You know, for all the times I’ve mentioned Deus Ex — how it shaped me, and still shapes me, and provides a baseline against which all things are judged — I’ve never actually blogged it properly.
I guess it’s about time we really went into why Deus Ex is actually the best game of all time. I doubt you’ll agree with me, but that’s what blogs are for, right?
I have to say, I’ve played Deus Ex more times than I can remember. Rememberance is important, actually — I know pretty much every nuance of every level inside out. None of that ever diminishes the state of rapture it induces in me.
Even so, I’ve never played it on Realistic mode. Realistic mode is when you can only take one or two shots to any particular body-part before it falls off. Realistic mode is when you really need to be up on your stealth, because a head-on attack is basically impossible. (On the flip-side, though, enemies seem to drop from the tranquilisers quicker too.)
I made it worse by refusing the GEP Gun from Paul — I took the minicrossbow. The next opportunity to get a GEP Gun is in La Guardia, after you’ve had to wade through hordes of security bots. Oh yes.
The first time I played the demo of Deus Ex, I kept using the GEP Gun on the UNATCO bot patrolling on the dock, assuming it was the terrorists’ bot that Paul mentions. I didn’t understand why everyone went berserk for quite some time… After getting over that hurdle, though, I racked up a gigabyte of saved games, playing it over and over and over and over again. The demo comprises Liberty Island alone, so I know that level best of all.
It was at least a couple years after that before I actually got the game for real, which is why I’ve got this shitty Sold Out Software classics-range version and not a proper GOTYE box and soundtrack CD. Grumble grumble. (If you have a pristine, factory sealed boxed Deus Ex GOTYE to sell me, I am yours forever and have all my money.)
Obviously you don’t have to use the GEP gun on the bots, it works just as well on people. However, I like to tranquilise the NSF troops as much as possible because SPOILERS. They only get popped if they appear too far away to dispatch safely, when the sniper rifle takes over my hands.
I’m a sucker for conspiracy theories so the multi-layered storyline of Deus Ex is a strong selling point. We can’t go into spoilers here, but suffice to say the game is like an onion, each mission peeling back a few more layers to get to the true plot at its heart.
The writing is, of course, absolutely stellar, with reams and reams of JC Denton one-liners, from the spectacular “My vision is augmented”, to the unintentionally hilarious “A bomb!” and the infamous “What a shame”. Beyond the spoken words (amusing and otherwise), newspapers, e-mails and books conspire to give a tremendous sense of place — I particularly love finding a newspaper article about the deteriorating state of the outside world while deep beneath the waves in the OceanLab. The world of Deus Ex isn’t just the world of today with a few sci-fi bells and whistles, it’s a real place with its own tattered history.
Even the only tangentially-related conversations are absolutely stellar throughout — you can discuss philosophy with bartenders, politics with terrorists and trade secrets with bums as you investigate, sneak or shoot your way through gloomy cities and pristine secret labs alike.
All Deus Ex is missing is a romance sub-plot.
… but in this case, I will not hold that against it.
We can’t talke about Deus Ex without mentioning its soundtrack either. Along with the Unreal Engine itself came Unreal‘s tremendous crew of musicians — headed up by the legendary Alexander Brandon. Atmospheric ambience and stunning melodies abound as the mood requires, and this soundtrack is one of the finest ever to grace a computer game.
The music is dynamic, switching mood between ambient wandering, conversation and action; so it can’t get boring, as it rises and falls rather than looping insensate forever.
Unfortunately we can’t talk about how pretty it is because, well… It has a lot of visual charm in my eyes… Bah! Looks aren’t everything, shut up.
In terms of gameplay, Deus Ex is actually all things to all men. Want a straight-up shooter? Pump your skills up and wade in with an assault rifle. Want to sneak around? Choose the right augs and stick with the prod. Want to randomly see-saw between the two as you fail at stealth? Suuure.
Inventory Tetris, points to increase skills and augmentation cannisters to provide special abilities add pleasant flavour to differentiate the game from more basic shooters like, say, Daikatana. Deus Ex has its cake and defiantly guzzles it down too.
One thing I keep noticing about Deus Ex is that it’s actually just an elaborate trading simulator.
Is it worth one lockpick to get the contents of this chest? Should I instead spend a bomb to get through this door, or past these bots? You’re just swapping one thing for another, hoping that you’ll accumulate the right guff to trade progress through the story.
And before you’ve memorised the contents of every locked box and room, before you know every inch of every level by heart, it’s a gambling simulator too. Do I have enough lockpicks to risk getting some 10mm ammo I don’t need?
In that sense, its wide-open levels even make it a haggling simulator, where your skill at haggling is your ability to sniff out alternate, cheaper routes — either by spending different items you’ve got a surplus of, or by finding additional supplies just lying around.
Hell, first-person shooters are just clicking on peoples’ heads to win. Where’s the fun in that? Surprisingly, everywhere.
Ach, I’m not sure if that really explain why I love Deus Ex after all. It is greater than the sum of its parts, which are no slouches on their own. Shooter action, RPG noodling, an atmospheric setting, a belter storyline and unstoppable dialogue — what more could I ask for in a game?
Luckily, every time Deus Ex is mentioned, somebody reinstalls it. Of course I never have it uninstalled, but we can’t all operate by my standards.
And if, by some terrible circumstance, you have never played Deus Ex before… Holy shit, dude, get in there.
Once you’ve completed the demo, you can watch this: