When Eidos Montreal's enthusiastic art director, Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, told me he's played through the first Deus Ex repeatedly since he started working on the new prequel Human Revolution three years ago, I started to feel like this long-awaited return to one of PC gaming's most revered franchises might actually be in good hands. His failure to ever even mention the original game's benighted sequel Invisible War only strengthened that belief.
At the moment, I can't think of a long-absent franchise with a more devoted fanbase than this one, so the pressure on Eidos Montreal to Get It Right must be enormous. Fans will want to know that this entirely new team is going to do right by Deus Ex's legacy of free-form action role-playing and cyberpunk intrigue. If they don't, the results could be... unpleasant.
After seeing the impressive demo Square-Enix was hosting at E3, I'm feeling pretty good about those fans' prospects of enjoying this game. The thing from Jacques-Belletete's presentation that made it sound like Human Revolution's team really gets it is the game's firm reliance on what he calls the "four pillars" of the Deus Ex experience: combat, stealth, hacking, and social interaction with the seedy cyborg underbelly of Deus Ex's sordid futuristic landscape. But it's not enough that those four elements are merely included in the game; they need to be interchangeable, and based on the E3 demo, the team in Montreal seems to know that.
== TEASER ==In that demo, the game's cybernetic protagonist Adam Jensen had traveled to a Blade Runner-esque Hong Kong in pursuit of a shadowy hacker who was reportedly responsible for an attack on Jensen's organization back home. Heading directly to a bar called The Hive, the Eidos dev driving the demo passed numerous bystanders milling around and conversing along the city's dingy catwalks and alleyways. Since I wasn't playing, I can't say how thoroughly you'll be able to interact with random NPCs, but the demo player did point his pistol at a character and cause him to raise his hands and tremor in fear, so at least it seems like these people will serve as more than mindless window dressing.
From the looks of the demo, it's a safe bet the story-related scenarios at least will give you the freedom to define your play style. When confronted with a surly bouncer who wasn't too excited about letting Jensen enter the club, the demo's driver went through a simple-looking menu-based dialog tree to talk his way past the front door. The conversation system doesn't look quite as elaborate here as the ones in games like Alpha Protocol and Mass Effect have recently, but each option does carry a label dictating how aggressive or focused on the topic at hand it is. Of course, afterward I was told it would have been a perfectly valid option to just shoot the guy and storm into the place, too.
Once inside, in search of a crime lord named Tong, Jensen searched around the club, talking to another scruffy-looking bartender with a robotic arm and failing to make much headway. Jacques-Belettete said you'll be able to hack or sneak your way around most such roadblocks, but in this case, the player managed to eavesdrop on some of Tong's security guards and discovered the location of a data pad containing the unlock code to access the ductwork around Tong's office. Again, it's hard to get a sense of how many options you truly have to solve a given scenario when you aren't playing for yourself, but I could at least see how those other pathways might be available in this particular case.
The demo then jumped ahead to a pure combat-or-stealth sort of scenario in what looked like a loading dock, where Jensen was sneaking around behind crates and concrete barriers without being seen. Presumably, you could run through here mowing down the guards with whatever weapon mods you'd chosen at that point, but sticking to a stealthy approach allowed the demo driver to show off some of Jensen's brutal stealth takedowns, which occasionally involved two-foot blades that could extend either forward out of his wrists or backwards out of his elbows. I think he also burst straight through a wall to snap a guy's neck at one point, which doesn't seem terribly stealthy but did look pretty cool.
Once the guy playing the demo decided to jump down through a warehouse skylight and engage some proper combat against a group of enemies, I got a better sense of what kind of shooter this game is. It's still played from the first-person perspective, mostly, but it does go to a full third-person view when you're behind cover or dashing from one point of cover to another. In addition to the sort of pop-up-and-shoot gunplay you'd expect, I got to see a couple of neat-looking weapon mods. One had Adam flinging a handful of tiny hovering metallic balls in a circle around them which all exploded simultaneously to clear the ring of guards surrounding him.
Later, in a fight against a big bipedal mech, Jensen whipped out a rocket launcher that allowed him to lock onto his target while he was pointing directly at it. Once he established a lock, he was able to jump back into cover and maintain the lock, at which point a timer popped up indicating how many seconds he had to fire before the lock was lost. That let him basically point the launcher straight up and shoot blindly, and still score a hit. Jacques-Belletete referred to that lock-on as an example of an option weapons mod that a given player may or may not have invested in, at that point in the game.
As much as the Eidos Montreal team is harping on the ability to choose between different play styles and the ways those styles need to complement each other, I'm fairly confident they've at least identified the elements that are essential to the Deus Ex framework. Whether they can successfully implement those elements, and how the action will translate across both PC and consoles, are only two of the questions surrounding this project. We've got until sometime next year before we'll get the answers in the final product, but what I saw at E3 looked genuinely promising.