Classic Reviews: Deus Ex
When Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out in 2011, the game won me over with its strong storytelling and unique atmosphere. I then learned that Revolution was a prequel to the original Deus Ex, and I had heard from many people that the original game was their personal favorite game of all time. As much as I loved Human Revolution, I had to get my hands on Deus Ex, so I picked it up on steam for only $3, and I'll be damned if that wasn't the best three dollars I ever spent.
In Deus Ex, players take on the role of nano-augmented super agent JC Denton. A mysterious plague called the Gray Death has swept the globe, and the agency you work for, UNATCO, controls the distribution of the ambrosia vaccine. Thinking it more important to sustain the important government officials and companies, the limited supply is generally kept from the under class citizens. As a result, a terrorist group steals a supply of ambrosia, and it is your mission to track down the shipment--but it quickly becomes much more than that.
Along the way you will discover a massive conspiracy while chasing leads around the globe. Characters will betray you, enemies will become your allies, and huge curveballs are constantly thrown at the player. This keeps you on your toes, as you can't trust any of the characters and you are left to discover for yourself who is behind this conspiracy.
The thing Deus Ex does so well with its plot is how it ties it into gameplay. With no scripted events, the plot revolves entirely around your actions. These choices are not those of Bioware, where you have a clearly defined black and white decision that involves you picking a dialogue option.
No, instead they have you make major decisions through the way you play the game, adding significant replay value. For example, there is a moment when you are ordered to assassinate a terrorist leader. After getting to him, he tells you some dirty secrets about the company you work for. He then surrenders, pointing out that it is against UNATCO policy to kill unarmed prisoners. Your partner then orders you to kill him anyway.
You have a decision to make, but the game doesn't tell you to choose one or the other--instead it returns you to the game. You can then shoot the prisoner, capture him, or outright betray the agency by killing your partner. But the game never tells you that you can do that, it merely allows you to.
In most games this would result in an inevitable game-over, but not in Deus Ex. Instead, if you choose to betray the agency, you cover your tracks and deal with the consequences of your actions. This type of freedom in plot has never been done quite to this scale, and that is probably why this game is still so famous, even though it was released 13 years ago.
Another reason this game stands the test of time is its outstanding gameplay. The game gives absolute freedom to the player, and there are always multiple ways to reach objectives, some of which even alter the plot.
On the surface, the game appears to be a first person stealth shooter, but it is also an RPG. When you create your character, you are given 5000 skill points to spend. The skills you choose will drastically alter the way you play the game. Skills include weapons training, lock picking, hacking, electronics and much more. No matter what skills you choose, there will always be a way for you to complete your objective.
For example, you may need to shut down some security bots. If you are a gun-toting badass, you can go balls to the wall with your rocket launcher and EMP grenades and blast the bots to pieces, as well as deal with the soldiers with your other weapons.
If you are a stealthy player, you may use your lock picking skill to get into the security room, or if you haven't trained your lock picking, you can steal the key off an enemy soldier, hopefully without getting detected. Once inside the security room, you can either use your hacking skill to get into the computer and disable the bots and cameras, or you can find the log in and password and turn the security systems against your enemies. This type of freedom is in every objective of every level. If you can think of a solution, it exists.
The choices you make while out in the field can also have an effect on how certain characters respond to you. If you go for a nonlethal approach, some of the more ideological characters may reward you with information and equipment. If you decide to murder everyone in your path, these characters will like you a lot less, but some others will respect that you aren't afraid to get the job done, and give you more firearms.
No matter what you decide to do, there is no right or wrong way to play this game. Whether you are a stealthy computer hacker or a super soldier, you will always be rewarded and have a great time playing the game. No matter how many times you play through the game, you will never have the same experience twice, and that is a significant achievement has not been done since.
It's a good thing that the gameplay and story have stood the test of time, because the graphics certainly haven't. The game is nearly 15 years old now, and you can tell. The textures are very blocky and the lighting effects aren't the best, and the character models are absolutely horrible. Fortunately, there are some mods available that improve the visual appeal (I'd recommend New Vision), but still, you should not buy this game expecting to be wowed by its incredible technology. Even if the graphics aren't very good, the game still does an excellent job of immersing you in its world with its unique cyberpunk atmosphere and gameplay.
The sound effects are fairly average, but the voice acting leaves something to be desired. The ones with accents sound extremely forced and out-of-place. The one piece of the game's presentation that is worthy of praise however, is its unique techno soundtrack. It fits the atmosphere like a glove, setting the perfect tone for every mission. Whether it's the creepy music you hear as you explore ancient french catacombs, the gorgeous UNATCO theme, or the wonderful cyberpunk sound of the main theme, the soundtrack is always excellent.
The game may not have aged well in terms of graphics, but the nonlinear gameplay and plot are something truly special. I have yet to see a game that gives you such freedom of choice in both design and narrative, and that is why this game is still played over a decade since its release and regarded by many, including me, as the best game of all time.