At E3, Warren Spector, one of the lead people behind the original Deus Ex and now in charge of making an impressive Mickey Mouse adventure, said he was content to not be making a "sunglasses-at-night" video game. Others still make the stuff.
Deus Ex was supposed to be the thinking man's first-person shooter, one that could support varied play styles and reward equally gamers who approached a conflict gun-barrel first and those who prefer stealth or smooth conversation.
Its successors, the latest of which is Eidos' Deus Ex: Human Revolution, bear the responsibility of offering gamers that flexibility of choice. They also, because it helps, should be cool. "Cool" as in: The lead character might wear sunglasses at night.
Human Revolution was therefore show, fittingly, in the dark at E3, in a theatre where the game's developers zipped through a two-part demonstration. The game takes place in 2027 the not too-distant future. Hero Adam Jensen is up against conspiracies woven in a dark and electrified over-developed world that resembles the metropolis of Blade Runner.
The focus of the E3 Human Revolution demo was gameplay. In the first part, we were shown the game's conversation system. In executing his quests, Jensen can talk to many people, with some multiple choice options directing the conversation. A developer described the conversations as battles, your verbal offence against others' defence. The player looks for an opening, a psychological weakness and might apply pressure or disagree, maybe back off and see where that gets them. You don't pick dialogue so much as you pick moods.
The second part of the demo showed the action parts of Human Revolution. This sequence took place mostly outdoors, an approach to an important warehouse. The sky was sunset orange but hazy with smog. Jensen, we were told, can be armed with various biological augmentations that might help him turn invisible or have added strength. These are the kind of character-customisation options with which a Deus Ex player might be familiar.
The action was played from a first-person perspective, though frequent snaps to cover switched the game to a third-person view. The third-person view was also used during signature moments of attack, of which we were told there were many and that they were dynamic. One had Jensen stabbing a security guard from behind, another ripping through a wall to snap the neck of the guard standing on the other side and one more featuring him dropping from the rafters to repel a salvo of machine gun fire right back at the circle of soldiers who fired it at him.
We were shown computer-hacking, which lets Jensen scope out an area, hack robots, deactivate enemy turrets or program them to attack the bad guys. We got to see some augmented guns, a demonstration of the talking-point that all guns in the game can be augmented. The showcased weapon was a crossbow that pinned a bad guy's head to a wall. As Jensen approached the warehouse we were told there are multiple ways for him to get inside it, befitting the Deus Ex tradition of player choice.
Inside the warehouse, Jensen fought a mech. A rocket launcher upgraded with heat-based targeting took it out. Outside, he got beat up by a tough burly man with a machine gun for an arm.
The game looked slick already, but because it is a game about choices and complexity, it is hard to assess at an E3. The mechanics look sound. The graphics look nice. The systems are in place for gamers to play Human Revolution the way they want to. But does it come together well? We need more time with it to tell.
At the end of his Mickey Mouse demo, Spector said he might someday be ready to make another "sunglasses at night" game in his career. Perhaps it is something he needs from time to time. Perhaps it is something we need too. Human Revolution is our next try at one. It is set for release next year, but hopefully we can see much more soon.