Retro Reviews, issue #1 – Deus Ex

Every monday, Brandon tries his best to bring a review of an older game to the masses. Some well-known, some not. Welcome to the first installment, with a much beloved classic!

Deus Ex. What many people consider the pinnacle of PC gaming and storytelling. Praised at its release and years down the line for the open-ended stages that allowed the player to handle the situation the way they wanted to. Also praised was its ridiculous amounts of detail, from full in-universe news to voice acting in pretty much every area. Does it hold up more than 12 years later, though? Hit the jump to see what I think.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I will say I have indeed played Deus Ex before. Not at release, and actually quite a few years down the line FROM release. Regardless, it is indeed one of my favorite games. It is virtually impossible for me to write a review for it. I have no clue where to start, and every time I try actually writing it I either feel as if I’m gushing about it too much or doing it a disservice because it’s damn near perfect in my eyes.

Starting a new character, I’m immediately reminded of one of the many reasons I love it so much. 11 skills to choose where you put your character’s focus, both in combat and out of combat. From computers, which affect the ability to hack and the range of machines you can hack from the start, to the basically useless swimming stat, you have 5000 points that you get to invest with. The brilliant part of it is virtually any range of playstyle is viable. Want to play it like a run-n-gun shooter? Put everything in the various weapon skillsets. Stealth? Lockpicking and electronics are your friends. I’m pretty sure you can even make a case for putting everything in swimming, because one of the few times I remember actually having a body of water to swim in was actually the first stage. But enough about character creation. Long story short, it’s fairly difficult to outright BREAK your character and your playstyle. Now, on to the intro mission.

The game starts you off in a rather action-heavy scenario, and it’s brilliantly designed to show just HOW many ways you can be successful with very little actual guidance. Your character’s brother shows up to give you a brief synopsis of the situation; a group of violent rebels known as the NSF have taken over and effectively locked down the ruins of Liberty Island. It is up to you to disperse and neutralize the force. He continues on, giving you your first choices in the game, what weapon you think would help. He offers up a GEP gun (anti-vehicle), a mini-crossbow (nonlethal short-range), and a sniper rifle (lethal long range). While you CAN use the weapon he gives you to help you through the mission, the game also rewards pure player skill and as such it’s entirely viable to not even use a weapon.

After the exposition, you finally have a chance to take in the scenery. And what a scene it is. New York City’s myriad of lights in the background while you gaze up at the ruined Statue of Liberty. The symbolism of the dystopian future is shoved directly at you in the opening area of the game, albeit in a fairly heavy-handed way. Regardless, it’s a breathtaking view, even in a dated engine.

Getting to actual gameplay, the game clearly urges you to a more stealthy path. It’s an odd choice considering the titles it was up against at the time were, more or less, straight run-n-gun shooters. It clearly works in its favor though, considering the enemies are stupid and it just feels so satisfying to have meticulous planning be rewarded with a clean kill/KO and no alarms. The gunplay definitely shows its age, however. One especially odd mechanic is having the crosshair shrink not based on player position, but based on hovering over the target. I’m fairly sure it shrinks faster depending on how trained you are in that particular weapon, but it’s annoying nonetheless. The melee combat is infinitely better, with the game starting you off with a 1/2-hit KO prod and both a crowbar and a baton easily accessible at the beginning of the game.

Also unique to many other games at the time was the heavy focus on RPG aspects and character building. Exploring the level thoroughly usually results in bonus skill points which can be used to upgrade even more skills. You are also very likely to find lots of hidden stashes around the various levels, with precious ammo, weapons, and supplies. The game obviously strives to make an atmosphere that absolutely rewards exploration and paying attention, and I would say it succeeds rather handily. All in all, the gameplay (AI notwithstanding) is still as solid as ever. Bodies can be looted much like more modern games, stealth mechanics are very easy to get accustomed to, and your actions in and out of missions feel like they’ve got weight behind them.

So, how do I feel about Deus Ex? Time to break it down:

PROS:

  • The atmosphere is still fantastic
  • Stealth and exploration are rewarded brilliantly
  • Still a testament to creative level design
  • While the voice acting is still unintentionally hilarious, the story itself holds up very well
  • Melee combat is fun AND easy
  • I SPILL MY DRINK!

CONS:

  • Gunplay is really annoying
  • Some may be put off by the dated graphics/engine
  • AI is painfully stupid

Final verdict? Deus Ex is still a blast to play 12 years later. I still feel excited to start up a new character and try things differently. I highly recommend it to anyone who can put up with some of the more dated mechanics and graphics. It is still one of the finest games ever made.

— Brandon (Taso)

 

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