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SummaryDespite some mega-frustrations, Deus Ex proves that cyberpunk and conspiracy theories go together like bread and butter.
- Great branching story line
- High replay value
- Compelling choices
- Appealing cyberpunk art design
- Unique mix of role playing, shooting, Stealth and puzzle elements
- Lengthy campaign
- Good soundtrack
- You get to go to China!
- Poor graphics and textures that don't make most of the Unreal engine
- Story can be confusing at times
- Often monotonous acting
- Extremely difficult and at times very frustrating
- Weapon sound effects could be better
The Bottom LineIf you aren't already familiar with Warren Spector, let me familiarize him with you. Warren Spector is a developer who throughout his career, challenged the norm and took risks by deviating from the standard formula. He got his start working with other, bigger name developers such as Wing Commander creator, Chris Roberts and Richard Garriott, creator of Ultima.
Eventually, however, he decided he would work on something of his very own design. The fruits of his labour would be 1994's System Shock, one of the first shooters to scream "I'm NOT Doom! and stand out by mixing role playing elements into the game. Sadly, with the release of Doom II and the fact that many found System Shock maybe a little TOO unique, System Shock failed to truly sell and became one of the first "Cult" video games.
Spector wouldn't truly send shockwaves until he made Thief: The Dark Project. Like System Shock, Thief deviated from the norm; it was a first person perspective, but rather than focus on shooting it focused on Stealth and being sneaky. This created practically its own genre and now you know where the forced stealth section in every shooter comes from.
After Thief, Warren Spector joined John Romero's ill fated company, ION Storm and created today's subject, Deus Ex. Once again, Spector has said "Hell no!" to convention, and Deus Ex, in many ways, is a combination of all his past efforts. The shooting and roleplaying from System Shock is in, the sneaky moments from Thief return, but in traditional Spector fashion, there's another element that shook up the formula: A branching plot, multiple endings and a "Choice" system. Granted, there were games that had multiple endings before, but most of them were horror titles, and most others that had "Choice" systems and branching plots were old school RPG games. However, Spector improved on all these aspects and mixed them into Deus Ex with sublime results.
Deus Ex is set in a chaotic future where terrorism is part of daily life. You play as JC Denton, an undercover operative working for a corporation known as UNATCO, an anti-terrorist organization. JC is no normal human being though, he is what they call an "Bio-augmented" soldier, essentially a cyborg that can interact with bio-electric systems and use them to enhance his abilities. This works as a great hinge for the immersion, it explains some of his more extra-ordinary stunts and the character building RPG elements are justifiable by this as well.
The game begins with you after a terrorist working for an organization known as the NFS who has taken over the destroyed husk of the Statue of Liberty. They have stolen a vaccine known as Ambrosia, the only cure to a mysterious epidemic known as "The Gray Death." The game takes many twists and turns, and is rife with conspiracy and betrayal, and will bring in such classic conspiracy theories such as the Majestic 12 and Area 51. The story is fascinating and has many branching paths, but it is compelling and will keep you going.
The biggest problem with the story is that it CAN be confusing at time, granted, asking a Conspiracy Theory to make sense in the first act is like asking a Fly to stay on the ground its whole life. In some ways, the branching paths are to blame, because sometimes you will run into an issue where your character flips on a dime and takes another route which contradicts the previous one. This happens rarely, but when it does happen it can be dizzying and frustrating.
The gameplay, as I said, mixes role playing elements, stealth, and good old fashioned shooting. At the beginning, you give your character his basic traits and specializations before spending some points. These traits all have variety and they build in "Proficiency," rather than standard XP points. In other words, as you use these traits/skills, they will grow on their own and your character will get better with them as you play rather than waiting for you to dump more skill points in at the next level. Its a nice and effective manner of handling this aspect, and it always keeps you immersed in the game.
The art design is heavily rooted in cyberpunk, but with some strange familiarities. The early areas, rooted in New York, are the least "High tech" settings, but the game explains this well by saying New York is pretty much a rotten shithole and while civilization has been expanding in other areas, New York has gotten worse and due to constant terrorist attacks, has began to crumble. You won't see more traditional, Blade Runner-esque Cyberpunk landscapes until you take your first trip to China (yay!) and Paris (Boo!) but you can still catch hints of it in each area, and it is a distinctive visual design that will please fans of cyberpunk styling.
Despite the fine art design, the graphics are outdated and poor, even for the time. It uses the Unreal engine, but it doesn't make full use of the engines strength, using the minimum texture support and stripping out many effects, and environments sometimes feel cramped, under-furnished, and boxy. Character designs often repeat themselves and their animations are less than spectacular. They even have strange jitters sometimes that can break the immersion.
The game does have a multiplayer mode, but its fairly standard stuff. The only thing about it that's really unique is that the characters fragile hitbox carries over. What I mean by that, is as you are wounded in the game, you will bleed and limbs will lose strength and they can even be crippled or completely removed causing you to lose the ability to run, fire weapons, etc. It is interesting having this element in the multiplayer game, but otherwise there are better MP games out there.
The game sounds "Meh." It does have a good score, including an awesome theme song (Although the aging "Galaxy" sound system in the engine makes it sound a little flimsy) and some characters emote, but most of the performances are mediocre and ridiculously monotonous. You'll swear JC Denton and his brother are relatives of Keanu Reeves due to their bland, uninterested voices. The weapons don't always sound that great either, a few sound good, but they often sound strange or wimpy and they don't sound like they really pack a punch which can make them a little less fun to use. Good ballistics and handling make up for this, but adding some more oomph to them would have been nice.
The game is fairly lengthy and will show you plenty of New York and you will do some globe trotting as well. The graphics somewhat detract from the environments, but regardless there's a fair amount of variety and especially in China, there are some impressive futuristic sights and places to visit.
Naturally, there are characters you can meet who will give you side quests. This also adds to the variety, and each game will feel different as you pick up new side quests, change your character, and hunt down the multiple endings. There's a lot of replay value thanks to the quality and variety the game offers.
The game can be brutal and relentless at times though. I'm always up for a challenge, but there are times where said challenge is a bit too much. Even the very beginning of the game is ridiculously difficult, if you don't pull it off just perfectly you will be shot down before you can get 5 feet out of the starting gate. And this is on the easiest setting. You're going to have to die a couple times anyways, because there are always multiple paths and you never know which one is the most likely to turn you into a bloody lump of flesh resembling Swiss Cheese. This is really the biggest detractor to the gameplay, and can tick you off enough you'll shut the game down to take a break before trying again.
Overall, Deus Ex is a unique game that still holds up today. With its great hybrid gameplay and story, its a compelling game that covers its flaws with immersion and a varied, highly replayable experience. If you haven't played it yet, what are you waiting for? You can find the Game of the Year version on Steam for only 10 bucks.