Release Date: June 20, 2000
Developer: Ion Storm
Metacrtic Score: 90
I’ve wanted to play “Deus Ex” for about as long as I’ve known it existed. Nearly every aspect of this game seemed to be maid with me in mind. It’s an RPG set in a dystopic cyberpunk world with human augmentation as a central motif in a story about corporate overreach. If the game had been set in space I would have been forced to believe I was the lead designer set back in time to create my favorite game of all time. But for all the philosophic pandering and conspiracy unraveling, there was one question the game kept asking that I simply don’t have an answer for: how bad can a great game be? Normally I’d call my feelings about the game “mixed”, but that wouldn’t do them justice this time. “Deus Ex” is both the best and worst game i’ve ever played.
You play as JC Denton, a new member of an Anti-terrorist group called UNATCO. The game starts with Denton’s first mission finding stolen pledge medicine, known as Ambrosia, (which was meant to go to high ranking politicians) from the National Secessionist Forces (NSF) who plan to give it freely to the people. After doing a few missions meant to clear the way for your brother, Paul, to go in and find the Ambrosia, you find that he seemingly lost his nerve and ran off. After finishing the job you learn that Paul’s failure want him losing his nerves, but instead he’s been working for the NSF the enter time. After finding Paul and hearing his side of the story you soon find yourself also working for the NSF while UNATCO hunt you down while you unravel the conspiracy behind the pledge.
The story is the one part of the game I have virtually no issues with. Sure, a few missions feel somewhat padded, but that’s forgivable. The game deals with issues I find fascinating and is even pretty well written for a game of it’s time. However, I do think I enjoyed “Human Revolution”s story more. While I think “Human Revolution” as a whole was the weaker game, the story was more relevant and had more to say about present day issues. I’m bringing this up due to the resurgence of “leave politics out of….” rhetoric that sprung up after the release of “Mad Max: Fury Road”. These two games serve as a perfect counter to these arguments. Both games are great, both considered classics, and both highly political in nature. But the one time where the lesser game bests its superior counterpart is due to making it’s political stances more relevant, by bringing the issues closer to the world we live in today.
The biggest issue with the games story is presentation. Near the beginning of one mission I saw standing in an elevator while talking to an NPC in an unstoppable cut scene, and the elevator doors closed. While no where near a deal breaker it did happen frequently, pulling me out of the experience each time. And while I know it was (and still is) common for NPC’s to stand unnaturally still and just…star at you while talking, it’s still creepy. And with the amount of talking you’ll be doing in this game, that kind of thing can get bothersome. All in all these are all minor flaws and wont ruin the experience, but you will grow tired of them by the time the credits roll.
You know the saying “a diamond in the rough”, right? Well, that’s not exactly the right way to talk about Deus Ex’s game play. A better example would be if you filled the Louvre Museum with year old sewage, forcing you to slough through knee high crap while still seeing the beauty of some of the finest art ever made, but you can’t help but think you’d enjoy the exhibits more if they didn’t have so much shit on them. Yeah, that’s getting pretty close to what playing Deus Ex is like.
Now, one thing I want to say up front is that my computer is not exactly a gaming rig. Because of this, a lot of these issues may stem from hardware issues rather than the game itself. But this is the only game where the issues I’ve had have been this consistent. Sure, I wasn’t playing “Metro 2033” (a game that came out 10 years after “Deus Ex”) at 60fps, but it stayed close enough to 30fps to be playable. Just the other day I downloaded the demo for “Braid”, the bag indie platformer from a few years ago and in never went below 30fps. I even managed to keep “Painkiller” at a rate anywhere between 40-60fps.
With Deus Ex however, I was getting genuinely when the game reached 15fps. At that point I could actually say there was game play and not a glorified slide show. Unfortunately the game only reached these incredibly low standards about half the time. The other half it dropped far below that. The amount of time I spent playing this game anywhere between 1 and 8fps is simply unforgivable. And again, this could be my computer specks not being that great but “System Shock 2” didn’t slow down on me. “Half Life 1 and 2” didn’t slow down on me. Nor did “Beyond Good and Evil” or “Psychonauts”. So while this may be a hardware issue, I find that hard to believe.
What really bugs me about this is how good the game should be. There are a lot of classic games that simply don’t hold up over time, but Deus Ex shouldn’t be one of those. This is one of the most in depth RPG’s I’ve every played, and I was having a blast when the game was playable. In all honesty, if the game would have ran properly I’d have to revise my “top 5 favorite games” list, but the performance issues hold the game back to an astounding degree.
So what worked? What was it that should have made this game special. Part of it was the depth of customization given to the player. Like with most RPGs you gain XP that you can use to upgrade states, but unlike most RPG’s nearly every stat was worth investing in. At the same time though you never have enough skill points to spend on the costly upgrade, making you really have to consider how you spend these point. You could spend a few hundred skill points to become a trained lock pick, lowering the amount of picks you need to unlock any door, or you could save up for just a bit longer and become a master rifle man, making your aim steadier when aiming your sniper rifle. But if you wait, you may lose out on goods hidden through out each level. But that extra aim stability may be the difference between a killing head shot and a wounded assailant alerting his pals to your location.
But it’s not all stats either. Transhumanism is the game of the game here, and thus there are also augmentations canisters to find. These must be found and effect a certain part of your bodies, giving you options on how they’ll effect you. But once you pick, your stuck with that choose. For example, one lung augmentation can give you higher lung capacity while swimming or higher toxin resistance. But you can only choose one, and you’re stuck with that choose until the game ends or you restart. Each augmentation can also be upgraded up to four times, but again, you have to find the resources to do so and they are incredibly rare. When you add in gun mods to the mix (like scopes, silencers and range boosters) you always feel like you’re handling the situation the way you really would…if you were the kind of person who became a government agent and not the ind of person who sits around all day playing video games, but you know what I mean.
Then there are the levels themselves. These a huge, open ended affairs with loads of options on how to navigate each mission. In the first mission I ended up climbing to the roof and going in from there by accident, just wanting to see if I could climb all the way up. The game also rewards this by also giving extra XP for discovering locations. I’d often ignore my next objective and just spend time where ever I was seeing all the stuff I could interact with. I found ways to the objective I wish I would have taken, or found doors locked that I could have open if I took another way in and not used all my lock picks or multitools. All of this combined created one of the most absorbing experiences I;ve every played through. But like I said, the performance issues always pulled me out of the game.
Then there’s the controls. What do you normally use to reload in an FPS? It’s the “R” button am I right? Know what it is in Deus Ex? It’s the “;” button. This means every time I have to reload I either have to take my hands on the WASD keys or take my hand of the mouse. And how to you aim down a scope? By pressing the “[” key of coarse. As these were both regular activities this poor control lay out is simply unforgivable.
Lastly there was one big that nearly killed the game for me. In about half the games I started there was an odd bug where I couldn’t change my weapons out. These may have been fixed, as I haven’t had to deal with it in my latest play through.
These issues can’t be ignored, but at the same time it’s impossible to over look how great the game not only could have been, but should be. This isn’t a bad game, nor is it a near miss like “Remember Me” or “Metro 2033”. In my time with the game I could see hints of what so many call the greats game of all time. But the never ending swarm of performance problems held the game down. If or hen I get a real gaming PC I plan on revisiting the game, but for now I have to rate it according to what I played.
Game Play: 1.75/5
Music and Sound:
Not much gets better here. The voice actor for JC Denton sounds like a chain smoking bolder and most of the rest of the cast sound half asleep. Some of the accents, especially in the Honk Kong section of the game, are borderline offensive with how stereotypical and cartoonist they are. The music isn’t much better. Migraine inducing techno that overpowers most of the characters speech even when turned down. I found myself forced to turn the music off just to hear what was being said. The enemy death screams are all the same making it sound like you are killing one guy repeatedly. The sound alerting you to the fact that you’re on camera is effective, but as I was going for a mostly stealth run this could have been more due to the power of association with getting caught. In the end I don’t think I would have cared so much if I had been able to progress through the game at a normal pace, but with how often I played in frame rate related slow mo these issues really piled on.
Music and Sound: 2/5
Overall Score: 2.5/5
Who is this game for:
If you have a PC that can run the game I honestly think you’ll get a lot out of this one. But if you’re like me and your PC isn’t really made for games then you should pass over this one until you get better gear. If that’s not something you plan on doing then it sucks to say but you’re going to miss out on a pretty great game, because this isn’t worth playing if you have to suffer through all the tech issues I did. I hope that someday soon i’ll have a better gaming computer, and if I do I will revisit this one, and I can only hope that will improve my outlook.