Deus Ex: Human Revolution: More human than human

Eleven years since the franchise's first title, Human Revolution attempts to reignite the spark that Deus Ex successfully achieved back in 2000 on the PC.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Jeff Bakalar
Rich Brown
5 min read
Game trailer: Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Watch this: Game trailer: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Eleven years since its original inception, the Deus Ex series welcomes a new entry in the form of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. In a world where human augmentations have been commercialized by big business, human beings have the option to upgrade not just their bodies but also their minds. Such an ethical hot topic has created passionate factions on each side of the argument forcing players to find a balance between the two.

A franchise known for mixing RPG and action elements all while giving the player the freedom of choice, we've been anxiously awaiting to see just how such an ambitious collection of mechanics play out on current-generation consoles. Taking a special look at the game on PC is CNET Senior Editor Rich Brown.

After just surviving a summer drought of games like the one we just experienced, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a very welcome light at the end of the tunnel. It's an incredibly deep and layered game with a cerebral storyline that will charm even the most jaded cyberpunk enthusiast--a true complement to the game's great Blade Runner-inspired art direction.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (photos)

See all photos

The best way I can describe Human Revolution is a cross between Metal Gear Solid and Mass Effect. The team at Eidos Montreal borrowed the best elements from each of these franchises and made it their own, successfully weaving a game that lives up to its series' legacy of giving the player ultimate choice. This concept applies to almost everything Adam Jensen--the game's main character--does, from interrogating a person of interest to infiltrating a testing laboratory.

Players can choose to play Human Revolution in any way they please, whether it be as a gun-toting madman or as a stealthy assassin. The game does not penalize you either way, which is why I had so much fun with Deus Ex: Human Revolution in the first place; it's equally satisfying regardless of how deadly or humane you are.

Human Revolution expertly mixes open-world maps with linear-based sections that give the player an eclectic gaming experience rarely found in most titles of the same genre. I found myself eager to finish all side quests in one area, but found refuge in the next knowing there would be only one main objective to accomplish.

Square Enix/Eidos Montreal

The game also rewards and encourages exploration, with countless buildings and areas to discover that are not necessarily pivotal to the game's main storyline. Human Revolution also features a hacking system that at first feels a bit too complicated, but soon matures into a welcomed gameplay mechanic.

Aside from a few frame rate drops and a minor graphical glitch here and there (seen on the Xbox 360 version), Human Revolution presents an excellent overall package and stands out among the rush of game releases that make up the rest of 2011.

If you buy the retail version of Deus Ex: Human Revolution (from anywhere but GameStop, apparently), you'll find a coupon inside the box that entitles you to play the game free via OnLive as well. With that in mind, I have impressions from both the installed and OnLive versions of the game.

For the Windows version, the game looked and played great at 1,920x1,080 pixels and maximum image quality on a pair of upper-midrange PCs from HP and Lenovo, each with a robust graphics card and a Core i7 CPU. I had some trouble running Deus Ex on an older Dell laptop with a first-generation Core i5 CPU and a lower-end AMD Radeon 5000-series graphics chip, although at lower image quality it was at least playable, if not totally smooth. While a three-system trial is hardly a comprehensive overview of Deus Ex's hardware compatibility, the fact that you can play it at all on a 2-year-old midrange laptop suggests that you should be to make it work on any reasonably current computer with a discrete graphics card that isn't a Nettop or a Netbook.

Square Enix/Eidos Montreal

PC gamers should also take comfort in knowing that the Windows version of the game is not a casualty or an afterthought of the console version. You get the full range of interface and display customizations PC gamers expect, from keyboard command remapping to the ability to play the game on up to five monitors at high video resolution. Eidos also listened to gamers during the development cycle, and included the ability to disable environmental context clue graphics that some described as hand-holding.

With OnLive, Deus Ex played well over wired network connections in CNET's New York office and a Brooklyn apartment. The resolution and image quality is markedly lower than the maximum available on a locally installed copy (we'd estimate around 800x600 pixels, with the lowest image quality), but it's a testament to the art that the game still looks attractive at those minimal settings. I'm also happy to report that the game plays smoothly over OnLive, and, although OnLive doesn't let you adjust the video settings, you can at least adjust the field of view in the gameplay options.

Human Revolution being played over OnLive Eidos Montreal/Square Enix

I've only had time to explore the first open city area after the introductory mission, but so far, Deus Ex: Human Revolution successfully captures the magic of the genre-bending original. Your various abilities provide a strong sense of choice in the way you approach the game's various challenges. I also like that at least in the early going, when you choose a new ability or upgrade an existing one, it's not hard to find at least a few nearby areas where those expanded powers provide an immediate benefit.

On the downside, you get fewer random objects to move around in this new version of the game. The one cityscape I've had a chance to explore also has a boxed in feeling that seems a bit dated.

The buildings and street environments inside that box come across as mostly genuine; the streets are convincingly populated with pedestrians (though not moving cars), and the fact that you can navigate both the interiors and the exteriors (roofs, fire escapes) of various buildings sets a richly appointed stage. The hemmed-in feeling comes when you hit the boundaries of the neighborhood.

Square Enix/Eidos Montreal

Deus Ex is not Grand Theft Auto, but it's jarring to hit the borders of the play environment when you can take a seemingly infinite number of approaches to solve the game's various problems. The Assassin's Creed series comes to mind in terms of a design that strikes the right balance between player choice, open environments, and curated set pieces that Eidos might consider in future installments of Deus Ex.

For PC gamers in general, Eidos got the important notes right with Deus Ex: Human Revolution. It captures the spirit of the original game, while exorcising the demon of 2003's Deus Ex: Invisible War, whose simplified gameplay and interface are one of the hallmark examples of a developer dumbing down a PC title for the presumed benefit of the larger console audience. Some of the series' hallmark elements could benefit from modernization, but Eidos has successfully re-created the sublime feeling of freedom that made Deus Ex a gaming classic.