Deus Ex

Trust No-one. Question everything.

An advertising tagline, but no less apt for it. The first and foremost feature of Deus Ex is its storyline; paranoia, conspiracies, betrayal, and a dark, dystopian atmosphere so thick it could be cut with a knife. As the player guides nano-augmented super-agent J. C. Denton through the labyrinthine corridors of the plot, they’ll soon learn that not everyone is who they seem to be, and that good and evil can look awfully similar under cover of darkness.

Deus Ex is one of those strange games that defy classification. The closest one can get to a traditional genre is to say that it’s an FPS/RPG hybrid. The game is played through a first-person perspective, with standard FPS controls, but there’s also a lot of character customisation. Players earn skill points for completing objectives, which can be used to improve JC’s abilities in many areas, from lock picking to swimming. Additionally, because JC is one of the test cases for nanotech augmentations the player can acquire new abilities, such as superhuman strength, or the ability to become invisible. This element of choice gives rise to the amazingly freeform missions. In one scenario, the player needs to gain entrance to a nightclub in Paris. They can go about this several ways: they can pay the entrance fee, they can crawl in through the air ducts, they can pick the lock on the back door, they can shoot at the doorman and panic him into letting them in, or they can simply blow the door off its hinges. Although the plot is mostly linear, there are always several ways to accomplish an objective, as well as a selection of side-quests which can be performed for additional benefits.

The gameplay then, is exceptional. Fortunately, the rest of the game doesn’t ruin it. The graphics are a touch dated, but they’re sharp and clean, and the scenery is distinctive and well varied. The sound is something of a mixed bag: the music is excellent, and the voice acting (with the exception of some truly cringeworthy Chinese stereotypes in Hong-Kong) is very well done, featuring some brilliant lines. Unfortunately, the sound effects rather let things down. The guns sound tinny and weak, and the footstep sounds are awful; walking on grass sounds like someone rustling a crisp packet.

Of course, all of this is just a framework for the gripping plot. The name Deus Ex comes from the Latin phrase “Deus ex machina,” a reference to the literary device common in Greek plays of having the protagonist saved by an actor playing a god descending from the ceiling on ropes, and now used whenever a main character is saved by any highly implausible means. Deus Ex has a clever name, and it’s a clever game. The story twists and turns, and asks many questions about the nature of morality, and the cost of freedom. Some of these questions are answered in the game itself, but most of them are left for the player to answer. And that answer is reflected in their final choice of how they want the game to end. A new dark age? A benevolent dictatorship? A shadow government?

There are other games that ask similar questions of the player.

But Deus Ex requires an answer

Published on January 2, 2010 at 3:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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