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Is Deus Ex Still The Best Game Ever?
Part Two: Struggles, Buggles and Reading Huggles

Deus Executables

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Here continues my attempt to discover if Deus Ex really is the best game ever, like my brain thinks. Part One is here. Today I yet again struggle to get the game working, then struggle to work within the game. But cheer myself up reading some newspapers.

I’m struggling.

I’m struggling with some very buggy issues, and I’m struggling to get the game running again. Somehow.

I’m not sure what happened last night – perhaps some technologically inept mice snuck into my office and moved all the wires around inside my PC – but when I booted up the game this morning, it was running about three times too fast.

Once again I was reading through forum threads dating back to 2010, seemingly the last time there was enough interest in the game for wizards to figure out how to get it running properly. And once again, it was people reporting that solutions weren’t working for them. In the end, having tried every permutation of every option, and indeed edited ini files according to confused instructions from all over, I resorted to wiping the game entirely from my PC and starting over. Just removing and reinstalling via Steam wasn’t enough, it turned out. So I used the software uninstaller, then removed it from Steam, then went through its entry in MyDocs and deleted it there (after backing up saves). A fresh install, and a fresh application of Deus.exe, this time with just the Direct3D 10 patch and none of the texture packages, and it’s working once more. It looks a lot cruddier, but then that was what I was aiming to do in the first place. Now I daren’t ever exit the game again.

Having dropped into the Statue of Liberty’s neck, freed Gunter, and arrested the NSF boss dude, I was back at UNATCO HQ, wandering those incredibly familiar corridors, hacking everyone’s incredibly familiar computer terminals, and added my first augmentation – a dose of extra strength. And was assigned my next mission. Let’s leap ahead…

…To where stuff starts to go a bit wrong. I found the store of green goo the NSF are keeping in Battery Park, just like I was told to, but in order to get to it I used all my tranqs and electro-sleep-stick charges. Coming out from the building, Anna Navarre enthusiastically congratulated me on having been willing to kill… wait, what? I panicked. I killed someone? Who? I retraced my steps, checked every downed guard, and they were all labelled as “unconscious”. Was Anna just assuming I had to kill to do it? Or had I accidentally murdered one of these people I know – from fifteen years of remembering – to be good guys? I’m really hoping the former. Paul would be furious.

Anna then wanted me to go sort out the mess my brother Paul had apparently caused getting a bunch of hostages taken on the metro. But I’d no non-lethal ammo left. And I wasn’t about to start killing the people I know I’ll be siding with any moment now. Sneaking in down through what seemed to be sewer pipes, I found my way to the station, packed with NSF. And they shoot on sight.

Dodging around the tunnels, I eventually stumbled on a grate I could exit without being immediately spotted. Except, I couldn’t exit, because there was a hostage standing in the way. He wouldn’t budge. He wouldn’t talk to me. He wouldn’t acknowledge me at all. If I hit him with a crowbar he just cowered. If I sprayed him with pepper spray he rubbed his eyes, but defiantly stayed on that exact spot. And any of these attempts attracted the attentions of the guards, who shot me to bits.

And it’s here that I had to first be very honest with myself. This isn’t good enough. If a game came out today, and I encountered immovable NPCs bugging out missions made near impossible due to such a massive bias toward lethal ammo, I’d be mocking it as I critiqued it. An already very tough mission being made near impossible due to completely crummy AI.

So what did I do? I had two non-lethal options left in my inventory. Pepper spray, and tear gas. Pepper spray was unlikely to be helpful, but perhaps the gas. I snuck up the tunnels to the roof of the subway terminal, opened a hatch, and threw down a gas bomb. It worked! All the terrorists were incapacitated, and I could speak to the two hostages. Run onto the train as soon as I open the doors, I informed them. Sure, they said. So I opened the doors and they stood there. I tried talking to them again, ushering them, but they wouldn’t move, and the NSF peeps were getting themselves back together. And then shooting. Perhaps it had bugged? I tried again. And again.

Another tack, then. Drop the grenade, cause the ruckus, sneak in and tell the hostages what to do, then slip away. Perhaps that bloody idiot hostage will have moved by then.

And oddly, that worked. Everyone’s frantic running around had left them in positions where I could get out of the tunnel without being spotted, open the train doors, and have them run on board. Hmmmm. Not very impressive.

But then I’m in Hell’s Kitchen, and I’m in a bar, chatting with interesting characters, hacking bank machines, reading superbly written propaganda on the public terminals, learning about little side-quests I could do, getting information on the possible location of the NSF’s generators, and sharing a beer with Paul’s helicopter pilot. And it feels like something so much better than so much else again.

Just reading a dropped newspaper in the street is a worthwhile experience. Although, I must concede, one that requires an awful lot more effort from me than fifteen years ago. When Deus Ex did it in 2000, this wasn’t a means of conveying story that had been miserably stomped into the ground. Games weren’t routinely laughed at for apparently having featured people whose method of keeping a diary was to write an entry, tear it from the book, and then leave it lying on a box in a corridor. My patience for consuming story through paragraph snippets has been chipped away at over the years. It’s tough to not just skip past them and get on with the mission, but each read reminds me how much they add to my understanding of the world.

A quite remarkable amount, actually. By this point in the game, the complexities of the Grey Death have not been addressed by the main plot. What Ambrosia is, why people are dying, and indeed why the NSF might not be big fans of the way UNATCO and government organisations are distributing possible medicine, has so far been communicated through newspapers, terminals and conversation with non-critical NPCs. The game is pretty much assuming you’re going to be reading.

This isn’t helped by my running the game at 2560×1440 with the UI fix running, of course. I have to lean forward and squint. And no, I can’t quit out and relaunch at a more sensible full-screen resolution, can I? It’d probably start going backward or something.

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John Walker

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One of the original co-founding robots of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, I'm now a senior editor and hero of humanity. Old and special.

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