Review by Bloviator
"Forget Halo and Half Life, forget Diablo and Doom. Deus Ex is a stunning masterpiece, and the best game ever made"
While other newer games may be getting all the press and capturing everyone's attention, classics such as 2000's Deus Ex remain as examples of what makes a game a masterpiece. Though it has some shortcomings in the graphical department, this game more than makes up for its minor flaws in every other aspect of its presentation. When you reach the end of the game, you will truly feel like you are part of the story, and are shaping the future of the world. Deus Ex is a spectacular sci-fi adventure that superbly blends many different gameplay elements together, whiled giving the player a unique and satisfying experience.
While graphics and sound, cheap thrills and style, can make a game interesting, the true substance of gameplay is what makes it a masterpiece. Deus Ex is such a game. It has so many elements that make it different and unique, yet still keep it immensely enjoyable, that it's hard to know where to start. Well, I suppose I can start where you will: On a nondescript dock on Liberty Island in New York. You are J.C. Denton, the newest nano-augmented member of UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition). The futuristic world that you're dropped into is ravaged by war and disease. The Grey Death has killed or weakened millions of people worldwide. Those not dead or dying seem to be taking sides in the battle for the control of Ambrosia, the only known vaccine for the disease. As a member of UNATCO, the terrorists you face at the beginning of the game are members of the U.S.'s own National Security Force. They seem to be in control of Ambrosia distribution in New York, and it's your duty to investigate their actions.
At the start of the game, you are sent to Liberty Island to raid an NSF base in an attempt to capture one of their leaders and interrogate him about the Ambrosia shipments. Right off the bat you will probably see what makes Deus Ex so unique and enjoyable: its open-endedness. Though you have an objective, it's completely up to you as to how you should go about completing it. The traditional FPS guns blazing strategy is an option, as is a more covert, sneaking approach. In addition, you can hack computers to turn off security systems, use lock picks to access secret areas, use multitools to disable security keypads, and many more subtle strategies. All of these options are controlled by what kinds of items you keep, what sort of skills you develop, and essentially, how you choose to play the game.
In later missions, you may be able to take an alternate route underwater to reach your destination. Once again, even this single alternate route has many different possible solutions. If you've worked on your swimming skills, you'll have no problem. But say you didn't make your character much of a swimmer. Just because you have this limitation doesn't mean you can't use this swimming-oriented route. If you have sufficient medical supplies and training, you could just swim the path, even though you'd run out of breath towards the end. Then you could heal your chest area and respiratory system. Maybe medicine's not your thing. If you have trained your environment skills high enough, you could use a rebreather to make the long swim with enough oxygen. Even another option would be to acquire the nano-augmentation (think Jedi force power) Aqualung, which allows you to hold your breath longer underwater. Remember, these are all options to take one simple alternate path. There could be any number of other alternate paths, each with their own possible options. In essence, every situation you face will have a myriad of different options. From character creation to the end of the game, there will always be another way to achieve your goals.
As Deus Ex's story progresses, you'll see all sorts of twists and turns. Throughout the story, you'll travel to a number of different locations. You spend the first third or so of the game in many different areas of New York. After that, you'll travel to Hong Kong, Paris, underwater research stations, even Area 51. Along the way, you'll end up working for a number of different employers, including yourself. All the while, you'll uncover information about UNATCO, the NSF, as well as internal corruption, the grey death and Ambrosia, and even the illuminati. In addition, you'll meet with mysterious characters such as Daedalus, Tracer Tong, and Walton Simons (voiced by Tom Hall), who all give depth to the story.
While you have an open-ended range of actions within individual missions, the grand scope of the story is tied to linear roots. However, you still have a great impact on the story, and not only the direction it takes, but the specifics of it as well. Other than the hundreds of NPCs you'll see throughout the game, a dozen or so of the major characters will live (often indirectly) based on your actions. Finally, Deus Ex offers three different endings that, once again, stress the choices you make and the way you play the game.
Deus Ex is not an easy game. Most gamers will feel sufficiently challenged by the medium or difficult settings. However, in my opinion, unless you're on realistic mode, the game's difficulty is just right. You should be able to pick up the basics of this FPS/RPG hybrid in under an hour. After your first few missions, you should be able to analyze the situations you're thrust into and find multiple solutions to them. Even if you're playing straight through, Deus Ex is surprisingly long. Most gamers should finish Deus Ex in 20-40 hours, which is still quite lengthy for a shooter. However, if you like to explore, read all the books and datacubes, simply take your time, or any other of those qualities, you're more like me. For us, the willing and curious gamers, Deus Ex can easily pass the 100-hour mark. At least for me, much of this time will be spent exploring alternate paths while being amazed at how many more ways you could have done something that you originally thought.
If there are any elements of Deus Ex that could be considered less than perfect, those would have to be the graphics. At its initial release in 2000, Deus Ex's graphics were stunning, and very wide-ranging, leaving no object poorly rendered. People were prompted to upgrade their systems with nearly the same fervor as when the 3D video card was first introduced in 1992. However, the graphical standard in video games has changed drastically in 5 years. By today's standards, Deus Ex is hideous and disgusting to even look at. However, I'm going to give an objective look at Deus Ex's graphics, more from a 2000 perspective, while still remembering that it is 2005.
Though each object in Deus Ex is finely detailed, the textures are blocky, pixilated, and ugly by the high standards set by modern games. The character textures, especially in the facial region, are similarly basic and lacking sharpness. This is very noticeable when characters speak, or when the camera zooms in close to a character (such as in the opening cinematic). However, when you are simply watching some guards walk around, or shooting at an enemy from afar, the graphics shouldn't be too much of a hindrance.
In the games' many levels and areas, the graphical style is fitting and appropriate. The feel of each of the locations you visit is unique and memorable. From industrial warehouses to commercial office buildings to top secret government bases, each area is designed and created in such a way that you, the player feel as though you're actually there. In addition, the game's liberal integration of color into the environment is a welcome change from the common post-apocalyptic, overly grayish look that plagues many sci-fi games and movies (such as Deus Ex's rather mediocre sequel)
Regrettably, too many people have been spoiled by graphically intense games, such as Halo 2 and Splinter Cell. Hopefully, enough older gamers who still respect their 32-bit Atari games, or newer gamers who aren't so jaded, will be able to see the style in the graphics of Deus Ex, despite the sharpness and realism that the technology at the time simply couldn't produce.
Perhaps most overlooked in games and movies alike, is the music and sounds that shape the environment. While Deus Ex's music is nowhere near an elaborate orchestral score, it is certainly better than that of some other older games. Even classics such as X-Com: UFO Defense were plagued by music, which was described by Zach Green as composed by a narcissistic bullfrog. However, Deus Ex's music is stunningly well done; give the resources available at the time. Though somewhat heavy on techno, it still changes fluently to suit the current setting and mood. After a while, you'll realize that Deus Ex also has a fairly large repertoire of music to play. While no pop artists headline these tracks, they still project the right feeling for this kind of game, and fit stunningly well with every situation that occurs.
The sound effects in Deus Ex are wider ranging, but also distinct and memorable. Each weapon has its own sounds, which will become easily recognizable to you. After you get into the game, you'll hear the beeping of LAMs and the grinding of turrets, and know where everything is without even having to look for it.
There is really only one major shortcoming with Deus Ex's audio performance, and that is with the voice acting. Today, we get famous actors and singers to speak are protagonists' lines, but in 2000, generic voice acting was the best they could do. While all the main characters (such as Paul, Anna, Gunther, Manderly, and everyone else at UNATCO) have distinct and recognizable voices, most of the random NPCs do not. Even J.C. himself sometimes sounds too flat. However, it really is the hundreds of assorted people on the streets who you'll get sick of listening to. Though they have a wide range of things to say and dialogue options, there seems to be no attempt to make them sound believable. The missions in Hong Kong in particular, have sub-standard, almost racially insulting, Chinese-accented voice acting. However, despite this minor source of irritation, the audio in Deus Ex is memorable and well suited to its application.
Despite being a spectacular game and winning the Game of the Year award in 2000, Deus Ex's status fell rapidly in the gaming community. Ion Storm continued to spiral downward, and only managed to push out a mediocre sequel and another thief game. Now Deus Ex is out of print (no new copies are being made). While you may have difficulty finding a good copy, you probably won't have to pay much for it when you do find it. Many older sound or video cards come with a free version of Deus Ex, and the Game of the Year version is often packaged with other software. Check your local bargain bins or game retailers. If they have it in stock, you should be able to get Deus Ex from Electronics Boutique for $2-3. That's not a typo. $2-3. If you don't have any luck there, you can always try Amazon, eBay, or anywhere else online. They'll have copies; they just won't be as cheap as in most stores. Regardless, Deus Ex is an amazing game, which I would happily pay $49.99 for all over again. Luckily for you, it's now available in the under $10 range.
I don't know what I can say about Deus Ex that will do this amazing game justice. From reading this review, you should have a sense of just how spectacular this game is. As a result, I'm tilting Deus Ex as high as it can go: a perfect 10. Because of its shortcoming in the graphical and audio departments, the total score will come out to slightly below a perfect 10. However, Deus Ex is a masterpiece of a game, and is certainly worth your time. I recommend it more than any other game, as I similarly place it above any other game. Truly, Deus Ex is the best game ever made.
TOTAL SCORE: 9.8/10
Gamefaqs' "no fractions" score: 10/10
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 08/25/05
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