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Deus Ex: Human Revolution PC Review

By Jeff Buckland, 8/23/2011

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It's been eleven years since Deus Ex delivered an intriguing plot along with great RPG mechanics and interesting choices inside a first-person shooter framework, and it's kind of a tragedy that even though this game is absolutely beloved by most PC gamers, it didn't spark off any kind of genre-bending revolution. Since then, most mainstream action games have stuck with moving towards a more controlled, cinematic experience where that one corridor has been so over-produced, the developers can't really afford to let you avoid it. Deus Ex: Invisible War, the sequel from the original team at ION Storm, was frustrating to play and disappointing in ways that have been well-chronicled over the last eight or nine years, so when Eidos Montreal announced a third game - a prequel this time - people groaned, rolled their eyes, and took to the internet to express immediate skepticism. Turns out that those initial instincts were actually wrong: Deus Ex: Human Revolution delivers on the hype and keeps important game-design promises we didn't even know the developers had made.

The setup

Human Revolution takes place in 2027, a couple decades before the events of the original game, and the protagonist is an ex-SWAT officer named Adam Jensen. After a controversial split from the force, he's recently been hired to become head of security at a Detroit-based biotech firm called Sarif Industries, and his ex-girlfriend, Megan Reed, is the chief researcher there - she also is the one that got him the job. On the eve of a trip to Washington to announce (and defend) a breakthrough in genetics and human augmentation, the Sarif Industries headquarters is attacked, the research team is killed, and Jensen is left in a bloody heap with lacerations all over his body and a gunshot wound to the head.

Of course, this brush with death is not the end of the line for Adam; not only does his boss, David Sarif, install the augmentations necessary to save his life, but he makes use of a special rider in Jensen's contract to go even further. When Jensen wakes, his arms and legs have all been amputated and shiny mechanical limbs are the replacements; his chest cavity has been gutted and wired up for more internal augmentations, and implants have been placed in his head to allow him to communicate with his handlers and even predict both the emotions of other characters and enemy movements when in combat.

Six months after that initial attack, he's brought back into Sarif headquarters ahead of schedule to deal with yet another threat to the company's future, as anti-augmentation terrorists have broken into the company's manufacturing plant to steal some expensive military technology. Sparking off from there is a far-reaching plot where Jensen crosses the globe looking for the people who attacked his company and left him for dead, uncovering a huge conspiracy that could change the entire world.

The mind is not always so resilient

During your time spent playing Human Revolution, you'll find that Jensen hasn't really decided whether his situation has improved since being shot in the head. He had no choice but to be augmented, and his modifications wound up being pretty extensive even beyond what was necessary to save his life; technically, he's little more than a head and some vital organs attached to a robot body.

You'll get to find out intriguing stuff about Jensen's past and make decisions about his future, but you'll also get to make some big choices about the future of the world that developer Eidos Montreal has created. In much the same way that the original Deus Ex was the thinking man's action-RPG, that's exactly what we have here. The topics are not the same, but the overall tone, intriguing plot, and the number of ways to go through the game (including going non-lethal for all but boss characters) all live up to the name Deus Ex very well.

Dishing out the damage

Human Revolution can be played like a first person shooter or as a stealth action game, but the best solution is often somewhere in between because generally there's simply not enough ammo - nor enough solid cover when you walk into many rooms - to turn this into Call of Duty: 2027 Edition. There might be disappointment for some when they find out that this game only lives up to its potential when you play it more like Solid Snake than like Rambo, but if that winds up being the case, it's worth adjusting one's expectations for an experience as sublime as DX:HR.

The game gives you tons of opportunities to find alternate routes around guards and cops, and the augmentations which you will upgrade by leveling up allow you to become invisible, jump higher, hack computers and locks more effectively, fire weapons without recoil, run faster, become immune to gas or electricity, fall without taking damage, and make use of many other perks. Combat areas are designed to have many routes and solutions, and many of these choices players make will be dictated by the augmentations they've chosen. If you don't have the software aug to hack the terminal that keeps a door locked, maybe you can turn on a strength aug to pick up a huge box and climb over a wall, or use the Icarus landing system to fall down a deep ventilation shaft without taking damage - and often, observant players will notice a no-augs solution too, just in case they chose something altogether different on the augmentation screen.

More human than human

DX:HR takes place in a sci-fi future with a protagonist that's more machine than man, but in some ways, it's more realistic than games set in the present day. Very few games try to deal with real issues from everyday life, and when they do, it's only when the player isn't in control of the protagonist. In cutscenes, Luis from GTAIV: The Ballad of Gay Tony talks quite a bit about trying to be a law-abiding citizen, but then once the player takes the helm, his missions give him no choice but to to kill dozens of people, police included. Similar things can be said for Marcus Fenix, Niko Bellic, and Nathan Drake, where lovable, human-seeming protagonists suddenly have no choice but to dish out killing sprees on dozens of thugs once the player takes control.

As players, it's at least partially our fault that it ever got this way. We asked for more explosions, more violence, more blood and killing, and we asked for characters to seem more human when they opened their mouths. The issue is, we never asked for developers to connect the two properly. With Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Eidos Montreal has actually accomplished this in a way that very few other developers have even thought of so far, and it's all wrapped around a top-notch game with wonderful visuals, interesting choices and solid combat. To top it all off, we also get a mature perspective on issues that may not be real just yet, but they will be eventually.

Neo-Renaissance meets Blade Runner

The art direction and design in this game is jaw-dropping; we get this mix of post-Renaissance art, clothing and design along with a charming sci-fi future that combines human modification along with both clean and dirty sci-fi environments mashed up in interesting ways. (The game can be equal parts Blade Runner and Mirror's Edge at times.) Textures generally look fantastic with only a few muddy outliers, the cities and locations look realistically lived-in, and the black-and-gold color scheme gives the game a grim look that still winds up being warm, classy, and appealing. Perhaps the most visually appealing area of the game is the two-tier city of Hengsha, where one rich city in the sky was built directly on top of the lower city with its dirty alleys, street gangs, and prostitutes. That said, I found the lower city to have some of the best design and art in the whole game, and while I'm sure opinions will differ, one thing's for sure: this is one of the most unique-looking first person games made in quite a while.

Playing on PC

The PC port of the game ticks a lot of the checkboxes that other recent ports have disappointed us on, but there are some frustrations, too. Let's start with the good: there's DirectX 11 eye candy, good scalability for lower-end PCs, field of view control, high-quality textures, an appropriate mouse-and-keyboard interface for in-game computers, multi-monitor support, a reasonable $50 price tag, Steam achievements and cloud save support, and more.

On the other hand, there's the negative: I've found occasional crashes to desktop, strange issues with using DX11 tessellation on Nvidia cards, no windowed mode, no mouse acceleration tweaking, and long loading times. (Editor's Note: a patch has drastically reduced loading times on PC.) In addition, I've read elsewhere that the game supports AMD's stereoscopic 3D, but the Nvidia implementation is essentially broken right now.

Even with the outstanding issues, I'm having a hard time mustering up any overly negative words for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Its thought-provoking plot and characters, slick action, sensible stealth system, multiple solutions for nearly every problem, and many choices for RPG-style advancement mix together in a way that tweaks the Deus Ex formula without compromising it. New players to the franchise can happily jump right in without too much worry of playing the previous game(s), although I again have to stress that this game is not intended to be played as a straight-up shooter, and the more you blast your way through each area, the less you'll get out of the game overall. For fans of the original, Human Revolution isn't exactly what you were likely looking for, but it's nearly as good, and that's much more than many hoped for when publisher Square Enix announced it years ago. Despite a few issues, this one's easily a must-have for PC gamers and DX fans, so get over to Steam and put your money down.

Overall: 9 out of 10



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