This year's E3 was once again the opportunity to realize how impressive the different publishers' line-ups were. So impressive that it will be hard for us to talk about everything we saw there. That being said, we like a good challenge so we will try, and to begin with, let's focus on Square-Enix. The Japanese publisher is obviously willing to take some risks by bringing new ideas to such famous franchises as Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution. A new presentation of Deus Ex: Human Revolution also allowed us to discover the differences between lower and upper Detroit. Time to get inside for this very special First Look article.
Lara is now dirty and scared
Developer Crystal Dynamics has decided to show Lara Croft from a very different angle, back when she was still a lot more fragile than the hard ass everybody knows. The young British woman has just left her teenage years when she embarks upon a ship which will lead her on the traces of her family's past; a journey that will change her forever. The boat is indeed hit by a violent storm and the shipwreck that follows almost costs Lara's life.
Thankfully, the young adventurer is tougher than she looks and she survives the catastrophe. Things do not look so good for her though since she finds herself hanged by her feet in a dark and gloomy cave. Time to take control of the situation for the player by swinging Lara from one side to the other until the rope finally breaks. Lara's fall unfortunately comes with a price as she hurts herself on a spiky stick, forcing the player to press the X button frantically to get it out. A really painful moment which is so well conveyed you can actually feel how much it hurts. Fortunately, Lara is a resourceful young woman and she can make a good use of her sense of survival, an ability that allows her to spot any useful object in her surroundings. And she is going to need it to get out of this hellish place.
Hell is actually the first place that comes to mind when first discovering the spooky cave Lara has to go through. Torches can be very useful is such a dark environment, but you must be careful because the cave is also very humid and there's water dripping everywhere. Small puzzles, quick time events, the first steps in Tomb Raider do not seem to leave much space to exploration. That's is precisely why the second part of the presentation is set in a more open environment. The scene takes place in the middle of the night, it is now raining and Lara has to help a very close friend of hers. The man is injured too after he was attacked by a pack of wolves.
Although he is older than Lara, this man has to rely on her abilities to survive, and so they decide to set camp there. The campground system allows to fast travel from one point to another and to create the necessary objects to your survival in this very hostile environment. Exploration is then still of paramount importance in this new Tomb raider game, so you will need all of Lara's agility skills to reach normally unattainable areas. The essence of the franchise is still there, it has just been improved with new survival features.
This new episode in the Tomb raider series seems very promising to say the least. The survival aspect allows to reveal unsuspected parts of Lara's personality and will explain how she managed to toughen up through the many ordeals she faced in her life. Technically, the graphics engine looks rather good, though some tearing could be seen at times. Considering the game is not planned before the end of 2012, there is still a lot of time to deal with such issues, so no need to worry for now. In the end, we are clearly looking forward to seeing more of the game, as from what we have seen, the new gameplay elements seem to bring a lot to the game's atmosphere.
Agent 47: From hunter to prey
Let's now talk about Hitman: Absolution, which also comes with a few changes in the gameplay department. The presentation we went to insisted on one of the main new ideas of this new adventure: the hunter has now become the prey. Indeed, Agent 47 becomes public enemy number one after he has been double-crossed during his last contract. He no longer is the invisible ghost he was used to being and he now has to deal with the daily problems of a primary target. With the utterly motivated police forces that are after him, he will have to use his best skills to remain unnoticed and to find out who tricked him.
The demo starts in an abandoned library as 47 tries to escape. Much like the new Lara Croft, he can count on his instinct to make things easier, by underlining the available weapons as well as the different paths taken by the police officers who are chasing you. Thus, you can make sure that nobody will ever get close to you, or you can choose the best itinerary to slip away without being seen. Any kind of objects can be used to get rid of your enemies, like a wire to strangle them, or a statuette to knock them out , but you will have to be smart to lure them.
After demonstrating the abilities of the coolest red tie wearer in the world, we see 47 disguise himself as a cop and manage to leave the library safe and sound. He then goes to a nearby apartment full of junkies who apparently believe they are the reason why the police are searching the neighborhood. A pretty amusing sequence since there is even a room entirely dedicated to growing weed. Soon, things get very serious again as the cops barge into the apartment, forcing 47 to pass for one of them and run into SWAT and police officers on his way out. This scene actually reminds a lot of The Professional (starring Jean reno) where there is a similar sequence. Things do not go according to plan though and 47 has to take one of the cops hostage to even the odds. Unfortunately, we won't see more, that's the end of the demo.
Once again, we really appreciated the changes that have been applied to gameplay and that allow to switch roles. The former hunter now has to keep a very low profile for different reasons, he must keep running away but we have been guaranteed he will still be able to be the hired killer he used to be in some missions. With nice graphics and impressive lighting effects, Hitman: Absolution could actually make up for IO Interactive's last two attempts with Kane & Lynch that some found disappointing. Let's hope so because 47 clearly deserves it.
A little tour of futuristic Detroit
At the very end of the last day of E3, we had the chance to see a new gameplay sequence of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. This time, the goal was to show us how radically different the game's artistic direction can be depending on the place, lower or upper Detroit in that case. When we meet with Adam Jensen again, he is about to infiltrate the upper part of the city, the problem being that he has no clearance to get there. It's up to the player to find a way around security, the only condition to be able to admire Detroit's upper level.
As always, you are given quite a good number of possibilities to tackle the situation. Because there are a lot of civilians around, you can't choose to force your way in the elevator gun blazing. Since you need an access badge to be allowed in, Adam first tries to talk the guard into letting him pass. Bad luck, we do not have enough charisma points to be convincing, which leaves us no other choices than to sneak in one way or the other. There are actually several solutions to do so. If your strength level is good enough, you can move a vending machine to clear the way to a small platform above. Spying on people to get some precious info is also possible. A simpler approach would also be to neutralize the guard silently and get the access badge from him directly.
Once in the elevator, we get a breathtaking view of the lower city, in all its black and yellow glory. Then, as if we were actually leaving the innards of the earth, we pass the platform which separates both sides of Detroit. What a change! The landscape is a lot more organic, with blue skies and green and lush vegetation contrasting sharply with the dark and yellow colors of the underground city. No time to enjoy this new environment though as a punishing fade out ends the presentation leaving us as frustrated as ever.
We may not have learned a lot more about Deus Ex: Human Revolution during this new presentation, but it does not mean it makes the wait for the release of the game more bearable. On the contrary, August cannot come any sooner, which shows how much potential we see in Eidos Montreal's upcoming title.