by Trevor Covert
August 14, 2000
Download Demo (140 MB)
Pros: nearly limitless options for completing missions; seamless integration of first-person shooter, adventure and role-playing elements
Cons: hardware requirements are steep, poor AI
If ever there was a game that shatters genre barriers, Deus Ex is it. The game combines elements of first-person shooter action, role-playing, strategy and adventure into a 3D world full of conspiracy, murder and terrorist organizations with aspirations of world domination.
Stealth becomes a major weapon in a game played entirely at night, and the ammo doesn't regenerate regularly like your favorite first-person shooter. But the key feature of Deus Ex is its open-ended approach to gameplay that lets the player make all of the choices as opposed to typical linear gameplay.
In Deus Ex, you assume the role of D.C. Denton, a special agent for a world government organization known as UNATCO. UNATCO has been formed to combat the rampant terrorist groups that are hell-bent on causing havoc and overthrowing established government rule. The main segment of those terrorist groups is the NSF, a militant organization that will not stop short of murdering innocent people to get what they want: a vaccine known as ambrosia, the only known cure for a deadly disease spreading throughout the world and killing millions. The rare substance is horded by governments around the world and shared only with large corporations and the wealthy. Such power leads the NSF to believe that the governments themselves started the plague and is being used as a tool to extend their dominance and control population growth. The plot only begins there as friends become enemies; suddenly, you're caught in a web where you're not sure who to trust and flashbacks of X-Files episodes become a regular occurrence.
The main advantage over your foes is that your abilities are enhanced through the use of technological nanotech augmentations. Augmentations--such as night vision, bulletproof skin or super arm strength--are applied using canisters found throughout the game. These canisters offer the player a choice of two different augmentations that can be applied. The choices only begin there for the player, however.
Skills is another area where choices must be made. The player begins with 5000 skill points which can be spent improving various skills including computers, electronics, environmental training, lockpicking, medicine, swimming and weaponry. Electronics, for example, allows you to more efficiently use "multitools", which enable you to disable or bypass electronic devices such as numerical keypads, security cameras and auto-gun turrets. Weaponry skills, which are split into five separate disciplines (demolition, heavy, low-tech, pistol, and rifle), generally offer better accuracy and higher damage. Obviously choosing the skills that best suit your intended style of play becomes a major strategy element in successfully finishing the game. It also offers replayability; if you're taking the stealth/hacker approach the first time around, you can come out with guns blazing on the second run through the game.
While your immediate missions are laid out pretty clearly (and logged for you in case you lose focus), your approach to completing those missions is left up to you. For instance, in the first level, your mission is to rescue Agent Hermann, who is being held hostage in the Statue of Liberty ruins on the New York harbor, and interrogate his captor's leader to discover the destination of the stolen ambrosia vaccine. Several options for penetrating the ruins are available including making your way through the front by brute force, meeting up with an informant who gives you a key to walk in or climbing up the back with fewer enemies to compete against.
Choices also arise on every encounter with an armed guard or thug. Enemies can provide inside information if you eavesdrop on their conversations, and your array of weapons such as a sniper rifle, mini-crossbow (which shoot tranquilizer or regular darts) or flamethrower allow you dozens of options for taking out an enemy who gets in your way. All of this equipment is limited by the relatively small amount of space available in your inventory; the designers struck a good balance by letting you choose several different weapons to carry without compromising realism by offering a limited amount of storage space.
Such a design choice for managing inventory is pretty simple, but the game does nearly require a two-button mouse or trackball for intuitive play. Doing a variety of essential actions -- including opening doors, searching bodies and putting away objects -- requires using the right-mouse button which can be emulated by holding down the control button and clicking with a single-button mouse. While this is nothing new in the design of many modern Mac games, gamers who stick with their single button mouse will soon tire of it.
The overall atmosphere provided by the stunning 3D graphics, which use the Unreal Tournament engine, soundtrack, and plot are very effective and the first-person perspective goes a long way in immersing you into the role of your nano-technologically enhanced character. Possibly one flaw in creating that believable atmosphere is the artificial intelligence of NSF guards and other enemies. Many times, they'll get worked up and begin running around with their guns drawn when you shoot at them or approach them in plain sight, but will simply run around a lot and not make terribly sensible approaches to taking you out. At other times (and on higher difficulties), the enemy will simply put a single shot to your head and end your game. It's this kind of discrepancy that will force you to save often as you make your own path through the game's conspiracy-driven plot.
On the other hand, the world of Deus Ex is filled with hundreds of non-player characters that will give you both non-essential but informative information as well as key characters that hand out side missions and other tasks to keep focuses on. When speaking to another character, the scene moves to a third-person, cinematic view but is still all drawn in-game by the Deus Ex engine. Occasionally, options will be presented for different responses during conversation that each play a part in how you decide how the game plays out. You may not realize it at first, but with a second run through the same situation and choosing a different response to a question or comment, you'll realize how much that single decision changed the plot, story or someone's disposition towards you.
Deus Ex is a unique, exciting and challenging game, the likes of which only grace gamers every so often.