Deus Ex. If you were at all interested in PC gaming in the early 2000's it is a title that you would have heard quite a lot. Released that year by Eidos Interactive and developed by Ion Storm, Deus Ex received huge amounts of praise from the gaming press, including Game of the Year awards from nearly every corner and even Best PC Game of All Time from PC Gamer and PC Zone. In the eleven years since the game’s release many high-profile games have come and gone so can Deus Ex still retain its title of Best PC Game of All Time? Let us don our sunglasses and trench coats and find out...
RPG Your FPS
What set Deux Ex (abbreviated to DX from here on) apart from the crowd at the time of its release was that it was an amalgamation of several gaming types. Half FPS, half RPG with a little free-roaming thrown in, the game presented players with a world more alive and intricate than most FPS games of the time. The RPG elements were present from the get-go as at the start of the game players are asked to define a character’s appearance and skill set. Further customisation possibilities open up with the use of augmentations; mechanical up-grades that work in unison with character's skills to create whatever kind of character a player wishes to be. Indeed, DX would allow you to play whatever kind of game you wished: go in guns blazing or stick to the shadows and pick the back door. While some games had tried to blend these elements previously, none had done so with the level of success that DX achieved.
However, it is arguable that this is where the game's first fault becomes apparent. Using the first mission as an example - which does a brilliant job of introducing the various elements of DX’s game play - having to level up your character’s skill set makes the earlier stages of the game artificially more difficult. If you choose to take a sniper rifle with you on the first mission you’re not going to be able to do any good with it as your Rifle skill is low and the cross-hair wobbles all over the place. Similarly, it takes a long time to “lock on” to enemies, meaning that if you get into a gunfight your shots will often go wide unless you’re at point-blank range as you’ll be low in the Pistol skill.
While this may cause problems for the more gung-happy of players it does force you to slow down and consider your options. There are always several solutions to any problem in DX and due to not being a great shot during the first mission it is advisable to stick to the shadows. Stealth is a very satisfying approach to missions as it’s great to hear thugs mutter nervously among themselves wondering who it is taking out their mates. Unfortunately stealth introduces its own problems later in the game as some later missions are much more forgiving – and enjoyable – using the gun-ho approach. In fact, it’s quite difficult to finish even the first mission without killing at least one or two enemies.
While this suggests that perhaps more thought could have gone into the game’s mission and level designs to allow either type of player equal opportunity and enjoyment it does force the player to create a character that is balanced pretty much evenly across both aggression and stealth based skill sets. So while this could be thought of as a fault of the game’s design, it is one with a silver lining.
Consipracy in Words
The character creation and skills are not the only RPG staples DX displays as the story is equal to that of the most epic RPG. Possibly one of the longest FPS games ever, the story of DX is one of conspiracy and twists at every turn. Which of the game’s factions is to be trusted is constantly under question and often several factions will give you contradicting mission objectives and it’s up to you to choose who to trust. There are also many side quests that you can become involved in, from “dealing” with drug runners to stealing valuable information. Heck, the game even allows you to choose how it will end. Story is not something DX is short of and the amount of information and dialogue – all of which is wonderfully performed – is staggering. The intricacy of the story, too, is such that if you don’t pay attention you may very well be at a loss as to what to do. This is not an issue, however, as the story is so well written that you’ll want to know what’s going on.
Game Play Video
Of course the best story in the world is no good if the game it’s attached to plays like a bag of dead rats. DX, as suggested by its Game of the Year title, plays wonderfully. Playing similarly to standard FPS games DX is simple to jump into. When gun fights break out they are fast and furious, especially when there are a handful of enemies or more gunning for you. Some of the most enjoyable battles, though, are when you go up against some enemies with a group of your comrades in arms. While there are only a small handful of such instances in DX they play out like a classic Hollywood fire fight with guns blazing from every corner. Either join in the fun or hang back as your team mates take out the majority of foes and you pick off any stragglers. Either way, it’s great stuff.
The stealth sections are equally well done. Enemies will become aware of you if you make too much noise or pop into their field of view and will search around for a few minutes if you slip back into the shadows. There will be many times you hold your breath as you try and sneak behind a group of enemies, knowing that too much noise will bring them down upon you. It adds a great tension to the game.
The true highlight of DX’s game play though is the non linear nature of its missions. Do you lob a grenade through a window to try and take out as many enemies as possible, or talk to a street kid who lets you in on a secret entrance so you can sneak in and out with the baddies being none the wiser? Choice is everywhere in DX and the decisions you make will affect how the game unfolds. While this kind of thing is common place now in 2000 no other title had implemented it like DX did.
Given all of this choice, variations in play style and character customisation and various ways to complete missions there is plenty of replay value in DX. Even if you’ve tried every avenue open to you, chances are you’ll return again anyway as the game is so intriguing and well made.
Special mention should also be given to the music of DX. Composers Alexander Brando, Dan Gardopée, Michiel van den Bos and Reeves Gabrels have created some absolutely amazing sounds that fit the action and intrigue of the game perfectly. The tunes range from electronica to jazz to classical and pretty much everything in between. None of it feels out of place and, like a good film, the music helps to raise the tension and excitement of what is happening on screen. Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming the DX theme long after you've turned the game off.
Game of the Century?
Despite a rather lack lustre sequel released in 2003, the original DX has not lost any of its status, but can it still be called Best PC Game of All Time? As we've discusses the game is not without its faults however these are almost inconsequential compared to the brilliance of the game at large. While there may have been games since that implemented stealth, RPG elements in a FPS or dialogue better than DX it remains that these games may not have been possible without the path that DX carved for them.
With the third game in the series, a prequel entitled Human Evolution from Eidos Montreal, due out later this year which stays closer to the original game's mechanics than that of the sequel, it's quite possible that Deus Ex is a game that will be talked about for a long time to come. But whatever fate has install for the third game the original Deus Ex will always be remembered as a ground breaking game that reinvigorated a genre and proved that games don't have to be just about guns and violence but also about philosophy, existentialism and lots and lots of conspiracy.
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