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Deus Ex Review

publisher: Eidos Interactive
developer: ION Storm
genre: Shooters

PII-300, 64MB RAM, 3D accelerator
ESRB rating: M

release date: May 19, 00
» All About Deus Ex on ActionTrip

August 21, 2000
Bane "Bunny" Babovic

Some interpreted the title of the game as different French stuff (Deu Sex), but actually, its Latin and something totally different. Deus Ex Machina --- it's an old Latin phrase and it was mainly used in the theatre in those days. It applied to an actor that appeared, usually at the end of the play and contributed to the plot. An unexpected force that appears and resolves things... Relying on that old saying, a group of ION Storm designers developed a very unusual cyberpunk adventure. Mr Warren Spector has over the years become one of gaming communities' VIPs. (Hail to Warren! No, not like we hail Pam.) You can say that he personally invented a whole new genre of adventure that integrates FPS and RPG in a very exciting, and on occasion, scary way. While he was working with Looking Glass Studios team, his masterpiece System Shock sparked a whole new branch of the FPS genre. His latest game with the present company, ION Storm is Deus Ex --- a very unusual and controversial game that moves in the set path of its predecessor System Shock, and attracts with its magnetic appeal. Don't get me wrong, it is a unique game in its details and complexity, so any comparison with other software is totally unnecessary.

The player is in the role of JC Denton, a member of an elite UNATCO unit for counter-terrorism and quick response. UNATCO is short for United Nations Anti-Terrorism Coalition. JC is not your average Joe, he's a cyborg that uses his abilities for easier execution of missions. Also, he's not the only one who has sacrificed his looks for mankind and world peace. There are other agents with improvements, or augmentations, as they call them in the game. Together, the agents make the operative backbone of the American government and the United Nations, and their job is to preserve peace and fight potential threats to the free world. JC looks the best of them all, with his cool image --- wearing shades, dark trench coat and black pants and boots. What can I say... His colleague, with a stupid German accent, who's every fourth word is intelligible (thank Deus for the transcript), looks like a pealed blond lizard. The hottie of the game is Anna, who wears a monocle (yeah, it's a cybernetic eye) and isn't all that sexy really...

The time frame of the plot is some 30-40 years from now, and the world is plagued by terrorism, violence, crime and deadly diseases. So, what's new?! Upon entering the Deus Ex world the player is faced with the horrors of one particularly nasty desease, known as "Grey Death". The thing's got a higher "kill rate" than the funniest joke. (Python fans anybody - Ed) The illness is curable, but the cure called Ambrosia, is synthesized from rare substances making it difficult to obtain. The American government is responsible for its manufacture and distribution. The population is since divided into those that are privileged and those considered lost, since they will never get the cure. All government officials come in first, and the rest is distributed among the general population. The main opponent to such policy are the NFS, or the National Secession Forces, a terrorist organization who's primary goal is to distribute Ambrosia to everybody. In short, the people are dying, and everything points to government agents involved in the whole story surrounding the disease. In the typical Blade Runner world, our anti-hero will find out about his origin, about covert government conspiracies, his role in the story and the truth about his near and dear.

You have to admit that today's games owe a lot to the movie industry. The main character of Deus Ex is something like James Bond, with a Matrix twist. But, the game also has the atmosphere that William Gibson went into detail in his work. JC gets into action, shoots, fights a bunch of enemies with fantastic and inventive weapons, jumps and flips (without the slow-mo effects) and rids the world from a bunch of bad guys. And in spite of efforts of the bad guys, if he doesn't die, he will walk away from a fight without a scratch (well, he is a cyborg and can perform supernatural feats). There are exceptions to the rule though --- when JC took a whole salvo of bullets to his legs from the evil robot guards, his legs were useless so he had to flee crawling. Unfortunately, the robots caught up with him and left him in a pool of blood... Ah well... reload saved game, again...

Deus Ex uses the improved UT engine, which guarantees good graphics. But, with FPS the game tends to become boring and monotonous after a while... I'm probably risking a lynching mob here, assembled of Quake and Unreal fans, but it is so, and if you don't like it... (you are not a pansy-ass like him -Ed) FPS can soon be boring to anyone who is older than the age of 15 (What?! No pay for you mister... Forgive my editor; he sucks at almost any fragging game - Ed). You kill one demon or robot, you killed them all. Just like in a relationship with a woman, there are only subtle nuances, and the most important thing is the act itself, and the execution. In Warren Spector games there is always an enormous number of possibilities and plot branching (Hail to Warren!). Still, Deus Ex is the pinnacle in main story development. The player is constantly questioned on his loyalty to the mainstream, that is UNATCO. He reminds a lot of Agent Mulder, in that aspect. He knows the government is doing something bad, suspects and wants to expose who is behind it all, but keeps on working for that same government. There is also the classical X-Files "Trust no one" and everybody trying to use JC for their own motives.

The world of Deus EX is one of the most complex systems created in electronic entertainment so far, at least on the PC platform (and forget about crazy Japanese adventures for consoles). Every level is a different adventure for the player. There are alternative solutions everywhere, and be they secret passages or regular, they are yet to be discovered. Clues are everywhere, secret messages e-mails on computers, codes on data disks, etc. Passing each level requires a lot of time and attention. The player is given absolute freedom to roam each level as much as he likes, and the non-linear spirit of the game is a part of the general good atmosphere. For example, in one mission in New York, to finish the level and access a computer, the player can go over the roofs, or under the ground, through different tunnels and passages. Of course, on one of the paths, there are more, and on the other less enemies. In the first mission, you have to enter the Statue of Liberty. You can pass the electronic guards and hack the security, or you can enter through the alley passage, over a pile of crates. Every solution in the game has its alternative. This versatility is pronounced in the gameplay as well. The crossroads keep popping in front of our hero all the time. Will he give the gun to the civilian or defend the sap himself from the local bully? Will he get the explosive by giving drugs to the junkie, or killing the dealer and getting the explosives from his opponent. The top question is when JP's brother Paul, a defected UNATCO agent, asks him to join the NSF. That means the game can finish in two ways. Well done, but not too inventive (Remember the adventure Blade Runner by Westwood Studios that had four different endings, just like Jedi Knight). In each encounter with the adversaries, the player can choose to avoid them, incapacitate or kill them. Each of the three choices can influence the plot, and each will be rewarded or sanctioned. The game contains 13 missions and you return to UNATCO HQ, which is on Liberty Island by the Statue of Liberty. That' s where chief Manderlay briefs you on a new assignment, but its never just one, since out in the field you have to finish at least three more depending on what you did in the basic mission. Apart from the chief and his charming secretary, there are some important people in the centre that you will communicate with. There is Dr Jamie who will give you useful advice and medical equipment. In the infirmary there is a medical robot that will treat you and build in the implants you find. Across the infirmary is a young hacker that is in contact with you all the time via infolink implant that is in JC's head (I wonder when does he sleep?), and informs you of further actions in the mission. You can get tools and lock picks from him, as well. In the same part of the building of the HQ is the armoury where the friendly veteran Sam will treat JC to weapons upgrade, weapons, ammo, and other sweet toys. There is a lot of RPG elements involved, which wouldn't be expected from a FPS engine such as UT. The Skills and Augmentations play an important role if not a crucial one in some situations. The atmosphere is improved by these details that make the game, together with the total open-ended nature, so special.

JC possesses skills that he can improve while on his little trips to different parts of the world. By solving tasks in the mission, or unveiling of clues, he gets skill points that can later be distributed through several categories, or skills: Computers, Electronics, Environmental Training, Lock Picking, Medicine, Swimming, and five categories of Weapons (Heavy, Low-Tech, Demolition, Pistol, Rifles). Computer skills enable the agent to hack (ATM's) telephone booths, security consoles and computers. As he makes progress in this skill, he can become an elite hacker that wont stop even at advanced security systems. Electronic skills make it possible to bypass security systems and turn them against his opponents, using as few multi tools as possible. Environmental Skills gives the agent abilities to cope with different (what could it be?) environments, such as radiation, poison gas and similar... Of course, this means he's got a protection suit to start with, but also what resilience he acquired as well. Lock Picking is an important skill, since there are many doors and lockers to be opened with skeleton keys which you never have enough in this game. The bigger the skill level, less keys is required for the agent to open a certain door. Medicine Skill decides how good a doctor the agent is, and how many medi-kit's is necessary for him to use in order to self heal on the field. If he's a lousy doctor, hell need a lot of anaesthetics and a saw... Swimming skills determine how good the agent is in the water, and how long he can hold his breath. If he is good enough, he will be able to move through water like a dolphin. Skill Weapons Demolition is for using grenades and explosives, and by improving this skill you improve the damage when using these devices. Bigger and stronger weapons require the skill of Weapons Heavy, and as you get better in this, the precision and reloading improves, as well as damage when using them. The top skill level in this category is The Walking Tank. Low-Tech weapons include different knifes, pepper guns and prods. The pistol category includes only two weapons-10mm pistol and the Stealth Pistol. The biggest skill level is the Silent Assassin with pistol. Rifles is an important skill, since the rifles are used throughout the game, and you can use the assault, shotgun and sniper rifle. The weapons can be customized with accessories found scattered on the map, such as scope, magazine enhancement, speed loader, etc.

Apart from the skills, JC is a cyborg, so he can be outfitted with implants, or augs as they are nicknamed. Default augs for our hero are Infolink (through which he stays in radio contact with HQ), Friend or Foe Identification and Light Enhancer. Augmentations can be found on certain levels in special sterile containers, and can be built in only by medic robot. Often the augmentation package contains two improvements for the same body part, for example, package for legs contains both stealth and running implants. The player can choose only one, which in time leads to personification of the character. On the field, without the medical bot, the implant can be boosted to he fourth degree. So for example, fourth level of Strength allows the agent to be lethal with melee weapons. Augs can be divided into nine categories: Cranial, Eyes, Subderminal (x2), Torso (x3), Arms & Legs. Each category allows the agent some sort of superhuman abilities and an edge during the execution of the mission. Developing JC through missions makes the game a classic RPG adventure, specially since augs and skills have so much significance in problem solving. Each of the implants is activated by the F key and run on the Bio Energy reserve, except the default augs that waste no energy except Lights. The Bio Energy is charged with batteries which are found through the level.

The agents inventory has a limited number of slots, so it is wise to rationalize when using a certain item or weapon. The weapons can be, by simple Drag'n'Drop added to the interface and selected to be one of the 10 hot-keys. By selecting an item in the inventory, you get detailed information about it on the right side of the screen with options, for example, changing type of ammo, dropping the item, consuming it, etc... Recently, JC was diagnosed with cancer since I made him smoke a substantial amount of cigarettes by an anonymous tobacco company called Coughing Nails. Inventory can be used to monitor health and mission related status, such as (of course) health, goals/notes, conversation, images. Health shows the agents body in cross-section and six areas: torso, head, left/right arm, left/right leg. Each category can take three levels of damage that affect the agents performance. For example, a wound to the arm can decrease the precision, or render the arm useless. A wound to the head can blur the vision result in death. A torso wound can impede movement and also result in death, while the legs can slow down or in worse case lose function. Through the Goals/Notes option you can monitor the current mission, and of course codes and other data discovered during the exploration. Conversation and Images option have a similar use, except they collect concrete conversations and images of characters important to the mission.

As far as graphics, the improved UT engine is really good, but at times inadequate for this game. The lighting is pretty bad (i.e. I had to squint often to see the clues), and the dark places are really dark; so dark in fact, that not even JC's light implant helps. The characters are made of 700 polygons each, but sometimes they tend to be blocky. Also, the NPC motion is unatural, and when they walk it looks like they zigzag. The Detail is low but game speed, on the other hand, is great (Yeah, unless you use nVidia's cards - Ed). The Framerate is stabile (with higher resolution the pointer speed in the Inventory is noticeable), even in 1600x1200 resolution. Objects and crates (and there is at least a million of those in the game) are easily recognizable, and there was no bad texture detection at any time.

The soundtrack is excellent, but we'd expect no less from a project by Warren Spector (Hail to Warren!). Each area of the game features different music, adding to the mystique and color. Of course, depending on the situation, the speed and tonality increase or decrease. The sound effects are raw, but they are worth overlooking in favour of generic musical themes, which are good and add to the exciting mood of the game.

Deus Ex is a quality title, and you don't find those often on the market. It, of course, has its target group, mainly System Shock fans (of which I am one), and won't appeal to everyone. There are certain elements that the wider audience (Yeah, we're thinking of mass-market, dad-gamers -Ed) won't appreciate (sounds of the young married couple under Paul's window (JC's brother), or steal the gun of UNATCO HQ chief under his nose without him even flinching), but for a group of dedicated fans, Deus Ex is a treasure to behold.


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9.2   Excellent

Great atmosphere, dark, and at the same time classic cyberpunk story, augs & skills, guns and exploration.

Blocky characters, too many crates; AI a bit dodgy at times.



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