Last year's defining moment was explosive without gunfire, mesmerising without the need of graphical trickery. It made hearts hammer in chests, made us sweat, our stomachs drop. And all due to a situation that'd pass off as normal in every day life: talking to a barman.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution spliced gameplay styles atypical of the stealth genre that'd fizzled out of vogue some years ago. But where it got really clever was in its flashpoint conversations.
A mechanic that emerged as the de-facto standard for games suggesting the illusion of free choice this generation, dialogue trees antagonised you with a small selection of options that'd sweep any important conversation towards its conclusion: whether the ending was the one you needed, or even desired, was entirely down to how well you could read the situation.
Human Revolution took the concept and filtered it through the hard-boiled detective thriller in tone; Adam Jensen chewing through dialogue like a smoker with a twelve-a-day habit and in need of a nicotine hit, fantastic facial animation and body language in your suspects giving you immediate indicators as to whether your line of questioning - aggressive, insisting, sympathetic and more - was working even before they'd opened their mouths in reply.
It also presented resolutions that'd have immediate effect on gameplay. A hostage rescue ending in execution, or a dead-end to your only viable lead. There was a hint of the real time to the informal chats, heated discussions, fraught exchanges. There was no sitting back and casually contemplating the fallout - Deus Ex pressed you for an answer. You had to go with your gut, and hoped you could read people well enough to succeed.
Turns out, you had to learn that on the job.
With the hostage negotiation, you had backup, a failsafe. Armoured police squads held position nearby. As long as you walked out of the room unharmed, you'd survive to report back to your boss. In that sense, the repercussions here felt like optional extras that'd have little bearing on the rest of the story.
Playing a lone barman in a nightclub was different: you were on your own - you'd flown to another city, another country, and it was apparent you were past the boundaries of your jurisdiction. Plus, as the the worker bee explained, there were plenty of heavies to deal with you if things got out of control.
Much like any investigator worth their salt, you needed to pay close attention to details revealed by NPCs and your own discoveries of character backgrounds, as much as, as stated, reading the body language and facial expressions as you delivered your side of the argument, as you sought out a Triad leader called Tong.
This particular conversation had been heavily publicised; magazine previews had focused not just on the talk itself, but who the talk was with. You could say the reveal spoiled the surprise. But the knowing is what charged the spin of verbal deceit - from both sides. Forewarning meant you could analyse - in those brief seconds you had to choose - the dual meanings and carefully layered subtlety in each choice.
Your heart stopped in the split-second between choices being weighed. Knowing when to push, when to be cowed.
In retrospect failure didn't seem harsh: you'd be offered no help, and would have to seek alternate routes to the information you sought. The game offered those options as par of the course. But at the time, it was terrifying. For all your bluster, failure meant stupidity, inability to outwit your opponent, unable to prove the stronger person by not playing the conversation right into your needs.
And for once, generous save points weren't an easy reset: continue as you were and you'd know someone bested you. Reload, and you'd have the nagging doubt that you could only win through preordained knowledge, and the world that'd been so carefully constructed and pulled you in would be revealed as merely a video game. There was too much at stake.
And that's why this was our Defining Moment of 2011.
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