Few double-edged swords come as sharp as Deus Ex. The original masterpiece locks horns with games like Half-Life for 'best PC game ever' honours whenever grand lists are made. Its sequel, while not terrible, has become something of a joke reference to bad decisions in sequel making. Think Highlander, followed by Highlander 2.
If you've never had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you in the simplest possible terms. If you've loved any 'modern' RPG (notably those of an FPS/RPG/adventure hybrid style, like Fallout 3) then you're looking at a game that was undoubtedly influenced by Deus Ex. A world of deep intrigue, cyber warfare, and biomodification, Deus Ex wove a tale that blended science fiction with classic conspiracy theories - everyone from the Illuminati to the Triads were involved. And the wonderful mess of activity placed your character, JC Denton, at the centre of this universe.
Eidos Montreal has already spent three years working on bringing this universe back to life, and the good news is they do a good job of convincing us that they know, love, and respect the property now in their care. The devs spent months just exploring the game universe, which has been analysed and discussed by fans far beyond the confines of the two released games.
"We really wanted to get back into it, knowing what it is all about, what really made that flavour and the essence of a true Deus Ex game," says Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, Art Director on Deus Ex 3. "Once we understood these things there were things we knew we had to keep, not touch, and then build around them. Graft our own soul around it."
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (DX:HR) is a prequel, set just 17 years into our own future in 2027. For the future-history buffs, that's 25 years before the events of the original game. The first game explores a push toward an era of the 'posthuman' - complete integration of machine and man - and the emergence of nano-augmentation. In DX:HR we're just at the start of that revolution, in a time where the 'transhuman' is emerging - a more mechanical augmentation system which enhances human capabilities in very unsubtle ways. Cyber upgrades are stylish, but very, very cyber.
You play Adam Jensen, a bodyguard for leading research firm Sarif Industries. You have a chequered past, and people in the world know who you are. The adventure begins just before Sarif Industries is scheduled to announce a significant research breakthrough, but the company is attacked and... things go to hell from there. As they so often do...
The original Deus Ex was born of the legendary (and later infamous) development studio Ion Storm, founded by Jon Romero with talent like Warren Spector working under a 'Design is Law' development philosophy. It's arguable the original was only as good as it was thanks to letting designers lead the way, building an incredibly deep universe for players to lose themselves in, with more than one way to solve most of the games objectives - plus some options for how you choose to close out the story.
On our visit to Eidos Montreal, we get a sense that design might also be a law in this town. The Deus Ex team has treated the original game as a kind of gospel text. While always focused on making a modern game that works in the current market, the team has spent a lot of time working to ensure the mood and play experience sticks to the heart of what made Deus Ex pitch perfect.
"When we started we knew we wanted to respect the core values of this game, for the fans back then," says Jean-Francois Dugas, Game Director on DX:HR. "This game is more valid today than ever. When you look at games like Bioshock and Fallout 3, they've gone back into the source material and made it playable by players of today. They're rich, they have depth, but they're also easy to use and not overwhelming. We started before Bioshock came out, so now it's great to see our game is coming out at the right moment. Those games opened the doors for us again, and we feel this will be very exciting for today's market."
On that comparison, expect DX:HR to be more open than Bioshock, but less open than Fallout 3.