If there’s one thing I find fascinating in video games, it’s choice. Choice is something that doesn’t really exist in other media (well, there are choose your own adventure books, and VNs, but one’s a gimmick, and the other goes hand in hand with video games), and if used well, they can add a lot of depth to a game. However, I have a weird way of admiring choice in games. If used superficially (like, say, one or two lines changing, maybe changing the colors of a scene, but nothing more), I’ll consider it kind of a waste. If a game goes beyond that, I start to get impressed. How about a nonlinear mission structure with the only restrictions in place to prevent the plot from derailing? That, my readers, is Deus Ex.
Deus Ex’s plot is like if you take all the contemporary conspiracy theories in the world, and mash them all together in a way that hopefully doesn’t scream Dan Brown. You play as JC Denton, an agent for a homeland security like service that keeps the now nearly-defunct U.S. from crumbling under repeated terrorist attack. See, the world in 2050 isn’t much different from our world. In fact, I find it kind of jarring to see parts of New York look like crap.
On the bright side, in the future, you can augment your body by way of prosthetics (and later nanites). You can do all sorts of shit with these augmentations, like jump really high, see in the dark, regenerate health, and so on. The only downside is the government can shut your body down via these same nanites. Additionally, going around is a massive plague called the Gray Death. An antidote does exist, but only in limited supplies. You’re fine if you’re important to society, but otherwise…
So the stage is set in this detestable society. I won’t say anymore, because the plot is quite engaging, and pretty intellectual. Instead, however, I will describe how you interact with the plot. While Deus Ex uses a rather familiar WRPG style of dialog, the choices you see aren’t the silly “good option/neutral option/evil option”, but more real options. These options often lead to different outcomes.
What’s more interesting is that how you actually play the game can influence certain things. For instance, you can kill a character before they become a boss later. The story definitely reflects this. On a smaller scale, the dialogue also changes if you, say, do things out of order. It’s really like the dev team thinks of everything. I guess my only complaint about the plot is that the ending you get is decided ten minutes before the end, instead of a result of your choices throughout. Still, that’s a lot better than how endings are handled in other games (colors). Overall, while the plot itself is pretty linear, it’s pretty amazing what one can do to influence a linear plot.
The gameplay is like an FPS-RPG. However, the RPG elements are large. At the beginning, you get acces to different skill types that govern how well you do certain actions, such as shooting with a rifle, hack a computer, or even swim. You get experience throughout the game for various actions, and can upgrade your skills. While it may seem archaic to have a system like this in place, the skills are quite intuitive, and every area in the game is balanced around all these skills. Except for a couple of skills, no skill is ever really more important than the other. In addition, you get to choose one augmentation out of usually two for various body parts. What’s more, you don’t even need RPG mechanics to add variety to the game. You can play the game stealthily, with a run-and-gun approach, or even like a coward. It’s pretty evident that there’s a terrific amount of variety in place.
These systems, and by extension, the variety, are put into place for the sole reason of taking what seems like linear missions, and making them massively nonlinear. There are so many paths you can take throughout each mission, that you’ll never play the same game twice. Each path also happens to be very unique and notable, and put these skills and augmentations to the task. There’s so much to see in the game too, which is really surprising, considering how unique and notable everything is. Hell, I’ve finished the game twice, and I’m positive I still haven’t seen everything.
I guess if I ever had a complaint about the gameplay in Deus Ex, it would be about the AI. The AI is really weak, which makes sneaking around much easier than it should be. I can’t begin to describe how silly it can be. However, I feel as if more complicated AI might’ve gotten in the way of nonlinearity and variety. Having braindead enemies makes it a lot easier to play around with the variety. And I appreciate that a lot.
Deus Ex’s graphics are, well, so-so, even for its time. Textures are kind of bland, and models are blander. There’s nothing that’s very viscerally pretty in this game. Deus Ex’s graphics do get the job done, which is fortunate. Deus Ex’s sound is… well, interesting. On the one hand, the voice acting is extremely monotonous. I daresay it makes Jill sandwich seem like good acting. However, many of these woodenly-delivered lines turn out to unintentionally be comedy gold. The soundtrack, on the other hand, is quite stellar. Much of what makes Deus Ex’s soundtrack so good is that not only does it fit what’s going on really well pretty much at all times, but it also happens to be great in its own right. As a result, the soundtrack happens to be quite memorable, and not something that merely fits the game well and nothing more. I’d even say the main theme is one of the most memorable tunes in video gaming.
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