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Petri Wessman's weblog

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 , ,

Deus Ex, revisited

Since the topic came up on an IRC channel, here are some notes on what I did to get Deus Ex (the original) running on my gaming rig, in widescreen. It’s a classic game, considered one of the all-time greats. I played it a bit years and years ago, but didn’t get too far. I don’t remember why I stopped, but probably just other things came up and I just never got back to it. The old “first world problem” of too many great games, too little time. Sure, I could find time to play all the PC games I have, but then I wouldn’t have time to do all the other stuff I want to do in my free time.

In the year 2000 when it was published, it was a groundbreaking game: a first-person shooter / rpg hybrid, with a deep storyline and multiple ways of achieving goals. The fact that it still holds its own as a game, even though game technology has evolved by leaps and bounds, speaks volumes. Of course, there is no getting around the fact that technology-wise it’s an old game, and the vanilla version looks like crap on modern widescreen systems. Fortunately, there are mods available that improve the look&feel, though it still looks aged no matter what you do.

Anyway, I’m now playing the game seriously for the first time, partly fueled by the just-published Deus Ex: Human Revolution which I hear is equally brilliant. I sort of want to play the original game first, assuming I don’t run into any showstopper bugs or such. I’m not too far yet (New York subways at the moment), but so far the game has only crashed once (at the end of the tutorial) so things are looking good.

Since people asked, here is what I have installed (in installation order):

  • The Steam version of Deus Ex (Game of the Year edition)
  • The New Vision Mod version 1.0, provides high-def textures for the game
  • Hotfix (v1.000001) for the above, from the same site.
  • Kentie’s DX10 renderer (from his site, not from the New Vision package), version 3
  • The Shifter Mod, version “1.8.4. probably”. Fixes and tweaks for the game engine, including secondary fire buttons for most weapons, increased NPC lethality, etc.
  • The Deus Ex Enhanced Mod. The new version 2.0.0, which includes some hi-def icons, did not work for me. Version 1.3 (which just fixes scopes and binoculars) worked.

In all cases, I followed the installation instructions, taking a backup of the original files first. I set “Default GUI”, 16:10 aspect ratio, and 1920x1200 resolution on Kentie’s launcher, and things worked. Looks pretty nice, all things considered, though the fonts and icons are quite blocky. The new “Deus Ex Enhanced” mod is supposed to fix those, but as noted it didn’t work for me.

Maybe the above will help someone. Of course, it’s only with a “worked for me, if it doesn’t work for you I can’t really help” disclaimer.

Published on by Orava, tags , ,

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