Review by piccolo14
"Near Perfect. A Masterpiece."
Paintings, sketches, literature, film. These are the (more or less) universally accepted artistic mediums. There are those, one of whom is myself, who argue that video games should be included in that list. Not all video games, mind you, but a select few. Games which advance the medium in any or all of the major areas. Better graphics (sometimes), better sound, better atmosphere, better music. Most importantly, better story, gameplay, and presentation. Games like System Shock 1 & 2, Morrowind & Oblivion, Monkey Island, and Final Fantasy VII. These are great games, important games, which not only satisfy the stuffy criteria that the critic looks for, but are instill in the player a drive to finish the game. These are pieces of art, there is no other way to describe them. And, just like the so-called "higher" forms of art, once in a great, great while, comes a masterpiece, a game which has the power to challenge previous conceptions of what was possible, the power to inspire and change the way the gamer looks at the world. For me, this game was Deus Ex. On to the review, then.
Most gamers argue that this is the least important part of the game. I have to disagree. As I have grown as a gamer, I have realized the power of graphics to enhance or detract from the experience of playing a game. They look pretty, yes, but they also contribute to the action, the atmosphere, and the immersion of the player into the game. They ARE important, no matter what anyone says. I just wanted to make that clear, before I started.
Graphics are certainly not the strongest point here, from a purely technical standpoint. They aren't bad, however, they're actually quite good. You can tell what everything is, but when you get up close, things get rather blurry, even on higher resolutions. That's about it in regards to the bad though. All the "unique" characters have their own distinctive looks, from the Denton brothers' classic cyberpunk appearance, with trenchcoats and sunglasses, to Joseph Manderley's sort of old, wizened look, to the different soldiers uniforms. The real stars here are Anna Navarre and Gunther Hermann, the two "mechs". You can see the metal limbs, the plate in Gunther's head, their pale flesh, and you realize that these two are no longer human. Their mad lust for more power is made obvious in their appearance. The other beautiful part is the world. Every building, every sign, every detail is designed to enhance the feeling that you a alive in a dying world, an world that is rotting from within. There is a sadness to the buildings, from the haunting ruins of the Statue of Liberty, the 'Ton Hotel's flickering sign, to the burnt-out building you land on in Paris. This is a perfect example of how a game's visuals can rise above poor textures to create a truly beautiful game.
Sound, for me is one of the most important parts of a game. As with graphics, they contribute to the atmosphere and immersion factor of the game, but even more so for the audio. System Shock 2 for example, is a very scary game. With it's dark corridors, terrifying monsters, and claustrophobic settings, even without it's incredible audio it would have been great. However, the sound made it one of the greatest games of all time. Deus Ex is not THAT good, but it's still well above average, perhaps excellent, even.
The voices are decent. They get the message across, but we don't have any Garretts or SHODANs here. Manderley sounds like a typical old man, JC has your basic gravelly badass hero's voice. Gilbert Renton's voice is the biggest outlier here, towards the negative. The AI's are pretty good though, as is Paul Denton.
The Music is rather good, and it enhanced the feel of the game quite a bit. Mostly techno here, and it fits. The best parts are Paris and Hong Kong. Paris is haunting and sad, and Hong Kong is upbeat, suitably oriental-sounding, and catchy. Nothing as good as Nobuo Uematsu's work, but still good.
Here we go, the universally acknowledged cornerstone of any game. Gameplay is everything. Without good gameplay, you can have the prettiest graphics in the world, and your game will still be bad. The most important part of for me is how well the different aspect of the gameplay work together to create a fun, challenging, and unique game. Exhibit A, Daikatana. This game is famous for it's hype and ambitious design, a melting pot of several aspects of various genres. It's also legendary for sucking out of control. The aforementioned "melting pot" didn't work well at all, and the game was panned by critics and gamers. So, as you can see, gameplay is very, very important, class.
Like Daikatana, Deus Ex is a combination of multiple genres, FPS, Adventure, and RPG. Unlike Daikatana, this combination is made to work very well together. The game is done as a first person RPG, with an experience-based skill system. While the plot is fairly linear, the way you play it is entirely up to you, the gamer. If you want to play as a rocket-launcher wielding psycho, go right ahead. I personally go as a stealthy sniper, but in this game, it's up to you. You also have limited capacity for moral decision making. You'll get a (slightly) different plot depending on whether you go non-lethal, steal stuff or randomly murder people. But the great part is how, even unlike some so-calling non-linear games like GTA, which are free-roaming, every persons experience will be different. What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.
A while back, I came across a book called "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" by Philip K. Dick. Ever since I read this book, I was obsessed with cyberpunk novels. For those who don't know, cyberpunk is a subgenre of science fiction usually set in the early to mid 21st century, and is much darker than basic sci-fi. It usually features an imperfect, sometimes pretty nasty protagonist, and explores themes such as the downfall of civilization, extinction of mankind, Technology as a dominant entity, and the humanity of machines.
There have been cyberpunk games in the past, such as System Shock, but Deus Ex takes the genre quite a bit further. It focuses on the current world situation as well as the future. When you consider that this game came a little over a year before the September 11th attacks, it terrifying closely how the events in this game parallel reality.
You play as JC Denton, newly instated bionic agent to the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition, or UNATCO. You and your brother Paul are the state of the art, the ultimate sentient bioweapon, or at least 'til they come up with something better. After a major terrorist attack on New York (Statue of Liberty), terrorist groups have begun cropping up all over the world. A rebel army, the NSF, has seceded from the union, and President Philip Mead is slowly turning America into a totalitarian state. On top of that, a pandemic, called the Gray Death has struck the US, and the middle and lower classes are fearful and restless, as a rumor of a vaccine being distributed to the rich and powerful is going around. The split between rich and poor is massive, and the UN has united every nation but China under what amounts to world rule. And JC is starting to wonder why exactly a police organization such as UNATCO conducts military operations and executes prisoners rather than going through due process.
The story is excellent, following JC as he uncovers supposedly extinct conspiracies, alien technologies, hidden US bases, and organized crime rings. It moves along at a fast pace, like reading a really awesome novel, and it has multiple endings.
I can't really give it a number score, as it's different for each person. But I, personally, played it through about five or six time since I got it. I see it as kinda like a novel, where I'll feeling like picking it up again after a couple of months. So you may or may not replay it a lot.
Deus Ex is one of the greatest games of all time. It elevates the medium above simple entertainment, and it becomes art. From the haunting environments, to the fascinating and terrifying plot, to the excellent gameplay, this is a game that will stay with me forever, and I will play it again and again. I recommend that everyone who is even remotely interested, pick this one up. You won't regret it.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 10/30/06
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