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Deus Ex

Well, I finally finished Deus Ex (the original one), after deciding to play it start to finish for the first time some months ago. The game clock says it took me a bit over 23 hours of playing, so it’s a pretty hefty game. Not sure if it’s quite as huge as Half-Life 2, but it’s close.

They say this is one of the best PC games ever, and “they” were pretty much right. While I can’t claim it’s the best game I’ve ever played, it’s firmly somewhere in the Top 10 (along with such greats as System Shock 2, Half-Life 2, Baldur’s Gate 2, etc). Sure, the graphics are extremely dated by today’s standards (though the highres texture pack helps a small bit), but in the end what matters is the game itself… and that’s where Deus Ex shines. The plot is classic cyberpunkish conspiracy paranoia… you are “JC Denton”, a cybernetically augmented agent of the U.N., in a future where many governments have collapsed and the U.N. has taken over as a form of world government. Initially you are tasked with hunting terrorists, but it slowly becomes clear that things aren’t quite what they seem. The number of classic conspiracies this game throws at you verges on the ridiculous; it has Templars, the Illuminati, MAJESTIC-12, Men In Black, “greys”, black helicopters, Area 51, rogue AIs… it’s a long list. Of course, spotting the pop-culture conspiracy references is part of the fun here.

The best part of the game is its freeform nature. I don’t mean it’s a sandbox; it’s not, and the game itself is quite linear. However, you have tons of options on how to approach the specific scenarios. You can sneak around and minimize violence (with hard core players trying for zero kills, using shock prods and tranquilizer darts to incapacitate when needed), or you can go in guns blazing. Computers can be hacked, or you can search the environment for clues on how to access systems. You gain more cybernetic augmentations (and improve existing ones) as the game progresses, and here too you can choose ones that conform to your playing style. The maps are quite cleverly designed, with freeform areas connected by specific checkpoints and access routes. All this leads to an illusion of freedom and makes the game world feel interesting, despite the dated graphics and sparse environment (due to the game tech). It’s not quite a shooter, and it’s not quite a “sneaker”, it’s a smart mix of the two. At the time it was made, this game pioneered new trends in game development (at that point in time, straight-up shooters were the norm).

The difficulty level is pretty much spot on. At no point was it frustratingly difficult, but in most places if you just run in guns blazing you’ll end up dead fast. Even with beefed-up augmentations, military bots and gun turrets will make short work of you. There are usually quite a few solutions to the problems presented, so what happened quite a few times was that I did something with enormous effort… only to figure out a much easier shortcut soon after. The game rewards creative thinking and exploration, and punishes a “just run in and shoot” style. It’s not a game for casual players, being more than a bit complicated in places.

Of course, it’s not a perfect game. As noted, the graphics are very dated and the environments are sparse and angular, both due to the technology used at the time (which of course was cutting-edge in its time). I didn’t run into bugs, but on the other hand I was running a version with some community patches and fixes, so my experience was probably better than someone playing the vanilla version. Maybe the most annoying thing in this game is the random stupidity of the NPCs. While at times they notice you (as they should) and give chase in a somewhat reasonable fashion, at times I could shoot their squadmate down next to them and they’d just continue as if nothing had happened. Of course, “stupid enemy AI” is something that plagues more modern games, too, so I can’t be too hard on Deus Ex here (especially when compared to older games).

So yeah, I understand why people are still (re)playing this, 11 years after publication. It’s a classic.

Published on by Orava, tags , ,

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    by (P) Benito Arias

    Ah, sweet late 90-s early 00-s, when ‘they’ did make a number of classics :) Absolutely adore the three you have mentioned.


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