Gaming History 101

Know Your Roots

Review: Deus Ex (PC)

with 2 comments

deus_ex_boxConsole: PC
Released: June 2000
Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Moderate
Played when it released? Yes
Other Releases: Yes – PS2 (as Deus Ex: The Conspiracy)
Digital Release? Yes – Steam ($9.99) and gog.com ($9.99), both are the Game of the Year Edition

Deus Ex is an interesting game for several reasons. The way various factors all came together at its inception, it almost feels like a lucky form of happenstance that it worked at all. Those that played it when it released will tell you it’s a must play title that will blow you away with its innovation. On one hand they’re right, like other heavily influential games in history it does set precedence and introduces gaming to many staples we see today. On the other hand, it’s the earliest version of many of these ideas and will always be tied down to the conventions of gaming at the time. Those that give it a chance, grind their teeth to learn the gameplay techniques, and resist the urge to cheat will find a strong cyberpunk tale that doesn’t disappoint.

deus_ex_1

This is the typical view when playing Deus Ex

Deus Ex was developed by Ion Storm, an industry favorite that was founded by then popular developers John Romero, Tom Hall, Todd Porter, and Jerry O’Flahtery. While the releases that pre-date Deus Ex, including Daikatana, weren’t that impressive, the company had acquired Warren Spector and he was working hard on a new concept. As a long time developer of Ultima titles and the creator behind science fiction classics Wing Commander and System Shock, Spector had grown tired of the genres he was working on but noted that he loved certain features of each. It was with this in mind that he went about creating a neo-futuristic first-person shooter that would incorporate elements of RPGs and adventure games. After almost three years of development, Deus Ex hit the market in 2000 and told the tale of a sordid world of conspiracies that actually exist. It was unlike anything we had seen before and gave way to a fascinating new concept for gaming that blockbusters like Mass Effect and Skyrim definitely owe credit to. It’s for this reason that the game holds up well today and modders have gone out of their way with updated texture kits and patches to make sure it migrates into the present as smooth as possible. Like most HD remakes we see on the market, you can do a decent job at making Deus Ex look as good as today’s games, but it definitely doesn’t play like them – this is best demonstrated when compared to the recent prequel Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

deus_ex_2

Often times the dialogue is just as important as the action sequences.

It’s nearly impossible to get into the plot without spoilers so I’m going to go bare bones. Basically you play an agent from UNATCO, a branch of the United Nations that utilizes nanotechnology augmentation (nicknamed “augs”) to artificially improve a human’s performance in the field. It’s a controversial topic, those for and against augs and the overall fusion between man and machine, to the point that terrorism is a major factor on both sides. As you play through the game you can level up Denton by adjusting the augs he has and the strength of each one. This is a large part of the RPG aspects that Spector had imagined for the game and various areas of a level are accessible or inaccessible depending on the class of character you create. In addition, you will partake in dialogue options, various routes, and even large binary decisions that affect the way the plot unfolds. It may be commonplace now but back then it was crazy to go exploring a level and find a way to get in and out of a facility without alerting anyone unless the game was specifically designed to do so, like Metal Gear Solid. In Deux Ex you can perform missions completely silent or go in guns blazing and make a mess of the entire level, leaving no one alive. You’re even given the option with most boss battles as to whether to capture them, kill them, and sometimes even let them go. Actions aren’t without consequence though, and the characters and plot will react to the way you handle a mission and the body count you rack up. This feeling of choice combined with massive levels that had multiple routes to get where you needed to go really revolutionized the genre.

The New York City skyline comes to life in the first mission.

The New York City skyline comes to life in the first mission.

Spector claimed he gave it the first-person perspective because he wanted the player to feel immersed, as if they were Denton. While that may have been his intention it contrasted with most other games of the same perspective and disappointed some shooter fans. Back then the genre wasn’t known as FPS, it was better known as a “Doom clone,” and what better company to usher in the next exciting shooter than the very team that brought you the original Doom. But Deus Ex is not another Doom clone. It has more in common with Ultima and Wizardry than it does with Doom or Marathon. But as previously stated it was coming out of a design team known for shooters, originators of Doom, and pretty exclusively still in that genre. As a result I think Deus Ex gets bogged down by interface problems and gameplay mechanics that are a detriment to its goals and probably micro enough to slip through the approvals coming from Spector. I don’t know that for sure, I’ve not read any interview that claims one way or the other about it, but it just feels like some of the gameplay choices were made by a shooter fan and not someone hoping to fuse the most popular genres in gaming at the time. Thanks to these decisions, a lot of your combat moments – and there are a few that are mandatory for all players – are sluggish. You can end up in a simple firefight or approaching a single goon to knock him out and have an interaction that claims half of your health or more (and not quickly coming back). This would be fine in a shooter because the number of enemies is abundant, your overall goal is to kill everything, and pick-ups like health are a dime a dozen. In Deus Ex none of those things are true, especially in the health category. I’m guessing it’s one of the largest reasons why people quit this game, because it came off as too hard. I died several times just walking the perimeter of the Statue of Liberty (first mission) before getting the mechanics down and successfully sneaking my way about. For this single instance, assuming you have self control, my best recommendation is having the 100 percent health code handy and typing it in anytime you end up in an accident that cost you almost all your health. I was able to balance that between mistakes and justified deaths (especially in boss battles), but you will need to fight the urge to give yourself a little health boost when your patience dwindles. That’s another justified gripe of this game – it’s big and long. Before you go snickering like a 10-year-old, I mean that the levels are massive and have no clear linear path (save for a single point you are to find eventually) and all the conventions of early shooters are present and accounted for, especially getting lost and backtracking. In addition, the campaign itself can vary between 15-30 hours (or more) and with very little exposition within levels it can make the slog through some of the middle levels, especially Hong Kong, feel endless. I love long story driven games as much as the next player, but it feels a bit like grinding in a JRPG. If you can handle these minor issues, Deus Ex still has a lot to offer to today’s player.

Ion Studios created a game that not only complimented The Matrix and cyberpunk’s temporary rise to pop culture, but bent the rules to all of the major genres in a true mixed bag. When it released gamers were in an interesting period where the 32/64-bit consoles were losing steam and everyone was eagerly anticipating the next batch of consoles. Those that couldn’t wait or those that stuck with PC as a platform were handsomely rewarded with Deus Ex. It was as action-packed as a first-person shooter, as stealthy as Metal Gear Solid, and as epic as most other RPGs with branching storylines and decisions that affected the plot. Like so many other classics, it’s easier to take in with nostalgia but can be serviceable for anyone who will take the time to get around the gameplay gripes. Hell, I even played it this time around on the PS2, which has a very interesting button map to get around an entire keyboard of functionality, and it was still great. Granted, it offers few innovations to the gamers of today and requires more patience and time than most of us have, but if you let it, Deus Ex will reward your diligence.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 7, 2013 at 7:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. UNATCO is a branch of United Nations. It’s not a private company.

    Daniel

    February 15, 2014 at 10:04 am

    • Updated, thanks for the heads up.

      spydersvenom

      February 15, 2014 at 10:42 am


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