I got into the PC gaming scene late. As a result, I missed a big chunk of classic games. Deus Ex was one of these. When Human Revolution started advertising, I pretty much wrote it off as another Square Enix non-RPG. (Their history isn’t very good in this regard). Without knowing anything of the franchise’s pedigree, I can honestly say that the most resounding part of those commercials was the music track, which, while pretty darn good, is no reason to buy a video game. Then, internets, you all started raving about it. Finally, hearing Casey talk about it on Player vs. Rift, I decided to give it a shot. Holy. Friggin. Crap. That’s a bad thesis statement, so let me try again: Since diving in, I’ve found it one of the most entrancing and unique game experiences I’ve played this year.
Can I tell you, though, that I was extremely hesitant when I actually looked at the game? It’s a good thing this is a bastion of pure honesty, reader, because otherwise I might be tempted to hide the fact that graphics mean something to me. I might gloss over that great gameplay probably takes a backseat when the visuals look like they’re from 2004 and the game costs more than $15. I might hedge my bets and not mention my habit of cringing when facial animations have more in common with bad martial arts flicks from the 1980s than modern video games. It’s a good thing, because that’s pretty much Deus Ex in a nutshell.
Honesty, my friends.
Following that theme, let me also say that the voice acting is ranges from the surprisingly good to the eye-rollingly bad (I didn’t ask for this), animations can be stiff and the camera jarring, and the world will undoubtedly cause you to wonder first, why there are so many damn boxes everywhere, and second, why you can pick every one of those up and not the pop bottle spilled on the desk. In these ways, the game feels like it’s from a previous generation.
Now let’s swing to the other direction. The world is static but generally non-linear. Even though you can’t interact with everything, you can interact with just enough to feel something real behind the surface. And detail, oh the detail! This is a world where everything has been placed with care, from debris, to vents, to NPCs, to sound effects. It is atmospheric enough to OVERCOME the graphics and that’s huge. You look the first time and see a game that’s not cutting edge. You look the next and see the world as it may someday be. And there’s simply so much of it. Eidos Montreal gave us the ability to break into apartments, hack into computers, climb to rooftops, and invade gang territory, all aside from the main story. You can do these things simply because you’re able to, and you will, because it reveals more of the world and adds to the atmosphere which propels you forward.
But, let’s talk about actual game play, the main reason I sat down to write this. Where Deus Ex succeeds and is in providing options. I absolutely LOVE that there are multiple ways to solve each mission and conversation tree. I LOVE that I can be a ruthless killer or a silent spy. I enjoy that I’m rewarded for every single thing that I do, no matter how I do it. Character customization is real and impactful and only ever provides options for how to complete missions instead of taking them away. If you’re patient, and willing to overlook boss fights, you can play through this entire action-RPG without every killing a soul. Or you can kill everyone and pick their pockets when you’re done. There is no one path to completing a mission. You can go in guns blazing or sneak through a ventilation duct, robbing offices along the way. You can tranquilize your enemies, disarm them, and move on, or climb into the rafters while their backs are turned. If you can think of a way to do it, you probably can. It’s that good.
How many games allow you to do that? Not many. When I first started playing, it felt like Fallout or Borderlands; first person, big guns, iron sights. I shot my way through the first mission. Then the game startled me and I was responsible for a room full of hostages being suffering from poison gas. It shook me out of my first-person-shooter mold. When I got to the last room and the rebel leader held an office worker hostage, I stopped and talked. I played mind games with him and saved that hostage without ever firing my weapon. Since then, I’ve discovered how much fun it is to stealth and tranq. until I’m spotted, then to fight my way out of a tough situation. I am the deadly but not-so-secretive spy.
What I love about Deus Ex is that it’s the RPG player’s shooter; it is the thinking man’s a stand-off. It isn’t your story but it is Adam Jensen’s, and you’re guiding him on an intricate path of conspiracy and intrigue, deciding when to kill and when to save. The narrative forms around you, conforms to your decision making. In short, it has me hooked.