The Deus Ex series has prided itself on open-ended progression and the role-playing abilities at hand to undertake them. Human Revolution is no different, focusing on three disciplines to progress through its world; stealth and hacking, combat and social. These paths are so disparate and so influential to how the gameplay unfolds that Eidos Montreal's demo showed the same mission undertaken with these three methods. Taking place in a police station, security contractor Jensen must make his way past packed lobbies and security cameras to a morgue on a lower level, housing the body of a suspected terrorist and a neural hub with information that will help his company's investigation.
A few hours into the game, Jensen starts the demo on the streets of a futuristic Detroit - the year 2027, before the events of the first Deus Ex - which still remains a crime-ridden and poverty-stricken place, with people sleeping on benches and rifling through bins, a stark comparison to the bright and sharp façade of the police station just around the corner. The first of the three methods has him head through the front door to a small reception, with the way onward heavily guarded. Pushed away from entering the station proper, Jensen swiftly breaks the guard's neck, shoots another other through the head and coolly dispatches any armed officers who cross his path.
While the game operates in first person with iron-sight mechanics, pressing against a column provides a familiar third-person viewpoint, as well as access to blindfire that predictably does little damage. Jensen can grab crates and copier machines to provide his own cover - the objects becoming see-through as he carries them first-person across hallways - and can be planted anywhere to suit his vantage point. Heavier objects require strength augmentations, and other role-playing mechanics fit into combat quite nicely, with experience for kills and the ability to fit your pistol with explosive rounds to knock enemies clean off their feet.
While the combat isn't quite as honed as a dedicated shooter, it looks comparable to Mass Effect in that it effectively blended two genres together. After heading through an open-floor plan filled with desks and quickly deceased workers, Jensen makes his way down a staircase, pops a lone guard in the face and comes across the locked morgue that an explosive mine makes quick work of. The developer playing the demo barely pauses for breath as he sprays the hapless coroner with bullets, grabs the hub and flees into the sewers, ending the demonstration.
Going down the social route isn't nearly as exciting, but effectively showcases how you can approach the mission in an entirely different manner. Entering the reception with the way onward once again guarded, Jensen turns his attention to the desk and asks for help. As luck would have it, it's an old partner in crime turned police desk jockey, who resents Jensen for what happened to him. Conversations using the social augmentation can crush, please and absolve people, and while pleading with him to progress doesn't work, discussing what exactly lead to his exit from their outfit gives him the peace he has longed for and the way forward you want.
From there, Jensen walks freely through the station, and instead of workers springing from their desks to confront you, or security cameras harshly sounding at your presence, they continue their daily business, allowing you to listen in on conversations that flesh out the story and the game's futuristic world. The guard buzzes you into the morgue and coroner mistakes you for someone who passed him a memo earlier that day, providing you an additional dollop of information and easy access to the hub. While the set-up for this example was very contrived, especially with how the desk worker's opinion completely flips within a matter of sentences, the peaceful route does certainly have its advantages.
The third and final route used hacking and stealth to progress through the station undetected. Instead of walking through the front door, taking a left leads to a back alley and a high fence. The strength augmentation can move a dumpster to help jump the fence, otherwise a maintenance corridor provides an alternate route. More freeform manipulation of objects allows Jensen to plant a crate underneath a ladder that leads to a side entrance, requiring the hacking augmentation to open. The mini-game was admittedly difficult to follow, but involved capturing points on a grid before the security system traces the source of the hack. Augmentations can make hacking easier through speeding up the progress, or by installing a virus to slow the security system's progress.
Once inside, the action becomes classic stealth game fodder. Security cameras that scan wide corridors can be crawled under, while patrolling guards require patience to slip past. Two augmentations come in handy here; Smart Vision can scan through walls to show enemy locations, while cloaking makes Jensen practically invisible, although he can be dedicated if any noise is made. Another point is that abilities require nutrients to use, which are littered on tables and in boxes. Making his way down to the desk-filled floor, Jensen sneaks behind a worker and steals tablets from his desk before proceeding downstairs.
Unlike the other two methods where the lone security guard was more or less expecting you, the demonstrator explored the corridors and ventilation shafts for ways into the morgue, but to little success. Waiting for him to turn his back, he knocks him out and drags his ragdoll body through the security doors. Looking through his pockets discovers a key combination to access the morgue, and after the body is stowed into a locker, Jensen approaches the coroner to initiate the same conversation as that of the social route, and once again collects the hub with little issues.
Interestingly, all three methods took around the same length of time to complete, so while each route would provide the player with unique information and items, there is no quick or easy means to finishing the mission, leaving it up to player preference. It was a hugely impressive demonstration, but one soured by surprisingly ugly visuals, with angular character models and stuttering animations, a real contrast to the glossy and polished motion-video trailers released previously. Of course the game is still in development, but the music was suitably atmospheric, quietly brooding and oozing away in the background, which managed to restore faith in the game's presentation. In terms of scope and choice-driven gameplay, Deus Ex: The Human Revolution could offer an adventure with vastly different events and outcomes based on personal play style, something which many games have attempted but very few come close to.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution will be available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC in early 2011.