Is Deus Ex Still The Best Game Ever?
Part One: Memories And Hardware Renderers

When asked, “What is the best game ever?” I always give one reply. “Deus Ex.” Back in the days when my passport still allowed me into PC Gamer Top 100 meetings, I would furiously argue that it should be no. 1, and indeed become furious whenever it did not. While I may pick another name if asked for my favourite game, when it comes to “best”, I always say Looking Glass/Ion Storm’s greatest moment.

But what if I’m wrong?

I mean, when last did I play it? Deus Ex came out 15 years ago this year, and I’ve certainly reinstalled it and gone back in a number of times over that decade and a half. But all the way through? Honestly, maybe I’ve only done that the once.

It feels like so much more often, because I’ve talked about it so damned frequently. From the hour-long phone calls with Kieron back in 2000, when he was my reviews editor, a man I’d yet to actually meet, to those angry Top 100 meetings, to the other day when a friend came around for dinner. I’ve talked about those magical moments of realising someone else played the same game but had a completely unique experience of it. I’ve recalled the kid in a youth group I ran at the time, who was furious that he was forced to flip to the National Seccessionist Forces when his morality aligned squarely with UNATCO. And the many arguments we had after that. I’ve played the sequels, enjoyed them, but been certain they weren’t a patch on the original. But what it seems I haven’t done is sit down and play it from start to finish since it first came out.

So I’m going to do that. And I’ll write up my experience as it goes along, and I’ll be honest with myself, and with you, as I go. I feel like it’s a game that will hold up. I feel like if it doesn’t, it’s going to be weirdly personal.

When Deus Ex came out, I was 22. I was also pretty ignorant about a lot of things. Two things especially: philosophy and politics. Schooling in the 80s and 90s had never tried to teach me either, and I’d not caught up. And then along came this game that was bursting with both, presenting multiple perspectives on multiple matters, both argued by conflicting characters, and indeed in the reams of books, newspapers and electronic notes you find throughout the game. Where usually such narrative detritus attempts to add “flavour” to a game’s world, in Deus Ex they were like teaching materials. Micro essays, wonderfully written. Bite-sized pieces of brand new information, pouring into my brain.

I’m actually a bit afraid to go back in, as a still pretty ignorant 37-year-old, to see whether this content holds up. Does it really offer the dazzling array of views and information that early-20s me was so entranced by? Or was I flattering myself?

If Deus Ex isn’t as great as I remember, maybe I’m less of a person with it?

But before any of that, I’ve got to get it working.

The years have not been kind to Deus Ex. No, not the clunky graphics or obtuse interface – they weren’t kind to Deus Ex on launch. It’s the technological years.

My plan was to play Deus Ex as it was launched, vanilla. It doesn’t seem fair to question whether Deus Ex is still really the best game of all time if I don’t play it as it was intended by its developers. The most recent official release was the Game Of The Year Edition, on 8th May 2001. So that’s the version I wanted to go with. It’s also a version that could barely run.

A common issue running DX on modern machines is the dialogue cutting off mid-sentence in cutscenes. That was certainly happening, the game seemingly trying to run itself five times too fast. It was also refusing to run in fullscreen, and would only load in far-too-small square windows. Not really amenable to playing. The OpenGL version was essentially dead, and the Direct3D option was messing with the resolutions. The cure for all this, it seems, is updating the hardware renderers. And the only way to do that is to start fiddling with mods and launchers.

So there went the vanilla plan. I got hold of Kentie’s wonderfully named Deus Exe, which immediately adds a collection of options for resolutions, renderers and rescaling the UI to suit larger displays. It’ll also let you meddle with field of view, and run the game on a single core if that’s causing issues. But, even with this running, I was still seeing the dialogue skip. Unless I switched down to the absolutely crummy software modes, and that was too much to bear. So I ended up going deeper.

I got 2012’s New Vision mod by Dave Watts. This was far farther than I had intended, entirely redrawing the game’s textures. But it also integrates with Deus Exe, and updates it to run Direct3D 10, which in turn fixes the resolution issues, lets it run at my enormous native desktop scale, gets rid of the dialogue problems, and – yes – makes what was always an ugly game a little bit less ugly.

So, okay, I’m no longer playing the original version. But, importantly, these are only aesthetic fixes. While there are many mods out there that will fix bugs, rebalance levels, change weapons, and so on, I’m not going to touch any of them. And thank goodness the hugely ambitious Revision mod is still delayed a year after being about to be released, because that might be too much temptation to bear.

But it works. It still looks like the mad-old tangle of the Unreal Engine it always was, but slightly smoother. Now to climb the Statue Of Liberty once more.

Part two coming soon. Obviously.

From this site

198 Comments

  1. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Silly question, of course it is! Can never have enough Deus Ex articles though.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      And yes, the whole politics thing. Will be interesting to hear what you think returning but I must admit this was probably THE biggest cultural influence on my political leanings when I first played it as an impressionable teenager. It’s political not because it crams any particular leaning down your throat (even if it is generally anti-authoritarian) but it definitely got me thinking about the role government should play in our lives in a way I hadn’t before. The end game choice still haunts me a bit, I merged with …what’s it called….and secretly, benevolently ruled the world from a bunker. It seemed the right thing to do in the circumstances but the idea of giving anyone that infinite power terrifies me now. JC could do it well. Couldn’t he??

      • James says:

        I could say the same for KotOR 2. I ended up studying philosophy for 4 years as a direct result of 13 year old me looking at Kreia and going ‘wait, wait – doing the right thing can be bad?’ That game’s politics still hold up 5 years after I first played it. It is still the only game to intelligently and entertainingly go into theology. The ending is still crap. The combat is still a case of ‘this should suck but it kinda doesn’t’ and I still love it to bits.

        It gives me reason to think that Walker will not be disappointed. And if he is, well… he needs to de-rosetint his glasses.

        • John Walker says:

          Could you fire me an email at john@rockpapershotgun.com? I’d love to hear more about that.

        • drygear says:

          Kreia similarly opened my eyes and made me question my actions and motivations. Of course when older and more educated me went back and replayed I thought she was full of shit. But thinking that about her doesn’t make her or the rest of it any less interesting.
          I disagree with it being “the only game to intelligently and entertainingly go into theology,” because Obsidian has done that other times. Mask of the Betrayer in particular asks some probing questions about the theology of its setting in ways that is analogous to real world religions (the Wall of the Faithless can be taken as an obvious stand-in for the popular conception of the Christian Hell).

        • DrLunchmeat says:

          Just a quick interjection, some awfully dedicated people dragged a lot of the cut content that was still on the discs when the game was originally released up from the depths, and released it as a restored content mod :(link to moddb.com). It doesn’t fix everything, but it gives the game a damn ending, and cleans up a good deal of stuff, I recommend anyone re-playing the Sith Lords to give it a try, it smooths out some of the rougher patches of the game.

          • drygear says:

            Yeah, that’s a really good mod, definitely worth mentioning whenever KotOR 2 is brought up, kind of like the Bloodlines one. KotOR 2 deserves a lot more recognition. It’s a Star Wars game written by a guy who used to hate Star Wars and the game’s story serves as a critique of the universe and concept of the force.

        • drygear says:

          I just saw this essay and it reminded me of how I said Obsidian digs into religious themes pretty well, so I thought I’d post it here. It looks like the author hasn’t played the DLC Honest Hearts because it finishes the story of one of the characters he mentions, Joshua Graham, the so-called “saint turned sinner turned saint”. In Honest Hearts it’s debatable whether he’s a saint. But anyway the conflicting goals between him and another Mormon missionary named Daniel is just so damn interesting to me. I went against the one whose agenda matches my own religious beliefs just because the other was so convincing, and I got a really depressing ending. Out of every choice I’ve made in a video game that’s the one I regret the most.

        • LuNatic says:

          James: Have you played Mask of the Betrayer? Is has a rather interesting and dare I say it, astute critique on symbiotic theology. Doubly impressive, considering that they somehow built from the mess that is the Forgotten Realms lore.

          Also, would you care to go into detail on how it is presented in KOTOR 2, or link me to a write up you think is accurate? I could never get past the tedious starting zone on that one.

        • joa says:

          KOTOR 2 is a certainly a good game — but any philosophy or politics in the game felt either obvious (helping people vs. helping them to help themselves) or confused. I think it takes itself a little too seriously in that regard.

        • kyrieee says:

          KotOR 2 is amazing, however I disagree with you about the ending. I think it’s fine.

      • jnik says:

        I went for the Snake Plissken ending. Of course then I reloaded and played the other two, but that one always felt right, particularly given that a true “status quo” option wasn’t available. Kick it all over.

        The “all three happened” dodge of Invisible War was, well, a reasonable dodge all things considered, but stole the impact of the Biggest Decision in a game that was all about decisions.

        • Wisq says:

          Yeah, Deus Ex is a game that should never have had a sequel, only prequels at most.

          Or okay, at the VERY most, maybe a sequel that managed to reconcile the effects of all three possible decisions. Like, the world eventually (partially) recovers from the dark era, or Helios goes corrupt/mad and things descend into chaos, or the Illuminati lose control. But not all three at once.

          They could either find a common ground between the three, or they could give you a short prequel scenario (customised based on what you picked in the previous one) that brings you back to the central plot, DA:Origins style.

          Merging all three was indeed such a cop-out. I think it’s a large part of why the second game got so much flak, even if IMO it wasn’t really quite as terrible as everyone says it was.

    • LionsPhil says:

      Maybe John was trying to provide a counterexample for Betteridge’s law of headlines.

  2. Stijn says:

    The DirectX 10 patch is also available separately, here.

    • Medo says:

      This, please. IMO the New Vision textures are often not consistent with the original style of the game. As much as I like an updated experience, I prefer the originals.

      YMMV of course, but if you want to experience the game as it was designed, please *only* use the DX10 renderer.

    • Premium User Badge

      cheese lol says:

      This DX10 renderer plus Deus Exe gets the game running at its best on modern systems without any content modifications. If you’re wanting a vanilla experience, just use these two augmentations.

  3. kud13 says:

    Huh. I recall the Nameless Mod being finicky after I upgraded my GPU, but not any issues with vanilla. (and I only played TNM for the first time to completion maybe 2 years ago?…)

    Since then I purchased an 8-core CPU and a new mobo to run it on.

    When I get home from work i’ll have to give the GOG version of the vanilla I have a spin.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The Steam version WFM on my laptop with an Intel chip, probably in OpenGL. Might be a third option for some people who are struggling on their nVidia/ATi desktops.

      Being the vintage of UnrealEngine it is, I believe it should have a software renderer too. You may get slightly iffier fire and smoke effects (I think it’ll force dithered transparency if memory serves), but it should work, and a modern CPU should laugh at the workload. And as everyone is so keen to point out, you don’t play Deus Ex for eyecandy.

      • kud13 says:

        Well, yeah, it’s a given. Only reason I fire it up nowadays is mods.
        I’m just curious if it’s still launch-able hot off the download, so to speak.

        • kud13 says:

          finally got around to checking, and yes, the GOG version of vanilla DX runs smoothly on an 8-core without any tweaking what-so-ever.

          Say “no” to Steam for old games, John

  4. Jimbo says:

    Yes it is. What a shame.

  5. Immobile Piper says:

    It still holds up!

    But I also think that Dwarf Fortress is decent enough, when it comes to UI and presentation.

    I’ll end by saying that I really enjoy these personal retrospectives into giants of yesteryear, even if I don’t necessarily agree with everything you say (hoverboat sequence is precisely as long as it needs to be!).

    • Faxmachinen says:

      It does indeed. I re-played Deus Ex and DX:IW before the DX:HR launch. When I loaded DX up and saw how eye-gougingly bad the graphics were, I was worried that my love for DX was all nostalgia. But not so! I was captivated within moments.
      DX:IW is another story though.

  6. Jericho says:

    *Insert DX quote meme here*

    Here, you’ll get this one for free:

    JC Denton, in the fresh!

  7. WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

    “Is Deus Ex still the greatest game ever?”

    I would say that it most definitely is, and by as much of a margin now as it was in 2000.

    One small question though, what do people mean when they mention (to quote John) “the obtuse interface”? I’ve actually heard this complaint a lot, and it puzzles me. Apart from putting the aug activations on the F keys (which I concede is rare in modern interface design, though they can also be accessed through the GUI), what did the game do that was unconventional, let alone outright clunky? WASD, Crouch, walk key, right click to use, these are all standard interface conventions. The tetris inventory isn’t exactly uncommon either. Seriously, what do people dislike so much?

    (As an aside, I much prefer the good old days when RMouse was ‘use’ by default, rather than E. E is hard to hit with accuracy in the dark, and ‘use’ is an important command.)

    • Kefren says:

      I agree, I replayed it recently and it fit like a cyber glove. I also prefer right click to use, partly because I never use WASD in games (always an arrow key person, I love the separate blocks of keys I can find by touch in the dark). OR even double-right click to open (going back to my Doom days).

    • baozi says:

      Also thinking the user interface is quite alright here.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Right Mouse for Use is the one of the great gaming marks of quality. Theif, DX, No One Lives Forever, System Shock

    • chaddumier says:

      “what did the game do that was unconventional, let alone outright clunky?”

      I think it’s mainly that it doesn’t hold up compared to the level of standardisation that is expected today. Under the default control scheme reload is semi colon rather than R, Sniper rifle scope is left bracket. Also F12 for flashlight might leave your Steam friends wondering why you’ve take hundreds of screenshots of dark areas.

      I’m not sure why people complain about it though. Everything can be rebound very easily

      • Immobile Piper says:

        Isn’t the first action when firing up any new game to look up the controls and rebind everything?

        • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

          Always has been for me. I’ve never liked “one size fits all” keybindings, because different people have different experience and associate different key patterns with different functions. Games of that era invariably let you rebind absolutely everything, and as such it is sometimes hard to remember what the defaults were.

        • malkav11 says:

          Only if you absolutely can’t deal with the controls that have become the default. And to me, it’s a lot easier to get comfortable with the defaults and rebind only if a game makes particularly odd choices than it is to rebind every single game I ever play.

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          I used to always use the arrow keys, instead of WASD, so every new game started with me trying to bind all the commands around that area of the keyboard.
          (it works quite well as it’s easy to find where to put your hand without looking, and you have nice big shift and 0/Ins keys to hit on either side)
          After a while I just got fed up with this and found it was easier to rebind my head (as it were) and just learn new controls for each game. Most games now use pretty standard controls anyway.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      FWIW, you’re my favorite commenter since Lord Custard.

    • KenTWOu says:

      John has no idea what he’s talking about. The game interface is pretty advanced and, most importantly, PC based. For example, it uses Windows based underline keyboard shortcuts almost everywhere. You can assign a dedicated button to each menu tab, because keyboards have lots of buttons. Also Deactivate All Augs button is quite handy. it’s possible to use Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V combination to copy and paste passwords and logins from text notes to input forms. The game allows you to edit those notes, create and write new ones. Even HUD is toggleable. Save/load game menu has name/date filters, screenshots, save count, play time and even file size. And you can give names to your saves. IMO these should be standard features on PC.

  8. Michael Davis says:

    This was like reading something that I somehow didn’t remember having written myself. I can completely relate to these feels. Looking forward to the rest!

  9. OmNomNom says:

    System Shock 2 is the best game ever, Deus Ex is merely in the Top 10.

    • aeolian145 says:

      Nah, it has to be System Shock. But maybe that’s me showing my age ;-)

      • Zafman says:

        With all mouselook constraints removed, people started to re-examine their priorities and drew new conclusions. ;)

  10. GameCat says:

    I’m sorry, but System Shock 2 is better than Deus Ex and even it isn’t the best game ever.

    • Skabooga says:

      Woah, deja vu.

    • kud13 says:

      Really, it’s a 3 way tie between Deus Ex, SS2, and The Witcher.
      Bloodlines, Half-Life 2 and Diablo 2 fight to the death for second.

      • OmNomNom says:

        Whatever, The Witcher was pants. Good story but that was all it had.

        • kud13 says:

          Story was great with its permutations of choice and consequence. Combat was simple to the point of boredom, unless you amped the difficulty, and made alchemy a necessity. There were a lot of sim-like aspects in the game- including the need to eat, the consequences of getting drunk, the way day and night cycles worked (different monsters).

          Looked at individually, it had its share of flaws, but put together, it was an incredibly satisfying RPG, remarkably true to the source material, and one of the best fantasy-themed attempts at handling more mature topics (excluding the sex card fiasco)

    • baozi says:

      Started playing System Shock 2 twice over the years and lost interest relatively quickly both times. Hasn’t aged as well IMHO

      • LionsPhil says:

        The first SysShock is better.

        • Premium User Badge

          basilisk says:

          Indeed. I personally think the Looking Glass style works best when the RPG obsession with numbers is kept to a minimum, i.e. in SS, UU and the first two Thieves. Adding stats breaks the do-anything ethos the whole thing is supposed to be based on.

          (And it also helps if the game is finished and at least roughly balanced, which SS2 isn’t.)

          • Baron Bacon V says:

            I would have to disagree. I have always felt like he emphasis on stats, while cumbersome has its own charm. SS2 is the type of game that could never be made today. It is deep and complex enough to feel like a true PCRPG. Also it is certainly “finished”

            Maybe not so balanced, but that is why I love the thing.

          • Premium User Badge

            basilisk says:

            Well, it is certainly more “finished” than KotOR2, but you can’t deny that the Rickenbacker and what follows is a complete mess hastily thrown together without much thinking (the huge nonsensical chapel being my personal favourite). The final act of the game drags everything down.

            I still love it to bits, but to me, SS will always be the better game. Consistent, focused and tight in design.

      • GameCat says:

        I think that SS2 did aged well, except graphics of course. I find it much more accessible than Deus Ex.

    • Geebs says:

      Dark Souls is the best game ever, but so is Deus Ex, Theif 2, SS2 and Morrowind

      • GameCat says:

        Dark Souls is The Bestest Best Game, while others are only The Best Games.

        • klops says:

          What kind of Opinions are these! The bestest is Ufo: Enemy Unknown, a.k.a. X-Com with dash. Of course of course

          • felisc says:

            I’d love to join this conversation but I can’t hear anything over Dark Souls and the first Stalker fighting each other. And somehow I just caught a glimpse of Fallout 2 tackling some orange guy with glasses in the second row.

      • Shazbut says:

        Dark Souls is certainly a contender but it’s hard to really love something so determined to hate you

        • skyturnedred says:

          Dark Souls helped me understand why people stay in abusive relationships.

          • John0 says:

            I thought the exact same thing at the weekend (currently in Blighttown on my first playthrough), and almost brought it up in conversation before deciding it was potentially too offensive. Why do I keep coming back for more punishment and abuse?

      • Pundabaya says:

        I think Bloodborne just edges Dark Souls.

        • malkav11 says:

          Perhaps if it existed for PC.

          • Immobile Piper says:

            Give it a few years, I’m sure we’ll get a [i]spectacular[/i] port to play with

          • kyrieee says:

            Nah. It’s good, but not that good. It lacks the pathos of Dark Souls. The world, as impressive as it is, still doesn’t quite reach the heights of Lordran (shortcuts in BB are mostly limited to a single area instead of connecting different ones) and there’s nothing as memorable as Sen’s in there. The trick weapons are fantastic, but don’t make up for the almost complete lack of loot which has a negative effect both on exploration and character progression. Blood Vials are straight up inferior to Estus and personally I think the faster paced combat is less interesting in the long run as it deemphasises tactics in favour of raw execution.

  11. Gilead says:

    I got off on the wrong foot with Deus Ex years ago, when a certain impressively written PC Gamer review had led me to expect that there would be so, so many ways to legitimately complete the Liberty Island mission.

    It turns out that climbing right to the top of the Statue of Liberty and working your way down ends the level fairly abruptly, with regular soldiers swooping in to complete the majority of the level that the game arbitrarily decided you didn’t want to play after all.

    And every time I start the game again I always complete that level the same way, like a stubborn ghost mechanically replaying the moments before its death. Possibly because of some subconscious hope the game will one day let me complete the entire mission and I can finally rest.

    • kud13 says:

      I really don’t see your dissapointment. Paul specifically says: “you can avoid A LOT of fighting if you find a back way in, though”.

      And that’s just what happens–climb up the statue using the crates and trailers, sneak in to the commander-and you “avoid A LOT of fighting”, b/c UNATCO troops were “right behind you”, as they say.

      • Gilead says:

        I think it’s more that there were two main objectives to that mission: deal with the guy in charge, and rescue the hostages. I always feel like I didn’t get a chance at both of them, and it narrative terms it seemed weird to me that the soldiers instantly took care of the rest of the mission for me.

        I was expecting to bypass the outer guards and hopefully the scary robot, not for soldiers to come in and accomplish the main body of the mission with significantly greater competence than I would have managed.

        • jon_hill987 says:

          You can bypass the guards and the scary robot, only to go /down/ when you get inside enabling you to do both.

          • Sarfrin says:

            I did that. Although mainly by accident because I somehow failed to find the staircase up.

        • kud13 says:

          The only hostage in the Statue is a fellow UNATCO Aug Gunther, and he’s really more of a prisoner than a hostage. There isn’t any script when the NSF threaten to kill him. Or anything.

          The real. Hostage situation is actually the level beyond that, in Battery Park. And you get to handle that one yourself.

          I hope this inspires you to reinstall and try it again, :)

          • Gilead says:

            Every so often I give it another go, and that time’s probably coming up again. And I re-bought it from GOG a while back, too. Maybe it’ll be my next game after I finish the last bit of Pillars of Eternity. I’m sure if I can get over my irrational irritation it’ll be worth it, it’s just that first stumbling block.

  12. Vandelay says:

    I was always a backer of Half Life being the greatest game of all time in my youth and looked at Deus Ex as an ugly, occasionally dull, pretender to the throne (I was young, very stupid and had no interest in RPGs.)

    Now that I have grown a bit and having played it again a few years ago, I think that it probably was the best game ever made on its release. Quite honestly, it still is. It was ugly and there are many moments of painfully cramming in too much political and philosophical discussion where they would never naturally arise (e.g. the Deus Ex world seems to be populated with a lot of bartenders that just so happen to have studied Politics,) but the fact that no other game has even come close to matching the freedom of expression that it offers the player when navigating through its numerous city hubs and underground secret facilities elevates it above anything that had come before or since. Even the sequels thought that adding in some ventilation shafts and few side doors would give the player “choice.”

    Playing The Statue of Liberty level should be compulsory to every single game developer before they start designing a level, as hardly anyone seems to have learnt any lessons from it.

    • Horg says:

      ”the Deus Ex world seems to be populated with a lot of bartenders that just so happen to have studied Politics”

      Bar tending is practically the perfect job for philosophising. You get to meet tens of thousands of different people every year, when they are at their most open and talkative, including your regulars who love to prop up the bar and talk. A job which requires very little thinking leaves you with ample time for thinking.

  13. jrodman says:

    Sorry, but FTL’s Dungeon Master is the best game ever. Deus Ex is pretty good though.

    • Kefren says:

      And its wand even gave magic power to barbarians.
      Don’t forget to visit Big Red at the bottom.

    • Zafman says:

      Tiggy eats like a horse and sucks at running, but dang, what a MON FUL IR! Ooh, dragon steaks! *gulp*

  14. baozi says:

    Given that different games aspire for vastly different goals and people have vastly different tastes, is it a stretch thinking that the question of »the best game« is similarly unnecessary to scoring systems in reviews?

    But yes, of course, it’s still the best game ever. :D

  15. frymaster says:

    It’s aged better than Invisible War has, which is a shame imo. Until near the end, at least, I really enjoyed IW’s world, I just hated the single-ammo system and the UI in general. I hesitate to use the word “consolisation” but it does seem like some design choices affected the gameplay negatively

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      Why hesitate? The developers admit it, and regret it.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Why contain it?

        • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

          S’cool!

        • Geebs says:

          Well, because consolisation spilled over into my street once, and suddenly there was a loading screen right in the middle of it. That’s why I’ve been rattling my cage about it ever since.

          • Ravey says:

            I hope you’re not underestimating the problem. Console ports may not go as smoothly as you think — intelligence indicates they’re behind the loading screens in Paris.

          • Faxmachinen says:

            That is genuinely funny.

    • Muzman says:

      Some of them weren’t exactly choices either. They’d saddled themselves with an engine that could barely run by the end (it still has trouble). There are many tragedies associated with that game.

      • LionsPhil says:

        One of my favourite bits of IW technical suckage trivia is that it leaked so much they actually made it restart on every savegame or level load. Which is presumably why the Steam overlay detaches and Steam itself thinks you’ve stopped playing once you’ve got past the main menu. I’ve run through it to completion twice and my total playtime is still recorded as two hours (to HR’s four, which is actually probably accurate).

        • Muzman says:

          Oh, so that’s why there’s that ominous drop to the desktop whenever you do anything. And why video recorders often have trouble with it. Amazing.

          I always wonder how they got to the point of no return with that engine in the state that it must have been at any point during development. You’d have to assume that release was as good as it ever was.
          Oh well. I guess you can convince yourself things could get better at any point down the road. Just how much is the question. And firing the engine coder can’t have helped much.

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      Invisible War is not so bad really, just much less ambitious. It still has very cool stuff, the arcologies, the school-for-genius girls hiding in the vents to smoke, and even Antarctica.

      • Sin Vega says:

        I maintain that Deus Ex 2 was a good and interesting game, with some significant but not devastating flaws. I like its mood, too. There was always something oddly melancholy about Deus Ex, particularly as you get towards the end, and that was even more pronounced in the second one. The third one caught it too, which went a long way towards making it feel like a Deus Ex game.

        It’s not aged wonderfully, but it’s worth a look. Pity they made the riot prod utterly useless. And most other items too.

        • Distec says:

          The riot prod was indeed a travesty. But I think they went a good ways in making up for it by allowing you to Batman peoples’ faces in with the baton and strength augmentation.

          • Sin Vega says:

            I certainly enjoyed the baton, and there’s some poetry in realising that in a game all about the most advanced, world changing, humanity-redefining technology we can currently imagine, the most effective weapon across the board was a blunt stick.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Know exactly what you mean about the mood. Honestly when I played through HR first time, I wasn’t convinced. The hubs were fun but the actual missions were mostly dull with some occasional standout bits, and the whole feel just seemed weirdly off. Then about two thirds through I realized I was getting this gradual sinking feeling and I knew, yep, this is a DX game after-all. (I think it starts about the point you hit Picus)
          I haven’t played IW in a long, long time, but it had that in spades, probably the most out of the three to be honest. It was there the whole way through, and it went from “lingering” to “outright karate-chopping you in the spine” from about the end of germany onward. It literally saved the game for me. That and the shotgun.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Eh, there’s still an awful lot wrong with it. Toward the latter half the plot gets a bit too “hey, look, we brought back this character from the good one and crammed them in here” for my liking. I very much like how it tries to soldier on if you’re a complete murderous bastard (my second playthrough was a female Alex who was basically testing this out), but the cost of that it crazy no-weapon zones, and the idea that you can somehow remote-disarm even a blunt stick, but nobody will ever use this ability in combat. (You could throw live spider mines in through the door in some cases, but you couldn’t encourage the little buggers to kill in your name.)

        Also they removed leaning, 0/10. (‘S got mantling, though.)

  16. yonsito says:

    There is more than one best game ever.
    But Deus Ex is one of them.

  17. Thankmar says:

    Just what I am feeling: I also automatically think of DX when I have to single out one, but I played it just once. Never went back, because of backlog, because of time and things, but in the last few years I just wanted to do that: playing it and logging my thoughts. Looking forward to the next parts.

  18. FreeTom says:

    Fine, I’ll be the dissenting voice.

    I bought this in 2003, I believe. I remember thinking the graphics and conversation sequences were pretty poor even then. I actually assumed it was much older than it was as the guards completely ignored me in situations where the ones from GoldenEye (1997) would have found me and set off an alarm.

    Admittedly I didn’t play through very much of it. It didn’t do anything to make me want to, though. It was not difficult for video games to hold my attention in those days.

    • Horg says:

      I loved DX to bits, but coming from the Thief series, the DX NPCs with the A.I. of a gold fish was a huge disappointment. The graphical quality was irrelevant, and still is for me. Fortunately there was enough meat on the DX carcass that I could ignore the AI limitations.

    • Pundabaya says:

      DX definitely had some issues.. (like two middle aged men acting like teenag… woops, wrong DX)

      It was too long, for a start, with way too much filler. I can’t remember anything important happening in Paris, that couldn’t have been slotted in elsewhere, for example.

      The combat was always a little too loose, and the AI was a little too brain dead.

    • Zekiel says:

      Deus Ex is one of those games I wished I enjoyed more than I actually did (if that makes sense!). I think the graphics were a bit of a barrier when I played it (in 2002 or 2003 I think), and I never enjoyed it enough to replay it – which means I never got to see the way things could go differently if you made different decisions.

      But I loved the philosophy, I loved pretty much anything involving Daedalus, Icarus or Helios and I loved the ending(s).

    • drygear says:

      When I first played Deus Ex it was on a computer that could barely run it. I had to play it in a small window. I was still engrossed enough to play the whole game like that.

    • Ravey says:

      GoldenEye’s AI was actually pretty simple:

      * Enemy sees player? Shoot.
      * Player breaks line-of-sight? Chase.
      * Enemy loses track of the player? Guard.

      The alarms were scripted. Specific enemies were scripted to reach for an alarm before shooting – the same thing happened every time.

      What GoldenEye did was it never broke your suspension of disbelief. The interface was immersive. The way enemies moved and responded to your actions were believable. The number of things you could do were limited and all accounted for by the game. The developers accentuated what the game could do, and hid what the game couldn’t. Their goal was to make the enemies that were more intelligent than the enemies in Wolfenstein 3D.

      Whereas in Deus Ex, the player has the freedom to do any number of things that aren’t accounted for in a convincing manner (e.g. jumping on tables, throwing bottles around, breaking the camera, interrupting conversations, etc). On one hand, it gave you more freedom. On the other hand, freedom that the game doesn’t account for will inevitably break immersion, takes you out of the game.

  19. Shazbut says:

    Of course it’s the best game ever, or if not, it must be considered so to forever pressure the games industry, albeit in a very mild way which will have next to no effect, to move in the direction of high agency first person RPGs with an intelligent and tight narrative because that is the Holy Genre

    • Ravey says:

      ‘Deus Exposition: Is Deus Ex Still the Ideal Story Game?’
      hits: 8

      ‘Deus Existential Crisis: Is Deus Ex Still the Best Game Ever?’
      hits: ∞

  20. Premium User Badge

    basilisk says:

    Thank you for doing this, John, and I’m looking forward to reading the result. I feel that separating the myth of Deus Ex from the actual game is a difficult, but necessary thing to do; games have changed a lot over the years, and so have we.

    (And honestly, it never was that great.)

    • Unclepauly says:

      Haha, if this was 99% of other games out there I would have bought your post. You did succeed in getting a reply out of me though. Cheers.

  21. amateurviking says:

    Vividly remember playing this on an shitty hand-me-down K6 at 15 FPS and still loving every choppy, unresponsive minute. The promise of a plunge into single digit FPS is an amazing incentive to not alert guards.

    Came back to it a few years later with a Geforce 3 ti 200 and 1024×768 TFT monitor. Woff. Whole different game. Still looked bobbins but. Fucking loved that computer.

  22. Continuity says:

    I only need to read the first line of the heading to know this is heresy.

    Exterminatus!

    • Totalitarian Vegetables says:

      At least the ending gives you the choice to purge Holy Terra of the unclean Abominable Intelligence?

      …the Warhammers is also a childhood hobby that has been biting at me hard of late.

  23. fish99 says:

    Never was the best, that was and still is System Shock 2.

    • Continuity says:

      I prefer to think of them as complementary than competing. Although when it comes down to it i’d have to say System Shock 2 has more flaws than deus ex.

      • fish99 says:

        Such as? I’m sure you’re going to mention respawning enemies, or weapon degradation, but the patch let you disable almost all the random spawning, and let you set weapon degradation to whatever you wanted. SS2 was also released a year earlier and it had co-op.

        • Premium User Badge

          Harlander says:

          That reminds me of Deus Ex’s deathmatch mode. It was actually surprisingly fun, despite being completely unnecessary

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          Honestly if you remove or tone down either of those in SS2 I’ll have no incentive to go back and play it again. The constant pressure MAKES that game.

          • fish99 says:

            I actually don’t agree with that. The devs put in the re-spawning option because it was widely complained about at the time, and it doesn’t remove all re-spawning, it just let’s you tone it down. I’m sure you can remember the difficulty getting from one end of ‘that corridor’ in engineering to the other when the game would spawn 10 enemies, and it’s not like there was any logical place they were supposed to be coming from. And you had to go down that corridor about 10 times. If you spun around quick you could sometime see things gets spawned out of thin air, which didn’t help immersion.

            I agree the weapon degradation tweak isn’t necessary, you just need to put some points in weapon maintenance and buy sufficient tools.

    • cshralla says:

      With very little story in System Shock 2 (especially compared to Deus Ex), it’s not really an even comparison. You may have enjoyed the gameplay in System Shock 2 more, but Deus Ex was as much about the story as it was about the gameplay.

  24. Marblecake says:

    John, thank you for doing this, especially in the wake of the flood of articles on that beast that clothes itself in DX’s skin these days.

    Deus Ex is a game that formed a huge part of who I am today. But it is not the Best Game Ever. That title goes to Fallout 2 (and forever will, I fear). DX is close behind, though. Very close. They’re basically in bed together. Oh, wow, now that I think of it, those would be some beautiful babies…

    • ffordesoon says:

      Isn’t New Vegas (or Fallout 3, season according to taste) pretty close to that ideal?

      • Marblecake says:

        Goodness gracious, no! I mean, New Vegas actually *is* very close, but not Fallout 3. Fallout 3 is to the Fallout universe what DX:HR is to Deus Ex: it’s an attempt at a sequel that does not understand what made its predecessor so appealing. It re-uses themes and entities that make no sense whatsoever in the context of its setting, just to give it a “flavor” of Fallout. Fallout 3 has all the trappings of a Fallout game without actually being one.

        New Vegas was quite amazing but…for some reason, I never finished it.

    • Ravey says:

      Deus Ex isn’t the best ‘game’ ever, but it’s the ideal game in the sense that it gives you as much agency as possible (given the limitations of technology) in every aspect of the game, whereas Fallout is partially an abstraction. You have control over who you are within the story, but regardless of what skills you choose, you don’t really have much control over how the game feels.

      • Craxel says:

        I’d agree, and I also think that Tim Sweeny’s team that built the UT engine deserves quite a bit of credit for Deus Ex. It was made around a barely modified UT engine which directly allowed for much of the groundbreaking gameplay to be built in. In that sense I’d consider GTA3 the more impressive example of agency/freedom from that area, as it’s supported by an additional immense amount of homegrown tech/sweat/blood.

      • Marblecake says:

        True, but that is what I love about Fallout 2. So far, it’s been the only fully realized role-playing game, in that it allows you to completely play a role, have your character be however you imagine him/her to be.

        The only reason I list F2 above DX is because it’s a bit more sandboxy (being able to sell your companions into slavery, the world reacting to that, etc.).

        • Premium User Badge

          Waltorious says:

          Have you played Arcanum? It’s also remarkably good at letting you completely play a role, as you say. Of course, it’s made by several of the same people too.

          Personally I preferred Fallout 1 to Fallout 2. Fallout 2 may have been a little more open, but I don’t think the worldbuilding was as strong. Really didn’t like the Enclave, as they felt like a much less interesting rehash of the Brotherhood of Steel. I did like that Fallout 2 was longer and provided an opportunity to get some of the best perks though. I should also note that I’ve only played each game once, so it’s possible that trying out several characters and options will shift my opinion. They’re just two more games I need to go back and play again. Too many games to play.

    • cshralla says:

      I just don’t see how you could give best video game ever to a game that would have been better if played in a tabletop setting.

  25. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    It was always one of those games I heard praised highly but never got into. I think I’ve played through the first couple of levels once or twice, but that’s about it.

    I’d probably nominate some slightly odd choices for best game, but I think Ultima Underworld would be a pretty good choice, or perhaps Quest for Glory. (My more odd choices might include Alone in the Dark, Elite, Civilization II, or something)

    • ansionnach says:

      Yes, Underworld was significantly better than Deus Ex, which I found an enjoyable disappointment, to be honest. Didn’t fully realise its potential. Had the bones of something great but didn’t flesh them out.

      • cshralla says:

        Underworld was a shell of what Deus Ex was. I don’t think you actually gave Deus Ex a real chance at all, or you just completely ignored all the story and gameplay systems.

        • ansionnach says:

          I completed it making quite a lot of use of the various skills, stealth, sniping. Enjoyed it quite a lot. Played Underworld for the first time shortly before DE was released, so I’d say my comparison wasn’t coloured by nostalgia.

  26. Totalitarian Vegetables says:

    After getting really excited reading various bits and bobs about the upcoming Mankind Divided (including reading through every last wistful reminiscence and comment related to Deus Ex on this site since discovering you guys the other month) I’ve finally make the leap and registered to make my first of these newfangled internet comments for the first time in years.

    This is exactly the kind of piece I wanted to read right now, I am also one of those poor souls who, when the subject of any video game comes up, wants to talk about Deus Ex (and Morrowind, but that’s a whole other kettle of diffcult-to-render-with-current-systems fish).

    I played this game shortly after it came out at the age of 11-12 and it was probably the first time I was completely blown away by, and subsequently obessed with, a computer game. I would spend hours just messing with the furniture in people’s homes and offices or trying to find out quite how chaotic a Hong Kong marketplace could become. Nothing I’d played up until that point prepared me for the staff at UNATCO HQ making wry comments about my untoward behaviour of jumping onto desks, flinging plant pots, and visting the Ladies loos. Never mind the agency I felt that I had in the ongoing story (later, after a couple of playthroughs, being impressed by how well the developers MADE me feel the story I was playing couldn’t have happened without my participation even when that might not have been as much the case as I thought).

    So yeah, looking forward to reading more of this series and hopefully having some fun discussions in the comments! I will shortly be going back to read all the other praise, disdain, and wonderful discussions that crop up whenever Deus Ex does in the comments of this article any moment now. I first must rest from a tiring day’s work and my fading dopamine rush after seeing a new article on DE.

    • WhatAShamefulDisplay says:

      I feel your pain. Deus Ex and Morrowind are my favourite games too, but whilst people are usually willing to *somewhat* entertain the notion that Deus Ex is a standout game, nominating Morrowind (which I only put slightly behind it) is generally met with scorn and derision. Especially when some conciliatory soul tries to diffuse the situation by saying “well, not that you’re saying that Skyrim and Oblivion are BAD”, at which point I usually say that I am saying exactly that, because they are a completely different sort of game! (and not a kind that I enjoy)

      • Totalitarian Vegetables says:

        Exactly that. I appreciate Skywind to some extent and am looking forward to maybe giving it another go with the survival game-type mods recommended in an article on this very site, but it just does not compare as far as I’m concerned (Oblivion can just go take a flying f*ck at the moon). Apologies to the fans :)

        Morrowind just seemed to have such an atmosphere and was a completely fresh kind of fantasy world for me when I first played it that it was another of those rare worlds in gaming where my experience of it felt completely my own. I’m lucky to have a good friend who also considers it his favourite of all time and has his own wildly different accounts of experiences in Vvardenfell to share with me. This tends to be almost any time I talk RPGs or Fantasy in general with him.

        Anyways, not to get off topic, Deus Ex hits that same spot of boundless possibility whenever I think back to it. My last playthrough of both was about 3/4 years ago and I was still able to bask in the glow of adolescent geekery a decade later.

        • Premium User Badge

          Waltorious says:

          I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person who actually likes the entire Elder Scrolls series (well, from Daggerfall onwards, I never played Arena). I’ve seen the Morrowind vs Oblivion/Skyrim debate come up so often, but I like all three of those games, for different reasons. I think Oblivion has aged the least well, but Skyrim is essentially an evolution of Oblivion, the version that stands up better. It is, however, very different from Morrowind, which was in turn different from Daggerfall, yet I can see the connecting thread that ties them all together. Daggerfall was all about its huge array of skills, spells, items, and procedurally-generated terrain and dungeons, along with a leveling system based on skills rather than XP. Morrowind toned that down a bit, moving to an authored world with a really interesting setting, a smaller assortment of skills, and more fleshed-out factions. Subsequent games further reduced the array of skills, simplifying character design in favor of populating an open world with authored quests, including heavily-scripted questlines for different factions. And let us not forget that from Morrowind onwards we were blessed with a huge assortment of user-made mods, which can significantly improve the games. I know there are those who do not judge a game based on mods, since they do not represent the original designers’ product, but I think that the decision to provide mod support is a statement of intent, that the game being offered is a complete package but is fully intended to be added to and modified by players in any way they see fit.

          I find each and every one of these games to be an impressive achievement, considering the different design goals for each, and I’ve enjoyed my time in all of them. Others have discussed how the Deus Ex series has a certain feel to it, an ominous, sinking feeling of inevitability and gloom; I believe the Elder Scrolls games similarly share a certain feel, that can be felt in each and every installment despite their major differences. Also let us not forget that Morrowind had the worst combat system of the bunch (mollified somewhat by the larger array of items compared to later games), which makes it even more impressive that it is so captivating to play even today. Let us also not forget that the later installments suffered form significantly fewer bugs (although I’m sure some will claim that it’s merely a result of being less ambitious design-wise, which might be true).

          OK, that was way off topic, so back to Deus Ex: I played it for the first time several years ago and it was and still is the best game I’ve ever played. It’s not my favorite game, though, that’s Thief 2. I have a serious love for Looking Glass games. Also, for those putting forward System Shock 2, I must side with those who prefer the original System Shock (also played for the first time a few years ago). It’s incredible. I pity those who are unable to get past its dated and obtuse interface to experience the staggeringly great game underneath. Although I got through it with the original controls, I’m glad there’s a mouselook mod because more people should play it.

          More people should play Deus Ex too, but everyone knows that already.

      • drygear says:

        Morrowind had some really interesting things going on with the writing, where it was full of contradictory information that you had to piece together.
        The problem I have with it is the dialogue system. Talking to people felt like a chore to me- it was just clicking a list of topics with everyone you meet to see the response to any is new. I’m glad that isn’t an obstacle for you and you can enjoy the game. I wish I could like it.

        • Totalitarian Vegetables says:

          This is why I tend not to push much for people who “weren’t there at the time man” or whatever to play games I’m crazy about. Morrowind certainly had a pretty boring conversation system, especially with some of the more bog standard NPCs and I can see how this could be really off-putting.

          It’s interesting to compare these two titles in how they generated their unique atmospheres. For me, Morrowind did that via the actual physical surroundings and the excellent (if repetitive) score. I didn’t so much need a poignant monologue from some poor bastard in his shack in the swamp to understand that the area was plagued by bandits. All I needed was to look around and think; yep this is the kind of shithole where bandits are bound to hang out. likewise with some of the weirder locales in that game. The masses of books were also very appealing to my inner librarian. That kind of storytelling obviously isn’t for everyone though!

          Deus Ex on the other hand had a waaay stronger conversational side to it that always made it fun to stop and have a chat with whoever was free to shoot the shit. Ditto the (amazing to my mind at the time) ability to mess around with the environment and the people in it. Also: I SPEEL MY DRINK! and other assorted gems.

          So yeah, both interesting ways to try and pull in the player and have them invest in where the adventure took you. Sorry If I’m rambling on here by the way, haha.

        • elasticman says:

          Try the LGNPC mod for Morrowind – it isn’t complete, but it adds extensive and unique dialogues, personalities, sideplots, and back-stories to maybe half (?) of the NPCs. Adds a delightful new dimension to the game

        • drygear says:

          When Morrowind came out I did put a decent amount of time into it and enjoyed it. I liked the sense of freedom. I got tired of it after a while though because it didn’t stick for me-at the time I thought the writing was really boring and I found it difficult. It was one of my first RPGs and I was just a dumbass teenager, and the interesting atmosphere and art direction didn’t appeal to me then like it does now. At some point I discovered Baldur’s Gate II and didn’t look back.
          Nowadays I respect the writing more, I just think it wasn’t implemented well.

          I’ll have to bookmark that mod for next time I feel like giving the game another shot. The dialogue interface is partly to blame I think, but the different writing might be enough to make up for that.

      • cshralla says:

        Not anymore. Now the Human Revolution fanboys outnumber the Deus Ex fanboys and even anybody who played Deus Ex at all. Try to tell them that HR was disappointing and shallow in comparison, and they act like you just kicked their dog, then try to tell YOU what Deus Ex “should be” when they haven’t even played the original.

        • kament says:

          It’s a bit more complicated than that. For example, I played DX and HR, both upon release. While I’m willing to admit DX in some ways is a more complex games (compare dozens of ways to use a fire extinguisher in DX to, what, three in HR?) I still think HR is superior. (Doesn’t mean it is, okay?)

          As an entertaining product, that is, because I think that’s all any game really is (maybe I’m just not nerd enough). Acting, writing, art, core game mechanics, everything of real value is better in HR. Yes, it’s inevitable. Yes, it’s been fifteen years of progress and technological advancement. Doesn’t change the facts.

          Sure, some things were lost. You can’t scale a wall using LAMs, for instance. The thing is, I always regarded those as quirks and not the main point of the game. Unlike oh so many people, as it turns out. So… Different strokes and all that.

    • simontifik says:

      I sometimes wonder if these games are as good as we remember or its just the fact that we played them when we were between the ages of 10 and 20. I played the hell out of Deus Ex when I was 15-16 years old because it was awesome but also because I could count the games I owned at that age on one hand. Its very easy to put up with issues in a game when it is the only one you own. It’s much harder for me too put that kind of time and love into a game these days when they are so much more disposable.

      • Totalitarian Vegetables says:

        Definitely agree that this had a large part to play in why certain games have stuck in my mind as “Best games EVAR”. Not owning a console and being limited to what our fairly basic home PC was able to run at the time meant that what I really looked for in a game was the possibility to sink a ludicrous amount of time into it. My other gaming fixes tended to be RTS or RPG titles for the same reason.

        Deus Ex was especially fun as a playground in this sense as there was stuff hidden what felt like absolutely everywhere and not all of it could be accessed on any one playthrough due to the build you ended up with. This has been brought in loads of articles along the lines of “you’d never get this made today” because of the sheer amount of stuff it was possible for a player to just miss, skip or ignore while focusing solely on your main mission objectives.

        Being 12 at the time I was obviously keen to get my hands on outlandish cheat codes and such for any game I was playing and the console in Deus Ex provided me with plenty. Especially once I’d decided there was no way I was going to go back to the beginning again for the 10th time just so I could invest everything into my swimming abilities. Did anyone else find the unkillable Triad leader with the Dragon’s Tooth on top of one of the Hong Kong skyscrapers?

        I also have fond memories of playing Delta Force: Land Warrior and just running off into the desert to see how far the map would let me go because I was crap at the whole shooting targets and not causing a giant f*cking manhunt for the guy trying to escape by running up the side of a pyramid.

  27. Stardog says:

    Deus Ex was never the best game ever.

    The shooting wasn’t as good as Half-life.

    The stealth wasn’t as good as Thief.

    The RPG aspects weren’t as good as any decent RPG.

    The levels were one little hub world after another. No thanks.

    • Sin Vega says:

      It would be a sad thing, to live in a world where the measure of a game is SUM=FPS+STEALTH+RPG AND NOTHING MORE.

      • Wisq says:

        It’s not even that. He’s basically saying that it can’t be the best game ever because there’s some other game better than it in each category. By that definition, there might be no best game at all because if someone beats you in a category, you’re not the best overall — even if you were, say, second best in every category and those other category-toppers all lacked the other elements you brought to the table.

        But that’s not possible, because so long as things have quality, there has to be a “best”, even if it’s a tie. So it’s a sad paradoxical world, too.

      • Ravey says:

        Shooting, Stealth, RPG and nothing more. These were the ingredients chosen to create the perfect little game. But Dr. Spector accidently added an extra ingredients to the concoction–

        EMERGENT GAMEPLAY

        Thus, UNATCO was formed! Using their ultra-super powers… Paul and JC Denton, Gunther Hermann and Anna Navarre have dedicated their bodies to fighting terrorism… and the forces… of… evil!

    • cshralla says:

      Ever heard the saying “more than the sum of its parts”? No, I didn’t think so. It’s amazing that you think the quality of art can be boiled down to some sterile, scientific quantification.

  28. Farsi Murdle says:

    You could just download Deus Exe by itself without bundling it with graphical updates, which always make the visuals more jarring, since some are updated and some are not. Say what you will about Deus Ex’s graphics, but they are clean and consistent, so once you play for 30 seconds low polygon counts don’t matter much. Everything just gels.

    Anyway, beyond the politics I hope you pay attention to the level design and aug/tools design too, which I think there’s not enough appreciation of.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I strongly agree with all these points. Deus Ex and Unreal Tournament both hold up pretty well because of their clean, clear graphics and good controls, and I suspect a lot of that is down to the engine they share.

      Deus Ex is also a pretty good model for how to create levels as plausible environments first, and game levels second. That’s a huge part of the “immersive sim” quality that is all too often ignored, including by DX:HR. Thief 1+2 are of course the canonical examples of how environments could be before over-designed levels became the norm.

  29. ffordesoon says:

    For gamers of a certain age and disposition, I suspect Deus Ex is pretty much unimpeachable, even for those of us who never managed to finish the thing. It’s not perfect – the flaws were noticeable even on release. But there’s no one game which comes closer to the hypothetical Perfect Game, for certain values of perfect.

  30. montorsi says:

    It’s not the best game ever anymore but that’s okay. It was my favorite for many, many years. Then I got older and the themes, which felt new and exciting when I was a teenager, weren’t quite as interesting anymore. If you could freeze yourself in time and never experience anything else, ya, sure, but that’s not how life works.

    Still, great game. Nostalgic favorite forever and ever.

  31. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    My first play-through was hindered by my utter refusal to kill any UNATCO troopers. They were just doing their jobs, only hunting me because they’d been ordered to. I stunned every single one of them and slipped by. I can only imagine the abject fury when Manderley discovers UNATCO HQ is the second building filled with sleeping UNATCO troopers.

  32. Jickle says:

    Interested to see how this turns out. Across 2012 and 2013 I had a regular column in an Australian PC magazine, PC PowerPlay, called ‘Deus inExperienced’. It was a fifteen-part thing about me playing through Deus Ex for the first time and reacting to it. I ended up loving the game, naturally, and it eventually led to me being part of a panel at PAX Australia with Jay Anthony Franke, the voice for JC Denton (video here: link to youtube.com)

    As someone who just played through the game for the first time a few years ago, I have to say: Deus Ex holds up tremendously. It’s an incredibly exciting, brilliantly designed game. Every month I’d be told which sections to play through, but every now and then I’d e-mail my editor and tell him that, sorry, I had to write the entire article about the DuClare Chateau or Morgan Everett’s apartment. I was a bit in awe of it, actually. Hope your experience holds up as well as mine did.

    • simontifik says:

      Ah PC Powerplay. I used to buy that mag just for the demo disks when I was a kid and had no money for PC games. It was on one of those demo disks that I discovered Deus Ex. I spent hours and hours playing through that first level until my birthday rolled round and the folks bought me a full copy.

      • Amazon_warrior says:

        OMG, glad to know I wasn’t the only person who did stuff like this. You wouldn’t BELIEVE the number of times I played the Thief 1 demo I found on a game mag demo disc – I simply couldn’t afford to buy the game outright myself and my family weren’t about to rush out and buy it for me. I spent formative teenage years considering Bafford’s Manor as a second home…

  33. bill says:

    I’m not sure Deus Ex was ever the best game, but to me it always seemed to be the first step on the road towards the best game. I assumed all games that followed would build on it’s foundations and become amazing.

    But that never really happened, we went down the linear HL2->CoD route instead.
    At the time it felt like System Shock 2.5, but as we didn’t really get much else in that branch of games evolution, it ended up as kind of the king of it’s branch by default.

    As such, I think Deus Ex is still a pretty unique experience, even though I’m sure a lot of the details won’t hold up these days. But it was more about the potential and feeling of freedom that it gave you than the actual details of the gameplay.

    Personally, I’m usually not fond of these kind of articles, because if you are playing through a classic game for a second+ time at a much later date you tend to notice the seams a lot more.
    Therefore the articles tend to end up being a bunch of “heh! Look at the polygons! Heh! Look at the cutscene with a crowd of only 4 people! etc..”
    They rarely tend to capture the original feel of playing the game.

    Games “age” so rapidly that it’s easy to fall into dismissing them based on this ageing. But imho the question of whether Deus Ex is the best game ever depends on what it was like at release, not what it’s like now.

  34. elmeanno says:

    I remember playing the demo that came with PC Gamer back in the day, and I remember Kieron Gillen’s excellent review of it. It was also released – correct me if I’m wrong – in the same year as Baldur’s Gate II; more on that in a moment.

    I went out and bought it on the strength of that demo, and while I was on the bus home reading the back box blurb, I knew that this would be an incredible game, giving the player choice on how he or she wanted to accomplish their objectives, with a variety of outcomes.

    My thoughts are now, that it was THE most important game I’ve played ever, shaping my taste in games that allowed the flexibility of progression, while maintaining a great narrative. The kind of things that are now often taken for granted.

    But as for the best game ever, I come back to BGII. Now I was still playing catch up with the series so I didn’t play the sequel for another 6 months after it was released, but for me, it was everything I wanted in a video game. I’m not going to blabber on about it here as I’ll wait until someone writes another article about it!

  35. Spacewalk says:

    Deus Ex is indeed the Best Game Ever but I’m not sure if I could go back to vanilla Deus Ex since I’m too used to the additions and changes that BioMod adds. Or NanoMod which is the most recent in the Shifter>BioMod line.

    • Distec says:

      It’s been a while, but the Shifter mod and maybe one other ended up becoming default installations every time I revisited DX. I practically consider them part of the game proper at this point because I’m sure Ion Storm would have incorporated a lot of their features in retrospect (see also Brutal Doom’s relationship with its original game).

  36. Mr_Blastman says:

    Meeh I dunno if it is the best ever. Whenever I try and play it, still to this day, I can’t get into it. System Shock 1 and 2 along with Arx Fatalis and the Ultima Underworlds were much better.

    • ansionnach says:

      Strongly agree. Can’t imagine many who played the Underworlds considering Deus Ex as even in the same league.

      • cshralla says:

        It was a complete evolution of Underworld, in the same way it was an evolution of Thief and System Shock. There was nothing about the story in Underworld that was even a fraction as interesting or thought-provoking as individual lines spoken by street bums in Deus Ex. People who say that Deus Ex isn’t that great because “the shooting wasn’t as good as Half-Life” and things like that are completely missing the point, which is that Deus Ex was the single best combination of all its different parts.

        • ansionnach says:

          I said nothing of the shooting in DE. I would say that the gameplay itself is the thought-provoking part of Underworld. You’re left on your own and have to work out what to do. If you do not think you will never finish it.

  37. MellowKrogoth says:

    I discovered and played Deus Ex (pretty much vanilla) a couple years ago and I loved it. The story and gameplay really gripped me, and it’s the only game I know with a barman quoting Thomas Aquinas!

    I love story and exploration above all else though, so replaying it doesn’t hold much appeal for me. I tried the Nameless Mod in the hope of finding more of the same with a decent story, and I still can’t get over how people can recommend that abomination. *vomits*

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      TNM is absolutely stellar in its own right. DO NOT play it looking for another Deus Ex, though.

    • cshralla says:

      You know there are story and exploration bits that you missed, right? It’s literally impossible to see all of Deus Ex in one playthrough.

      • MellowKrogoth says:

        I did some saving and backtracking to test some alternate paths and all the endings. I just don’t feel like re-doing all the linear sections again, in this game or any other.

  38. G-Lord says:

    Maybe I should follow John’s idea by fully replaying Outcast. Not that I would call it the best game, but I still call it my favorite game.

  39. Premium User Badge

    Philopoemen says:

    There’s only one reason i don’t put Deus Ex as my best of all time, and that’s because as soon as I was done with the wonderful journey that it took me on in 2001, Ive never had any desire to go back and replay it. I tried with the newer mods in 2011 or so, but even ten years later, the original journey was still vivid enough that the replay felt stale.

    In comparison, games like Morrowind, Fallout 2, KotOR2, Jagged Alliance 2, have me coming back year after year to remind myself why I like them, and still have a blast. Deus Ex was a magnum opus I listened to once and will remember always, but have no desire to butcher by buying the .mp3

  40. celticdr says:

    It’s not the first time I’ve said this on RPS but System Shock 2 is a much better game than Deus Ex, and it came out a year before DX too.

    Give SS2 a playthrough after DX John and tell me it isn’t the superior game.

    • drygear says:

      I replayed SS2 not long after my last replay of Deus Ex. Deus Ex was the superior game for me.
      Maybe part of the problem is that I played SS2 on impossible, and the difficulty spikes near the end ruined a lot of my fun. In particular the final battle against the many took me lots and lots of tries, and when I finally beat it I used up most of my resources. The game didn’t give me a chance to replenish them and the final stretch/final boss were just too frustrating.
      I guess if I built my character a little differently the final boss would have been more beatable. I guess that’s why Deus Ex is the better game. In SS2 you had to build your character in a specific and narrow way, where as in DX you could enjoy yourself with any character build.

      • LionsPhil says:

        …so long as you don’t pick swimming.

        But, no, SS2’s stat balance is all over the place. The basic assault rifle is brokenly good if you load the right ammo and have half-decent skill in it. It beats the supposedly awesome sci-fi weapons. As far as I can tell psionics are basically useless; I started doing a psi run, and lost interest.

        • ResonanceCascade says:

          Psi is actually absurdly powerful in mid-late game. It’s a slow start, but what did you expect when you picked a spellcaster? :)

    • cshralla says:

      Tell me about how interesting and thought-provoking the story in System Shock was.

      Oh right, it wasn’t. And you’re completely missing the point of Deus Ex.

  41. PoulWrist says:

    Amusing to think that John Romero is apparently to thank for Deus Ex’s creation.

    When it came out, I could never figure out how to continue the game and progress beyond Liberty Island. I couldn’t find the Unatco headquarters and thought the game wanted me to use the boat that sits at the dock, which lights up like you can use it. But you can’t. And nothing tells you what to do to continue. So I only played it for the first time a couple years ago, in preparation for Human Revolution. It was a good game, but I am pretty sure it’d have been better in 2001.

  42. Monggerel says:

    Played a few hours some years back (and also The Nameless Mod), got tired of it quickly.
    10/10 best game I ever played.
    *eyeroll*

    It’s not that I can’t appreciate all games. It’s not even that I bounced off of it. The question, rather, is:
    In what possible way can there be the slightest point in even considering such a proposition as “greatest game ever”?
    In other words: why the fuck would you even ask that question?

  43. celticdr says:

    Also I noticed nobody mentioned Fallout 1 & 2 either – they would both definitely be in the running for my best game ever, not because they made me want to become a nuclear physicist or anything noble like that but because the narrative was so well done and compelling – I’ve given both of those games several playthroughs over the years and still today keep coming back to them.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Just went through teh comments myself and seen quite a few people mention fallout.

  44. Zekiel says:

    Sorry but there are a few typos in this article – you’ve accidentally written “Deus Ex” when I think you must have meant “Baldur’s Gate 2”.

    • Zekiel says:

      In all seriousness, I’m really looking forward this series of articles. Deus Ex is a game I could really see the quality of, and hugely respect. I just didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I felt I ought to.

    • Wisq says:

      BG2 was great and I remember putting a lot of hours into it, but I still think that entire series was deeply hindered by the (A)D&D ruleset. Tabletop rulesets are clunky for a video game — and without a proper human DM to let you come up with interesting ways to use them, you lose most of their depth anyway.

      • Zekiel says:

        This is a fair comment. (Doesn’t change my opinion though)

        Am rather hoping that this might be a strength of Pillars of Eternity (which I haven’t yet bought)

  45. trivial says:

    John, Deus Ex remains my #1 favourite game of all time. I can completely relate to what you said about being ignorant and actually learning and having my preconceptions challenged. I was 20 and wasn’t particularly world-savvy myself. Interesting observation.

  46. kyrieee says:

    There’s a way to fix the skipping dialogue without installing that mod, but it’s been a few years since I last did it so I don’t remember the steps.

  47. kud13 says:

    So, just as an aside:

    just did a fresh install of the GOG version GOTY v 1.112fm in a new directory (making I think 3 DX installs I have on this machine at the same time)

    straight up, picked 3D rendering. runs like clockwork, ran through the intro twice, launched, spoke to Paul, no dialogue being skipped.

    Running on Nvidia GT740 and AMD FX 8350 8-core, 4.0 GHz

    Moral of the story: use GOG for old games, not Steam.

  48. Xander77 says:

    There are (of course) a lot (A LOT) of Deus Ex Let’s Plays, but if you’re rather interested in the games literary and philosophical underpinnings, this:
    link to lparchive.org
    does a pretty good breakdown (in addition to being a fairly thorough and entertaining LP in it’s own right)

  49. KenTWOu says:

    Nah, it’s Tetris.

  50. fr3udes says:

    Part two ! Part two ! Part two !