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E3 2011 Must-See: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Of course the irony is that we’d hoped not to see Deus Ex: Human Revolution at this year’s E3. The game originally had a February 2011 release date, but a six month push-back by publishers Square Enix (either to give Eidos Montreal more time to tighten the title up, or because Square wanted to keep it out of a disastrous financial year, depending on what you choose to believe) means it’ll be showing up in Los Angeles after all.

That we’re getting a third in the Deus Ex series at all might still seem a little otherworldly. The first game was released in June 2000 and is now one of the go-to examples when people try to explain what the term ‘Immersive Sim’ means. Time and lazy shorthand has sometimes diluted Deus Ex’s impact, boiling it down to a kind of binary “You could go in stealthily through an air vent, or blow up the front door with a rocket launcher”. This somewhat misses the point though.
Deus Ex wasn’t about anything as rigid as picking a ‘Stealth class’ character over a fighter. You were simply JC Denton, and your character development choices and approaches to problems could often interact fluidly, thanks to the basic rules of the level environments. Fancy being an augmented swimmer who favours hacking but falls back on a pistol in a tight spot? No problem. Or maybe you’d prefer to be a super-strong fellow who throws crates at people but is also a computer whizz? Again, perfectly fine.

It’s this kind of openness within a rigid design structure that I desperately hope Deus Ex: Human Revolution can deliver. I want to be given a narrative motivation. I want to be given levels and told how the rules work within them. Then I want to the tools to be able to approach those levels in a myriad of increasingly bizarre ways. As a bonus, it’d be nice to have an utterly ludicrous plot and a collection of borderline crazy regional accents. You know, just for old time’s sake.

The signs are actually pretty good so far. We can say for sure that the Eidos Montreal team have got their marketing chatter down to a fine art (they need to, since they’re now going to be stretching it out until August). Most of the developers seem familiar with the original Deus Ex and know why it was an Important Game™. Crucially, some of them also seem aware of why the sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, was such a comparative disappointment.
When I read that someone has been able to kill an opponent in Human Revolution by utilising a strength augmentation and throwing a fridge at them, that’s what gets me excited. Not the brutal takedowns. Not the black-and-gold Blade Runner art style (impressive though that looks). Not even the new Alpha Protocol-esque dialogue exchanges. No. The Deus Ex series, to me, will always be about ending someone’s life with a mundane environmental object.
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Quite what the developers have left to show us at E3 is an open question. The marketing blitz for this title started with a view to that February 2011 release, so we’ve already seen and absorbed previews from the first ten hours of the game. Anybody who’s been following the game has a fairly solid idea of the plot and new protagonist Adam Jensen’s role in it. We’ve seen gameplay snippets and screenshots galore. What do Eidos Montreal have left to wow us with?

I’m cautiously optimistic for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It won’t be the revolutionary entry into videogaming history that the original title was, but that’s not what I’m expecting. Despite Deus Ex’s status and supposed influence, there hasn’t actually been a game quite like it since. If Deus Ex: Human Revolution can recapture the feel of the first title – the bipolar serious-ridiculous tone, uncomfortable conversations with French virgins, the cheeky glee of using your augmented legs to run away from boss fights – then it might just be able to call itself a true heir to the Deus Ex legacy. That’s what I’m hoping to see more evidence of at E3.

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