speaks volumes to the quality of Human Revolution.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.