Deus Ex: Human Revolution Gameplay Performance Review

Deus Ex: Human Revolution landed a few weeks ago, bringing a worthy addition to one of the most admired PC gaming properties of all time. We've given it a thorough going over, and have lots to share. We test six of the hottest video cards around to show you what this game can really do, along with an in-depth look at image quality.

Introduction

Released in North America on August 23rd, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third entry in what is arguably one of the most revered first person RPG franchises in PC gaming history. The first Deus Ex was released in June of 2000, with an unpopular sequel coming in 2003. The first game in the series was an instant hit, and to this day remains a perennial favorite with a large cult following. Attempting to follow up on the success of the original, Eidos Montreal had an immense task on their hands. If critical reception is anything to go by, it seems that they have largely succeeded. Eleven years later, the first Deus Ex retains a 90/100 score on Metacritic, while Human Revolution currently boasts a score of 89/100. "I never asked for this..." has become not only a theme for this game, but has gone viral and become an Internet meme with parodies abounding on Youtube.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution was jointly developed by Eidos Montreal and the veteran Dutch development studio Nixxes, and published by Square Enix.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a hybrid first-person shooter and role-playing game with a strong cyberpunk influence. DE:HR is actually a prequel to Deus Ex, taking place 25 years before the events of the first game in the series. A single-player only game, Human Revolution chronicles the life of Adam Jensen, head of security for Sarif Industries, a biotechnology company which primarily researches and develops a range of biomechanical augmentations. They design and manufacture a range of "upgraded" replacement parts for the human body. After the game's explosive introductory level, the protagonist Jensen receives an extensive set of augmentations involuntarily. Jensen himself seems on the fence about the usefulness and safety of augmentations, which given his condition adds a certain personal urgency to the progress of the games core plot.

The game itself is primarily a first-person shooter, or FPS. It contains a number of RPG-like game mechanics, such as an explicit mission system, including a respectable quantity of side-missions. Players accrue experience points, which trigger upgrades to Jensen's augmentations and abilities. The game spans a wide variety of locations and landscapes, from gritty slums in Detroit to the sparkling headquarters of a Chinese Biotech giant, to a massive compound in the middle of ocean.

Early in development, Eidos Montreal wanted to take on the entire project itself, including the PC version and all console versions. Ultimately, they discovered that they couldn't dedicate the kind of time they felt the PC version needed, so they outsourced the development of the PC version of the game to Nixxes Software. In an interview with Gamespy, they stated that they outsourced the game not so that somebody else could make a console port for them, but so that the game would not be a port at all. It is not often that the PC version of games get this kind of special treatment anymore, and we are glad to see that this game did get this treatment so that the PC version would be unique, and not another console port. Quite frankly, this is a breath of fresh air, and was needed if it was going to measure up to the first game in any way.

The Technology

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is built upon a modified Crystal engine from Square Enix subsidiary Crystal Dynamics. The engine itself was initially designed for the Tomb Raider franchise in 2006, but has been updated, and heavily modified for Deus Ex: Human Revolution. DirectX 11 support has been added, featuring tessellation, SSAO, and post-processing features by way of DX11's DirectCompute technology. AMD was extensively involved with Nixxes during the development of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. At the start of testing for this article, they sent us a PDF with lots of lovely information about their involvement in this game:

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution uses a Phong tessellation "to turn triangle patches into curves based on the position and normals of each vertex defining a patch." (For more information on Phong tessellation, see this PDF whitepaper.) This technique allegedly improves on standard tessellation mechanisms by more realistically mimicking organic human shapes. Tessellation magnitude in Deus Ex: Human Revolution varies with the object's distance from the camera, so meshes further away from the camera will be shown with less detail, which wouldn't be visible anyway.

DirectCompute is used in DE:HR to accomplish post-processing effects such as HDR and Depth of Field (DoF). DirectCompute was chosen in lieu of typical shader routines because it allows the sharing of texture workload in the filter kernel, which results in a performance increase. Thus, DoF and HDR should not have as significant an impact on performance as they do in other games. SSAO also utilizes DirectCompute. SSAO samples the frame at half-resolution so that it can work quickly, and is then scaled up to full-resolution size with a bilateral blur filter in a DirectCompute shader.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the first game to come to market with native support for HD3D stereoscopic 3D using AMD's Quad-Buffer API. Native HD3D support is supposed to eliminate the problems associated with middleware 3D software, namely shadow, text, and other rendering artifacts. AMD's Quad-Buffer API allows the game to tap the AMD driver with one data stream for each eye, allegedly resulting in seamless stereoscopic 3D support.

As we have come to expect, AMD's Eyefinity technology is supported by DE:HR, out of the box. It supports 3x1 Landscape, 3x2 Landscape, and 5x1 Portrait monitor configurations. It even offers off-center viewport support for 3x2 configurations, which orients the main display output such that the crosshair doesn't disappear between bezels.

It seems safe to say that the PC version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution has gotten some special attention. It's all very nice on paper, but what we really want to know is how well this all translates to improvements in the gameplay experience.