There's a moment very early on in Deus Ex: Human Revolution that leaves you feeling a little guilty about what's going to happen to protagonist Adam Jensen. He's knee-deep in a conversation with a female colleague--clearly one whom he has some sort of history with--and in an effort to brush aside the political turmoil bubbling up within the office, Jensen insists he doesn't keep enemies; he likes everyone. But as the player, you have the benefit of foresight. You've seen the trailers that reveal Jensen's fate, knowing that he'll soon be transformed into a fully weaponized tool of surgical violence with more biomechanical augmentations than you can count. But looking at this Jensen, the one you see in the first 30 minutes of the game, you can't help but anticipate something terrible on the horizon. [Spoiler Alert: This preview details a small number of story elements from the first hour of the game.]
So go the early moments of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the highly anticipated sequel to an all-time classic. We're introduced to a troubled world and characters that aren't spared any shelter from its chaos. Jensen is an especially intriguing figure because of the way he's pulled into the heart of the conflict through no choice of his own. To set the stage, Human Revolution takes place in a stylized and not entirely optimistic vision of the year 2027. It's a world where powerful corporations are pioneering biomechanical science at a breakneck pace, producing a fractured population of those eager to upgrade themselves and those deeply disturbed by this technology's effect on humanity. Through the ambient chatter of news reports and whispered uncertainties among side characters, the game establishes an atmosphere of tension and unease early on in the story. To recycle Eidos Montreal's catchy slogan, "It's not the end of the world… but you can see it from here."
Likewise, you don't have to wait long to see what triggers Jensen's metamorphosis. The game begins with our protagonist walking through the hallways and laboratories of Sarif Industries, an augmentations company where Jensen, an ex-SWAT officer, provides private security. Glancing around the research and development labs, you get a good idea of what sort of technology this company is working on when you catch sight of fleeting but thoroughly creepy visuals--a sea of dismembered limbs and people being rebuilt with mechanical attachments. (Though, oddly enough, the most unsettling visual we saw was a guy just running along on a treadmill right next to a pair of robot legs lacking an upper torso matching his pace.) Imagery like this certainly helps to understand the motivations behind the reluctant Jensen we see early on, a guy who's unsure of these augmentations as a way to develop his role within the company. After all, who's all that eager wants to run home and eat steak when you work at the slaughterhouse all day?
We should mention, though, that this is a very pretty slaughterhouse. If you've seen the various screenshots and trailers for Human Revolution, you know that Eidos Montreal is aiming for a very specific look; namely, a gilded cyberpunk landscape rendered in various shades of gold and black. The aesthetic that the CGI trailers established carries over to the game astoundingly well. Even doing something as simple as walking through office hallways, the sense of atmosphere is terrific. The game's art director, Jonathan Jacques-Belletete, calls this a "visual texture" designed to let you know right away which game you're playing. It's hard to say Eidos Montreal hasn't succeeded there. While the facial detail is a little underwhelming during cutscenes that really focus on character faces--at least on the Xbox 360 version we played--the overall art style more than makes up for it.
Eventually, you make it up to the office of the head honcho who has called you in for a meeting. But before you can get down to business, an alarm sounds and you're sent rushing back down to the labs to see what has gone wrong. What follows is your first taste of combat, as armed mercenaries have overtaken the labs and left a trail of burning offices and bloodied scientists in their wake. All you have is a simple assault rifle and a knack for using cover to avoid gunfire. Nevertheless, we were pleased to discover that even when you strip the combat of all its biomechanical bells and augmented whistles, there's a solid foundation underneath it all. The guns carry a heavy impact and the fluid cover system manages to avoid feeling jarring as you switch from first person while running around to third person while you hunker down behind an object.
Carrying on the Deus Ex legacy, you can also pick up objects and throw them at enemies, but in our limited experience, we didn't find much practical application for flinging empty cardboard boxes at armed mercenaries. We imagine that particular ability will come into use later in the game when you begin to really explore and dig apart environments--this opening level was a strictly run-and-gun affair apparently designed to get our feet wet.
Whatever success you feel after this quick-and-simple introduction to the game's combat soon comes to a sudden and violent halt. It's here that Jensen runs into a mysterious augmented figure that turns his one-man security operation on its ear. We won't go into details, but suffice it to say Jensen is left for dead and the doctors tasked with rescuing him elect to go the full-on biomechanical recovery route. The opening credits sequence that follows paints a grim picture of the transformation Jensen goes through, and in keeping with the game's uniformly stylish aesthetic, it's a thoroughly awesome montage with an art design that can't really be overstated. This despite the fact that you're essentially watching a man on the verge of death being outfitted with robot arms--and not exactly by his own choice.
At this point, we were about a half-hour into a three-hour demo of Human Revolution's opening moments. We'll have another preview coming your way in a few weeks that details how combat works once you settle into your augmentations, so be sure to check back for it. In the meantime, why not have a look at our previous coverage of Deus Ex: Human Revolution.