by Yaroslav Lyssenko
09/23/2011 | 12:56 PM
There are two companies dominating the graphics card realm today. Both are working incessantly to make their products even better, yet it would be hard to convince even the most loyal fans to buy new-generation Radeon or GeForce series cards without a sound reason. There must be a reason for users to want even faster hardware, and they get that stimulus in the way of new video games which feature better visuals which require more advanced graphics hardware to be rendered.
While the GPU market is limited to two brands only, there are much more developers and genres when it comes to video games. You can choose any kind of entertainment from real-time or turn-based strategies to various simulators, quests and adventures, puzzles and many others. Some titles are even hard to classify under one genre only.
Developing and promoting video games has long ceased to be the work of a few enthusiasts with some programming skills and original gameplay ideas. Modern video games can often boast budgets comparable to those of Hollywood blockbusters. With so much money invested, there are high risks if the game doesn’t prove to be a success. Therefore the GPU developers take on some of the risks, thereby pursuing their own goals. AMD with its Gaming Evolved and Nvidia with its The Way It's Meant to Be Played program encourage game developers to introduce newest technologies into their titles. Deus Ex: Human Revolution we are going to cover in this review represents AMD’s Gaming Evolved.
The first game of the Deus series was released back in 2000. There was not much promotional fanfare then as if the developers were not really sure they had come up with a right product, but eventually Deus Ex acquired a cult following in the gaming world. People would split up into two categories: those who were highly enthusiastic about it and those who never played it.
The cyberpunk story of the first Deus Ex developed by Ion Storm was set in the middle of the 21st century. People have found themselves in a social and economic crisis by then. Governments have got weak and come under the influence of international corporations. The problems of famine, poverty and increasing terrorist activity have been exacerbated by an epidemic of an incurable disease. The single hope against the Gray Death is the Ambrosia vaccine which is distributed only among those who are loyal to the ruling powers. Your goal in the game is to survive in the chaotic circumstances and untangle the numerous conspiracies which are even more complicated than those of The Da Vinci Code.
Odd as it may seem, a lot of people have never even heard of that game although it wasn’t really targeted at a small group of enthusiasts of the genre. As a matter of fact, Deus Ex had a lot of original solutions that would become popular afterwards. It was just kind of ahead of its time. The alternative walkthroughs in Crysis 2 were already available in Deus Ex as long as 10 years ago. If you are fond of the stealthy infiltration of enemy bases from Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, you would also like the same in Deus Ex. And even if you want a Hollywood-style scenario with worries about the fate of humankind, something like Mass Effect, you can find it in the 10-year-old Deus Ex, too!
The 2003 sequel owes its release to the commercial success of the original game. Ion Storm was always focused on design, so the Unreal Engine of the first game was replaced with the Flesh Engine, a considerably revised version of the then-best Unreal Engine 2. This transition made the fans of the series hurry to upgrade their computers with new graphics cards that could support the DirectX 9 API. The new visual capabilities helped create a memorable world with an inimitable atmosphere, just like in the original Deus Ex.
Deus Ex: Invisible War takes a start 20 years after the events of the first game. The social and economic corruption has reached its peak, and most of the economic entities have become something like the city states of Ancient Greece. The plot has a whole layer of conspiracy theories, puzzles and secrets for the player to untangle. The key feature of Deus Ex has also been preserved in the way that the player’s actions and decisions directly affect the outcome of the game and the victory of a particular faction in the global war for supremacy. The artificial enhancement of the protagonist’s body with implants, which has replaced the nano augmentations from the original Deus Ex, is still important for beating the game.
The second part of the cyberpunk adventure features improved visuals that called for a top-end computer. The more straightforward plot meant a quicker walkthrough compared to the original game, so some gamers felt disappointed on seeing the closing credits. This ambiguity may have played a part in the financial collapse of Ion Storm which ceased to exist in 2005, leaving the future of the Deus Ex series under question. But two years later, Eidos Interactive, the owner of the franchise rights, announced its plans on developing a third game set in the Deus Ex universe.
We have already got used to long production cycles when it comes to modern video games. Four years passed since the announcement till the release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Eidos Interactive, which had bought out the developer Square Enix, didn’t really promise to make everything quickly, so the completion of the project had to be postponed a little. The game itself has certainly benefited from being a long time in developing. It is now something its developers can be proud of and players admire.
The game runs on a modified Crystal engine that has been used in such games as Tomb Raider: Anniversary and Tomb Raider: Underworld. Both used to look quite spectacular in their own time, but there were doubts about the engine's ability to run a modern project. Fortunately, the apprehensions didn't come true. Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks splendid and is as atmospheric as the two previous titles in the series.
The third Deus Ex takes place a quarter of a century before the first game. So, you find yourself in 2027 as a security chief at Sarif Industries, one of the world’s largest corporations. You are responsible for guarding the company's interests and performing your boss's orders. At first you feel like an errand boy for nontrivial and secret tasks. The developer suggests that there are four ways to beat the game:
Thus, the gameplay is equally good for fans of “kill ‘em all” shooters and for those who enjoy classic stealth adventures. The problem with the first way is that your character can be killed just too easily at the beginning of the game. The second way may be difficult when you encounter bosses as you have to deal with them face to face without the option of stabbing in the back from a shadow.
You will also have some difficulties if you want to explore 100% of the plot. It takes about 20-30 hours to beat the game at the medium level of difficulty, but the developers mentioned something like 4 days of continuous playing needed to explore everything.
Like in the first two games of the series, there is a lot of additional in-game information about the world like newsreels or personal correspondence. There are some Easter eggs, too. For example, you can come across a discussion of a movie which resembles scenes from Robocop (1987). Square Enix’s very own Final Fantasy is referenced, too. You can see Final Fantasy XXVII posters in some locations whereas Shanghai looks like Midgar, the main city from Final Fantasy VII.
We won’t discuss the plot of the game here as it's impossible without spoilers, but we can tell you that it's a real Deus Ex with secrets, conspiracies, intrigues and alternative finales that depend on your actions throughout the game. Its gameplay is definitely worth buying but what about its visuals and system requirements?
AMD has been one of the most active promoters of the DirectX 11 API among end-users and game developers alike. This year is the most productive in terms of new games with full DirectX 11 support. Just a couple of months after the release of the latest version of the racing sim DiRT 3, AMD with Square Enix unveil the next such game under the AMD Gaming Evolved program.
The game designers had to work with a modified version of a 6-year-old rendering engine, but it supports DirectX 11 well enough. The first difference of DirectX 11 rendering from DirectX 9 one is the availability of high-quality antialiasing (MLAA) which has almost no effect on performance. The DirectX 11 version also offers such features as tessellation, soft shadows and an improved depth of field algorithm.
Tessellation is a hot topic now, despite the criticism which gets harsher after the contradicting claims of the two GPU developers. This doesn’t prevent it from being implemented in today’s games. Deus Ex: Human Revolution uses tessellation to make the character models look better. The smoother features of a face help render facial expressions and emotions better. The game being a multiplatform project, tessellation also helped the developer avoid redrawing the character models for the PC version.
Many modern games make use of post-processing effects to improve the visuals in some way or another. Sometimes the resulting image doesn’t even look attractive when the developer applies too much blur or old-film effects or something like that. Fortunately, the designers of Deus Ex: Human Revolution used this feature sparingly, endowing the third part of Deus Ex with original and unmistakable visuals. You can tell it is Human Revolution even if you were to take a look at a small fragment of the city map or office scene.
The special effects and cutting-edge rendering technologies helped create a unique atmosphere of the game notwithstanding the aged graphics engine. But we all know just too well that visual luxuries call for high processing power on the part of your computer’s graphics subsystem. Let’s see how today’s graphics cards can handle Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
We are going to test the graphics cards performance in Deus Ex: Human Revolution using the following universal testbed:
We used the following ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce drivers:
The ATI Catalyst and Nvidia GeForce graphics card drivers were configured in the following way:
The image quality in the game was set to the maximum.
The games configuration files weren’t modified in any way, because the ordinary user doesn’t have to know how to do it. We ran our tests in the following multimedia resolutions: 1600x900, 1920x1080 and 2560x1600.
Here are the cards that participated in our today’s test session.
We measured the average and minimum performance using Fraps utility version 3.4.6. Each test scenario was repeated three times and the average value of the three runs was taken for the analysis, as always.
The premium-class products do not find the game much of a test. The Radeon HD 6990 catches up with the GeForce GTX 590, but we don't know if AMD's Gaming Evolved program has anything to do with that. The average frame rate is never lower than 70 fps, so you can enjoy the game at any resolution, including 2560x1600 pixels, with either of the two cards. By the way, since each card is in fact a multi-GPU subsystem, we can say that the Catalyst and ForceWare drivers can already effectively run this game on multiple GPUs. That’s good news for owners of CrossFireX and SLI platforms.
As for the single-GPU premium-class graphics cards, the Radeon HD 6970 is just as fast as its opponent GeForce GTX 580. They deliver high performance in the Full-HD mode but you have to disable MLAA to play comfortably at the higher resolutions. Subjectively, a speed of 50 fps or lower is not sufficient to kill an enemy with an accurate headshot or hack a computer before the counterattack.
We are witnessing a fierce fight of the two graphics architectures in the midrange price category as well. This time around the GeForce GTX 570 leaves the highly popular Radeon HD 6950 behind by about 10%. Each card is capable of copying with the 1600x900 or 1920x1080 load, but the luxurious 2560x1600 mode is unplayable unless you lower the graphics quality settings.
The Radeon HD 6870 vs. GeForce GTX 560 Ti fight is no less exciting. The GTX 560 Ti wins expectedly but the more affordable HD 6870 looks good, too. Each of them keeps the frame rate at a barely playable level in the Full HD mode, so you may find the game getting somewhat sluggish in action-heavy or graphically complex scenes. The affordable Radeon HD 6850 is inferior to the other cards in this category and cannot run the game smoothly at 1920x1080.
Once again we see AMD and Nvidia solutions end their fight in a tie. This time around these are the Radeon HD 6770 and GeForce GTX 550 Ti. It takes 60 fps to play a first-person shooter comfortably, but the mentioned two cards can’t deliver that much even at 1600x900. You'll have to disable full-screen antialiasing or a couple of special effects, especially if you want to perform achievements like completing the game without setting off any alarms.
The weakest products in this review can’t notch even 30 fps. Belonging to the entry-level market segment, the Radeon HD 6670, GeForce GT 545 DDR3 and GeForce GT 430 cannot make the game playable unless you lower the graphics quality settings.
We used the following graphics quality settings for these tests:
Deus Ex: Human Revolution provides enough flexibility in choosing the quality of its visuals. You can choose from three antialiasing methods: FXAA, MLAA and Edge AA. Let’s see which method is best and try to find a balance between speed and quality. We’ll also find out how the frame rate of the game depends on the CPU speed.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution looks amazing when you see it for the first time at the highest settings. It’s only after a while that you get to notice certain shortcomings. Despite the enabled tessellation, the character models are not immaculate. Even morphological filtering (MLAA) cannot help to smooth out every edge, so you shouldn’t be surprised to see jaggies instead of straight lines.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is indifferent to the CPU speed at the maximum quality settings. The extra 700 MHz of clock rate does not increase the frame rate of the system equipped with an AMD Radeon HD 6950 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 Ti.
The FXAA profile is second in complexity. The single difference from the previous profile is the use of fast approximate antialiasing. There are three levels (Low, Medium and High) for this profile but they seemed the same to us in terms of both image quality and frame rate. As a matter of fact, it is hard to find a difference between FXAA and MLAA, too.
Using FXAA instead of MLAA doesn’t change the game’s behavior in the CPU test. It remains indifferent to our increasing the CPU clock rate.
If you can’t get a playable frame rate with the previous two profiles, there is a third method of antialiasing for you. Instead of smoothing out each edge in the frame, the Edge AA method does that for predefined objects only. This helps lower the GPU load but the objects not covered by Edge AA will have jaggies. The speed gain is only about 5% but the lack of full-featured antialiasing is not so easy to spot due to the abundance of post effects and various image filters.
It is still the graphics card that acts the bottleneck in the Edge AA mode, so there is no point in overclocking your CPU or using a faster one here.
Give up all antialiasing and lower the shadow quality, screen space ambient occlusion and depth of field settings, and you can make the game run at twice its earlier frame rate. You won't have to worry about the slow hacking menu with the seconds ticking away way too rapidly. The game still looks attractive, so the Normal profile is indeed suitable for normal play.
The CPU of our testbed seems to affect the overall performance now. We observe a 10% increase in average frame rate when overclocking it from 2.66 to 3.33 GHz.
The frame rate doubles once again as the Low graphics quality mode surprises us with its satisfactory visuals despite the lack of any special effects or even shadows, let alone tessellation and post-processing. The single notable downside of this mode is that the changed color palette changes the overall impression from the Deus Ex world.
Like in the previous mode, the extra processing power of the CPU provides a 10% increase in performance. This can hardly be of any practical use since the frame rate is as high as 150 fps with the Radeon HD 6950 and 190 fps with the GeForce GTX 560 Ti.
Released back in 2000, the original Deus Ex is still worthy of your attention if you haven’t played it yet, even though it’s based on the old Unreal Engine. And we are very pleased to see its charm and traditions rejuvenated in the new Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The latter is a top-class product that brings new ideas into the cyberpunk genre.
Today’s graphics cards have proved to be up to the task. Whatever product you can take, there are solutions worthy of Deus Ex: Human Revolution from both AMD and Nvidia. The dual-GPU Radeon HD 6990 and GeForce GTX 590 even look too powerful for this game unless you play it at 2560x1600. We guess the optimal choice would be the Radeon HD 6970 or GeForce GTX 580. They allow playing it comfortably at any resolution but cost less and require less power than the dual-chip monsters.
The more affordable cards from the performance-mainstream segment are also perfect for enjoying Human Revolution. The GeForce GTX 570 is the leader in this price category, even though by a small margin. The GeForce GTX 560 Ti is good, too. If you prefer AMD products, the Radeon HD 6950 and HD 6870 will satisfy you, too.
The entry-level products aren’t that good. The game is too sluggish on the Radeon HD 6770 and GeForce GTX 550 Ti at high graphics quality settings.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution has already sold in millions of copies worldwide, so the original Deus Ex has got the spotlight as well. Moreover, Square Enix have already announced upcoming DLC packs which should keep the public interested for a long time. Hopefully, the publisher will keep the quality bar as high as it already is. We are sure there are a lot of stories to be told and secrets to be uncovered in the Deus Ex universe.