Deus Ex: Human Revolution hands on - the first ten hours
I've played Deus Ex: Human Revolution for about 40 hours now, so I don't think it's too soon to say this: it's incredible. Four of us here in the office have had access to the first ten hours of the game for a few weeks - I'm on my fifth time through - and today we're finally allowed to tell you what we think of it.
In this post I want to tell you exactly how good it is and why, then you can read about what I got up to in it in my diary of a psychopath. Tomorrow Graham will tell you about his hacking-focused style, and on Friday Rich will try to talk and sneak his way through the whole thing. We'll avoid specific plot spoilers, but inevitably we're going to be mentioning situations you'll encounter yourself when the game comes out in August. In the meantime, you can hear all our spoiler-free impressions in a Deus Ex special of our podcast.
The first Deus Ex looked like a shooter, but was inordinately tough to play as one. It expected you to look for other ways to approach your enemies: sneak past them, create a diversion, use something in your inventory to stun them, turn a nearby turret to your side, or find another route to avoid them entirely.
Human Revolution has every part of that. On the maximum difficulty (referred to as 'Deus Ex'), being shot at for more than a second is death. You can sneak past your enemies, distract them, stun them, subvert the environment and find new routes through the level.
The difference is that each option is slicker. The cover system lets you see enemies without them seeing you, by pulling back to third person. It's an unfair advantage, but it means stealth is a viable option without having to make the enemies laughably short sighted.
The AI isn't exactly human, but throw something across the room and they prowl cautiously, rather than trundling over and staring. The non-lethal options, including a short-range tazer and an area-effect airblast weapon, are supremely satisfying to use. And hacking is properly developed this time: a tense minigame that varies in pace and structure from hack to hack.
Whether it's as good as Deus Ex will depend on how well these options are maintained and developed in the rest of the game, but we've played more than enough to see that they work, they're fun, and they all hang together a something that feels like Deus Ex.
The character progression is certainly better: it might not have the original's skills, but the mechanical augs you can upgrade yourself force much tougher choices. You earn Praxis points to spend on them quite slowly, so buying a new aug for 2 points is an agonisingly big decision.
The first hacking upgrade in Deus Ex, affordable from the word go, would get you into any terminal in the game. Human Revolution has 4 hacking augs with 12 upgrades, all useful in distinct ways. But the other options are so exciting that I've never been able to spare the points: how could I not get the no-fall-damage aug, or the throw-fridges-at-people aug, or the kill-two-people-at-once aug? What about my legs, reader? Where will I get the points to upgrade my legs?!
This version is the first time I've been able to play past the introductory missions, and the biggest surprise there is the richness of this world. I'd noticed every office in your headquarters had a name on it - I had no idea you could get inside each of them, hack into every computer and read every e-mail these people had sent to each other. I had no idea the minor subplot mentioned near the start could turn into such a sprawling quest, with dirt on so many characters, secrets and lies to be discovered far from the critical path of your mission.
The streets of Detroit are just as full of intrigue, if you snoop around. Every time the three of us talk about the game, we each discover places we haven't been to yet, clues we're yet to find, or the full story to something we assumed was just an irrelevant detail. Before the central conspiracy has even got started, it feels like a world full of fascinating little secrets.
This is what I've wanted from every game in the eleven years since Deus Ex. But only a few since then have used interactivity like this; as a way to give the player a meaningful say in everything from the delivery of the story to the genre of the action. Seeing it done so beautifully, with a dark layer of polish, makes me incredibly happy.
In the next few days we'll tell you a bunch of ways the first ten hours of Human Revolution can be played, and you can hear spoiler-free impressions from me, Graham and Rich in our Deus Ex podcast.