Every week, Retro Game Wednesday reviews a well-aged game available for digital download on Steam.
Title: Deus Ex
Developer: Ion Storm
Release Date: June 26, 2000
Price (at time of review): $9.99 ($19.98 with the sequel, of which we are not speaking.)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution was a prequel. Not a Star-Wars prequel, thank everything that’s holy – it actually turned out to be pretty good, all things considered. It was certainly leaps and bounds ahead of the sequel to the original Deus Ex, of which we shall not speak. No, instead today we shall speak of the aforementioned original Deus Ex, a game I hold very close to my heart.
You may have noticed that I hold many of these games very close to my heart. This is because A) I get to pick what I review and B) if you keep enough CDs there you can stop a bullet with them.
You’re the second of UNATCO’s newest line of super-agents, augmented with the newest in nanotechnology. They’ve put billions of dollars into developing the next stage of human evolution, a bold new step in the fusion between man and machine. This makes you uniquely equipped to A) track down the truth behind a web of conspiracies and lies and B) move your co-workers office furniture around while they yell at you to stop.
- Excellent late 90’s – early 2000’s graphics featuring good use of ALL THREE DIMENSIONS. Plus, with various texture enhancement mods released in recent years by fans, you can make a good portion of the game look even better.
- Full, usually not terrible voice-acting for all conversations and incidental dialogue. You can talk to every NPC except the ones that are actively trying to shoot you. Not everybody has a conversation tree, but most of them have a few things to say.
- The accents they do are always fun. There is a large German cyborg man who wants a skull gun and thinks the people that stock the drink machines are out to get him.
- His accent makes everything he says amusing, unless you’re German. Tragically, Germans are incapable of amusement. This is reflected in his character.
- There is a wide range of skills to train and at least two different choices of augmentation for each ‘slot’.
- The levels are designed so that there are multiple ways to approach almost all of them using the skills and augmentations you’ve chosen, and you’re rewarded for exploring.
- You’re free to choose between using stealth or violence to achieve your goals at all times.
- Violence is usually funnier, though.
- This ends up being one of those tragic games that feels more rushed and lazier the further along it gets. It’s sad, after such a strong beginning.
- Of course, it never gets bad, just not-as-good-as-it-was.
- The higher difficulties are exactly as hard as they claim they are. This is a good thing, of course. The bad thing is that you’ll be saving more often, and each save-game is approximately a billion megabytes each. On their own that’s not that bad, but if you’re like me and make a new save file every time, you will quickly find a good chunk of your hard-drive space has wandered off without you.
- Plus, in a game with this many choices and paths, you probably want to be able to go back and try something different later without playing through the whole thing again.
- This is because ‘The whole thing’ is really, really, really long. You’re not going to do the story in one sitting and I don’t care if it’s your day off.
- Do not bother with multiplayer. It is a silly place. Some people still play it sometimes I guess, but this game is really about the rich single player experience. There are better games to play with friends.
This game is long enough to be two games. Possibly two games and an expansion pack. But because this game was released in 2000, none of it is DLC or any of that tomfoolery. This massive, sprawling experience is yours for ten bucks. Ten! The sequel of which we do not speak is also priced at $9.99, and the mathematically astute will note that this means the package isn’t even a deal. So my personal advice is don’t bother with the sequel unless it goes on sale, as it’s not even worth speaking of. The first one’s good, though. Here’s an arbitrary and subjective number that says ‘buy it’. 10/10
Deus Ex is a game about conspiracy theories, and you get wrapped up in more than a few yourself. Oh, you start out dealing with the reach and power of government and police forces, but somewhere down the line the game goes balls-to-the-wall insane and by the end you’re tangling with Majestic 12 and the Illuminati. Chances are, if Fox Mulder would have believed in it, it’s referenced somewhere in this game.
The story is complex and involves a lot of figuring out what side you’re supposed to be on in the overall conflict. Not that you have a choice – the story doesn’t branch in anything more than very minor ways. But at the time it was still very cool to see the various characters react to your actions in the world. The conversations they have, the items they give you, and the way they react to you changes depending on what you do.
For example, at the beginning of the game your brother Paul asks you to take a non-lethal approach, since you are after all a police service. You have the option of listening to him and taking a more stealthy and measured approach, using your stun prod and tranquilizer darts to complete the mission. Or you can ignore him and go about things like Gozer the Gozerian, although you do not have the option to take the form of a giant Sloar as you wreak your terrible vengeance upon the unworthy.
Now, we’ve perhaps come to expect this from ‘good’ modern video games, that they in some way react to the way in which we choose to play them. But in 2000 it was all new and heady and we were like ‘holy crap, it noticed how I did things’. If you murdered everything in your path Paul will be very disappointed and the UNATCO quartermaster will refuse to give you ammo because you’re a goddamned psychopath. If, however, you didn’t kill anyone or at least showed restraint, the more bloodthirsty operatives will begin to dislike you, but Paul and others will praise you and give you different items. (If you’re playing non-lethal, sometimes the game will reward you with gas grenades and darts instead of bombs and bullets.) You can actually even get through the entire game without killing anyone by gunfire. In fact, only one NPC has to die in the course of the game – everybody else can be saved.
Unfortunately, the game’s biggest early strength becomes its greatest flaw – it gets lazier as it goes on. It varies on when you’ll actually notice, but after a point it seems like your choices matter less, like the game has stopped noticing or caring what approach you try to take – stealthy, violent, lethal, non-lethal… it just stops reacting. The layouts of the levels continue to be varied, offering lots of defensive positions if you decide to storm in head on, and an equally plentiful selection of ventilation shafts if you would rather be Bruce Willis about things. But the dialogue stops changing too much, except for major characters and decisions, and the magic is gone.
It’s still worth playing, though, don’t get me wrong. What it does right, it does very right, and what it does wrong can usually be overlooked in favour of all the brilliant things it’s been doing right. It never actually becomes a bad game at any point, just less consistently amazing. And even when it slows down, there are still a couple of shining points in each segment of the game that make the whole experience worth going through.
Just set some time aside. It’s very long.
It’s old enough that newer resolutions confuse it, but the highest ones available are high enough to be okay on modern monitors unless you’re some kind of whiny baby. If you really want to try to play it at 1920×1080, or at least get it looking a little better, people have discussed ways to do that here.