Review by Tarrun

"In Latin, Deus Ex translates into God From The Machine. How appropriate."

It's depressing to think about, but the entertainment industry goes by what sells, not necessarily by what's a quality product. We see it every day, a sequel or cheap clone of a successful game that's only purpose is to fill the developers' pockets. And like the film industry, games that attempt to break the barriers and go for an original theme are usually shot down and forgotten – only further convincing developers to continue releasing the same old overused ideas. But these hidden gems are out there, which brings me to Deus Ex.

Deus Ex is an example of one of those gems; it's a truly unbelievable game that doesn't nearly get the recognition it deserves. It manages to takes the core elements of several genres and blends them together beautifully, all wrapped up with a meticulous attention to detail.

Deus Ex is set in a dystopian world in the year 2052 and follows JC Denton, an agent at the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO). An epidemic known as the “Grey Death” is plaguing the human race, and the limited amount of vaccine (called “Ambrosia”) has caused social upheaval – riots, widespread panic, and organized terrorism on government facilities. As a UNACTO agent, JC's objectives revolve around stopping one of these terrorist organizations, the National Secessionist Forces (NSF), from stealing shipments of vaccine. But JC isn't your average agent. In fact, he's one of two agents whose performance has been enhanced with nanotechnology, making him a cyborg capable of superhuman feats.

However, you quickly discover that things aren't what they seem. And as you progress through the game, new conspiracies and alliances crop up, forcing you to make decisions on who to trust and what path to follow. Deus Ex manages to weave several conspiracy theories (such as Majestic 12, the Illuminati, and Area 51 to name a few) together into one sinister plot that actually flows quite well. While you may feel like you're watching an episode of the X-Files at times, the game never presents you with anything so outrageous that it becomes wholly unbelievable.

Graphically, Deus Ex looks pretty good, despite running on a modified Unreal engine. The character models are blocky and animations can be rough at times, but overall the designs are pretty interesting and well done, specifically the main characters and the various robots. Minor characters such as hookers, bums, thugs, and monks are reused throughout the game to make up the level's population, but each individual character has their own unique personality and voice; and surprisingly, the lip-synching is fairly realistic. As for the levels themselves, they're absolutely fantastic; each area, including New York's Hell's Kitchen, Hong Kong, and Paris, has its own unique atmosphere and charm. Weapon designs are pretty amazing also, as each one has a gritty, dirty look to it.

To make up for the hit-and-miss graphics, however, the music and sounds in the game are nothing short of incredible. Alex Brandon, the composer of the Deus Ex soundtrack, works with the scenery to create the perfect mood for each area. For example, in New York, the music is slow and dark to fit the depressing atmosphere; while in Hong Kong, it's more upbeat and face-paced, creating a lively, yet hurried and almost desperate environment. Besides the music, there's also the characters' voices to cover. Like the graphics, the main characters' voices are all excellent, but some of the minor characters are ridiculous – either they're overly stereotypical or just absurd.

However, Deus Ex's gameplay is where the game really stands out, which takes one of the first steps towards a true reality simulation. It presents the player with a number of choices and allows them to decide for themselves how to play it out. These choices aren't simply different ways of getting from Point A to Point B, but also include moral decisions; Deus Ex is one of the few games that not only offers a non-violent solution, but encourages it. In fact, it's possible to play through the entire game and only kill one character, who must be dead in order to proceed with the game. Perhaps the best aspect of Deus Ex in this sense is that none of these decisions are ever preached as the “right” choice. The end of the game is the perfect example of this, where each of the three endings are all radically different and world-altering. After hearing arguments for all three options, JC asks a third party what he should do, and is told, “I don't know. I wish I had an answer for you, but you'll have to decide for yourself who you can trust. Just do what you think is right.” That ideology, that it's the player's responsibility to decide what to do, is rampant throughout Deus Ex.

The game also offers numerous tactical possibilities; there are often three or four different ways of completing an objective, including stealth, hacking and bypassing security, long-range fighting with a sniper rifle, and close-quarters combat. Usually, a character you meet beforehand (sometimes in an entirely different level) will provide you with information or an item that assists you later on. These multiple paths can range from a side entrance to crawling through a window, the sewers, or a ventilation system that leads to an area of considerably less resistance. The puzzles, while slightly redundant or one-dimensional at times, are still ten times better the most other First Person Shooters.

In terms of difficulty, Deus Ex isn't exactly a challenge per se, although in the higher difficulties you deal with the possibility of being killed in only one or two shots. The game takes a more realistic approach to how your character takes damage. Basically, you can only be killed if you're hit in the head or torso, but damage to the extremities still plays an important role in terms of gameplay. Injuries to the hands and arms affect your aim, and leg afflictions impair your ability to run, and in extreme cases, the ability to walk at all. Of course, it's possible to play through the game without ever really getting into a shoot-out; the real challenge comes from planning out how to complete objectives and then effectively executing it. Likewise, choosing not to use lethal tactics does make the game more difficult, whereas sticking with long-range weapons will make the game much easier. Enemy AIs are a mixed bag; on one hand, they'll group together and sound alarms when they spot you, but then there are times when you can take down packs of terrorists while they stand around doing nothing. However, their reactions are more or less appropriate ninety percent of the time.

The enormous amount of variety in the game means that in a single play-through, you're bound to miss literally hundreds of lines of dialogue and even more reading material – including emails (either serious and relevant or humorous), excerpts from books like “The Man Who Was Thursday” by G.K. Chesterton and the fictional book “Jacob's Shadow”, and newspaper articles pertaining to current or previous events. While not necessarily important at times, having these additional conversations and reading the extra material gives you a greater insight to the world of Deus Ex.

One of the more interesting aspects of the game, though, is how RPG elements are incorporated into it. JC earns experience points by completing objectives and exploring, which are used to upgrade skills. These skills, which range from computer hacking, weapons training, lockpicking, and swimming, allow the player to customize JC and subsequently how they can play through the game. There are also augmentation canisters, which upgrades JC's nanoaugmentations. These skills are more interesting and unusual than the others, with skills like invisibility, healing yourself without first aid kits, superhuman strength and speed, and even x-ray vision, all of which can be upgraded up to four times with augmentation upgrade canisters. Each augmentation canister allows the player to permanently “install” one of two possible augmentations, which greatly increases replay value. Overall, Deus Ex does an excellent job of taking the basic ideas behind an RPG and combining them with a First Person Shooter.

While there are a few problems with Deus Ex, most of them are so minor that you won't even notice them. When one of the biggest problems in the game is getting stuck at the top of a ladder trying to get off, it's hard to complain. The beauty of Deus Ex is that it has something for everyone; you'll easily find yourself spending hours at your computer, guiding JC through the numerous conspiracies and government cover-ups. Even now, years after its release, Deus Ex is the best game I've ever played, and you're doing yourself a disservice by not playing it.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 04/13/06, Updated 07/19/06

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