Review: Deus Ex: Human Revolution (PC)

There are few games that come to mind as a true PC classic, and Deus Ex is one. This game changed how many of us viewed what was possible in games at the time and is still looked at as a benchmark for what should be in games. The sequel, Deus Ex 2, was bereft of many features in all areas and made us ponder if another game bearing the Deus Ex name could live up to its predecessors accomplishments.

The first announcement of Deus Ex: Human Revolution was met with great enthusiasm and trepidation because gamers’ memories are nothing but long when it comes to failures. Eidos Montreal promised a lot to gamers such as a rich story, the PC getting its polish from another studio, the PC would have DirectX11 support, and so much more. We now review Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the PC and explore its world to see if it lives up to these promises and its beloved predecessor.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Systems: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Corsair Dominator 6 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard and Logitech G19 Keyboard.
Developer: Eidos Montreal, Nixxes Software (PC)
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: August 23, 2011
MSRP: Standard Edition $50 (PC), $60 (360 and PS3)

Spoiler Warning: I will not to disclose too much about the main story, but since this is a review expect some little things to be spoiled.

For those not familiar with the Deus Ex universe, you should know this is a prequel that takes place twenty years before the original Deus Ex. There is no reason why you can’t play this game first if you have interest in playing the original anytime soon.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution puts you in the shoes of Adam Jensen, a security chief for Sarif Industries. The game quickly takes you through a tour of the Sarif facility, where you have a brief interaction with many characters before something drastic happens in the facility. The CEO of Sarif quickly sends you in to resolve the issue, where things take a dramatic turn for the worst. After a few cutscenes, you are back on your feet six months later implanted with the latest in Sarif military hardware augmentations.

The game is about choice—not only in how you choose to approach a given situation through combat or stealth, but also in what you do and don’t. The beginning area is just as open to this play style as the rest of the game, so your actions here will have (not necessarily far-reaching) consequences in your game. At this point, you’re reacquainted with many of the people you met before you became augmented, but not everyone is there, which becomes the main plot of the game. After you’ve done what you want here, you’re taken to a situation that Sarif believes you are uniquely qualified to handle: another incursion has taken place in a temporary manufacturing facility for one of their Defense Contracts.

This will be your first time seeing combat with your new augmentations, bringing with it many new abilities and an in-depth tutorial on how to approach the world via stealth, combat, or both. When you arrive, you can talk to the SWAT members there, which gives you clues into your own character’s background and the others’ feelings about your choices while you were at Sarif Industries. This is going to happen several more times, making it the strongest point of this game. This does not mean all situations are equal, however: there were times when I tried to use certain tactics to draw guards away from areas, and they wouldn’t move beyond a certain point later on in the game. I’m being optimistic that this is just a bug and that it’ll be resolved in a later patch. If it isn’t, then it’s very discouraging to see various situations not treated equally when it’s something you expect from an open-ended game like this.

There were other times when I felt limited in how to approach a situation as well. This isn’t to say I didn’t feel it in the original Deus Ex, either, but Deus Ex: Human Revolution does an above average job at trying to give the player as many reasonable, and some unreasonable, ways to approach their objectives as possible. I understand there might be a vent on the roof to get me into a secure building, but why do they have air vents that lead to only one room with no other connections? It felt a bit jarring to run into limitations like that after being given free reign to approach other situations however I wanted.

Many new abilities and tactics open up to you during this incursion such as hacking, lethal and nonlethal takedowns, hiding bodies so others aren’t alarmed to your presence, how to avoid cameras, and decide from here on out what augmentations you choose to invest in. The incursion to this facility is just a tip of the iceberg on what to expect story-wise as well. There are many decisions that will provide just as many subtle different plot twists that you can’t experience in one play through alone, making the replay value very high for those who want to know every little secret and subplot in the story there is.

That said, this raises a major issue with me. One mission is story-related but can’t be accessed if you didn’t pre-order the game because it’s a pre-order DLC only. This feels like a slap in the face to the fans who couldn’t pre-order this game for whatever reason. I don’t mind DLC that provides unique items or a quick side mission that wouldn’t influence your opinion on the story or characters, but that’s not the case with this DLC. This one should’ve been handled in a different way, like being released to all owners of Deus Ex: Human Revolution after two weeks’ time or something, similar to how Battlefield 3 is handling the Return to Karkand map pack.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution was supposed to have a lot more content that had to be cut because of time constraints, which I can understand and respect. However, there’s also new DLC called The Missing Link coming out in October that was announced not even two weeks after the release of the initial game. This is another sore point in DLC for me and many other gamers out there. There is a reason that game studios go into lock down in the last six or so weeks of development: it’s to fix up any remaining bugs or polish things that fell through the cracks. Now, when you announce a DLC this quickly, this is telling the gaming community that this should’ve been in the game but didn’t look like it would make it, so you decided to cut it and put it out as a DLC. If they’d decided this would be DLC from the start, you now pull people off the finishing stage of development to make this happen and allow more bugs to slip through.

In the case of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, they announced the coming of some DLC expanding the story that was planned since 2010, but is the Missing Link that DLC or is it cut content from the game? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume this Missing Link DLC was planned, but I’ve found many bugs in this game that shouldn’t be here that I’ll discuss later. The point here is that DLC is appropriate if it doesn’t take away from the game you’re releasing, technical-, content-, or story-wise, but the choices made here about DLC have put that into question. Is DLC just now only about getting guaranteed money to nickel-and-dime their customers, even at the expense of alienating those who can’t afford a pre-order? I feel that Eidos Montreal has done just that to their customers and they should be ashamed.

The gameplay of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is open to you, giving you many choices. However, some things have been lost from the original to this iteration—for instance, lock picking has been taken out and covered under hacking. This departure isn’t unexpected because all the locks in the game have keypads and are computer controlled, but it does make the hacking mini-game very monotonous. The mini-game also gives you a lot of bonus XP, extra cash, and other useful items that you can use for future hacks, so to get the most out of the game you have hack everything, adding to the monotony. This reminded me of the scanning mini-game in Mass Effect 2: it was okay the first few times, but to find out I had to perform this task over and over to get the best experience out of the game was brutal. DXHR‘s hacking mini-game is also plagued with bugs; most of the time, I couldn’t get those extra bonuses because they were behind a victory capture point, and in one instance, it showed me two different hacking avenues, one of which I couldn’t access.

Some gameplay-specific bugs I ran into also broke the immersion for me. I went through the whole game only doing take-downs. I didn’t kill a single person, but when I completed the game, I didn’t earn the pacifist achievement and the only reasons I can think of why this happened was because I used an EMP on some robots or a take-down on someone who fell. Although they showed up as being asleep, the game actually recorded them as a dead. Keep this in mind if you’re going for that achievement.

A critical bug that I found comes in from how you hide the bodies. I thought it would be a good idea to hide some enemies in the vents, but from time to time, an enemy AI would see them and grow suspicious. After some investigation, I concluded that this happened because either their backpack, armor, or body part would not fit perfectly in the vent, so they clipped out of it in unused graphics space. Then when an enemy came along, he could see it even though the body would still be behind a wall.

The graphics has been touted as being the best on the PC. It includes DirectX11 support, specific enhancements such as real-time tessellation, improved Screen Space Ambient Occlusion (SSAO), improved blurs, and depth of field (DOF). You’ll notice some features right away and miss others unless you look very closely. I ran the game with DirectX11 enabled and disabled to try and see these differences. I did notice the DOF and improved blurs but not the tessellation and SSAO, even after I looked at screenshots I took. I looked into the reason why this was escaping me and found out that the tessellation was used primarily for “characters silhouettes and some other objects in the world.” Notice they didn’t specify what objects, so I couldn’t accurately judge if there was an improvement on them—but I could see it on the characters. I took a few screenshots of Adam against a wall and a few knocked-out baddies, and the only difference I could see was tessellation on the clothing to give it more bumps. This is the weakest form of tessellation implementation I have ever seen in a video game to date.

Where DirectX11 really can show its higher fidelity is when you use High to Very High textures. This game obviously used the console textures with no improvements done to the PC version of the game, despite it being developed by another studio. As you can see, the picture of Detroit is very muddy. This is also present in many of the NPC characters’ hair and clothing, but not the main characters or the armor and outfits for the enemy. Also, many people have reported frequent crashing or complete system lockup with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I experienced the latter problem on several occasions. After some investigation, I found that the culprit was Anti Aliasing. It didn’t matter if I had either MLAA or FXAA enabled—it would crash under DirectX11. The only way I could run Anti Aliasing without crashing was to disable DirectX11. This is a critical issue because it causes a complete system lockup and the only way to fix it is to force a reset, which we shouldn’t have to do. This could be a driver issue or it could be a problem with how the game uses DirectX11. Nixxes Software should’ve been given more time to find and squash these bugs to best showcase these DirectX11 features with higher quality textures.

Other console shortcuts have been taken to improve the engine’s efficiency, the most notable of which are a lack of real time reflections on any surface. Water has a texture on top and is only ankle high, and the engine limit’s draw distances are very low. I’m accustomed to seeing low-resolution textures from a distance and seeing the finer details as I move closer, but what I’m seeing in this game is that, as soon as I turn a corner, it quickly draws in the model or additional texture items, catching it always at the corner of my eye. This is how you make an engine on a console run more efficiently, hence shortcuts. I don’t mind if they’re used on consoles, but if a developer says the best graphics version will be on the PC, then deliver it! Crysis 2 used many of the same shortcuts, making you go around many corners or fight in tight spaces to put less load on the console’s memory. I’ve included a picture of what I’ve experienced here. When I was standing in a certain spot to jump up, I would see a light fixture get drawn in and then quickly disappear after I landed back on the ground.

This quick drawing process could’ve been causing other bugs to pop up, too. In some instances, I would see one or multiple NPC arms sticking straight out as if they were still in a loading phase, but then they would quickly go into their walking or standing modes. This would happen every so often, but in the case of the picture I’ve included, the NPC remained stuck in that state. I wasn’t able to repeat this bug after I reloaded my save for the area, so it was a unique occurrence for this one NPC to stay that way. The bug problem doesn’t end there, though: an enemy spawned behind a wall and when I moved in to perform a takedown, I was moved out of the game world and then fell through to the game world’s unused graphic until I hit something and died. I was able to repeat this bug: the second time, I was looking out in the unused graphic, and when I moved, I somehow wound up in the vent right next to it, crouched and everything. The next bug was in the same area: someone was standing in mid-air above his buddies, spawning just after a cutscene.

These bugs could be a general issue with the game engine or something they didn’t catch on the PC platform because there are always a number of factors as to why these bugs could’ve happened. These could also be linked to the other DirectX11 issues. I suspect this because I haven’t heard about any of these types of issues on any of the console reviews I’ve seen or read, so this seems to be PC specific. What amazes me is that this doesn’t fall in line with what Eidos Montreal said about giving the PC the best graphics experience of the three systems or that the additional studio handling it would make the PC better for it. Unfortunately, the PC community has another half-assed game port because consoles got the primary focus again.

The PC-specific features are not all negative, though. Many things they implemented in the PC version push it beyond any console’s capability. They included native three-way monitor support and Field of View (FOV) adjustments in-game; the HUD is similar to the original Deus Ex; and even though I think DirectX11 failed in many respects technically and some features aren’t easily seen, they did include it and the features that are there do make it look better. I do wonder why they think making the keyboard fully customizable and promoting it as feature is such a new idea, though. This feature has been around for a very long time, so why is this new to them?

The weapons and augmentations have all been thought out well. The weapons are balanced through the inventory and how the AI responds to each weapon, so if someone’s killed or knocked out they go on alert, and if they hear it they try and find the cause unless it’s silenced. The AI never questions losing a man, only when they see him down. It would’ve been nice to see them be a little suspicious when they didn’t see that person there anymore, not go on alert but be suspicious. The augmentations are kept in balance with a battery system. This isn’t bad, but you have only one battery that is constantly recharged, and to power the other batteries you have to eat energy-specific items such as the CyberBoost Pro Energy Bar. I always had a hard time trying to find a plentiful amount of energy bars so I could use my augmented abilities more frequently. There are many augmentations you have to choose from to best cater to your specific play style. It’s impossible to get them all maxed out by the end, but it’s fantastic to see we have so many options.

The stores are practically useless to find the items you want. For example, if you want sniper rifle ammo or a power bar, they’re only carried by certain people during the game or not at all. This also makes ammo scavenging a pain as well, thus forcing you to use a weapon you haven’t upgraded because it’s the only one with ammo. This could’ve been better thought out and balanced for the players to approach things the way they wanted, because currently, it forces players to be stealthy when they might prefer to run and gun.

The sound effects, voice acting, and music are all very strong points in this game. When you would boot up Deus Ex, you would know instantly what game you were playing because there was nothing quite like that game’s music. The same is true for this game. Elias Toufexis delivers one of the most unique voices for a new main PC character in recent memory. They say an actor can make crummy lines sound like a masterpiece, and even though the lines you read with the subtitles on may be a little crummy at times, he delivers them with style and never disappoints to make it sound interesting. This game’s main character would not have been as memorable if they had not had Elias on board to do Adam Jensen’s voice, hands down.

The story in Deus Ex: Human Revolution is one of the most flexible stories to date for a game. The plot points are well done and some will have you just begging for more and others just saying, “That’s it?” The game is detailed with so many books, e-mails, and other general information that it’s hard to believe they made this all work as well as they did. To their credit, they did make a story that is very intriguing over all on a personal and social level. It’s one that dares to make you ask, “What is humanity, and how do we define it to each other and ourselves?” The Eidos Montreal team definitely created and executed a worthwhile story and told it in the best possible way they could, all while still giving players choices—not an easy task when you think about it. The only real fault I have with the story is the ending: it’s not as insightful as I thought it could have been, but it’s far from the worst one I’ve seen in a game.

Edios Montreal also had a lot of fun adding many easter eggs into the game. Some are in emails, some graffiti on the walls, and some in conversations between NPCs. It’s good to see they had the opportunity to add a few fun and interesting items or events to the game, especially when most games are all business and don’t get to have as much fun in other studios. This is also reflected in the extras provided with the Augmented Edition, such as the Making Of video.

I know I made a lot of specific complaints about bugs, DLC, and visual disappointments for the PC version of this game, but that is because I feel they set the bar very high for this title. Now, because they raised my expectations so high, they need to be told how far they missed that mark for the PC. I know that bugs are bound to happen, and to be fair, I did look past many of them (many of which I didn’t mention here) and kept playing and enjoyed the time that I did play. However, I’m not going to give praise to a game if bugs or technical issues negatively impact my gameplay experience or if the developers didn’t meet the hype they themselves gave it, and this game suffered from both in my experience.

In summary, Deus Ex: Human Revolution delivers a unique experience that cannot be found in as much depth and scope, including the original. If your intention is to purchase this for the PC, I recommend you wait until either Eidos Montreal releases another patch to fix these bugs or for your graphics card of choice to receive an updated driver to resolve the DirectX11 issue, if you intend to run it. In the end, Deus Ex: Human Revolution could’ve received an A-, but with so many technical and gameplay bugs with the PC version, the pros just cannot out weigh the cons overall.

PROS
* Open gameplay
* Sound
* Well-told story
* Augmentations
* Varied weapons
* High replay value

CONS
* Some gameplay limitations
* Bugs, bugs, and more bugs
* Graphics not high quality
* Game can hard lock up with DirectX11 and AA enabled
* Stores are useless
* Inconsistent AI

FINAL SCORE: B-

Disclosure: The game version reviewed was 1.1.622.0. The writer purchased this game through Steam and bought the Augmented Edition. The game was completed at 100% on Normal difficulty for review.

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About Brandon Mietzner