By A.S. Berman
Windows 95/98, 300-MHz Pentium II, 64MB RAM (but see review).
MacOS 8.1 or later, PowerPC G3+, 64MB of RAM.
Demo: Windows / Mac
Nightfall. Liberty Island, New York City.
He lies face down at my feet. Three shots is all it took.
It means nothing.
Welcome to yet another existentialist kill-or-be-killed game.
Such was our initial frame of mind upon entering the gritty, shadow-filled world of Deus Ex — another day, another shoot-'em-up.
Yet just a few moments after blowing away that anonymous character, the differences between this game and the traditional point-and-shoot variety became clear.
This title, with its engaging mix of action and strategy, stands a good chance of resuscitating the anemic first-person-shooter genre.
In Deus Ex (pronounced "DEEus eks," from the Latin phrase deus ex machina, literally "god from a machine"), you are a technology-enhanced anti-terrorist agent called upon to stop an age-old conspiracy from taking over the Earth. As in most conspiracy games, the more you learn, the more missions you complete and the more you realize that what you thought you knew about your allies and enemies was just plain wrong.
Though the story line is overly complicated, what really matters is the gameplay, which is where Deus Ex offers several new twists to the old point-and-shoot school of gaming:
A bevy of microscopic machines, or "nano-augmentations," that bond symbiotically with your body, affording you such abilities as automatically telling friend from foe, as well as a "neural hook-up" with your superiors. You can earn additional nano-upgrades by collecting special canisters throughout the game. Icons on the right side of the screen let you know which augmentations are active at any given moment.
A healing system based on food consumption (the more you eat, the faster you heal) and medical robots that roam through your environment and provide emergency attention. These mobile surgery units also install the additional nano-augmentations you find during the game.
Realistic combat situations in which it takes more than a few general shots to an enemy's body to put your attacker out of commission. Shots to the head generally will eliminate the threat, while firing at a character's torso barely slows him down.
A diverse arsenal of weapons, from hand-to-hand implements such as knives and electrical stun wands to heavier fare including rocket launchers and flame throwers.
Those of the Quake/Doom stripe whose wizardry with on-screen firearms leads them to expect to master any new game by lunchtime are in for a nasty surprise. At the easiest difficulty setting, your character is pureed again and again by an onslaught of human and robotic terrorists until you learn the value of stealth and can interpret the cryptic directions relayed to you by your allies along the way.
This brings us to one of the biggest complaints we have with Deus Ex. Every time your character is killed and you restart the game, you have to sit through a seemingly endless series of movies that re-establish the plot. Granted, you can skip huge chunks of these segments by repeatedly clicking your mouse, but even this gobbles up valuable minutes and quickly gets on your nerves. In this game, cheat codes will do wonders for your sanity.
The game's enormous memory- and computer-processing requirements also slow you down significantly. Attempting to play Deus Ex with the Pentium II/300 machine and 64MB of RAM recommended by the publisher slows you down to a frame-by-frame image reminiscent of Kevin Costner's analysis of the Kennedy assassination film in JFK. The real minimum: a PII/400 and 128MB of RAM.
Such drastically unrealistic minimum-system-requirement claims hints at a conspiracy far more pertinent than any found in the strange world of Deus Ex.