Reviews From The Backroom: Deus Ex
As of late, there have been many games released that incorporate different game-play genres together, namely RPG and shooter elements. We have Bioshock, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Mass Effect, and so on. One of the first game to attempt this was the 2000 release, Deus Ex. Regarded as one of the (if not THE) greatest P.C. games of all time (the PS2 release was rather a disappointment), Deus Ex was expansive, engaging, and was an overall grand experience. In 2000, there was no other game quite like it.
But, does it still hold up today?
One of the recurring questions around The Escapist is "What makes this game so special?". This question is often brought up by a person who didn't grow up playing games from the same era, and there is a good reason for it. Deus Ex has simply aged poorly.
Most of the reason for this comes from the graphics, the biggest complaint any fresh pair of eyes has toward this game. Textures seem blurred, people are blocky, different aspects of an object may range from being too simplistic to being almost cartoonish. The list goes on.
Normally, using the graphics of an older game as a fault would be considered in poor taste, but in this case, they are on such a level that they actually effect the way you play the game. This is mostly due to the fact that the simplistic copy-paste textures and backgrounds make the world feel bland and give it a poor atmospheric feel. Again, normally not a problem. But Deus Ex is a game based around stealth and the ability to hunt down hidden items and areas. Therein lies the problem. Due to simplistic world textures, hidden doors and areas can stick out like a sore thumb, and hidden items are usually about as subtle as a a rave-dancer. Fortunately, this never becomes a game-breaker, and can just be written off as an unfortunate happenstance towards the game engine.
Unfortunately, combat is a whole different story. Over the past few years, I've talked with several different people who've played this game for the first time, and every single one of them told me that the game cheats. Why? 3 bullets to the head, they tell me, should be more than enough to take a person down. Deus Ex begs to differ, and arbitrarily decides whether or not your bullet hit the intended target. While the ability to aim is determined by a statistic (much like everything else), there are times when the actual impact area of a bullet is too obvious to ignore, and this often causes frustration. Besides combat, there is stealth, which this game does quite a bit more poorly than any other that incorporates stealth elements. Often, you'll find yourself crawling slowly and quietly through a shadowy area, only for someone yards, rooftops, even buildings away to spot you. Again, statistics are in play here, but even with a high level ability it's hit-and-miss.
Yes, this game does have quite the number of issues. Fortunately, the positives still far outweigh the negatives.
For starters, the story. You start off being a low ranking officer in UNATCO, an anti-terrorist agency at work across the globe. You start out in New York, a plague stricken city full of rioting, looting, and terrorist activities; where a shipment of plague vaccine has been stolen by the terrorist group... "Those really bad guys who might be French". From there on, anything is a spoiler, but suffice to say the story takes several twists, demands constant attention, and never fails to excite. Despite the rather fast-moving nature of the story, the game never leaves the player in the dust, and is easy to follow.
One of the better elements lies in the items you find and use throughout the game. Guns range from small-caliber pistols to Anti-tank missiles, and all of them have a specific part to play. Despite the fact that most of these weapons would be considered situational, some can be used just about anywhere, thanks to modification. You can add silencers, scopes, laser-sights, recoil-dampeners, there are even mods that give your weapon additional range. Some weapons can use all of the mods, and others only a few, but the modifications are easy to use, have a noticeable effect, and allow the player to create weapons for a wide range of uses.
Having items for different possible situations is also a key part of Deus Ex, as the environments can range from claustrophobic warehouses, twisting city streets, night-clubs, and wide open areas. These environments all have their own unique feel, and demand that the player slow-down, take stock, and plan accordingly. You can infiltrate a barricaded warehouse by picking terrorists off at a distance from roof-tops (by upgrading your rifle and rifle skill), stealth your way in with a silenced pistol (upgrading pistols and pistol skill), use non-lethal force (such as with gas-grenades and tazers), or run in with your Assault rifle and Shotgun out, blazing through enemy ranks while using up med kits and body-armor. Infiltration routes are also numerous, and all have different obstacles to overcome. For instance, do you disarm traps and security cameras while crawling through a sewer, or fight your way in the front door and set up cover? While they look simple on the outside, the environs presented to the player are fleshed out extremely well, and are still some of the most memorable.
Where this game shines through the strongest is with the RPG elements added in. Balance is the name of the game here, and it's quite obvious that the developers painstakingly made this game a challenge without making it punishing or unplayable. Any number of different skill sets can be upgraded, downgraded, or mixed; skill points are numerous, and finding them is properly balanced between player-effort and payoff. As stated in the Zero Punctuation review of "Alpha Protocol", the player can choose just about any number of skills to specialize in and still be able to finish the game.
Deus Ex hasn't aged well. It looks blocky, flat, and can sometimes be a hassle to play. But, everything considered, this game is fleshed out far too well to be considered not worth playing. It's challenging, intriguing, and a rewarding experience. Since it is still very compatible with today's computers, and the Game of the Year Edition is available on Steam, there is no excuse not to play. Highly Recommended.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!