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A Communal Evening With: EYE: Divine Cybermancy

This time, Peter and I have been playing a recently-released FPS/RPG hybrid with a futuristic setting, in-depth character customisation, body augmentations to play with, and a big emphasis on choice. Is it Deus Ex: Human Revolution? No! It’s E.Y.E.: Divine Cybermancy.

(Tim wishes to make it known that any drops in framerate you see in the accompanying videos are almost certainly down to the video recordings, and aren’t the fault of the game itself. He also wishes to state that you might spot a bit of lag in multiplayer clips. He claims the blame should be partially given to Peter – for being on the other side of the world – and partially given to his old nemesis the Atlantic Ocean, for once again getting in the way.)

Tim [McDonald]: I suppose I should start off by explaining that – for the purposes of this Evening With – we’ve each done some of the single-player campaign, followed up with a jaunt through a pair of multiplayer “single missions” and an hour or so playing the campaign co-op. For once, Peter, you’ve actually played more of this than me, so your starter for 10: exactly what is EYE? I’m authorised to give you 20 bonus points if you manage to work in the word “Metastreumonic” without making my head explode.
Peter [Parrish]: EYE: Divine Cybermancy (let’s give it its full title, please!) is a Source-engine based project by a team of about ten French developers that is one part FPS, one part Warhammer 40,000 and one other part in-depth, stat-based character construction (think Deus Ex, or Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines). I’m going to assume that ‘Divine Cybermancy’ refers to some sort of godlike ability to work magic on computers, but I can’t say for sure.
Tim: I can’t say I got the impression that the game was about futuristic tech support, but maybe that comes into play later.
Peter: To quickly revisit that “Metastreumonic” word: it’s the psychic energy that your character can tap into to perform various psi-power tricks, like cloaking and making clones of himself. I… think. Really, it’s a neat excuse for the player to have magical and augmentation-like powers, such as cyber-leg jumping abilities.
Tim: Yeah, I found it a bit difficult to work out the nature of the Metastreumonic Force, myself. I’m not sure whether that’s intentional or not.
Peter: I found it a bit difficult to work out the nature of a lot of the background fluff to EYE, so that’s not too surprising.
Tim: The one thing I really took away from the game is that it’s… aggressively weird. I’m not sure whether that’s intentional or not, either. It’s really hard to tell. This is a hugely atmospheric game, but also a game which suddenly has text pop-ups and bits of dialogue that are hilariously out-of-place. Sprawling areas; huge, dank buildings; demons warping in from nowhere… and then “BULLSHIT! Ultra-failed attack!” appears on your screen in huge letters because you (presumably) didn’t do much damage.
Peter: I’d also add that it’s aggressively PC, in the sense that it’s very open about how you form your character (through a series of menus, mainly). You can get new psi powers, new cyber powers, upgrade bits of your body with cyber implants, research items that you found on missions to give you access to other upgrades of all sorts and, on top of all of that, put stats into about 15 different abilities from hacking to “mental balance”. It’s very, very easy to be overwhelmed. Basically, it’s the kind of game that doesn’t care if you pump all your resources into having the bounciest set of cyber legs in the universe, even if it potentially breaks a few missions or lets you do insane things like hop on top of gunships. In fact, the developers probably love that.

Tim: Yes! There’s an absurd amount of customisation available. Which is great, obviously. And also wholly terrifying.
Peter: It is, and there’s very little to guide you through the process, so you just have to be bold and risk making mistakes.
Tim: Yes – the tutorial is handled mostly through a tutorial menu containing around 20 video tutorials, which still don’t explain everything. You’ve got a few pop-ups in the game and some tooltips, but really, you need to explore the interface for yourself.
Tim: You mentioned Mental Balance, though, and I do have to comment on that. Other than ammo and currency (named Brouzouf, for some reason which is beyond me) the game tracks three status bars which we’ll call Health, Energy, and Sanity.
Peter: On the SomethingAwful forums they have dubbed Brouzoufs ‘Broseph Stalins’, which is excellent. Just wanted to throw that in there. To add something of a little more use, Brouzoufs are awarded when you finish missions and kill stuff. They’re spent on pretty much everything, from psi upgrades to research.
Tim: Health is… well, if you can’t figure that out, then welcome to the world of gaming! Energy replenishes automatically and is used for running and jumping and summoning clones, while Sanity is affected by something, and results in some entertaining effects when it gets low. Paranoia had me firing wildly at thin air, for instance, and I’ve also suffered auditory and visual hallucinations.
Peter: Yes, I’m not sure what makes the Sanity meter drop either. Luckily, there is a way to repair your sanity, which is pressing the V key. This puts you into a brief ‘maintenance’ mode which can fix everything from mental illness to broken legs.
Tim: Maintenance doesn’t actually heal you, though. To get health back you have to first research medkits and then jab a syringe into your arm.
Peter: Which makes you look like a desperate heroin junkie. To reinforce how strange this game is, I must say that this is the first title I’ve come across where I’ve had to actually figure out how to use the medkit. You have to keep it out like a weapon to let it ‘charge up’ before using it, otherwise you get barely any health back… which is actually a pretty good mechanic, as it means you can’t just spam health.
Tim: And, as with pretty much everything else in the game, that can be improved somewhat – your Medicine skill directly affects how quickly it charges up. I love that aspect. I think that if you had a dedicated set of four players you could go through the entire campaign with everyone specialising in different things.

Tim: We should probably discuss the combat, being that it’s both the primary method of losing health in the game and is rather common.
Peter: Yes, indeed. When you’re on missions for your weird religious cult of soldier-assassins, you’ll come across many different varieties of people to murder (in fact, they even respawn in a System Shock 2 type fashion).
Tim: For my part, I love the combat. Really, genuinely adore it. There’s something hardcore about it – it reminds me a lot of Counter-Strike in some ways, as most enemies die quickly. But there are loads of them, and as you said they respawn fast, albeit far away.
Peter: During the early stages you’ll likely be using guns (and maybe a sword) to dispatch these people/monsters, but later on you can no doubt use terrifying psychic powers and the like.
Tim: Just like real life!
Peter: Ye– wait, no. And the enemies aren’t always far away. On the second major campaign mission you’re in a bandit base and everything is quite close-quarters.
Tim: True, that. But I mean they don’t tend to respawn directly ahead of you – it’s possible to clear an area and get 30 seconds of breathing time before you start getting pelted again. It doesn’t always feel like they’re respawning, unlike certain recent corridor shooters I can name.
Peter: Ah right. Yes, that seems to be the case. The only things that do occasionally respawn near-ish you are the weird, Doom-like demon things that are the result of people in EYE’s world messing about with psychic powers (I think). I’ve seen a couple of those warp in near me.
Tim: You’ll shout at me if I say “Just like real life” again, won’t you?
Peter: This is the sound of me shaking my fist at you!
Tim: What were your impressions of the combat, in general? I’ve got a few more things to say about it but I’d like to hear your thoughts.
Peter: I’m a fan of it too; it has that somewhat intangible ‘satisfying’ feel. It’s not a cover shooter by any means, but you can certainly duck in and out of doorways to avoid sniper fire, or to grab yourself time to jab medicine into your arm. In the sprawling city missions, it does feel like you’re fighting street to street (especially when you come across a couple of factions fighting each other too).
Tim: And it has dedicated buttons for leaning!
Peter: There are some great (and silly) touches like being able to deflect bullets with your sword blade.
Tim: Yeah. The weapons have genuine heft, and… well, they’re cool. Dual-wielding fully automatic pistols is fantastic fun, the sniper rifles make satisfying booms and there’s a minigun. Enemies die fast, too, so the weapons feel powerful. Despite this it’s still pretty easy to die, and if you leave the guns on full auto (most weapons have toggle-able fire modes) you’ll rip through your ammo absurdly fast. If you reload you slap in a new clip, and lose whatever was left in the old one, so it’s not the sort of game where you can reload after every two bullets either. And, y’know, there are loads of different types of each weapon, and many more to be researched.
Peter: This is probably a good time to mention that each mission has an “Armoury” that it seems you always start next to, and you’ll tend to return to it for plot reasons throughout – so if you’ve burned through ammo, you can get some more. Guns and other items are added with a classic Tetris inventory system, so you can carry as much as you can fit on your body.
Tim: I was about to mention that, actually. In addition, not all of the inventory slots are “linked”, as it were – pouches on your arm are basically only good for small things like ammo or grenades, and if you decide to take a minigun it pretty much fills the only slot that can fit anything bigger than a pistol. The more you carry, the slower you go, particularly if you’ve opted for heavy armour. Again: customisation and specialisation. As this is another good example of the weirdness, I’ll add quickly that instead of being told your “weight” or “speed penalty”, the devs opted for “Speed Malus”. If you’ve got a basic grounding in either dead languages or etymology it’s not too hard to work out what that means, but…
Peter: This may come up in our play discussion, but I think the mission structure (which tends to have you being sent out to do something, returning to a point, then being sent out for something else) works pretty well in tandem with the armoury system. It also, with the monster respawns, adds a sense of rapid pace, where you’re running and gunning back and forth.
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Tim: Returning to the armoury doesn’t happen in the stand-alone missions, which was the first mode that we delved into as a team. Those tended to throw four objectives at us and said “Go, do these things.”
Peter: Indeed; those are the same as the secondary missions you can embark on when the campaign kicks off properly. You essentially get to return to an area and do a series of semi-random objectives in return for PRECIOUS BROUZOUFS.
Tim: I think that covers most of the basics. Shall we discuss our actual play experience?
Peter: I think my experience with the stand-alone co-op missions was typified by my clipping through a pipe and being unable to either move, kill myself, or be killed by Tim/monsters.
Tim: That was brilliant. In a terrible way, obviously.
Peter: It does show that the game is (understandably, given the scope-to-resources ratio) sometimes a bit wonky.
Tim: To put that into context, our first co-op mission sent us into a dank industrial complex (which reminded me more than a little of Aliens). We had loads of mission objectives, and we didn’t accomplish a single one.
Peter: If one of our objectives had been ‘get stuck inside a pipe’ then we’d have been fine.
Tim: I kept going insane (which was admittedly fitting for the area) and dying to ceiling-based gun turrets, which I suppose was also rather fitting. Incidentally, death is handled via Resurrectors. They’re basically extra lives which respawn you back at your corpse after a few seconds, although I have no idea how you get more.
Peter: I’ve also yet to figure out how to get more of them, but you probably research or just buy them. If you run out of Resurrectors, you have to attempt a mission again from the start. Personally, I think the stand-alone co-op missions will be best when you have a super-levelled character and can just set the respawn rate to max and go nuts in there… which also reminds me, your character is persistent. I used the same guy in the single-player campaign and all of this co-op stuff.
Tim: True! I’m not actually sure there’s much more we can say about that first mission. It was a trial by fire, really, which ended with fourth degree burns.
Peter: I think we should talk about the co-op campaign, because it’s clearly the bulk of the game.
Tim: Fair enough. I’d agree, actually. I mean, it’s the entire single-player campaign, only with friends, which is one hell of an achievement.
Peter: Right. For anyone who’s played the Synergy mod for Half-Life 2 (which lets you play through in co-op), it’s like that… only it’s a standard feature of the game. There is a bit of a flaw though, in that only one person can talk to plot-crucial people and NPCs at once, so someone either needs to have already played the game or not really mind not knowing what’s going on. Although to be honest even the person talking to the NPCs will have little idea what’s going on. That aside, it’s really well implemented.
Tim: The game seems to implement choice fairly well too. I’m not sure how far-reaching it is but for our little playthrough I was basically being as psychopathic as possible, to the extent that I murdered a bunch of quest-relevant NPCs rather than accept their quests. There are plenty of dialogue options that can turn people aggressive… or you can just shoot them in the face. I suspect they were mostly side-missions, but still. Then, at the end of our playthrough, I tried killing our primary questgiver! At which point he went mental on me and murdered me repeatedly until I ran out of Resurrectors.
Peter: Just… like real life?
Tim: Well, it’s fairly reminiscent of at least one job I’ve had.

Peter: NPC dialogue is extremely flippant and kind of the polar opposite of all the dark, mysterious lore surrounding your EYE organisation, to the extent that you can read pages and pages of serious backstory in your Temple HQ archives and then meet up with a guy who explains psi powers by insisting they’ll help you hook up with chicks.
Tim: For the record: everyone in this game is a towering arsehole.
Peter: Yes, and most of the possible replies makes your character seem like a total dick too. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but don’t expect great writing or characters you’ll really care about. Do expect a few cheap laughs from insulting NPCs though. There’s tension in the organisation between the Mentor and the Commander and I’m not entirely sure where that’ll lead, but even accounting for that, I don’t think these are guys I’m going to really invest much emotion in. They’re more just a means to acquiring more xp/Brouzoufs and creating an even more ridiculous cyber-assassin character.
Tim: The meat of the game is in the combat, I think. Actually, no, I take that back; the meat of the game is in the action, but not necessarily the combat. It seems possible to play how you want to play – you can stealth around and backstab people for instant-kills, or stomp about with a minigun, or whatever. Which is great for co-op: as I said earlier, I can really see some fun if people in your team specialise.
Peter: I’m not entirely sure how well the stealth aspect works (at least before you buy the cloaking ability); on a couple of missions it seemed like we were supposed to sneak in, but were pretty much spotted from a mile away. But I agree that in theory you can pretty much play how you like, which is splendid.
Tim: Oh, and hacking features prominently too, although I was disturbingly rubbish at it. That’s disturbingly rubbish to the extent that, in our second stand-alone mission, the computer I was hacking actually hacked me, resulting in a big flashing smiley covering most of my screen.
Peter: As well as being hacked by machines, it’s also possible to hack people, then tell them to shoot their friends.
Tim: I didn’t actually try that. I’m disappointed in myself.
Peter: It’s fun! (And in real life, too.) The hacking isn’t quite as refined as the mini-game in, say, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but it works well enough I think. Also, hacking doesn’t pause the action. So you can still be shot at. In one of the campaign missions I had to protect a guy as he was fiddling around at a console, but the game threw about 50 monsters at me so I failed rather badly (but this didn’t stop me progressing with the mission at all).
Tim: This also happened to you. I tried to cover you while you hacked… something. I failed.
Peter: Thanks for your support, Tim! Although in fairness, I did throw a grenade at you one time because I thought it looked like a bottle of pills.

Tim: You also threw a grenade at yourself, mind you, and I’m going to have to explain that one. Y’see, readers, the campaign opens with you waking up (minus your memories) in a cave complex, and you make your way out via a canal full of enemy soldiers. Peter heroically lobbed a grenade at them… which had no visible effect. He then heroically slid down the sides of the canal and promptly (and heroically) exploded. It’s easily up there in my Top 10 Gaming Moments of All Time.
Peter: I have no idea how this occurred. I can only assume my grenade got ‘stuck’ somewhere, and my sliding down the slope triggered it. Grenades are excellent though; I lobbed one into a group of guys and one of them went flying… which ties back to the combat in general being quite joyful.
Tim: Yes! The combat is magnificent. It has some sort of undefinable quality that transforms it from boring shooting-lots-of-people into really fun shooting-lots-of-people. I love the dual-pistols, myself: on fully automatic they cause a second-long burst of pure, front-facing murder.
Peter: As you progress through the game, I think it’ll be fun to experiment with different ways of approaching the bad guys. Like maybe start off by hacking one and creating a diversion, then lob a grenade in while cloaked and use double pistols to mop up anyone left standing. After all, EYE does ‘contained sandbox’ rather well: the levels are defined, but it’ll just happily throw enemies at you and say “Okay, do what you want with these guys”, and it provides the tools to let you have a good time.


Tim: So! Anything left to add before we slide down a slope and explode on the walls of the verdict canal?
Peter: I feel obliged to add that the game has received mixed reviews, and that’s totally fair. It could score anywhere between about a 3 and a 9, depending on how tolerant you are of being thrown into a confusing world with overwhelming character choices and weird dialogue. Some people will totally hate this.
Tim: Absolutely. I’d fully respect those opinions, too; this isn’t for everyone. But what about you? Could you see yourself – time permitting – spending a bit longer with EYE?
Peter: I can, and I will be! In a way I already have, since I’ve continued on with the main campaign outside of this Evening With. I’m pretty much always going to give time to a game that offers this much freedom in character design and player agency. I have a strong suspicion that when you level up quite a bit you’ll be an unstoppable killing force with absurdly broken psi/cyber powers – and frankly, I love that. It doesn’t have the kind of coherent structure of something like the original Deus Ex (even though that was no writing masterpiece), but it’s nailed the ‘go nuts with your character build’ aspect of that ‘immersive sim’ style of game. For an indie team this small, that’s outstanding – but again, I would qualify all of this by saying I am pretty tolerant of the game’s quirks and I’m predisposed to this type of title (the wildly ambitious, strange sort). How about yourself? Do you feel like a DIVINE CYBERMANCER yet?
Tim: Well, I’ll point out that I’ve played it a lot less than you have… but yes, it’s something I’d like to spend more time with. I’m curious to see whether it ever actually becomes coherent, admittedly, but more than that I’m just in love with the combat.
Peter: Tim McDonald: HE LOVES TO KILL.
Tim: Just like real life. Wait! No! Anyway: it’s not a game I’d easily recommend to many people. It takes a lot of work to even get the basics down, and I’d imagine some bits are going to remain fairly confusing, but by the same token it looks like the sort of thing that’ll pay back whatever effort you put into it. The possibility of wildly divergent character builds always intrigues me, too, and… well, it’s mad and bizarre and confusing, and I’ve certainly got issues with it, but I still rather enjoyed what time I’ve spent with it so far. I’d say it’s certainly worth a look for anyone who thinks it sounds interesting, assuming they have a high tolerance for wilfully confusing game mechanics. I don’t think it’s got the cohesion that I’d like to see so I don’t think I’m going to ever fall head-over-heels for the game on the whole, but so far it’s got a wary thumbs-up from me.
Peter: And that’s that. May you all harvest many Brouzoufs.
Tim: And a merry Brouzouf to you all.


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