Thursday, April 16, 2015

Deus Ex (2000) review

    This is something of a classic gaming review as Deus Ex was released in 2000, almost fifteen years ago. It is, however, one of the best video games of all time, IMHO. Much of this is due to the way it maximized player freedom to resolve missions however they wished as well as the multiple paths the main character could take.

    The storyline and plot drew from Nineties conspiracy theories but put its own spin on it, making socially relevant commentary which is still accurate to this day. With the sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolutions revealed to be in development, I can't help but feel it's time to take a look back at this classic of computer gaming.

The graphics are limited but functional.
    The premise of the game, revealed in the opening cutscene, is the corrupt corporate CEO Bob Page and his associate Walton Simmons discussing how they've released a technologically-created plague across the planet. This plague, dubbed the Gray Death, is being used to blackmail the rich and powerful into going along with Bob's ambitions as they're the only people with a treatment. It's also being used to kill the poor and destitute en masse in order to bring the world closer to Bob Page's vision.

    Enter JC Denton, a new agent for UNATCO, the United Nations anti-terrorist organization based on the ruins of Liberty Island. JC Denton, who's initials aren't remotely coincidental, is a nanotechnology-enhanced super-soldier who has been given the mission of fighting those people who oppose the cyberpunk future's failing governments. In this, he is aided by his brother Paul, a cyborg supersoldier named Gunther, a femme fatale named Anna Navarre, and a beleaguered boss named Manderlay.

    As the story progresses, JC will find himself confronted with such age-old groups as the Illuminati, Majestic-12, the remains of the Knights Templar, A.I., revolutionary anarchist groups, Triads, and even Grays. He must choose which organization he wants to side with in order to bring peace to a world which is rapidly falling apart.

Part of what I love about the game is even the bosses are very personalized. Gunther, for instance, is hilarious.
    One of the innovations of the game was that you could choose multiple paths for solving the game. You could use stealth to take down enemies one at a time, shoot your way out, or stealth your way through without ever fighting anyone. This was fairly innovative at the time and most games which followed draw from this line. Not all paths were optimized, of course, but it was still quite effective at its job.

    The game, itself, kind of looked like ass. Even by the standards of 2000. There were also numerous problems with the engine. It's a common statement the game is so dark all the time to cover up the graphical limitations. Whether or not this was true, it does help as making everything dark like The Matrix did help sell the atmosphere and avoid just how bad things appeared. The game's writing was pretty weighty and would influence both my political as well as spiritual views in the future--much the same as Star Wars. It tackled subjects like transhumanism, government control, and philosophical concepts like anarchism vs. philosopher kings.

The game draws from cyberpunk, transhumanism, conspiracy theory, the Matrix films, and more to create unique yet recognizable world.
    The Illuminati are a covert group of manipulators behind the scenes who believe the smartest people on Earth should rule--the thing is, unlike the majority of people who hide behind such claims, they really are that intelligent and forward thinking. The anarchists may want to empower the common masses but they believe they have to tear down infrastructure built by said masses in the name of freeding them.

    You can even become a cyber-god.

    I'm a big fan of the character too. Everyone you fight, other than mooks, is extremely well characterized and you can even chat up some of the mooks. I loved the character of Gunther who just wants to be have a gun installed in his head as well as all the orange soda he can drink. Anna Navarre is a bloodthirsty secret agent who wants to serve her country right or wrong. Paul is both duplicitous and saintly, qualities which don't usually go together. I also love Morgan Everett, who is the nicest leader of a global conspiracy you'll ever meet. Bob Page and Walter Simmons also do a wonderful job establishing themselves as believable yet over-the-top villians.

    And who doesn't love Tracer Tong, who gleefully talks about conspiracy nonsense which turns out to be factually correct?

The gameplay is a well-crafted variant on Doom which went on to spawn many-many spin-offs.
    In short, the biggest thing to realize about Deus Ex is that it's fun. The second biggest thing to realize it's an intelligent game. Many of the game's themes and storytelling ideas are as enjoyable for the tenth time as they were for the first. Unfortunately, the gameplay and graphics are still pretty frustrating even with game mods. Still, that doesn't take away from the fact this is a game which inspired countless imitators. Very few who achieve half of what it managed to accomplish.


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