Review by p1r4t8r
"One word: Masterpiece"
Deus Ex is the highly anticipated PC shooter from Ion Storm that aims to bring together elements of role-playing and adventure. These elements are coupled to a deep and involving story that spans the globe. Ambitious? Certainly. How does it work in practice however? Surprisingly well!
The story behind Deus Ex is easily the high point of the game, bringing you back time and time again just to see what happens next. Set in the near future, you play the role of JC Denton, a nano-augmentated agent of the newly formed worldwide organization, UNATCO.
UNATCO or United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition was set up to counter the ever-present terrorist threat. America, the country the game starts in, became a member of UNATCO shortly after the Statue of Liberty was bombed.
However, terrorism is not the only problem. A mysterious and deadly plague is sweeping through the streets. Known as the ‘Grey Death,’ the cure, ‘Ambrosia’ is only available to a select rich few. Tensions run high as the bodies pile up in the streets, and this only serves to increase the number of terrorist attacks.
One of the biggest terrorist groups, known as the NSF, has taken over Liberty Island after hijacking a shipment of the elusive ‘Ambrosia’ vaccine, and are currently holed up in the Statue of Liberty. It’s your job as JC Denton to remove the terrorist threat and locate the stolen vaccine.
As deep as that sections sounds, it only begins to scratch the surface of the games plot. Within a few hours of play, you’ll become entangled in the greater story, involving government plots, and secret societies. The word ‘epic’ is an understatement here. One of the great features is the various branching story lines, right up to a conclusion that presents you with three different endings. This isn’t a game where you just shoot people to advance the story. You play your own hand in shaping how things turn out, which is definitely a highlight over some of the more linear story based shooters **cough**Halo**cough**.
Throughout the game are scattered pieces of literature giving you a further insight into the game’s world. These range from newspaper clippings that can be examined, to extracts from novels. The various NPC’s you meet often have things to say as well, and these can range from general chit-chat about the their lives to their opinions on key political issues.
Just minor details like this go a long way to immerse the player, and makes you feel like you’re not just a single person that the game’s world revolves around, and are instead part of a greater whole. Top marks here, the story is truly a credit to the developers. When’s the movie come out?
Running a highly modified version of the Unreal Tournament engine, Deus Ex doesn’t look too bad. Sure, it’s certainly not the graphical cutting edge, but it does the job, and portrays the dark, gritty game world well. The engine has seen quite a few changes since UT, and in Deus Ex we can see the fruit of these changes, including lip-synced cut scenes, better animations, and some pretty fancy explosions.
Each of the various locations you visit is wonderfully detailed, and the objects, lighting and general atmosphere match each quite well. From the run-down, rat infested New York hotel to the bright, glossy and cheerful Hong Kong market, each location feels realistic and above all, believable. Mood lightning is used to great effect, creating the dark atmosphere that this game aims so hard to achieve.
The character models look great as well, even if many of them are sadly overused. Still, despite this there are still a huge number of different character models, including the mechanically augmented UNATCO agents, street bums, homeless children, black suit agents, riot cops, the list goes on.
The animation for each is usually pretty good, including lip-synced dialogue. However, there are a few problems with the characters, such as overused and often rather stiff animation. For example, the terrorist’s fall backwards on the spot they stood when shot, regardless of the weapon used. Not only does this look unrealistic, but also dated. Even games like ‘Quake 2’ had better death animations then this. This is only a minor gripe though, and it certainly won’t affect the gameplay or even the general flow of the game.
Each of the games cut-scenes is shown using the in-game graphics engine, which works quite well. This keeps the game flowing smoothly and stops the game from feeling disjointed. The camera flick to a third person view in these cut-scenes, and often the angles used become rather cinematic and movie-like.
There is a slight price to all this of course, and that is the way that each level is broken up into smaller sections. This means that the game is a little easier on lower spec systems, but can often make backtracking between areas tiresome and slow.
Otherwise though, it’s hard to pick fault with Deus Ex in this regard.
Without good voice acting, Deus Ex would only be half the experience. Thankfully, the game doesn’t disappoint in this regard, with some top-notch voice acting and sound effects.
All the dialogue within Deus Ex, with the exception of news articles, is voiced. Walk up to an NPC and listen to them ramble on about their thoughts on anything from drug addictions to political issues. The voice for each character is usually very appropriate, with the homeless having a gravely and vague voice, while your own character always sounds cool and in control. Even simple details like accents are taken into account. When you hit Hong Kong and later Paris, many of the characters you interact with have accents that suit their locale. All that said, there is a fair bit of repetition in the character voices. Many of the street bums all sound the same, which is rather disappointing, and there is the occasional actor who sounds far to strained in what they say.
Music wise, Deus Ex uses a dynamic sound track that changes dependant upon what is happening on screen. Sometimes the music is turned off completely while stalking through dark corridors, leaving only the drone of machines in the distance. When the player is spotted, or a firefight breaks out, the music becomes more frantic. One of the things I liked was the techno mix played in the various bars and clubs. This provided a nice change from the regular music, and added much more atmosphere to these locations.
The icing on the cake as far as audio goes has to be the random snippets of conversation that you hear from NPC’s and enemies. While hiding in the shadows you’ll hear the enemies chat amongst each other, sometimes even sing or hum to themselves. People infected with the ‘Grey Death’ will walk around coughing loudly and so on. This adds a little more depth to each character, something that is lacking in many games. Your allies and enemies alike are not simple cardboard cutouts, but unique characters with their own behaviour. At least, that’s the way the game makes you feel.
One of the features that sets ‘Deus Ex’ apart from other games in the first person shooter genre is it’s unique blend of both adventure and role-playing elements. Upon first starting the game, you are presented with a character creation screen that allows you to tailor the character to your play style. You can assign a small number of starting skill points to a number of skills that affect the way the character moves, interacts with the environment, or how they handle a certain type of weapon. You can spend your points upgrading your small weapon skills, allowing you to aim better and cause more damage with pistols, or you can choose to put points on your computers skill, allowing you to hack any computer in the game. There are four levels to each skill, untrained, trained, advanced and master. As you get better at a skill, it will cost more to upgrade. This system; while hardly unique works quite well and allows the player to spend their points on skills that they will use.
Being a nano-augmentated agent also has some interesting features. Throughout the game you can collect ‘augmentation canisters.’ These are an extension of the character skill system, and allow you to choose from two different skills for different parts of your body. Confused? Let me explain. One canister contains cloak/radar invisibility. You can only have one of these skills, so the play is left to decide what will help them more, the ability to become invisible, or the ability to walk past cameras without being detected. These skills can then be upgraded again through ‘augmentation upgrade canisters’, which allow you to further improve on an already installed augmentation. The better you get at an augmentation, the less power it uses, or the stronger the effect becomes. Speaking of which, these augmentations cost power to use. You can chose at any stage, to turn them on or off. Turning an augmentation on consumes power, and once your energy is used up the augmentation turns itself off automatically and cannot be turned on until your power is recharged. To charge power you can use bioelectric cells, found throughout the game, or recharge on certain robots found in the levels. It’s an interesting system, with some interesting possibilities.
Another of the games strengths lies in the somewhat open-ended gameplay. Each map features various optional objectives, and usually more than one way to complete any set objective. For example, the first level has you infiltrating Liberty Island to capture the NSF leader hiding in the statue. Not only are their multiple paths to take to get to your objective, but also once there you can choose to kill their leader and face the consequences instead of capturing him. In fact, almost any character can be killed, with exception of a few key characters and as a result certain conversations will play out differently. Kill too many terrorists on Liberty Island and your boss will have a word to you about it. This dynamic gameplay extends even further than this however, as can be seen when your character walks into the ladies toilets where he works. Talk to your superior afterwards and he will chew you out for it…ouch!
The line-up of weapons in ‘Deus Ex’ is sure to cater to all styles of play, with everything from stealth weapons to heavy explosives. Some of the weapons include swords, electric prod, machine gun, shotguns, baton, knife, gas grenades, flamethrower, rocket launchers, plasma rifle, sniper-rifle and many more. While many of these weapons are fairly run of the mill, they add to the open-ended gameplay. Stealth players may choose to keep an electric prod and knife handy, while combat players may chose to take an assault shotgun and flamethrower. The choices are endless!
The icing on the cake is probably the interactive environment. Just about any item can be picked up, smashed or thrown including things like cups and plants. You can even throw these items at NPC for some rather humorous responses. Newspapers and books can all be read, and ATM’s can be hacked for extra cash. Very deep gameplay!
The replay value is enormous too. Once you complete the game, you can play over again using different skills and augmentations, and taking different paths to complete your objectives. You can even see what happens when certain characters live or die and how the game changes to reflect this. To top things off there is even a competitive multiplayer mode available with one of the games update patches (which comes already installed with the ‘Game of the Year’ edition).
‘Deus Ex’ is certainly worth the high praise that has been given to it by reviewers the world over, and is one of those games that becomes an obsession till it is completed. Like a good book, you just won’t be able to put it down. If you haven’t already, go out and buy this game, you won’t regret it!
Game Play: 10
Life Span: 9
+ Involving gameplay
+ Skills/augmentation system
- Somewhat short
- Overused character models
- Overused death animations
Deus Ex is a game that can’t come any more highly recommended. It blurs the lines between role playing and first person shooter, while being a heap of fun in the process. While the game is very ambitious in it’s approach, it works well. Some will find this a VERY hard game to put down, I known I did.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/16/02, Updated 01/22/04
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