November 22, 2010 - In part one of CCC's two-part preview of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, writer Steve Haske explores the unique narrative and aesthetic directions that make the game more than just your average cyberpunk game.
You know you have a big game on your hands when a veritable army of programmers, designers, and assorted project members leave their current jobs at the mere mention of it. That's exactly what happened when Eidos broke ground on the third Deus Ex title, Human Revolution. For a lot of the dev team, it was a dream come true: join a new studio to work on the next installment of what is arguably one of the best open-ended western RPGs this side of Fallout.
Formed just to work on Human Revolution, the over 200-strong team at the recently-christened Eidos Montreal know just how important it is to be given the reins of a series with a fanbase as fiercely protective as Deus Ex's. Since 2007, Human Revolution has gone through several conceptual phases, countless unused art mock-ups and hours of brainstorming and tweaking. Now, three years later, all that hard work seems poised to pay off, with Human Revolution not just looking like a slick new take on cyberpunk, but (more importantly) a more than worthy successor to Warren Spector's original vision. I recently got a chance to check the game out at the team's minimalist studio in Montreal, and I came away impressed with what I saw.
It's clear that Eidos Montreal has approached the subject matter from what seems like every conceivable direction: not only have they gone to great pains to make sure that Human Revolution folds neatly into the existing Deus Ex canon, they have also invested an enormous amount of time crafting a near-future narrative that's as involved as Human Revolution's open-ended gameplay. Thematically, the game revolves around the advent of augmentations—essentially cybernetic modifications that allow humans to reach their evolutionary potential by modifying their natural physical and mental abilities. Much like the controversy surrounding stem-cell research from embryos, the development of augmentation technology has effectively divided society in two. Against the backdrop of anti-augmentation demonstrations and increasing violence is Adam Jensen, a non-augmented security task force personnel working for Sarif Industries, a biotech firm that has been at the forefront of augmentation procedures. Here's where it gets interesting: opening on the eve of a series of a congressional hearings that would determine the need for government regulation on augmentation processes, Sarif is attacked without warning by an unknown group that's part of an augmented terrorist cell of sorts. The attack leaves Sarif's team of scientists—key to the biotech firm's congressional testimony—dead, while the company's headquarters are nearly destroyed in the process. Jensen himself is also nearly killed, and the only thing that can save him is going through emergency augmentation processes to stabilize his critical condition. Interestingly, Jensen isn't really given a choice about whether or not he wants to commit to this radical new procedure. While it saves his life, he is robbed of the chance to decide for himself how he feels about this morally gray new technology (it appears that Eidos Montreal isn't afraid to bring up heavy issues here). Naturally, this gives Jensen a personal stake in the events that unfold over the course of the game. Jensen soon learns that the questions that now drive him—who attacked Sarif and why—are just the tip of the iceberg in a much larger conspiracy playing out behind the scenes. Although the team was reticent to give too much away, it sounds as though Jensen will encounter characters on both sides of the augmentation divide, and, in true Deus Ex fashion, he can choose who he wants to trust.