|Eleven years ago, now-defunct developer Ion Storm released Deus Ex and made video game history. The original title cast players in the role of JC Denton, a nanotech-augmented agent with the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO) circa 2052. The game's plot is a fusion of classic conspiracy theories and a referendum on what it means to be human. The problems of humanity in 2052—plague, environmental destruction, rampant terrorism—were far enough away in time to be comfortable, but close enough to be unsettling.
Welcome to Detroit, circa 2027. All screenshots taken from in-game unless otherwise noted
Deus Ex: Human Evolution takes place 25 years before the first game. Mechanical augmentation—a technology that's on its last legs in the original DX—is the only form of augmentation available. The technology is highly controversial; society is polarized over what role augments should be allowed to play and who should control access to and usage of the technology in question. This time, the game is played from the perspective of Adam Jensen, security chief of Sarif Industries, the company that developed and commercialized widescale mechanical augmentation. The setting is appropriately urban, dystopian, and gritty, but does it play like Deus Ex?
Yes. More specifically, it plays like a game designed around the same core principles without falling into the trap of slavish imitation. Since some of you probably aren't familiar with the original, we'll take a moment and discuss them.
Pillars of Design:
Part of what won Deus Ex such acclaim eleven years ago was its open-ended approach to problem solving; virtually every mission could be approached from stealth or with reckless abandon. Enemies could be talked down, avoided, or dealt with using non-lethal measures; the "must-die" tally is between 1-3 people depending on how the count is reckoned.
The game designers also took pains to make failure feel real. At one point, JC's brother Paul lives or dies depending on the actions of the player. Instead of treating the situation as a critical mission objective, the developers allow him to die. It's possible to finish the game without realizing that the situation could've played out differently. Paul's survival/death didn't directly influence which of the three ways the game ultimately ended, but the decision point made DX feel like a game where the player's actions changed the world around him.
With Human Revolution, Eidos-Montreal designed the game around three primary approaches: combat, stealth, and social, meaning conversation/interaction. Hacking, while not a core gameplay mechanism, is designed to facilitate either approach.
|Elements of Gameplay, Artistic Design|
Deus Ex: Human Revolution allows gamers to indulge their inner Arnold, but it rewards precision playing and thoughtful approaches far more than brute force. Simply gunning down a thug earns 10 XP. Taking him down with a well-placed headshot earns an additional 10 XP for marksmanship. Kill the redshirt with a takedown and you'll earn an award for expediency, while using a non-lethal move / weapon grants a 20 XP bonus for being a 'Merciful Soul.'
Some missions drop Jensen into a specific area, while others involve traveling across the game's current location. Side quests can be picked up and performed without significantly detouring from main quest objectives, though there are some limitations here. Side quests can expire once Jensen completes enough primary objectives, but the game warns the player before this happens.
Secondary quests offered in Detroit, the game's first mission hub, include an opportunity to research the attack on Sarif Industries that kicks off the game, an option to assist Detroit PD with an undercover investigation, and the chance to help a co-worker who's being blackmailed. The secondary quests are interesting without dragging too much focus away from core gameplay.
The primary quests move the game forward at a good pace and keep the action flowing. Players who want to take their time and explore environments are free to do so, but there's very little standing around while waiting for something interesting to happen.
Music, Voice Acting, And Artistic Design:
DX:HR's soundtrack echoes Deus Ex's main theme enough to link the two titles, but shines in its own right. Background music shifts depending on location and activity but the composer, Michael Mccann, kept Deus Ex's techo-driven roots. The result, dare we say it, may be better than the original.
The game's voice acting is unfortunately hit-and-miss. Elias Toufexis voices Adam Jensen in a monotone that at least surpasses Jay Anthony Franke's version of JC Denton but this damns him with faint praise. Toufexis deserves an Oscar compared to some of the game's other voices; one of the first NPCs Jensen encounters in China sounds like an American doing a bad impression of a Chinese accent. The game re-uses certain NPC voice-overs in multiple locations; accents that sound perfectly normal in Detroit are rather jarring when heard in China.
Gunther and Navarre from the original game are above left; Adam's fully artificial arms and more stylized augment design is on the right. In the original DX, even mecha-augs with full replacement limbs showed multiple implant scars and external mechanical components surrounded by living tissue
Mecha-augs in Human Revolution tend to have discrete mechanical and physical components. Even when this isn't true, the mesh between living tissue and mechanical augment looks more like something you'd see in a futuristic doctor's office and less like one of the Borg. Jensen's eyes are clearly mechanically enhanced, but he avoids anything like Gunther's inhuman stare or Navarre's glowing socket.
Even in the most drastic cases, the augmented aren't quite as...well, icky. Sadly, there are no skull guns
The game hints that the difference between the two may be the result of age and flaws in the mechanical augmentation process. In Human Revolution, nearly all of the augmented end up needing an expensive anti-rejection drug called neuropozyne. It's entirely possible that the mecha-augs in Deus Ex look the way they do because medical science was never able to solve the rejection problem or repair the long-term collateral damage to associated tissue. The game even hints that some augmentation-happy individuals suffer from a form of body dysmorphic disorder, which might explain why both Hermann and Navarre look like walking nightmares.
|DX9 vs. DX11, Conclusion|
|One of the questions that's been raised about Human Revolution is whether or not the game actually looks as good as the trailers and official screenshots imply. The answer is a qualified yes, as demonstrated below.
The official screenshot is on the left, the actual gameplay shot is on the right
We weren't able to capture the exact frame, but if you look at the man coming down the stairs, the two are very close. The detail levels between the two are more-or-less identical; the official shot looks like someone applied an HDR filter for dramatic effect. This is generally true for most of the shots available online, with tram cars being a notable exception. In some of the official shots, the overhead tram cars are decorated with decals and graffiti tags. In-game, they're plain white boxes.
DX9 vs. DX11: It Depends On Where You Look
Deus Ex: Human Revolution takes advantage of DX11, but it does so in a way that makes us think the engine's support for high-detail open spaces is limited. Take a look at the difference between DX9 and DX11 in a small space.
Detroit. Again, DX9 on the left, DX11 on the right
Once Adam steps into the wider world, the visual difference between the two API's largely evaporates. The major distinction comes down to soft shadows, which Human Revolution only supports through DX11. The shift back towards DX9 rendering for city environments might go unremarked if it weren't for a few glaring issues—like cars.
You could drop that model in the original game and it'd scarcely look out of place. There are a few other shortcuts (like the overhead tram cars) that look more like they might have been last-minute changes to improve performance. Either that, or it's some sort of ironic social commentary.
We recently discussed the problems surrounding Crytek's DX11 implementation in Crysis 2. Thankfully, there's no sign of similar abuses in DX:HR; the game's overall use of tessellation is fairly subtle.
Tessellation improves the model's three-dimensional structure, but doesn't make a huge difference. Gamers still using DX9 don't need to worry about a second-class play experience.
In-game performance mirrors what we saw between how DX11 is used indoors vs. outside. We ran two basic benchmarks. In the first, we ran a loop through the Detroit area multiple times and captured the average framerate. For the second, we fought through a battle in a large warehouse. The benchmarks below were performed using a Radeon 5970 with all detail levels maxed out relative to the API in use. DX11 used soft shadows and tessellation; Edge AA was enabled in both cases, while Vsync was turned off.
We didn't expect to see much of a difference between DX11 and DX9 while walking through Detroit; our IQ analysis indicated DX11's features weren't much in use to start with. In smaller areas, in the midst of battle, the difference between DX11 and DX9 is more apparent but the game's performance doesn't scale all that strongly against resolution. 1900x1200 displays 75 percent more pixels than 1440x900, but improves performance by just 17 percent.
Gamers looking to improve framerates on lower-end cards should consider disabling ambient occlusion (SBAO) and opting for normal shadows.
Human Revolution isn't perfect. Neither was the first Deus Ex. The voice acting is of variable quality and the game's first few missions virtually require a stealthy approach due to Jensen's baseline squishiness. Save game loads and level transitions take a consistent 40 seconds on a conventional hard drive. That doesn't sound like much the first time, but it adds up very quickly when you're trying to sneak through an area without being spotted or testing various approaches to a room full of bad guys.
The criticisms are valid, but the game transcends its flaws. If you liked the original Deus Ex, or you think you'd like it based on its description, buy this game. Sometimes, it's just that simple.