Go back to Deus Ex

Written by: Rik

Date posted: November 2, 2006

While Deus Ex is generally revered, admired and respected, it’s never really had the kind of universal acclaim received by the likes of Half-Life. Of course, its fans would argue that the elements that make it so much more than a simple FPS are the very things that put off the casual gamer or the easily overwhelmed.

Well, when it comes to gaming, “easily overwhelmed” is my, er, middle name. And there’s no denying that Deus Ex represents a steep learning curve for jumpy and incompetent gamers who choose to employ a “shoot first, ask questions later” approach. As I found out (on numerous occasions), this simply doesn’t cut it, even on the first mission. Deus Ex is more than a shooter, and it wants to make this clear from the outset: you can’t scrape through the first couple of levels and learn how to get better later – you have to learn how to play the game before you can progress. The training level isn’t a barrel of laughs, either, and sensitive souls may find the process of getting repeatedly killed and/or bollocked in the early stages too tiresome to persist with the game.

Hence why it’s taken me about five years to complete the damn thing. But complete it I have, and I think that’s enough to make the FFG recommendation without reservation. It’s official, then: Deus Ex is suitable for RPG-o-phobes, and though I’m not exactly converted to the whole “beards-and-goblins” thing (this is futuristic sci-fi, after all), I have found myself wondering if I’d enjoy something like Fallout, Baldur’s Gate or even (gasp) Morrowind as a result of playing this game.

Perhaps I shouldn’t get carried away. While I’ve already said Deus Ex isn’t simply a shooter, it’s not exactly a pure RPG, either. Call it a shooter with brains, a shooter with RPG elements, or an RPG with real-time combat (or just call it Deus Ex and don’t bother trying to pigeonhole it; I don’t care) – but once you get the hang of how it all works, it starts to feel more and more like an FPS, finding yourself hunched over your keyboard, mouse at the ready, and quicksaving around every corner. This effect is magnified once your character’s abilities are beefed up and the game’s plot increasingly requiring infiltration of heavily-armed outposts.

Enough waffle. However you want to categorise it, there are lots very good things to say about Deus Ex. There’s a lot of tiresome piffle spouted by goatee-bearded gaming pseuds about linearity and choice in games, but it has to be said that the amount of freedom you’re given here is refreshing. In fact, once I’d stopped dying all the time in the initial stages, there were remarkably few moments when I felt frustrated because I didn’t know what to do next. Because there are usually a few ways round any given problem, it follows that you’re more likely to find one of the available solutions, rather than blundering around trying to find the way to get through a certain door. In Deus Ex, if you can’t open a door, there’s usually another way to get where you want to go; if you find yourself against a seemingly insurmountable number of enemies, there’s probably a way of avoiding them. Initial fears about wasting lockpicks and multitools eventually subsided as I realised that the game was unlikely to let you get horribly stuck (though it is happy to make you work harder if you make some bad choices).

I don’t have the greatest amount of patience for games that have me running around in circles wondering what to do next, especially if there’s nothing aside from bad guys and locked doors to keep you occupied. Fortunately, one of Deus Ex‘s other great strengths is an immersive and interactive world. From the office buildings of UNATCO headquarters in New York to the nightclubs and markets of Hong Kong, there’s always plenty to do, including engaging with a great number of non-player characters who may or may not be relevant to the plot or have a task for you to accomplish.

Speaking of the plot, it’s an enjoyable yarn, if not quite as amazing as I was expecting, but certainly a cut above most others. While the dialogue is generally well written, some of the voice-acting is pretty wooden, save for the major players (we’ve mentioned the merits of JC Denton’s gravelly delivery elsewhere on this site). Again, you’re given a great deal of freedom when it comes to conversation choices, who you choose to trust and what you choose to do for the people you speak to. There are more than a few tricky decisions to be made throughout, and the game’s finale, with the future of the world in JC’s palm, will leave indecisive gamers feeling, well, the same as they always feel, really.

Anyway, everyone knew Deus Ex was great when it first came out, and that it’s still pretty fab now, with disappointingly few games (especially Invisible War) actually trying to build on or better it. The fact that I’ve got quite excited about it just because I finally managed to work out how to play it isn’t particularly significant, except for one thing – I’m a moron. And yet, despite this, and a few frustrations early on, I still managed to get into, enjoy and – yes – finish Deus Ex. Frankly, if I can do it, anyone can. So, even if you don’t like RPGs, or games that provide a bit of a challenge, or make you slightly tense because you have to sneak around in the dark all the time (like me), you’ll probably still like this. Which is surely the mark of a great game.