I was never a PC gamer when I was growing up. So really, the only experiences I had with PC games as a young kid started and ended with Jazz Jackrabbit. To make a long story short, my parents were never tech savvy in any way, so I didn’t own a PC until my late teens when a friend of mine actually gave me his hand me down machine. This was when I got to play Jazz Jackrabbit (loved it, by the way!). I played Max Payne and Freedom Force sometime after when I was able to buy my own PC (with a meager video card) but my experience with PC games was extremely limited.
The reason for that little tidbit of background was to explain why I don’t really have a whole lot of experience playing great PC games. I’ve never played Half-Life 1 on the PC and just beat Half-Life 2 a few years ago when it came out via The Orange Box on Xbox 360. So yea, that’s why I never played Deus Ex when it came out so long ago. Now that I built my own PC (with the help of some great people), I play PC games on a regular basis and sometimes go back to play some of the all time greats. You’ve got to love those crazy Steam sales!
Although one can look at Deus Ex now and see that a lot of games have done what it tried to do (sometimes arguably better) in 2000, the fact remains that it is one of the first games to incorporate RPG elements into a completely different genre.
At it’s best, Deus Ex strives to be ambitious and succeeds in its goal. The level design really gives the player multiple paths towards the same goal, giving you the kind of freedom that most games in this day and age are afraid to give you.
A version of the story in Deus Ex has been told time and time again in other forms of media, and by now it’s probably not anything you haven’t seen already in video games either, but I’d argue that not too many games have done it this well. Dialogue trees are a very popular thing in video games right now. Games like Heavy Rain, Fallout 3/ New Vegas, LA Noire, and the Mass Effect series give players the freedom to choose their own dialogue path, oftentimes rewarding them with a different experience based on what path you choose.
I’d argue that Deus Ex does this better than most of the games I mentioned. When you make a choice in this game, the rest of the world changes the way it speaks to you based on that choice. NPC’s will either like you more or dislike you more based on these choices and sometimes the ramifications aren’t obvious until hours later. The game does an incredible job of keeping track of these choices, changing entire strands of dialogue and encounters to account for it. This leads to you more than likely having a different experience with the game than another player. Many of the choices you make in Deus Ex aren’t completely binary either. It takes that path down to the very last choice you make in the game (the game has three different endings). Despite what you chose, there isn’t an inherently good or bad choice, just a variance in philosophy. I really wish modern games took that approach more often.
The choices you make in Deus Ex feel incredibly important and they impact the story in a significant way, which often leads you down different areas of the level. There were many occasions where talking to an NPC would bring a path to my attention that I didn’t know existed. Other times, the NPC would give me information that’d be vital to sneaking into a compound undetected as well. These kind of interactions gave NPC’s a more important role within the game compared to other games. Instead of them just being there to add ambiance and texture to the game world, they serve a tangible purpose.
Deus Ex excels not only in giving you freedom to have the story play out however you want, it also gives you the same kind of freedom with its game mechanics which allows you to tailor the play style to your tastes. If you want to go in guns blazing, you can take a direct approach and just attack the problem head on. Although the head first approach lacks finesse it can still be effective depending on what enemies are in front of you and what weapons/ammo you have on you at the time.
Despite the freedom, Deus Ex seems to try and guide you into taking a more stealthy approach (which is personally my favorite way to play the game). There are often times way more points of stealth than there are points where you can directly attack the enemy. This leads me to some of the things Deus Ex doesn’t do well, namely the gameplay. Simply put, the gameplay doesn’t hold up nearly as well as the other aspects of the game. Guns don’t take nearly as much damage as you’d like them to and their success is predicated by how much you’ve leveled up that aspect of your character. You are probably thinking to yourself, “No shit, it’s an RPG.” The problem here is if your “Denton” is more of a stealth build where you focused on swimming, cloaking, lock picking, and computer hacking, that leaves very little XP to put into the shooting.
Seeing as I put enough into my pistols that Denton’s status was “Trained” I would’ve thought he’d at least be competent, but that wasn’t the case. It took too many shots to kill an enemy and took him way too long to reload. Even taking into account that I was a stealth build, it just didn’t work. I found that once I was spotted the game became less fun because I knew I’d have to fumble around with the game’s iffy shooting mechanics. A lot of this can be forgiven due to the game’s age, but that doesn’t put the Triscuit crackers in my stomach now, does it?
The other problem I had with the game is that it didn’t really equip you with enough ammo to run through an entire level with 100% stealth. Eventually, you were going to run out of poison darts and tazer charges, forcing you to kill enemies with melee attacks. This is what usually broke the stealth for me, making it a lot easier for enemies to spot you.
The game does get a bit easier as you find more augmentation canisters which grant you special powers for a limited amount of time. These powers range from night vision and regenerative health, to cloaking and speed boosts. Being able to cloak yourself to get past sticky situations really came in handy.
Also, you get a certain weapon for the last half of the game that is damn near god-like (I don’t want to spoil what it is for those that might be playing it for the first time in preperation for Deus Ex: Human Revolution). Although it’s a melee weapon, it’s basically a 1-2 hit kill on everything but security bots so I used it as an “Oh shit” button when I got spotted. This made the game significantly easier, but I wouldn’t say that’s a bad thing seeing as the game was pretty hard to begin with.
One thing I’d like to also point out before I wrap this puppy up is that the soundtrack to this game is phenomnal. It really captures the feel they were going for, I’d argue even more so than the visuals did. The music still holds up and I have more than one of the themes stuck in my head as I write this.
So is this game worth playing? Absolutely. Despite the fact that the game play mechanics haven’t aged as well as everything else, Deus Ex was an experience worth having. I love the fully realized cyber punk, conspiracy theorist world Warren Spector and Ion Storm created here.