Retro Review: Deus Ex

Deus Ex - A sheer masterpiece. — by Chris Kenny
Deus Ex - A sheer masterpiece. — by Chris Kenny

Everybody has their favorite game, the one they cherish above all that will stick with them for the rest of their lives. For me, the game that will remain the top of my list until I take my last breath is Deus Ex. I try and replay the game yearly and I never tire of it, there's just so many layers and variations of play style. So a little forewarning; today's review will be full of gushing praise for this magnificent game, but it's absolutely justified. If you haven't played it, you can pick it up on Steam for a very good price and get yourself lost in it's wonderfully woven tapestry of conspiracy, deception and terror. Ladies and gentlemen, this is, Deus Ex.

The Choice Is Yours

Brothers JC (you) and Paul Denton in one of the game's first encounters. Note the choice of weaponry available that will determine your play style. — by Chris Kenny
Brothers JC (you) and Paul Denton in one of the game's first encounters. Note the choice of weaponry available that will determine your play style. — by Chris Kenny

This was one of the first games I remember having so much choice. Right when you load the starting mission, you're hit with options. Walk forward a little and your brother (pictured above) comes charging over and welcomes you to the coalition. The dialogue game mechanic is then explored immediately and you are able to select how your avatar, JC Denton, responds. Then, your choice of words will directly affect the outcome of the mission, as you can select from a few options of weaponry. This will then reflect your choice of play style that again had ramifications down the line of how your peers perceived you; go in all guns blazing and your brother takes umbrage whilst your more ruthless partner praises your technique. You can elect to go stealth (crossbow), an embodiment of fire and death (rocket launcher), or finally, grab a sniper rifle to “pick 'em off from a distance”. So in the very first level, in the very first conversation, you are already made to choose how you will approach the situations you'll face. I love this because it causes you to actually think about what you're going to do, rather than just tearing into everything without so much as a second thought, (such games as Crysis and Far Cry suffer from this, in my opinion).

Music and Atmosphere

The hidden Majestic 12 facility within Versalife was a striking visual, first seen in the opening cutscene of the game and later visited by you, the player. — by Chris Kenny
The hidden Majestic 12 facility within Versalife was a striking visual, first seen in the opening cutscene of the game and later visited by you, the player. — by Chris Kenny

The soundtrack for this game is absolutely phenomenal. It's something I can honestly listen to whilst driving my car, as sad as that sounds, but it really is that great! So diverse and unique is every track, it really helps slot you firmly into the surroundings. As I've said before, music can make or break a game and in this instance, it definitely makes it. Whether it's traversing the streets of Hong Kong or sneaking through ventilation shafts in Versalife, the music is absolutely perfect for the setting. I can listen to any track right now and be transported instantly to the destination in my mind's eye. The music compliments the themes perfectly too; the Majestic 12 Laboratories track has an eerie and unsettling vibe to it, which is is in direct correlation to how you feel as a player, entrapped within the walls of the compound that you've found yourself in. By comparison however, the Paris Cathedral track has a distinct sound that is not only steeped in history, but also mystery. Again, situated in conjunction with the surroundings of the ancient structures with their hidden vaults and passageways.

The Game-play

An example of an all out assualt, the gameplay is such that this is a viable way to tackle the level.  — by Chris Kenny
An example of an all out assualt, the gameplay is such that this is a viable way to tackle the level.  — by Chris Kenny

The game is not an all-out first person shooter (FPS). Whilst this is one aspect, Deus Ex leans heavily into a role-playing (RPG) genre. Elements such as upgrading your augmentations (augs) and skillsets are reminiscent of many RPG games such as Final Fantasty. This links back to the key element that runs throughout the game; choice. By presenting you, the player, with a myriad of augmentations (such as run faster, heal yourself, reduce damage from bullets etc) and skills including weapon specializations in rifles, pistols and so on, you're again presented with multiple ways to customize how you approach the game. You can't obtain every skill or every aug so once again, the game is asking you to stop and think for a moment before making a decision. Furthermore, skills and augs cannot be reversed, so one must think carefully before devoting themselves towards a certain path, (e.g. training to be good at close combat or ranged weaponry). The game therefore caters for all in this regard, as there are usually a variety of ways to achieve a goal. You can stealthily sneak somewhere, or kick the door down in a blaze of glory, it's really up to you. Throughout, you're also presented with opportunities to save a life or two, which can have a big impact later on in the game. No spoilers, but, your brother is involved in said choices. Aside from this, the game plays as a normal FPS would, you can get surrounded by enemies and quickly find yourself backed into a corner, health status flashing red all over. Moreover, you get a visual representation of where you're hurt, once a body part turns black, it's rendered useless, so if your legs go black, you literally crawl around on the floor. This blew my mind when I first played it, as I'd never seen that before.

Difficulty

A potentially sticky situation, the choice again is yours in how to get past the host of enemies. — by Chris Kenny
A potentially sticky situation, the choice again is yours in how to get past the host of enemies. — by Chris Kenny

The challenge of Deus Ex is a welcome breath of fresh air, too often games are pandering to the masses and therefore the complexity and difficulty level tends to be set quite low. Games today are also extremely forgiving, I go back again to the Far Cry series; in 3 and 4 I never felt there was a real punishment for dying. You simply re-spawn close to where you died, weapons and other items intact. In Deus Ex, if you die you reload from your last save point. The game doesn't auto save for you, so once again you have to be cautious in your approach and remember to save before certain situations. The learning curve is rather harsh, certainly, but I argue that it again lends to the whole feel of the game. Everything you do matters. This leads me to exploration. You can, of course, bulldoze through the game if you desire, but you'll miss so much. So many secret areas that actually develop the story line and offer great benefit to the player, for example providing additional skill points, (which can be hard to come by) and weapon upgrades. Plenty of FPS games are very linear in their approach, single player not being a focus of the game. Which in today's age of DLC and Multiplayer, is understandable from a corporate viewpoint.

The Story

The opening cut scene; setting the stage for conspiracy and deceit.  — by Chris Kenny
The opening cut scene; setting the stage for conspiracy and deceit.  — by Chris Kenny

To conclude then I'll end with the game's best feature; the story. This is without a doubt the best story line I've ever experienced in a game. There are so many moments that made me pause and take my hands off the keyboard and exclaim “NO WAY” as I was shocked at certain twists that happened. There are so many layers and intricate details expertly submerged throughout the narrative, which has you bounding along and really uncovering the story yourself, eager to see what was coming next and most importantly, you never feel like you're having your hand held. I won't delve further as I truly believe this game needs to be played to be experienced properly, so you'll just have to uncover the story for yourself!