One month ago I got to see the third Deus Ex game being played in front of me, for half an hour. At the time I was pretty sceptical, but what happened in that demonstration made me a convert. I wrote my impressions down frantically as it went, so I thought the best way of explaining to you why I got so excited was to write up that mess of typos into a full blow-by-blow account.
It's a LOADING SCREEN! Exciting!
I'm not entirely kidding, because this loading screen has a LOADING SCREEN TIP! It tells you that you can upgrade your Cybernetic Arms augmentation to let you move heavier objects, cancel weapon recoil, punch through walls, or increase the size of your inventory.
In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Augs are things you buy at a Limb Clinic, but they only come with basic functionality. You earn experience points as you play, and spend that to unlock specific functions for your augs, like super-jumping for your legs.
While the game loads, producer David Anfossi explains that the demonstration will be about 25 minutes, all taken from the actual game: no specially made demonstration levels to show off specific features. We're going to see two consecutive levels, from about 5-6 hours into the game.
"Basically we put a lot of effort on the demo itself, not so much on the loading times."
The demo finally starts. It opens on a curvy VTOL aircraft named the B-EE burning through a thick gold fog towards a striking and profoundly futuristic sight: the double-decker city. An island metropolis near Shanghai that's had a whole second street level built on top of the first, making it look like the logical extreme of a multistory car park. Hero Adam Jensen speaks for the first time:
[MPU]"Son of a bitch."
"Twice the scum in half the space," remarks his pilot, Faridah Malik. She's referring to the fact that the lower levels in particular have become home to less savoury elements.
I think her maths is off: to fit twice the scum in half the space, you'd actually need four stories.
I was expecting to hate their voices, but I actually don't. Not enough to go on for Adam's, but Faridah's is perfectly decent. A very conventional nice-lady-in-your-earpiece performance, but a good one.
Faridah explains that we're after a hacker who hangs out in a nightclub here.
"Got a name?"
"Tong Se Hong."
The journos in the room with sharp ears and fond memories all look at each other. Tong? Our Tong?
Touch-down in a great looking futuristic city. Like the original, a lot of Deus Ex 3 takes place in large, freely explorable city hubs.
This one is gorgeous: every chunk of it is on a different level, and argon signs from tacky corner stalls light up the lingering fog with a different blaring colour on every street. Above, massive neon ads flicker so bright and sharp it's hard to look at them. They've gone for the Blade Runner feel, and pretty much nailed it.
Adam pulls a gun on the first guy he runs into as he leaves the landing pad - just to show us what happens. It's a nice looking, very slim and secret-agenty silenced pistol. The poor guy yelps, puts his hands up, and whimpers something in Mandarin. It wouldn't be Deus Ex if the hero wasn't being a dick.
The streets below aren't packed, but there are more people than you expect to see in a game city, and they're going about their business convincingly: sweeping up, chatting, buying things. At this point it's pretty clear the ambient chatter you're hearing isn't coming from anyone in particular, but that's understandable this early on.
Producer David Anfossi tells me you can talk to absolutely anyone, and almost all of the dialogue is unique.
Adam follows the bassy thumps and finds the nightclub, approaches the bouncer and is denied entry. Two things strike me at once:
One: Adam's voice, heard properly for the first time. Holy shit, it's gravelliest thing ever. It's like if Clint Eastwood played Batman. It's almost, almost too much, but after a few seconds, I like it. A lot, actually.
Two: the shoulders of Adam's trenchcoat have a faint black floral print on them.
Combined, this makes him the manliest and girliest protagonist ever.