The RPS Verdict: Deus Ex

By RPS on June 22nd, 2010 at 2:14 pm.


It’s been a while since we got together to do a verdict. That splendid Deus Ex anniversary seems like the right kind of time to do so. Below we judge the game, ten years on. Does it live up to the legend?

Jim: Are we ready to talk about Deus Ex being ten years old?
Alec: 10 years? it doesn’t look a day over nine and a half
Jim: Kieron, you’re probably the best person to sum things up. What is Deus Ex?
Kieron: I will never escape the duty of custodian of the Deus Ex flame. Deus Ex is Ion Stom Austin’s 2000 PC Game. It’s the thing which prevents Ion Storm being looked at nearly as badly as it was looking for a while. Where Daikatana was a famous disaster and Anachronox was a visionary if niche underperformer, Warren Spector’s team made Deus Ex the state of the art of videogames. There’s some who’d argue it’s still, in its ambition and achievement, the state of the art today. As in, we haven’t gone further. It’s a first person RPG – what was later termed by Ion Storm as “The Immersive Sim”. In the lineage of Ultima Underworld, it models a realistic physics-based universe and sets you forth to have an adventure. In this case, a 21st century cyberpunk/Conspiracy-theory thriller.


It’s notable for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s the aesthetic inverse of Thief in terms of the lineage. Thief concentrated to one aspect of the immersive sim – stealth – and made the whole game about it. Deus Ex included everything – from stealth to conversation to violence – hell, to multiple ways of violence. Secondly – which leads on from the first – it was the game which brought the concept of freedom of choice far more to the forefront that other first-person games. Levels were open places for expression of your skills. You made it up as you went along. Rather than a level saying what you should do – a puzzle to be solved – often Deus Ex presented a problem, gave you the tools and let you at it.

It also had terrible voice-acting. That’s Deus Ex.
Alec: Don’t forget the Greasels
Kieron: I was saving that for Jim. Custodian of the Greasels
Jim: Fucking greasels! But let us not dwell on them.
Kieron: Probably best to start with saying everyone’s experience of DX.
Jim: Alec, you want to go first?
Alec: My experience of Deus Ex was buying based on – egads! – a PC Zone review, then leaving it on the bus on the way home. So I copied it from a friend, and played it over the course of the following 18 months. It was the first game where I combed every single corner, tried every permutation (via savegames), because I was so amazed at the possibilties, the depth. I thought you just played games to get to the end. Deus Ex changed that. But I never invested many points in swimming, which means there’s still some manner of goodie at the bottom of the canal which I’ve never found. One day. One day.
Jim: My experience was a little strange, I think, because it was based on Kieron reviewing it.
Kieron: Man!

Jim: It was the game Kieron was reviewing when I started work at PC Gamer. But I couldn’t play it myself, so I was simply getting all these hyperbolic reports about what had happened, why it was exciting, and so on. I think the 95% scored review was sent to press at the start of my second week on the mag. That, I thought, was what being on PC Gamer was going to be like.
Kieron: Oh, man, heartbreaking. My first game I reviewed was Thief: The Dark Project. It totally gives you a false impression.
Jim: And actually at the time, I just assumed that games were going to be like that in the future.
Alec: What was the first game they gave you to review, Jim?
Jim: An Army Men game. I can’t remember the name. Anyway, the original System Shock at basically signposted the future, as far as I was concerned, DX seemed like just another waypoint on the road to our immersive sim horizons. I went on to get Deus Ex when it came out a few weeks on, and I played it through, even playing it at a Quake 3 LAN i went to, instead of the matches I should have been playing.
John: The first game I reviewed for PC Gamer was Minigolf. I gave it 3%. I had a very accurate impression of the following eleven years.
Jim: I am playing it again at the moment and, I think, enjoying more this time.
Alec: I admit I’ve only dipped in and out of DX since. Too many videos of the bad acting, too many write-ups claiming impossible things, too much hyperbole. I want to cling to my memories and experience, not have it tainted by age, creakiness and other people’s bluster. Even looking in on it last night, I was horrified by how not-huge the levels seemed now. I didn’t want to destroy their grandeur in my memory, so I couldn’t stay for long.
Kieron: I suspect we’re going to come back to the idea of Deus Ex as an ambassador of what we though would be the future.
John: I’ve only played DX through once. I’ve played the start of it a lot of times since. But part of me doesn’t want to replace the memory I have of it. For me it doesn’t really get stored in the “A game I played” category in my head. It has its own unique folder. I remember it like someone might remember a three month interailing trip. So playing it again would be like revisiting those places in the hope of recapturing those old memories.
Alec: “Remember when we stayed here? They had those nice biscuits.”

Jim: There is a lot of random food in DX.
Kieron: I’m still annoyed at how fast Cigarettes kill you.
Alec: Deus Ex is a signpost to our anti-smoking game future.
John: Plus, how could I approach it without cynicism? For me, playing it through, it was an unfolding mystery. I was, and this is the most crucial thing, making decisions. I’d not be making decisions another time. I’d be making calculated choices.
Kieron: I dunno – Like Jim, I’m replaying it at the moment, and there’s a sort of joy to playing with some of the options. I blew up Anna Navere last night. With the LAM-on-the-way-into-the-jet trick. Which is the sort of thing everyone talks about, but I finally got around to trying it myself. It’s been so long that I’m fine with it.
John:This is my point. It would be about trying things out. Rather than a truly honest experience. Which is awesome – I’ve done the same with KotOR and so on. But I kind of don’t want to do it to DX.
Kieron: DX is less about the emotional options though, rather than mechanic expression – which I suspect we’ll get onto in a minute. Me though: I haven’t actually completed it a second time either oddly – which means none of us have, which is interesting. As Jim said, I reviewed it – and may write a little about the whole story to do with that period then – and ended up getting involved with the SDK with a mod called The Cassandra Project. So even though I’ve never played it all through again, I’ve been deep into the guts of the beast. I suspect that also contributed to me not doing another complete playthrough. I’ve seen DX in a way which none of you guys have.

Kieron: Okay, why the hell does DX matter? I mean, really. There’s 10 year anniversaries all the time. DX is the only game we’ve even considered doing. Not Planescape, not Longest Journey or Quake 3 or anything which is our touchstones. But we’re doing DX. Why?
John: I considered doing TLJ. But then I forgot.
Alec: Deus Ex is generationally important to us, as PC gamers in our early 30s. And it turned up in an age where games were looking fairly pathetic and meatheaded, saying “no – this is not good enough.” It hit at a time where we wanted more, where we wanted to validate both our hobby and our career choice.
Jim: I’ll venture something. I suspect I’m the person who likes DX the least out of the four of us. I was very critical of it at the time. There’s a lot I didn’t like about how it worked. And I think that’s because I didn’t like how a lot of the different tools it provided worked, and lots of the mechanical bits annoyed me. Ladders, fucking Greasels. Even guns and skills. But, and this is the bit about importance, the issue was that it *had* all those tools. It was a big box of things, all done to different degrees of proficiency. Rather than a couple of things done well. Deus Ex is broad in a way I think we’d like lots of other games to be. And yet they aren’t. Designers prefer to get a few things right.
Kieron: This is the reason why Deus Ex would only get a 9/10 in Edge. There’s a whole school of thought based on games which would argue that is a failing. To the school of thought who’d argue against that, it’s the Ocarina of Time.
Alec: Well, you could also argue it led to things like Pathologic, which are almost unplayable.
Kieron: Pathologic as a true son of DX is an interesting one to think about. Though I bristled a bit at Alec’s suggestion. Before deciding he’s right about it being a game which was *just* a bit more grown up. I don’t think it was a complete oddity, but seeing a game which had clearly read a whole load of the same books I had was a startling joy. (I mean, was Silhouette informed by the Situationalists? I never had the heart to ask Warren or Harvey)
Alec: But what I really think is that its absolute multitude of possibilites led to a splintering of exploration from all its ideas, Pathologic being just one.
John: Yeah, that’s the thing. I think its mechanics were splendid, but I don’t think the combination of FPS and RPG was why it was special. It was special because it was smart, and it made me smarter for playing it. It was well read, it was eloquent, and it was proud of that.

Jim: The importance, though, was probably in its unique position, appearing at a crucial time for shooters, and a crucial time for RPGs. It took elements from them all and put them together in a way that didn’t really have too many parallels. (totally disagreeing with John!)
John: Let’s fight!
Jim: We can settle it with a game of DX multiplayer, later.
Kieron: I suspect this is showing your biases, if you know what I mean.
John: I’ve said this before, but it was playing DX that made me realise I didn’t know anything about politics, and it started me off in the direction of learning.
Alec: I had read none of those books, nor indeed any cyberpunk. Which made it doubly amazing to me, and I had no qualms or questions about what it was telling me at the time – it was a whole new, bewilderingly incredible world. But yes, as with John it was effective in making me really question government for the first time.
Kieron: Deus Ex as Public Enemy. Never thought of it like that.
Alec: Don’t believe the hype (about new labour) Like I say, this is the importance for me – the right game at an incredibly formative period of my life. The period where my brain started to grow. If I hadn’t played Deus Ex, if I’d have an N64 instead… I shudder to think.
Jim: It’s an incredibly rich storyworld, really. And not one set in a fantasy land, but in the real world, a bit further down the road. I think, actually, it is worth playing it again now for precisely that reason. I “get” more of it now than I did when I was 21.
Kieron: Yes – I’ll agree with that. I was actually kind of bewildered how sledgehammer it was. In the same way – but opposite aesthetics – I got from playing Sacrifice, that I’m a better gamer now makes it a better game.
Jim: Interesting – perhaps that’s it’s real value? A game we can agree was edifying, rather than, eugh, “fun”.
Alec: A game that taught us to think bigger, even as we clubbed greasels to death
Kieron: The reason why it’s such this touchstone is because *this was the next logical step of how we of a generation saw games going*. As in, Deus Ex was natural. Jim McCauley reviewing it deliberately positioned it as “The best game in the world”. And presented the idea that it was a lineage, like Best Boxer or whatever
Jim: Goddamn greasels.

Kieron: And anyone who believed in a certain way of games would agree with it. The reason why DX is remembered… is that in those terms, in that idea of what games “should” be like, it’s never been superceded. As in, it was a gateway into the future. We all believed it would be, because that’s what happens. And then it didn’t.
John: It’s the Half-Life 2 of, um, games that aren’t Half-Life 2.
Kieron: And the future we were expecting and then the future didn’t happen. It’s our “Where’s our rocketpacks?”: Where’s our Deus Ex 2!
Alec: It was very much The Game Of Its Time.
Jim: But it’s down to design philosophy, I think. Games have been pushed to do fewer things, and to do them better.
Kieron: The crowbar was a nod to Half-Life, of course. It wasn’t a game that was just at the apex of the Looking Glass tree – it was a game which also sublimated the id-derived culture.
Jim: Deus Ex feels like the last time doing a lot of things was really okay. Even big games RPGy like Fallout 3 lack the broad messiness.
John: Is that a financial thing? Did LG hit a sweet spot where it was affordable to be good at a lot of things? And now to focus that broadly would push you over the $100m mark?
Kieron: John’s basically right. I’m talking to a load of devs for interviews at the moment and the question I’m asking them all is “The 00s trend was basically you trying to work out a way to make a game which used DX’s ideas, but sell enough to justify it” DX’s 500k isn’t enough.
Jim: But isn’t that down to marketing? That *also* suffers from deliberate simplification.
Alec: I was intervewing THQ’s Danny Bilson for GI the other day, and his stance was that all their games have to be blockbuster or bust now. That’s the philosophy. RIsks can be taken, but only within the shell of something palatable to COD players.
Jim: The assumption is that gamers don’t want complexity.
Kieron: I don’t think Jim’s right. I just think there’s complex and there’s complex. I think it’s just about the money. The problem with a DX game is that it needs AAA-aesthetics. (Not that DX was cutting edge at the time)
Alec: Y’know, I’m not sure it does.

Jim: The Witcher sells a million copies, a DX style game could easily do the same.
Kieron: It needs to be comparable to whatever a FPS game is doing
Alec: A cheap deus ex would have to avoid trying to be photoreal, but a Russian studio could totally do a king’s bounty on something interesting
Kieron: Witcher outsold DX1 in the same time, it’s worth noting. But yeah – if a development studio worked in that space, it could.
Jim: It’s interesting to see a few people in the RPS comments saying “Stalker is the only thing that holds up DX heritage”, which is basically “give a shooter a sandbox and an inventory”
Kieron: That’s the other thing I find interesting: very few studios try it. Though Central/East Europeans do try it. I mean, Boiling Point.
John: Well, how smart do you have to be to get it right? Genuine question. Were Looking Glass / Ion Storm exceptionally clever? Does it take that level of intelligence to be able to pull this off?
Kieron: I think they’re enormously hard games to design. I say this from experience. Or close enough.
Jim: Very smart, but I am not sure that’s got anything to do with trying to make it. I think people make a) what they think people want to play, and b) what they themselves want to play. I don’t think DX is what most dev teams would *want* to make. A few do, as we will see from the interviews this week, but they are in the minority.
Alec: yeah, it’s about resources, being able to investigate, test and fix every permutation. That’s why these risks aren’t taken, devs have to cater for every possible place a player can be, and every possible situation they could be in. With budgets and graphical assets and team-sizes ever-rising… well, it becomes a terrifying task
Kieron: DX totally accepts that occasionally crazy shit will happen.
Jim: And that’s why it works.

Kieron: Okay – let’s step away from the myth to the actuality. How does it hold up now?
Jim: It remains ludicrously ugly, but that’s somehow ok.
Alec: I quite like the ugly, but the darkness is comical, given how much we snigger at brown games now. I don’t think any of it is in daytime, is it?
Jim: No blue skies.
Alec: The first level remains a marvel. A whole lot of talking and urgency, but you’re almost immediately let off the hook to wander. Terrorist attack, but I’m busy breaking into a unatco basement for minor toys.
Jim: The painful thing, going back, is that is it really is so refreshing to play with tranquiliser darts and trip bombs and batons and sniper rifles. So much stuff! From the start!
Kieron: The first level is fascinating. At the time, it was viewed as a problem, as in, something which turned a lot of people off. Looked at today, and it’s a fucking masterpiece.
Jim: There’s so much there. Patching up different parts of your body. Having your legs shot off and not being able to reach the medkit on the table. So many variables.
Alec: Stealth right off the bat too, and it’s sort of hard – for an opener, it throws so much of the game right at you immediately
Kieron: The stealth’s terrible, bless it. And yeah, that’s why it tripped everyone up – that it *does* throw so much at you.
Jim: Actually the first level annoyed me when I originally played it. I felt like the way I bodged through was clumsy and inelegant.
Alec: And the running noise. Is he in high heels?
Jim: heh
Kieron: Deus Sexy!
Jim: Future fashions for men.

Kieron: I’m really enjoying playing it, but fuck me, is it twitchy. Some of its boundaries are just so ill-defined. I’m playing much more deadly than I did back in the day because Stealth is so twitchy.
Alec: Oh, and I love the casualness of the robot. It starts you on a wooden dock, filled with FPS-trad crates and then – hey- giant robot, just wandering about. Not mentioned, not interacted with, just there. Here Is Your World.
Jim: I did much better this time. But originally it was the gas station level, I think, that really made it for me. Because it was short, and I replayed it. And it was totally different each time. And I really began to realise how the game could throw things down differently.
Kieron: That’s a lovely level. What do you think about the skill-mechanics now? As in, how the reticule ties to your character’s skill? A couple of mechanic things – it’s interesting how that if you stand still, basically you end up with a nearly perfect aim. It’s an incredibly badly done “skill” system. In terms of its stated aim. But playing now, once you accept it, it works.
Jim: Yeah, that was one of my original gripes, I think. The game felt messy. But when you see that taken away, you realise the value in it.
Kieron: The health is the other thing – I’m actually not sure the body stuff really matters that much. In DX, generally speaking, you’re either dead or alive.
Alec: It does want to stop you from just running around shooting wildly. Even though choice obviously remains within that, it’s pretty up-front about not letting you be Doomguy. You *have* to be an agent.
Kieron: But you can be doomguy if you’re standing still! It’s quite mental in that way.
Alec: Doomguy = strafin.g
Kieron: Well, half-life guy (i.e. String of perfect head-shots)
Alec: Yeah. But then, Denton is an agent.
John:Can we talk about the twist?

Kieron: Er… I suspect we’re boring john here. You got anything you think we should be talking about?
Jim: Yes, the story, does that hold up too?
Kieron: Well, the twist isn’t. You watch the intro and you know who’s the bad guys. You know all the conspiracies are true.
John: I have a story about that.
Kieron: HIT US
John: Back then, I was doing youth work. And this older kid, around 17, had also played it and he was very right wing in certain respects. And he was really cross about it. He believed that the government were distributing the vaccine correctly. And he felt like he had been forced into this change of sides, and was trying to help the government from the other side. But the game doesn’t really endorse this nearly as well. Do you think it’s a very biased narrative?
Kieron: Yes.
Jim: Goddamn Liberal agenda!
John: It’s an interesting way in which the game really doesn’t support choice.
Kieron: It’s a conspiracy about a government falling into a fake-disease with a fake-vaccine
Alec: I like that nice Bob Page. He has a lovely smile.
Kieron: I talked to Warren Spector about this once, as in, about the game having a pro-pacifist bias. Because while characters respond to you if you kill or not. The characters who are likeable like you if you’re good. Or less violent. And the moral monsters like you if you use force. In other words “You are like us”
Alec: yes, you can’t be mates with Page or Simmons
Kieron: It’s a game which is very happy to give you choice… and then judge you on it
Alec: Although you can horrify Simmons, interestingly, if you murder the prisoners near the start.
Kieron: i.e. If Anna Navere likes me, something’s probably wrong. I don’t think its bias is a problem. I mean, 1984 isn’t any weaker because it doesn’t argue for the system. It’s a game with something to say.
Alec: “If only you could talk to the monsters.”
Kieron: And it’s a fine example of how player-choice doesn’t actually mean the game can’t be about a developer’s expression too. Actually – can I say Ste’s riposte to that? The “If only you could talk to the monsters”?
Alec: I suspect you’re going to anyway.
Kieron: He noted that… well, Deus Ex is Doom… if you could talk to the monsters. And it *is* something. Deus Ex is the game which proved that Edge 7/10 review right, basically.
Alec: “If only you could teach the monsters the errors of their ways”
John: Is DX3 going to scrape the legacy?
Alec: DX3 may pick up where DX left off, but we’re still missing 10 years of progress.
Jim: We’re missing ten years of something, but perhaps it something that needed time. After all, we’re seeing the legacy of UO and Eve in MMOs again now (Mortal, Darkfall, Perpetuum, Earthrise). Perhaps the legacy of DX is simply taking time to make itself known.
Kieron: I do kinda half wonder whether when the kids who were 18 in 2000 get to positions of power – which should be in the next 10 years – we’ll be seeing stuff. Look at me be optimistic.
John: Go Kieron!
Alec: Isn’t that people like Clint Hocking?
Jim: We’ll come to that, later in the week!
Kieron: What a shame.


Our verdict: SALE!

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162 Comments »

  1. Klarth says:

    I’m curious: what was it you were waiting for with Bloodlines that made it the one for you? I’m a fully paid-up member of the ‘DX-is-the-greatest-ever’ club, but I love Bloodlines too. The other thing that surprises me a bit is that no-one has mentioned Bioshock, which seems to me to be DX’s closest imitator.

    The degree of choice, particularly over the plot beyond which way to reach a particular objective, was always limited, but I felt that was necessary to drive forward the plot. I often find more ‘sandbox’ games can be unengaging – I could do anything, but with no overriding sense of what I am doing in the world I sometimes find that there is nothing I care greatly about doing. There’s always going to be a bit of a trade-off on this point but for my money DX was pretty near perfect in this regard.

    One thing that struck me about the level design came comparing the original to Invisible War. In many ways the IW levels are quite neatly designed – in trying to fit lots of things into tiny spaces. By contrast, in levels like the one approaching the NSF base early on (with paths underground, on the ground and over the roofs) I often felt that the multiple approaches stemmed quite naturally from having a big box to fill. The other thing about many of the levels was that they weren’t simply designed like levels but like places. Iirc the back of the box made some claim about levels being based on the dimensions of actual places, though I’ve no clue how true that was. I also remember reading an interview with Spector where he claimed DX had the most toilets of any game ever. The point of this is that I always felt that the levels, particularly earlier in the game, did quite a good job of looking like they weren’t designed as levels but as buildings, streets etc. which both helped immersion and actually suggested natural alternative approaches to the designers.

    The last thing I guess I’d note about DX is just the hilarious ambition that went into it – I honestly believe they would have stuck and RTS in if they could have thought of a way. I read that there was at one point a plan to write a text parsing programme for Morpheus – the AI you can speak with in Everett’s house – so that you could actually hold your own conversations with it. It’s this incredible ambition to do absolutely everything that helped make DX so good even it never could do everything it tried to, because it didn’t just want to be Thief or Half-Life or Baldur’s Gate – it wanted to be all of them.

    • James T says:

      “The other thing that surprises me a bit is that no-one has mentioned Bioshock, which seems to me to be DX’s closest imitator.”

      Bioshock’s not much like DX at all (…in fact, I just accidentally typed “Doom’s not much like DX at all”, a fairly revealing error). As Jmro says, it would’ve been enriched hugely by having some other survivors to associate with, to make the context a bit more meaningful and leaven the gunplay somewhat. The stages are the very opposite of DX’s multi-approach open spaces, there’s no stealth (apart from, say, the chameleon tonic, which is cheating a bit), there’s no resource management (even on the basic level of conserving ammo, since Rapture’s floors are coated with the stuff), your character customisation has no lasting consequences (you can change them at any station), and overall, as 2k were quick to underscore, there is no meaningful choice (post-reveal, the continuing lack of choice is even more obvious. If it had gotten a little more DX-y after the reveal, that would’ve been pretty impressive, but then we’d be asking, “Why did we have to play a Doom clone for hours to get to the interesting stuff?”)

    • Internet guy says:

      Bioshock = System Shock 2 + Ayn Rand – difficulty

  2. malkav11 says:

    This page should demonstrate why Deus Ex is a beautiful, beautiful game. (Although it is certainly not alone in this regard.) http://www.it-he.org/deus.htm

  3. dspair says:

    Reading this absolutely incredible text somehow made me very sad.

    Looking Glass games (Deus Ex included) impressed me that much back in the days that I actually stopped playing games after them, because almost anything that was and is on the market looked so absurdly idiotic and boring in comparision. To this day, Thief and Deus Ex are my favourite games which almost never leave my computer. Back in the late 90s, when I witnessed this natural progression The Underworlds > System Shock > Thief > Deus Ex, I could never think that it wold just STOP. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a retrograde who hates all new, and BioShock was great, as well as Dead Space, but these games are not next steps in this progression, but the attempts to appeal some of that sacred design phylosophies to a wider audience.

    It really stopped with Deus Ex. Looks like Ion Storm have perfected the subgenre that much that to this day nobody can add anything to it. While it’s definitely a sign of DX greatness, it’s also a reason why I don’t bother playing games these days. Deus Ex came at the time that was the dusk of the classical, hardcore, intelligent (and NOT geeky at the same time) games, that were later replaced by ‘fun’ games. This trend has been going on since then, and I honestly don’t believe that with such things as Wii, Kinect or PS Motion Controller – something that is made for games that are as far from DX style as possible – it will somehow change in the future. Back in the 90s, System Shock and Thief was hardcore and Quake was mainstream. Now, Call of Duty is hardcore, while casual games are mainstream.

    The games just move in the totally wrong direction, and will move on there in the future. I don’t think that someday someone gets an opportunity to create a commercial, AAA-game as intelligent, deep, wide and inflental as Deus Ex was (is!)

  4. sinister agent says:

    Kieron: I do kinda half wonder whether when the kids who were 18 in 2000 get to positions of power – which should be in the next 10 years – we’ll be seeing stuff. Look at me be optimistic.

    I was 16, but! If I ever manage to gather more money than I really deserve, I’m ttly going to back a game with absurd amounts of choice and all kinds of possible permutations based on game setup/player choice.

    It’s a long shot, yes. But I can’t be the only one, and there’s bound to be at least a few people out there with similar ideas but more relevant skills. I’ll do the writing, if you’re reading, guys. I’m good at swears!

  5. bill says:

    After playing Deus Ex, for the longest time, I had real trouble playing most other FPS games. I just found them too limiting and too linear.

    Like many others,I assumed that in the future all games would be like Deus Ex. And while a few (mostly in non-fps genres) have followed it a little, it never really happened – and it’s a mystery.

    I don’t think it was until Half Life 2 that I properly enjoyed an FPS again… and that was down to the polish.

    PS/ I know deus ex wasn’t exacly an FPS

  6. Steampunk says:

    I wanted orange! It gave me lemon-lime.

  7. Arf says:

    Holy crap, Walter Benjamin, never expected to see it pop up during a comment on a post about a videogame. That was a very good read.

  8. Muzman says:

    A good review, I think. Although I still can’t quite beleive how bad some aspects of it are for its time. The combat AI and animation of people is really awful. I know it had a really long development. But ION was burning through that Eidos blank cheque at the time. You’d think at some point someone would look and say “It’s going well. Let’s get some more animators on this thing.”

    Personally, I probably didn’t notice what DX had done for the genre until after I played it. I played DX before Outcast and wasn’t greatly impressed with DX right away. But I noticed in Outcast that I was choosing options left and right that would give me a ‘game over’ screen. That was when I really saw it. Thief made me look with scorn at six foot fence barriers in Half Life et al. Deus Ex had done the same for reactive game worlds. These kinds of games leave pretty much everything else feeling terribly constraining (or in the case of sandboxes like GTAs, lifeless eventually).
    I think you can see that in the way some people react to Stalkers and Alpha Protocol (Stalker less so, but if important NPCs die the game can cope). The clunky broken-ness and half measures can’t dim folks’ enthusiasm. Once they see that glimmer of a game world that is flexible and reactive and alive they will lap that shit up. It’s that rare.

  9. JMro says:

    Honestly, what is missing from Bioshock is the people you can talk to and the downtime between combat. Deus Ex nailed this perfectly with Unatco, Hell’s Kitchen and Hong Kong. It looses it a bit later in the game, but I found Bioshock far to void of human interaction.

    Even Ultima Underworld got this right, I wish Bioshock had other sane survivors who you could actually interact with.

  10. Quietus says:

    Where’s the love for Alpha Protocol, Deus Ex’s latest redheaded stepchild? In time, AP will be the cult classic that DX, Vampire: the Masquerade Bloodlines, and System Shock 2 all have become.

  11. Katsumoto says:

    Surprised you’ve all only played it once. I tend to play it once a year or so and everytime I do I still find new ways of doing things and new areas I hadn’t found before. What a (sh)/(game).

    • CMaster says:

      @Katsumoto
      Nature of being a games journalist I think. They get so many games they have to play, they almost never get involved with the community or the replayability of any one game, again partly why the RPS guys aren’t very good at covering mods.

      This also explains the RPS guys complete lack of expectation, and then incomprehension and sneering at the L4D2 response. To them, L4D was a game that had been and gone, but they enjoyed, so more was defintley good.

  12. Lambchops says:

    I loved Lebedev’s reaction to the Anna Navarre LAM killing trick.

    “I guess Paul must have convinced you” just doesn’t quite explain why you’d place proximity mines in the corridor of an aeroplane for no apparant reason!

    • James T says:

      Ahh, but you’d know if your backup was on the way!

      (I’m a “knock Lebedev out, carry his body through the next few stages and dump him at Smuggler’s” kinda guy. ‘Save’ Lebedev, and placate UNATCO!)

    • Lambchops says:

      The fact that would never have even occured to me sums up why Deus Ex is so great rather nicely.

  13. Bowlby says:

    There’s a really interesting interview between Warren Spector and Harvey Smith on Deus Ex 1 and 2 on YouTube. The first two parts are on Deus Ex, and the third is on Deus Ex: Invisible War:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTWvsGA77T4
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2o31W_E73_U

  14. theworm says:

    “People were down on it at the time. It was a bit too much for people, I think. Now, with a decade of experience beneath our belt, it’s just this gargantuan, enormous, free-wheeling space.”

    Completely agree – when I first attempted the game, probably about 8 years ago, I was overwhelmed. I think I replayed, or tried to, that first level about three times before giving up. I just couldn’t get my head around what the game wanted me to do. I wasn’t used to having that much freedom of choice.

    I am only now playing through the game properly. Currently in Hong Kong, about to go back into the company building and very much “getting it” indeed.

  15. oceanclub says:

    After I finish Deus Ex again (third play), I really want to play and finish Thief. The Gold edition is one of the first games I bought for the PC (I still have the extra-large box) but lamentably did not get past that many levels, the younger sillier version of me finding it “too slow”.

    I went back to it recently but found the key mapping appalling – does anyone know a simple way of setting it up that, if I use WSAD, I move in those direction slowly, but if I hold down SHIFT as well, I go in those directions quickly? (I ended up unsuccessfully messing around with AutoHotKey in order to try and get something that worked – see http://ttlg.com/Forums/showthread.php?p=1859896)

  16. Daryl says:

    I just purchased Deus Ex and its sequel on the last Steam sale back in March. I’ve been playing it in chunks since then.

    So far I think its definitely a great game that lives up to its lineage. But the biggest problem I have with it is that sometimes its difficult to tell where I’m supposed to be going. I feel like I wander around aimlessly at times, checking my goals, notes and maps to see if I missed something obvious. It can be irritating at times but that’s how a lot of older games are. I’d rather be left to figure things out on my own than have the game hold my hand though, which is a problem a lot of modern games have. Also, there are some slight glitches, but nothing game breaking.

  17. MadMatty says:

    I remember playing thru the first two levels- didn´t have any problems with the aiming, as everything at that time was preeeety unrealistic as far as gunplay was concerned.
    The bad guys *did* seem really obvious at the start- so the choices weren´t really giving you much options. i guess you could try playing the game in “satanist” mode and see if you can get up there with the bad guys and get a lot of money and power (like Syndicate i guess)…?
    I´ll give it another go soon- i did play more of Thief, and a lot more of Terra Nova.
    Oh yeah… Deus Ex 3 is set in 2027 – try 2057 or something as thats way too early… common mistake in Sci-Fi.

  18. Karthik says:

    At least put a *spoiler* tag at the top, RPS. You’ve ruined the game for me now. :(

  19. æclipse µattaru says:

    High Five! Same here.

    @ tomwaitsfornoman: I guess you mean “Jacob’s Shadow”, and -unfortunately- it’s just a fictional novel, so the bits in the game are all there is to it.

  20. Anonguy says:

    I’ll never understand how some people can have trouble with the first level. You’re given the objectives and the statue isn’t exactly hard to spot. The crosshair is standard enough to understand intuitively.

    Did none of these people play Thief? If that’s the case, then do so ASAP. It’s another classic from the PC gaming golden age.

  21. AT says:

    Call me crazy, but I’m looking forward to DX3. The gameplay video looked fantastic. I just hope it isn’t too short.

  22. Professor Paul1290 says:

    Deus Ex is my favorite game even though I was pretty late picking it up.

    I remember starting Deus Ex around 2005 and being disgusted at the ugly character models and their crazy “breathing” animation. I put it down for month after barely even starting because I couldn’t stand it.

    However, after giving it a second shot I fell in love with it. Sure it looked old, but it didn’t feel old if that makes any sense. The way it played felt newer than anything I was playing at the time and it was as if this was where video games should have gone after System Shock 2 and Thief, but didn’t for some reason.

    Now I almost always have it installed and I play through it over again at least twice a year. It’s usually the first game to go into a new machine and the last game to come out.

  23. Thiefsie says:

    See… this is why I find HL2, while still being very good and polished, rather banally dull compared to say Deus Ex. Gabe is from the school of thought that they design the game so everything is seen by everyone playing it. You hardly get rewarded for being creative or going off the beaten track, which of course is why there levels are so obviously sign-posted and clearly linear. They use subtle ways to guide you but once you cotton on they are so god-damned predictable that it gets incredibly boring. Maybe because I’m in the design field of space etc I have an extra attenuated ability to pick these things up but it happens in all these highly polished ‘over-tested’ games like Halo 3 as well. They don’t let you feel special for doing something at all, as it is all so obvious… as opposed to DX which as mentioned above lets you figure things out. You will find the evidence to NSF being ok yourself and feel a bit special about it, will discover you can blow up Navarre cleverly rather than fighting her toe to toe, you will save your bro even though you are told not to by a NPC (since when did you ever NOT DO what an NPC told you???). This is emergent gameplay to me and where DX’s stength lies. Thief has a more limited (and thus focused?) basis in this as well, purely laid around stealth and is just as good in a narrower field or experience.

    I’m not even a person who tries to discover all the ways to do things in games (to which DX must be a wet dream) but I have played it a few times to really appreciate the choice you do have. As opposed to HL2, Halo, CoD, etc etc that are the same every time you play, apart from Halo3 which has ‘emergent’ arenas of fighting with the decent AI, similarly to Fear.

    It’s just an ‘old-shool’ design thought I think that has been hampered by statistics and the overwhelming success of the Halo’s HL’s and CoDs of the world. Valve’s admission that they design so a person will see virtually everything in the game in one playthrough is telling at what the games lack in a certain sense. They admit that most people don’t play their games to completion and thus they don’t design branching paths etc as statistically people won’t try the alternatives. This is a massive immersion fail in general. Valve are just lucky that their games are still pretty damned good and they have a few tricks to circumvent this a bit. Just not as exciting as the true emergent stuff, or even ‘emergent-light’ a la Bioshock.

    Let’s hope DX3 and Thief 4 and a bunch of other games can keep the emergent flavour about them (also with in-game consequences) that makes this type of game so satisfying… to probably a minority of us.

    I now have to finish off IW and then play through SS with the mlook mod.

  24. Quint says:

    I am a bit amazed at the different responses to this game and very happy to see the intellectual level of these responses~ something games lack frequently.

    Personally I saw DX more of a strange immersive novel than even a shooter. A shooter to me was grapple-hooking around dark lava-filled corridors shooting railguns into people…. or worse team fortress or ctf matches with rocket-grenade-tripwire turrent laser mines and eventually the glorious 1 shot kills of action q2/ the original counterstrike, followed eventually by the actual counterstrike and the *most amazing hl1-mod ever: ‘the specialist’.

    DX came into my personal gaming saga at a interesting time~ I usually fell a few years behind the curve since I was about 10 in 1996….. so a lot of these games I ended up getting to in a odd order around 98-2000. My father ran a programming/computer/internet store so I remember being about 4 and having him read the passwords from the book so I could play Wolfpack by Broderbund… sinking allied convoys from a U-boat when I was 4 on the big floppy B: drive…. yesh. How many of you folks learned to read so you could drive a submarine?

    Strategy for me was a mix of command and conquer, total annihilation, and selecting which strange quake 2 mod to play at the time. Diablo and starsiege Tribes were even making me think a little bit before hacking and slashing. DX actually had a STORY… and a interesting one at that. It had a thinking STRATEGY associated with it too… not quite rainbow 6 tactical or anything but it was there along with a bigger picture. A story and a bigger strategy. I had played some of the ultima’s and the underworlds, the dooms and duke nukems… but they were all a brash mix of twitch and kill-everything or talk to a lot of annoying npc types and sell lame stuff or click a lot at boring monsters. I was always wondering what would happen next in DX even though it was slightly predictable. It was NOT predictable in that if you ‘accidentally’ killed your npc who knows what strange thing would happen. It was kind of like one of those books that gives you choices at the end of a section- Do you: kill (turn to page 85) Give cake? (pg 119) Whisper sweet nothings? (pg 345) Shazbot! (pg 5)

    It was that choice and open feeling of choice that really made it stand out. It wasn’t a ‘rocket launcher or BFG’ choice, or even a kill or stealth choice…. but the fact that of all the other gaming experiences I had at the time it was the game that had a choice-driven story… and a slightly open world that you could get lost in, and a inventory… that you could keep lots of stupid things in.

    I think 1/2 the fun was getting through the story, and the other 1/2 was the crazy stuff you could figure out how to do along the way. All the weird emails, funny ways to get through puzzles, crazy augs and guns, odd alien-area51-cyberpunk/crackhead/Illuminati interaction…. the list goes on.

    DX made me realize a game that can make you think about the real world gives you a lot more to walk away with than the adrenalin hype of the twitchy-shooty-grapply-railgun types. DX was telling a story and, technical problems/limitations aside, it did a great job of just that. I liked it much better than the half-life series because you wern’t restricted to your little train/cart/ one way thing though stories are generally restricted along a certain linear path.

    Now if only dx3 stuck to that concept but with a better fighting/melee/graphics piece… wow. The specialist mod for hl was, for me, the apogee of fps battle. Jumping and diving off walls, katanas and knife throwing, kicking weapons out of peoples hands, one shot one kills…probably the most adrenalin filled battles possible. Combine that withs augs and sneakin…. eh I can only hope.

  25. UrTheCity says:

    Alec, you “conscious politically” douche! Witcher was NOT made by a Russian team. Stalker wasn’t either! But for some reason (education, doh!) Eastern Europe is only Russia. And they have dinosaurs. Mprhgsda.adsfw2e2qe2q2!!!111

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Just coming back into the thread, but for anyone passing, Alec totally didn’t say that they were. He said a Russian team could do a King’s Bounty with it – which, of course, was made by a Russian team.

      KG

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