Deus Ex: Human Revolution Impressions (PC)

When a video game publisher revives a derelict franchise and hands over the reins to a new crew to find out if there is any gas left in the tank, the usual result is a game inspired by its predecessor, but one that refuses to allow itself to be defined by the past. Sometimes the result is something spectacular, as in the case of Fallout 3, while other times the aftermath is best left forgotten in the sales bin, as recently happened with Dungeon Siege.

So, it would be no surprise to say that Deus Ex: Human Revolution is inspired by its roots with occasional nods to a now eleven-year-old game, but that it also rejects the inflexibility of the original game's purists and applies the lessons of more than a decade of video game advancement. That’s what you would normally expect, unless of course it were precisely those inflexible purists that were put in charge of the franchise. If that happened, what you might get is a game so obsessed with trying to be its predecessor that it never really becomes itself.

As it turns out, that’s exactly what Deus Ex: Human Revolution becomes; a rare reboot that desperately wants to fool you into believing you are playing its great grandfather.

Occasionally, as I worked my way through the fourteen hours I’ve so far put into Human Revolution, I found myself thinking about the 2006 Superman film reboot, Superman Returns. I remember watching that movie and puzzling over how it said in the credits that Kevin Spacey was playing Lex Luthor when clearly he was playing Gene Hackman. I remember thinking that Brandon Routh was wishing so hard he were actually Christopher Reeve that at least half of his salary must have been laying at the bottom of wishing wells.

Human Revolution is like Superman Returns in that way. It isn’t just that the game occasionally winks at fans of the series. Rather, it explicitly evokes the previous game to the point of near distraction. Wandering the streets of Human Revolution's cities, you are as likely to encounter a person whistling the theme to the original Deus Ex or stumble across some oblique reference to a minor character from the earlier game as you are an actual, relevant plot point.

The problem, of course, is that Deus Ex is a true PC classic, perhaps one of the best games of all time, and you can’t just pretend your way into being that. Human Revolution is simply not one of the best games of all time.

For one thing, the actual game itself suffers from a number of performance issues and bugs. On my mid-range system at recommended detected settings I experienced desktop crashes and framerate issues that left me spending the the first hour or so in the company of online tech solutions instead of augmented bad guys. Even after surfing forums, tweaking settings, rolling down options, turning off Vsync and searching through Windows event logs, the game ran for me finally in DX 10 medium settings at something I might liberally call “acceptable enough.”

Furthermore, regardless of whether you play on PC or console, there are some extraordinary load times in this game. Though you aren’t required to load as often as you were in the highly segmented Deus Ex: Invisible War it’s still hard to ignore a 20-30 second load time even at the best of times, much less just after you've died and are waiting to retry a section. And what precisely is the game spending so much time packing away, because it’s not as though the visuals are so spectacular that the load times and performance issues can be easily forgiven.

The relatively confined spaces of the game have their moments certainly, but Human Revolution is clearly more invested in mood setting than any kind of advanced visual wizardry. Characters in particular, augmented or otherwise, are wooden and awkward, never feeling like people in a real space so much as Chuck E. Cheese animatronics that at any moment might pick up a banjo and wish a five-year-old happy birthday.

And, if you’ve heard that the boss fights are disproportionately difficult , frustrating and out of character to the rest of the game, then let me assure you that you have only the slightest inkling of how unpleasant these boss fights actually are. Particularly if you have modeled your character down a pacifism and stealth path, prepare to find yourself dying, waiting about 30 seconds for the level to reload, and then immediately dying again. Even after turning down the difficulty level, it still took me a good six or seven tries to get past the first boss.

There are other complaints I could levy at this game — things that begin to devolve into minutia. The game lacks the really strong secondary characters that the original had to provide a kind of counter-point and alternative view of events. There isn’t really enough sense of augmentation or activating powers to help shift the balance of power. The plot gets a little silly over time. There are all kind of little cracks that constantly remind you that, while you are playing a game that wants to be Deus Ex, you are definitely not playing Deus Ex.

So I feel like I am entitled and well within my rights to be intensely disappointed with Human Revolution and brand it a game that at best pretends to a classic’s throne. But, I’m not disappointed. In fact, despite all these complaints I might have, I am absolutely and genuinely loving my time with Human Revolution. Let me break this out and emphasize for those merely skimming and who may be mistaken into believing they are reading a negative review.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution, despite all its very real flaws, is an excellent game and not to be missed.

While, I think it’s true that this is not one of the all-time classic games, that’s a mighty extraordinary yardstick on which to measure. This may not be the best game of all time, but its a damn good one and it would be a mistake to let its flaws get in the way of the otherwise excellent effort from Eidos Montreal. In fact, to truly love this game I think you have to embrace its shortcomings, because somehow the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and those flaws that should be game breaking merely add character. Besides, it’s not like Deus Ex was without flaws at its release, some of which it shares with Human Revolution like awkwardly animatronic characters and a story that is prone to wandering into the absurd.

For whatever Human Revolution may lose for not charting its own path, there are more advantages it picks up by relying heavily on the foundation built by the original game. Developers Eidos Montreal seem to understand what made the original Deus Ex great in a way that the people behind Invisible War never seemed to — which is interesting, because it was Warren Spector and Harvey Smith at the helm of that sequel, and you’d think that if anybody would get it, they would.

This is a game thick with atmosphere, and while its identity isn’t really its own, it pulls off its homage with delicacy and reverence. Unlike that tragic Superman reboot I mentioned earlier in this article, Human Revolution never devolves into unintentional parody or cheap mimicry. The attention to detail where it counts most — in the gameplay, the sound, the aesthetic and in the world building — make this a place you want to invest your time.

Odds are that halfway through the game you’ll already be plotting out how you’re going to approach the game the second time through, and will barely notice the blemishes that would distract in a lesser game.

No, Human Revolution is not the original Deus Ex, but it's come far closer than any game before it, including Invisible War. A long game that is less hotel bar cover band and more honest tribute, when it counts, when it is all most on the line, Human Revolution hits the notes that a fan of Deus Ex is likely to care about. And, as a game completely out of the context of its predecessor, it still manages to stand on its own as an engaging stealth action shooter.

This is a flawed but beautiful game, and somehow it’s made all the better by its shortcomings. Make no mistake, there are real problems with Human Revolution, and you shouldn’t go into the experience expecting any less, but this is one of those rare gems that rises above the kind of bugs and shortcomings that would sink most other titles. It rests in the hall of games like Oblivion, Half-Life 2 and even its predecessor as an experience that is imperfect and somehow inexplicably better for it.

Comments

This is a test to see who reads the entire article and who fires off a flaming reply a third of the way through, isn't it...?

Maybe the bold type will stop them. People love bold type!

Human Revolution is simply not one of the best games of all time.

If you get flaming replies, you've no one to blame for this but yourself.
Any game is one of the "best games of all time" if you think about it in the right way. I mean is it one of the best 10 games of all time? 100? 1000? 10000? etc. Eventually that number gets big enough to encompass whatever game you're talking about.

The only real thing I take issue with here is that it's really hard to see if it joins the list of "all time greats" right now. That requires time and reflection, IMO. When I was playing Fallout 3 and the faces were ugly as sin and the game was crashing, if you had asked me if it was as good as Fallout or one of the "all time greatest games" I probably would've said no. But looking back, all the flaws fade so easily and the brilliance still shines through.

To me, if I have to make an honest decision about DX:HR, I need time to determine how badly the flaws affect the game. As I'm reading your assessment, I'm nodding in agreement with the flaws as you list them, but I'm not entirely sure I would've noticed them on my own. I'm too enamored with this brilliant game and I'm loving every minute of it. The flaws just aren't mattering to me at all.

Though I've had no crash issues or performance problems, so that does help smooth it out a bit. Load times are still bad for me, but it just makes me more careful about my choices, honestly. I don't consider that a bad thing. I'm one of the few who liked Dead Rising's limited save system.

I'm one of the best people of all time, then!

I agree with Pyroman that it's going to take some reflection to decide if it's an outright classic or not, but one thing I'm absolutely sure of is that it's one of the best games of the year.

Of course, I tend to become oblivious to even glaring flaws when I play something that has a great core to it. *cough* Bloodlines *cough*

I haven't even finished the first mission yet, but it's clear that DX:HR is, at the very least, a worthy successor to Deus Ex. And that's really all I wanted from it.

Let's just be clear: Fallout 3 was no Far Cry 2.

In a way, I can't help feeling it has the same problem Invisible War did, it's got Deus Ex in the name so it gets compared to the game which people worship.

The original game is a legend and it's tough to be compared to a legend, even though the original had it's own problems when you look at it objectively. Looking at it on their own, Invisible War was an average-good game, and Human Revolution is a great game, and provides a great experience that stands apart from other games coming out right now. As much as I'd consider it a part of the Deus Ex world, it is it's own game too.

Now that DE:HR is done, I want to see more things appearing here soon. I just realised how rare a thing it is nowadays that I'm really confident in a developer.

I feel quite conflicted. Recognizing the original isn't perfect, so much of your response to this game focuses on some (seemingly) significant negatives. If I skipped the lines where you say I must play it and you really are enjoying it, I'd be certain you were only continuing to play it because you're bored and that it's a mediocre game.

StaggerLee, I think that's an appropriate way to read this review, and it's why I framed it this way. I could have glossed over or openly ignored the flaws of the game -- which is really what I'm doing when I'm playing it, and it only comes up when I try to think about it anything like objectively -- but that would have been a broken examination of the game because these problems really do exist, and for some people I think it may be too much to overcome. I wrote this review in this format for those people, because I think the natural instinct for the people enjoying HR is to just forgive and forget.

That said, there's no way I'm just playing this game because I'm bored. This _is_ a terrific game, a flawed, occasionally frustrating work of outstanding achievement. Sometimes you just have to live with the fact that a game is both great and a little bit broken.

About those boss battles:

I found myself humming "Turn Up the Radio" all through the couple dozen times I took on the first boss. Anyone who played Alpha Protocol will know what I'm talking about.

That said, it's an amazing game, and I feel like if it doesn't hit the mark set by Deus Ex, it's not that far under.

Elysium wrote:

It rests in the hall of games like Oblivion, Half-Life 2 and even its predecessor as an experience that is imperfect and somehow inexplicably better for it.

You lost me right there. Comparing Human Revolution to Fallout 3, Oblivion and Half-Life 2 puts it right into to the insta-classic category for me.

No game is perfect. I can't think of one game that isn't flawed in one way or another including the original Deus Ex.

Elysium, in all fairness to the game, I should feel I should add an experience of mine.

I don't have a monster machine, but it's fairly recent. Possibly last generation hardware. I'm running DX11 and about 80% of the graphical settings. I'm also not easily impressed by computer graphics, and most games that rave about super visuals leave me totally flat.

There was a moment--in the game--when I first walked into my Detroit apartment. I don't have the words to describe how visually stunning that scene was. I think I forgot to breathe for a few seconds as the scene played itself out. It was: mindblowing. I don't think I had my mind blown by graphics, in a game, so far in my life.

As much I have appreciated, and even contributed to the echo chamber calling DXHR a masterpieces, I think this review pretty much nails it. Of course, it helps that I am playing on the 360, so the only technical issue I am having are the 20 load times.

And because I am loving the game so much, I actually just find myself thinking about what just killed me, and how to approach it differently. So the delay is not something that bothers me as much as if this were Halo or Gears, and all I want to do is get back into the firefight and kill some baddies.

I have to say, the more impressions I read from PC users, the happier I am that I did not invest a ton of my time and money to build a PC to play this game, as I was seriously contemplating. I might have a substantial level of rage had I been forced to deal with crashes and stuttering audio just becasue I bought back into the hype of PC superiority. And while Square Enix may be calling the PC version the definitive version, they still seemed to fail to deliver the overall experience that can be had on the console because the PC is just a pain in th but to program for.

And Pyro is dead on that trying to put it on or take it off a list of all-time great games is a mistake at this time. It won't be how this plays out the first time, it will be how often someone feels compelled to load it up and take another run at it next year, or three years, or even six. Right now, if could be running largely on nostalgia. like other here, I find myself just grinning at how great this game makes me feel.

But will its actual gameplay have the staying power? Or will it soon fall away as I begin to play Batman: AC and then The Witcher 2 early next year. Both of those games have the ability to tell me great stories while providing me with strategic choices and the opportunities to feel superhuman. they aren't the same games, but I play them for the same reasons. The first Deus Ex was a cut above everything else out there.

While I am not positive that DXHR is, I am loving the daylights out of this game right now. And I am in that camp of embracing weaknesses. When I see "weak" combat, I instead try to figure out what I can do to improve mey character and strategy. Combat is not weak, it is the appropriate challenge. But that may just be me playing with rose colored blinders.

So I think Elysium's review is more than fair. I do wonder how the review would be shaped had it been on the 360 version, which avoids almost all of the technical issues, save the loading times. I don't think it would get an unqualified Game of All time mention, I suspect the impression would be for more positive.

I'm comfortable sticking with the position that this won't go down as an all-time-great game. If nothing else, odds are on my side.

As much as I see where you're coming from Jayhawker, having it all to do over again, I'd still buy the game on the PC. I don't really think just the switch to console would have changed the review much. I'm certain that switch, for whatever it may have gained, would have had some things I'd have given up as well.

I've got to stop reading stuff like this before I can get my hands on the game. Thanks for the write-up, though.

it would be a mistake to let it’s flaws get in the way of the otherwise excellent effort

That's a flogging, Wordy. (first paragraph after the bold)

Like a quick save button! GAH I want that badly. Otherwise, loving the game.

Elysium wrote:

I'm certain that switch, for whatever it may have gained, would have had some things I'd have given up as well.

Like a quick save button! GAH I want that badly. Otherwise, loving the game.

Also, I saw a comparison video that showed an install on the Box loads the game relatively quickly. Personally, the load times haven't become an issue for me.

Minarchist wrote:

I've got to stop reading stuff like this before I can get my hands on the game. Thanks for the write-up, though.

it would be a mistake to let it’s flaws get in the way of the otherwise excellent effort

That's a flogging, Wordy. (first paragraph after the bold)

While I appreciate the juxtaposition of a typo in that sentence, I think you'll find that the typo doesn't actually exist.

I have enshrined it forever. It will be brought out and shown to you at 3:00pm each day as a reminder of your sin.

wordsmythe wrote:
Minarchist wrote:

I've got to stop reading stuff like this before I can get my hands on the game. Thanks for the write-up, though.

it would be a mistake to let it’s flaws get in the way of the otherwise excellent effort

That's a flogging, Wordy. (first paragraph after the bold)

While I appreciate the juxtaposition of a typo in that sentence, I think you'll find that the typo doesn't actually exist.

And yet not a word from you about "reigns" instead of "reins". Not a word, sir! Truly, 'tis a sad day when one's heroes fall from grace.

I'm running a pretty boss system with SSDs and the load times are still egregious.

My biggest problem with the game is the enemy AI. They go back and forth between dim-witted and omnipotent. It's not realistic and it's not fun.

SPOILER

I was able to peacefully talk my into the police station. I slipped into a nearby office and hacked the computer. I screwed up the hack. The ENTIRE police station went hostile and came after me. How did they know I did it? I was not in eye sight of anyone. So, I murdered every single one of them in the doorway to the room with a shotgun. They just ran right into the fatal funnel one after the other. No one even tried a grenade or anything.

Also, if you fire one bullet at the first boss, you are doing it wrong. The game should try harder to make that clear. I would take something like 600 assault rifle rounds to kill him.

Jayhawker wrote:

It won't be how this plays out the first time, it will be how often someone feels compelled to load it up and take another run at it next year, or three years, or even six. Right now, it could be running largely on nostalgia.

I can't say whether or not I'll revisit this game in a few months or even a few years, but I can say that it's not running on nostalgia for me. I never played Deus Ex or Invisible War, and I'm really loving Human Revolution so far. It has a lot of things going for it that I think will help give it some substantial staying power.

Clockwork agreeing with majority opinion?

ERROR! ERROR! DOES NOT COMPUTE!

I'm a bit baffled by the strength of the load time complaints. So far the game is engrossing enough for me that I'm not even paying attention to the load times because I'm thinking about what happened, and I certainly don't think load times are enough to prevent a game from becoming a classic. After all, this game was just compared to Half Life 2, and that game had long load times as well, and more frequent ones than DXHR too, often placed in a way that disrupted the action.

I haven't had a crash yet, and I'm running Direct X 11. I have had to turn the settings down quite a lot, but I'm running on a bootcamped macbook from a few years ago, so it's hardly an elite piece of equipment, and the game still manages to look pretty good. Considering how much I have turned the settings down, I think if I had a proper rig I'd find that the game looked stunning. OP may be in the same boat.

Invisible War had load times about as frequently as HL2, but they're not in any way comparable... why? Because the thing that makes games like these great is not technical specifications or gameplay designs, but an X factor that lends the setting a sense of wonder or atmosphere or tension. Technical flaws are common in games. Games like Fallout 3 or Metroid Prime of Half Life 2 are great and memorable because they have have that special something that most games lack despite also having the technical flaws that most games do.

I'm not saying the game is an instant classic, as I haven't even come close to completing it yet, but I don't think technical flaws will be the deciding factor there.

I'm not saying the game is an instant classic, as I haven't even come close to completing it yet, but I don't think technical flaws will be the deciding factor there.

Yup, that was pretty much my entire point wrapped into one sentence. You'll never get paid by the word with that kind of attitude.

The framework of this review fits exactly with Deadly Premonition.

(HR rocks too.)

Though I have to be honest, while I enjoyed the original Deus Ex back in the day, I don't quite ascribe to the legendary status it's garnered over the years. I remember totally enjoying it at the time, but it also felt a notch below something like System Shock 2.

Handing over dominion is generally parsed as "handing over the kingship," rather than "handing over the reigns," if I know my English idioms. Or you could express it as handing over control over the metaphorical carriage in which case it's "handing over the reins."