Is Deus Ex Still The Best Game Ever? The Conclusion

This took rather longer than we thought. But after five entries, and two weeks, I’ve come to my conclusions. You can read the whole saga here, if you’ve not yet caught up, as I chronicle my experience of replaying Deus Ex – a game I’ve always maintained is the Best Game Ever – fifteen years later. Was I wrong? Is it even possible for me to be wrong? Read on.

Is Deus Ex still the best game ever?

Well, to start, that’s a really silly question to ask. By what measurement? By what definition of “game”? It’s a daft question, and whoever asked it is a twit.

Is it still the best time I’ve had when playing a game? Upon its original release? Yes. Now? Hmmmm.

As I was writing up the entries on the game, pointing out flaws as I experienced them, commenting on weaknesses I was genuinely surprised to find, someone commented on Twitter that it was like “a death by a thousand cuts”. No grand, overriding failure, but enough issues and niggles that an unexpected weakness began to appear.

Except, there are grand, overriding failures too. As I discovered, there are massive holes in the code for detecting your actions, accusing you of kills others commit, and deaths that haven’t happened. And of course the failure it was born with: it’s a really terrible shooter, with appalling AI.

Yet, I’m still not sure if I’m ready to pull the “best ever” title.

My problems with DX get deeper. And I’m completely unsure whether I missed things this time out, or simply invented great chunks of the game in my imagination.

If you’d asked me two weeks ago, I’d have told you about the really fascinating conversations I had with the Mole People living in the New York sewers. Conversations about their understanding of local governance, anti-capitalism, and living outside of the establishment’s systems. What I just played was a completely ridiculous section in which a corridor of clones trotted around and around in circles, while NSF troops (supposedly working for good) indiscriminately shot at me for just being there. Conversation, after I’d tranqed all the troops, were stilted nothing, with just one child telling me anything useful about a hidden room of goodies.

So what happened? Did the game go senile over the last fifteen years, its NPCs devolving into gibbering nitwits? Did I utterly make up all the stuff about the wisdom of the Mole People? Did I read about it somewhere else after playing? Or did I miss in-game books and newspapers that covered the subject which I’d then misattributed to the characters? (I ask these questions as if they’re rhetorical, but I am confident far wiser commenters than I shall provide the answer.)

My expectation going in to this return was to see if the philosophical and political content of the game would still seem as revolutionary and intriguing to me as it did when I was 22. But instead I discovered there was far less of it than I remembered. Or, at least, it was far less overtly delivered. There’s that wonderful conversation with the Australian barman, and a few other moments like that. But mostly it’s in the form of bits and pieces to read. Take this, in a book on a desk, this excerpt from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense:

“…SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer. Government, like dress, is the badge of lost innocence; the palaces of kings are built on the ruins of the bowers of parodies. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform, and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him out of two evils to choose the least…”

Maybe that was enough? Maybe to my forming political mind, something as extraordinary (if hideously tiresome to parse with its ghastly use of semi-colons) as this would be challenging and influential.

Also, I love that I have to Google so many of the authors mentioned to see if they’re real or invented, so well written is all their fiction. No, Jacob’s Shadow is not a real book. No, Travis Crockett isn’t a person who wrote The Reluctant Dictators, about the formation of Order of the Cincinnati. It was a writer at Ion Storm who informed me,

“Skeptical at the viability of the untried democratic system, Washington took counsel in the story of the Roman general Cincinnatus who was called from retirement to serve as Dictator for sixteen days in the defense of Rome, after which he returned home to his farm. In the wake of the Revolution, the United States was vulnerable to any number of outside forces, and Washington felt that a strong, central authority had to be present that could assume control of the government if necessary – and ‘temporarily’ suspend the Constitution if required.

Washington resigned as President after only two terms in office, but remained President of the Order of the Cincinnati till his death. The Order still exists to this day, a shadow organization of the wealthy and powerful that has been linked to any number of other organizations ranging from the Illuminati to the Trilateral Commission.”

Before I played, I’d barely heard of the Illuminati, and certainly not the Trilateral Commission, nor things like Bilderberg and so on. It was interesting to peer into that pit of conspiratorial lunacy. It was around the same time I was playing The Stone, which covered similar ground. I learned, quickly, that I was not a conspiracist, but it was interesting to read around.

Of course, replaying and discovering the Illuminati use “Illuminati” branded computer interfaces made me laugh out loud. Way to keep things secret, guys.

It’s great writing, it’s content we obviously don’t frequently see in games, but is this Best Ever stuff? It is, in the main, just extraneous text littered about levels, rather than cleverly interwoven into the plot. (That’s not quite the criticism it appears – it adds flavour and texture that makes the plot far more meaningful.)

Level design might do a better job of convincing me. They are, invariably, beautifully built. If Valve is the master of the linear corridor, Looking Glass/Ion Storm are the crowned kings and queens of multi-pathed construction. Even the most bland of levels have a distinct sense of place. Sections as seemingly disposable as the gas station become memorable because of the almost nonchalant competence with which they’re built.

As I mentioned in part 5, I found it peculiar how the game switched from a hub-centric design to a series of confined areas in its second half, but it’s hard to complain about how any of them is built. Yes, I’ve struggled with the anxiety caused by not knowing if I’m missing out on anything essential by going one way rather than another, and indeed the disappointment that can arise from being free to accidentally play a level in a far less interesting way than might be available. But it’s hard to argue that this extraordinary volume of choice is ever really a bad thing. Even the most minor moments seem to offer a variety of ways to approach them, and it’s always your choice whether to play stealthily or violently.

Although, on that last point, it’s interesting how the game abandons any sense of value after about the first third. In the UNATCO stages, you’re receiving comment on your approach from all angles. Kill (or indeed, don’t but get it anyway) and Anna and others will praise you, but others including Mr Ammo Man and your brother will condemn you. Perform stealthily and refuse kills and you’ll win disapproval from the facility’s more violently inclined, but favour from others. It feels like tangible feedback (when it isn’t broken), and makes your chosen actions feel far more meaningful.

However, once you’re with the NSF, it all stops. (Perhaps that explains the supposed terrorists’ bullet-happy murderous ways when you’re against them.) No matter how you approach things, no one’s going to say anything. And sure, that’s not inherently a bad thing – I’m certainly not appealing for moralising commentary – but it does remove that sense that you’re having an impact on the world.

Fifteen years ago I played as a pacifist, refusing to kill. Today, having had the game brand me a murderer despite my saintly ways, I gave in and accepted that sometimes I was going to kill these murderers and villains to get through. But more often than not, it was as a result of getting frustrated with the combat, rather than because it felt appropriate. Tranqs are in short supply, and there’s no non-lethal ranged option that allows for takedowns but doesn’t also result in enemies trotting about in zigzagged panic, setting off alarms, and ruining everything.

At points, with the difficulty on Normal, you are swamped with and surrounded by enemies, and attempts to take them out one at a time with a stun prod or baton are fruitless. Releasing gas bombs amongst them often seems like it should be a good plan, but then attempting to take them down mysteriously relieves them of their stupor and lets them attack you or run off. So, in the end, it was simply no fun at all to find a non-lethal solution. Far more fun, in fact, to drop a LAM and blow them all to splattery bits.

So yes, the AI is atrocious, the shooting cruddy, the scripting clumsy, the pacing all over the place, some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard (including some that’s basically racism), and that bloody ridiculous inventory nonsense. Best Game Ever?

Well, you can take all that, and compare it to the utter thrill of trying to sneak past giant patrolling mechs, then stabbing on your cloak to slide through a group of angry guards, into an air vent, and creeping your way to a secret room bursting with excellent loot. There’s knowing that you just thwarted a situation in a way that felt unique to you, carefully picking out guards one by one as you climb down from the rooftop to the basement. Or by crashing through the front door, guns blazing, slaughtering your way up to the roof.

Let alone the way the whole game is a training exercise to help you make your decision at the end. I love it for that. You’re being introduced to all these people, these views, these concepts, in order to inform you to be able to make a choice – albeit a rather extreme one. And no, it doesn’t need Greys, and it gets far, far too convoluted with about 17 baddies and rival factions, almost none of whom eventually have any real influence. But which future you pick for Earth is very likely changed by the experience you’ve had along the way.

In the end, if I tweak the question to be, “Is this the best game ever of its kind?” then I think the answer has to be yes. But then, there are so few games of its kind, and there are even fewer that are any good.

But let’s not evade any longer. Is Deus Ex the Best Game Ever? No, I don’t think it is. And I’m surprised to see myself typing that, certain that I’d emerge from this experiment emboldened in my conviction.

What is? Well, like I said, it’s a stupid question. But I suspect that Thief might be the best Looking Glass/Ion Storm game. I think Planescape: Torment might be the best RPG. I think Day Of The Tentacle may be the game I love the most. I think The Longest Journey may be the game that has the strongest personal connection for me.

I’m pretty certain you’ll disagree.

120 Comments

  1. Laurentius says:

    No, but Portal 2 is !

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      That’s not even the best Portal game

      • piedpiper says:

        You’re goddamn right.

      • Dare_Wreck says:

        You’re subjectively wrong.

      • gwathdring says:

        Portal 2 Co-Op surpasses Portal 1 for me in all senses.

        Replaying Portal 1, a lot of the dialog feels less interesting than it did the first time around. There are some good jokes, but most of it seems to have affected me with it’s novelty. The mechanics certainly won primarily on novelty. There are only a couple really good puzzles in Portal–it’s essentially a very, very nice tutorial with one or two levels at the end. Portal 2, sadly, makes exactly the same mistake when you would think being a sequel or at LEAST being so much longer would give it the perfect opportunity to really get down to business but they shoveled too many mechanics and too much plot into it’s run-time giving neither enough room to breathe properly. Some lovely jokes and details, an overall pleasant experience, but it wasn’t the best game I had played that year let alone ever. On the balance I wasn’t sure which was the better game.

        Portal 2’s Co-Op, though, had the best and most interesting puzzles. The robots were delightful. The Enter Chamber, Hear GLADDOS Monologue, Finish Puzzle, Hear Another Monologue pattern was a bit disappointing but was nonetheless executed well enough. Mostly, the puzzles got more interesting faster than in either Potal 2 or Portal 1 singleplayer. And that’s what I look for in a good puzzle game. All of Portal 2’s challenge for me came from not noticing that there was this thing over there. I wanted brain-benders, not Where’s Waldo’s Portalable Surfaces.

    • Azagthoth says:

      Agreed! With Dark Souls as a close second

    • skywalker99 says:

      I actually do not like Portal. I thought it was boring. The same goes with Half life 2 (I did play and like Half life 1 though).
      I love Shadow Warrior and Battlefield BC 2

  2. ResonanceCascade says:

    “But I suspect that Thief might be the best Looking Glass/Ion Storm game. I think Planescape: Torment might be the best RPG. I think Day Of The Tentacle may be the game I love the most. I think The Longest Journey may be the game that has the strongest personal connection for me.”

    I don’t particularly disagree. Those are all also excellent games with huge (often overlooked) flaws, much like Deus Ex. Except for Thief, which is nearly flawless to this day.

    As for Deus Ex, any game that tries to do as much as it did is bound to have some rough edges. It’s like a machine that produces some of the finest gameplay moments you will ever have, but occasionally spits out a clunker.

    • keithzg says:

      And indeed, one of the reasons why we haven’t gotten a better game along this vein is that few games since have had more than a fraction of its ambition.

      • gwathdring says:

        Bullcrap. Ambition is cheap as dirt. Look at Kickstarter–projects failed, successful and ‘successful’ alike. Look at Elite: Dangerous and Star Citizen. Look at Mass Effect.

        Mass Effect wanted to be a sprawling CYOA action-RPG trilogy. It wanted engaging RPG mechanics, complex characters, a sprawling and living galaxy to explore, and it wanted your actions to have far-reaching consequences. The result was enjoyable but pretty far off the mark.

        It’s all very well to say Deus Ex was a very ambitious game. But to call it unique for that requires that you redefine the ambitions of many modern games as their final products rather than the ambitions the developers went on about until PR took over in the runnup to launch.

        Hell, look at Molyneux and 22Cans.

        The idea that ambition breeds these sorts of games is quite foolish. Skilled designers taking on overly-ambitious projects produce rough gems. Skilled designers taking on not-overly-ambitious projects produce polished gems. Less skilled designers can make something worth playing but should stay the hell away from ambitious projects because they will make horrible messes.

  3. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    It doesn’t matter cause Eidos Montreal are going to nail it second time round, aren’t you guys? Not convinced by the alternatives offered so I’m going to stick with Deus Ex for best game ever, I’m afraid. Great write up though, amazing to think there’s so much wrong with a game that’s still clearly one of the best ever made. We’ve got a long way to go yet, haven’t we?

  4. Eiv says:

    Still think you should do an article (or 5) on whether Invisible War is the worst sequel ever.

    I’m currently playing through it again and rather enjoying myself.

    • thedosbox says:

      Still think you should do an article (or 5) on whether Invisible War is the worst sequel ever

      Why would you want to torture the man?

      More seriously, I suspect that would generate an epic comments thread.

      • Eiv says:

        I actually get more excited for the comment threads than the articles pertaining to them. Sad existence I lead :)

    • Berzee says:

      I still think about the dark secrets behind Queequeg’s and Pequod’s on a regular basis.

    • NonCavemanDan says:

      I did this weird thing where I assumed bits that I liked from Invisible War were actually from the original and got very confused when I went through Deus Ex and didn’t once encounter trans-human cyborgs that had uploaded their brains to the internet wanting to sell me black market mods or a holographic pop star who’d discuss philosophy with me once I’d informed her about local crimes.

    • Rao Dao Zao says:

      I made my peace with Invisible War relatively recently. I used to really hate it, and yes, it’s nowhere near as brilliant as its predecessor, but it’s actually still fun and fairly engaging once you let go of all that. For a start, it has a sense of humour, which is something the grim ‘n’ gritty reboot prequel distinctly lacked.

    • Ross Angus says:

      NG Resonance is an excellent bit in that game.

      • Sin Vega says:

        The NG subplot is one of the best game subplots ever. A genuinely interesting idea, well delivered, it’s really easy to feel a real human connection with that story. And you could probably miss the whole thing if you weren’t being all Deus Ex about poking everything you see.

    • Unclepauly says:

      Weird, I’m playing through IW as well right now. Even weirder is that I’m liking it.

    • drewski says:

      Much as Deus Ex massively benefits from rose tinted specs, Invisible War actually benefits from a lack of expectation.

      Forget that it’s the rubbish sequel to DX, and it’s in fact pretty good.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Yup, 1st time IW for me and I’m not even viewing them as the same series of games. Currently playing IW as a dystopian mass effect knockoff and with that mindset it’s not bad at all.

        • Unclepauly says:

          Actually, when I think of it that way, it’s better than mass effect in most aspects. Story and (yes) even level design being two of those aspects.

      • kud13 says:

        2 major gripes I can’t forgive IW for, ever:

        1) the tiny levels requiring constant loading screens
        2) putting hack and cloak Aug in the same slot.

  5. thedosbox says:

    Closed eyes. Fingers in ears. NO NO NO. YOU”RE WRONG WRONG WRONG.

  6. King Kong says:

    I think you’d change your opinion on Thief like Deus Ex if you were to replay it and remember all that first person platforming and all those dinosaur levels

    • ResonanceCascade says:

      You mean the delightful tomb romps? Never figured out why everyone hated those so much. Hell, I’d play a whole game of that.

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      I replayed it last in 2009, and found it to still be an utter masterpiece. Wrote it up here:

      link to eurogamer.net

      • jarowdowsky says:

        I totally missed that it was you who wrote so many of those retro articles on eurogamer – thanks, i adored them.

    • Muzman says:

      I only really remember one bit of first person platforming really.

      But anyway, there’s still some common wisdom that first person platforming is a terrible thing because it’s always a terrible thing and everyone knows this.
      Truth is its only a terrible thing for them. There seems to be a fairly even split on who can handle it and who can’t

      • Razumen says:

        Exactly, I’ve never jumped across something and thought to myself “Hmm, you know what, that would’ve been a lot easier if I could see myself do it.”

  7. X_kot says:

    Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

  8. technoir says:

    I’ve always been kind of awed by how such a wonky Frankenstein’s monster of a game as Deus Ex can still manage to be so good. All these flaws could easily ruin a lesser game but it’s almost like DX just stands taller because of them.

    The real best game is Kentucky Route Zero, btw.

  9. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    Well well, fascinating, thoughtful stuff. Personally, I would say that it’s the best DX game ever. I liked IW, but all the new HR stuff left me cold.

  10. Orontes says:

    There was much I love about the game (such as nonlethal methods, expansive levels, high minded ideas) but there was some I hated (why put monsters in this game, why always nighttime, why are the Chinese characters voiced so badly).
    In the end I never managed to complete it but it still feels like a giant leap for gaming, and I am slightly tempted to play it again without killing anyone.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I think I’ve only seen 2 lizard/dinosaur/mutant things outside of the sewers although I’m only about halfway through.

  11. YogSo says:

    So yes, the AI is atrocious, the shooting cruddy, the scripting clumsy, the pacing all over the place, some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard (including some that’s basically racism), and that bloody ridiculous inventory nonsense. Best Game Ever?

    You didn’t need to replay the game to know that, since all those things were already present the day the game was released. Nothing has changed since then, and yet the game was a masterpiece then, as it is now, in spite of those flaws.

    Reading through the whole thing, John, and the stuff you were criticizing (summarized again in the above quote), I couldn’t help but think that there was an implicit hypothesis to your starting position, one that you weren’t consciously aware of, and that it was negatively impacting your reencounter with the game:

    When asked, “What is the best game ever?” I always give one reply. “Deus Ex, [because it’s a perfect game].”

    The part between the brackets, added by me, is what I think was going on in your head all those years back. And no, obviously, Deus Ex isn’t a perfect, flawless game. It never was. It didn’t matter, though, because it always was (and still is) more than the sum of its parts. It was/is a great game – probably “the best” – because of the “experience” it provided to the player. An experience that – again, probably – hasn’t been surpassed yet.

    “Is Deus Ex the best game ever” is a relative question. If the answer is “no” it means there’s a better game – “better”, according to whatever set of criteria you choose. If you can’t provide the name of that other game, then the answer can’t be “no”.

    But of course, that question can’t be really answered, as you have realized at the end of this journey. And yet that doesn’t mean that the answer is “no”.

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      It’s all nonsense, ever means always, eternally, until the end of time. Best game so far would be more accurate, but less snazzy on a magazine cover I agree.

      • Unclepauly says:

        Not true. Ever can also mean up to a certain point. Used as “for ever” means eternally, but “best game ever made” means of all the games made at the point of that statement.

  12. WHS says:

    I actually love the way the non-lethal option ramps up and becomes substantially more difficult — almost impossible — as the game goes on. It circumvents a problem underlying most games that offer a similar choice today, which is that playing non-lethally is basically the same as playing lethally, except you’re loading different ammunition into your guns. The modern approach changes the decision to avoid killing anyone from something that actually increases the difficulty of the task before you into something that is a matter of personal preference and nothing more.

    In most mediums, if you look at fictional heroes who don’t kill, their decision is rarely portrayed as the easy option. It’s portrayed as a constraint, even a handicap, but a handicap they choose to accept in order to preserve some higher ideal. There’s a constant tension between what is easy and what is right.

    For the most part, video games utterly botch this. They show the “good” path as equally viable as the “bad” path, and rarely dare to suggest that murdering your way through a level might, in a superficial sense, be easier and more rewarding than exercising self-restraint. Even when the “stealthy” option is slower and more deliberate than the other option, it ultimately offers greater reward — more XP, more items, whatever.

    Deus Ex, whether purposefully or not, manages to basically preserve the dynamic you see in other mediums. As the game goes on and your enemies become more and more morally culpable, and harder and harder to evade, the temptation to just blow them away grows and grows. There’s essentially no cost to doing so; killing your enemies, for the most part, won’t lock away any reward or close off some branching path. It’s just a question of whether you’ll take the easy road and the high road.

    And frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever made it through the game without succumbing eventually. There’s always the moment where I’m trapped behind a grate and there are twelve soldiers on the other side and I decide that I need to survive more than I need to stick to my convictions and my silenced and modded assault rifle — kept in my inventory “just in case” — comes out and moments later they’re all dead and I’m amazed at how easy it was in the end. From that point on, I’ve crossed the line and there’s no going back, and J.C. Denton lays waste to everything in front of him. To me that tension and its resolution is as essential to Deus Ex as the level design and branching missions and all the rest.

    • Kefren says:

      Good points, well made.

    • Stugle says:

      Don’t know if it was an intentional design decision, but clearly the game works to serve that notion. A very nice thought and one I hadn’t had before (me, I go easy on the NSF and then once I switch, all evildoers – as defined by me – meet an early grave. From my first playthrough, I still remember finding the hidden MJ-12 facility in Hell’s Kitchen and murdering all the scientists in it, reasoning that I was depriving the conspiracy of vital brain power).

    • ffordesoon says:

      I agree. And I would add that the thing I love most about Deus Ex to this day and have never seen a successor get right (probably because it was a happy accident that came out of systems not working as well as they should have) is that you are practically forced to consider every situation in the moment and improvise using the tools at your disposal, be they nonlethal or lethal. You can go into it thinking like a metagamer, but inventory space is at a premium, and the game so often throws a wrench into the works of even the best laid plans. That’s when even inveterate metagamers have to roleplay, because there’s nothing else they can do.

      • WHS says:

        Exactly. You can’t just decide upfront to play nonlethally and then spend the rest of the game shooting everyone with tranq darts a la Human Revolution. The game will repeatedly challenge your attempt to do so by throwing you into situations where that doesn’t work at all. It’s difficult to get through the whole thing without a certain degree of thinking about environment (at least on the harder difficulty levels) and getting through it while following some set of arbitrary rules (e.g., not killing anyone) requires genuine determination and cunning.

  13. Kefren says:

    I recently played it again, possibly for the 8th time. Still really enjoyed it, despite flaws. That suggests that, for me, it is one of the greatest games. There are very few I have played that many times. The others are: System Shock; System Shock 2; Thief 1; Heroes of Might & Magic 2; Heroes of Might & Magic 3; Dungeon Master; Doom. Probably some others I have forgotten.

  14. Stugle says:

    Thanks for the series, John. I really enjoyed your journey and your honest opinion of things that don’t work (either not anymore, or never in the first place). Your conclusion is not surprising and I find myself agreeing with it, to a point.

    Objectively, I can’t argue that the game is flawed and furthermore, that other games have taken individual aspects of Deus Ex and done it better. It’s kind of hard to call a game “The best” with such caveats.

    On the other hand, I still don’t have a better single candidate to replace Deus Ex – it’s still a good shorthand for a game that entertains, gives you a lot of flexibility, and at least tries to discuss some real-life issues, however caricatured.

    Even if I can’t really call Deus Ex “The Best Game” anymore, I will still call it MY best game. The combination of the game, that period in my life, and the memories created is impervious to change, like a flawless diamond.

  15. Distec says:

    >Saw title.
    >Skipped article.

    YES IT IS NA NA NA NA NA NA

    >Sticks fingers in ears.
    >Will now proceed to read article.

  16. kud13 says:

    Thief had the awful mine with the undead as its second level. And then the freaking BoneHoard, which only got interesting when you were high enough to get away from the undead.

    DX’s weakest level (missile silo) took virtually forever to get to.
    Not to mention that Thief was a series of missions barely connected by a plot, whereas DX gave you character progression…. No, Thief wasn’t the best looking Glass/Ion storm game.

    Besides that… DX is too many things, and it’s main problem (what “ages” it so much) is that it gives you absolutely no inkling as to what it may be–and it starts off looking like a very poor quality shooter.

    In terms of layers of BOTH level design and story–DX remains king. Individually, Thief 2 probably takes the level design crown, while Planescape and Alpha Protocol share the Choice + Consequence nomination. But as a combination of things, DX rules supreme.

    And I think that will always be its fate. Not truly excellent in anything, but bold enough to do an above average job at so many people

    As so many others have said: so much more than the sum of its parts.

  17. someoneelse84 says:

    Best rpg ever… Planescape torment. And fallout 2. And Kotor 2.

    • LennyLeonardo says:

      Fallout 2. And Fallout 2. And Fallout 2. Fallout 1 is number 2.

  18. Det. Bullock says:

    I remember that conversation with the mole people too (and my last replay was a couple of years ago), very strange.
    Either you did something or the game glitched out on you for some weird reason.

    • Horg says:

      The Mole People and the NSF will act friendly towards you if you sneak to the hidden command room at the back of the camp. That’s the one behind the false wall with the switch as a stuck out brick behind a trash bag. Once you talk tot he leader, you can let him live and the camp will turn friendly, including the patrolling NSF.

      • Horg says:

        Edit: should have add that you get a hint to do this before you enter that section, and if you attack anyone (even a non lethal attack) before talking to the leader the patrolling NSF will stay hostile.

  19. Dinger says:

    A beautiful girl once pointed out to me that nostalgia was just Greek for the pain of the mind. That was about the time Deus Ex was released, and damn, am I old.
    Back to the point: yes, when I played DX, I found the Big Idea Philosophy to be a little too PoliSci 101, complete with texts in translation and a 1950s interpretation. This was not some philosophical investigation, but rather stuff cut-and-pasted from the Norton Anthology of Great Philosophers. The shooter aspect was not good. The Greasels were stupid. The level design was so damn late-90s: Rainbow Six had a Jumbo Jet scene, so did DX. I mean, the thinking was on the order of “Graphics cards can give us 300m draw distance — hey you can fit a 744 in less than 100m, if we give people a big-ass jet surrounded by tarmac, we’ll show off our technical prowess!”

    But sure, in retrospect, developers realized that videogames could be make a claim on cultural content. They still haven’t figured out the optimal formula for combining cultural value and videogame mechanics, but there’s a start there.

    Unless, of course, you want to claim that Starfleet Orion (The FTL of the 70s) and the classic Infocom Games already did that (AMFV = the game that will be remembered for the incomprehensible puzzle at the end; the one that, when it was released, did not pose a problem for anyone over 8 years old). Then you’d be right again. We’ve had our Citizen Kanes from day one.

    • NotGodot says:

      The conversations in Deus Ex blow peoples’ minds because most nerds honestly lack the introspection and intellectual curiosity to really engage with that kind of material, despite what nerds want to think about ourselves. Stuff that’s elementary to a reasonably engaged freshman in any of the humanities (yeah, including English) is going to seem revelatory to someone who wasn’t engaged.

      • Chrysomore says:

        Joss Whedon built an entire career on this phenomenon.

      • Cres13 says:

        This is the best comment I’ve seen on RPS. I feel like this phenomenon explains whole swathes of internet / nerd culture (and many of its problems).

      • LennyLeonardo says:

        I think the opposite is true. Many gamers are intellectually confident enough to enjoy pulp sci-fi. Which is what Deus Ex unashamedly is, narrative-wise,

      • ffordesoon says:

        This. My God, this.

      • Horg says:

        I feel there is something woefully ironic about a supposedly intellectual comment that opens with a sweeping generalisation : |

      • BooleanBob says:

        You can sneer at imagined unsophisticates all you want, but Deus Ex still poses more interesting questions than the vast majority of mainstream games out there are prepared to even touch. Better yet, they’re framed in a way which matches the theme so they’re not totally incongruous (no ‘Hey unknown Space Policeman, what should I do about my brother’s unborn baby?’).

        • NotGodot says:

          I don’t really think it does. I think that it’s merely more keen to frame those issues in the form of long didactic stoner dorm room conversations rather than relying on obnoxiously obvious subtext. Compared to games of its time, sure, but that’s not really a flattering metric.

    • Titler says:

      I’m glad someone else pointed this out; I played Deus Ex somewhere after 2001 I think, long after I’d finished a politics degree, but had only just got my first PC. I picked it up on the £5 Sold Out budget label having heard so, so much about how it was an intelligent classic; and along with Quake and a few other games I’d missed out on, having only had an Amiga still until that date, I was deeply looking forward to the experience…

      Of course the Internet was only a few years old back then, so there was a huge rise in interest in conspiracy theories, and Alex Jones/Prison Planet style lunacy which once would have been the preserve of the drunk outside the liquor store telling you about the radio transmitters in his fillings… but even allowing for that naivety of the youthful days of networking across the world, when I finally started playing I was staggered at how ham fisted and faux-aware it actually was. You had to have been completely disconnected from any politics at all to be surprised by anything in DX; I mean, the 90s news had been completely full of the Militia Movement and claims about Black Helicopters and the Clinton Death List and so on, that was the age of Ruby Ridge and Matt Drudge, and it didn’t take a genius then to see how full of rubbish those times and it’s claims were (and now the US has a Democratic President again, our politics has become so once more, sigh) . And DX just blithely name checked every conspiracy it’s author’s seemed to have heard mentioned… the article above even mentions there were 17 factions, but I gave up on the game shortly after the Yakuza (or equivalent) were introduced. I have a vague memory of leaving a Neo-Tokyo scene and just thinking “This is insulting my intelligence now, I’ve had enough”. And I’ve never completed the game to this date.

      Now I’m not saying people who enjoyed it are stupid; personal tastes aren’t debatable. But objectively it really isn’t that well plotted; the article above again mentions that all it really does is cram in references, and I noticed this at that time, whilst playing it for the first time, without bias.

      On top of that, the mechanics were, as also mentioned, clunky. The inventory system was frustrating. I remember completely giving up on gunplay, because it was atrocious, but then finding the stealth as the article again mentions only takes you so far. And all the time it was throwing trench coat clad philosophy at you. Today we’d recognize much of what DX was doing as simply repeating Ain’t It Cool memes… which probably, sadly, explains why it has such a high reputation. Today, I’d expect a mecha-Emma Watson in there somewhere.

      I’m glad so many of you enjoyed it; but I hope you’ll also give a thought as to what the last decade and a half of hype has felt like to those of us who never clicked with it, and find plots based around the Illuminanti just plain silly. Guys? It’s been a bit much, sorry.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        I’ll sympathise with your hype exhaustion when people sympathise with my nausea when everyone goes on about how great Dark Souls is.

        So, frankly, never.

      • Muzman says:

        It’s a bit of a mash-up in that regard, yes. Reminds me of the way in Hellboy all myths, legends and fairytales from all cultures are simultaneously true (even though in Hellboy that is sort of absurd and funny). I guess people were a bit nuts for vast cultural convergences back then.

        Still I think it’s worth enduring in the end. It actually doesn’t matter all that much really to the overall. This becomes more obvious in the later games in particular. I think there i some interesting political subtext to the notion of secret histories and conspiracies in regards to power and political theory that the game is obsessed with. But you can really feel them warping things to fit the references in after a while, I find. Especially so in HR. You want them to just relax and make a good cyberpunk game.

      • Horg says:

        ”plots based around the Illuminanti”

        DX was never based around the Illuminati, it was fleshed out by the Illuminati and other pop fiction conspiracy / far future sci-fi themes. I feel like from your perspective of disregarding the conspiracy fiction elements of the game, you have under appreciated what made the game actually intelligent.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Actually, I think the etymology of nostalgia is more literally “the pain of returning home”. Pedantic correction I know, but I have always loved that as a concept.

  20. emptee says:

    I didn’t touch Deus Ex since the time I finished it when it came out. Because of that it WILL remain one of the best games ever made (providing I never play it again).

    On the other hand, I finished Dark Souls 3-4 months ago and I can safely say that it IS the best game ever.
    It has done what no other game could do since my childhood. Made me utterly happy to play it, to master it and eventually beat it. With so many games half-finished in my steam library that is quite an achievement.
    And on top of it all, it’s got wonderful level, music, monster, combat and art design.

    Deus Ex, you might have been my childhood crush, but Dark Souls is my lover now (HE HITS ME CAUSE HE LOVES ME!).

  21. ansionnach says:

    Pacing? Always had an issue with that in DE from day one. Felt like the game was rushed, incomplete, disjointed, did not fulfil its promise. Nice choice for the other games. They certainly achieved what they set out to do, especially the very polished DoTT. Maybe the golden age of PC gaming was like the bus service: a whole fleet of buses is due any day now. Just have to wait right here…

  22. EBass says:

    I probably last replayed it in…….. urgh I think I gave it a playthrough in 2010 give or take, and I still found it an utter masterpiece. If I have some criticisms of your piece it’s that you don’t highlight what’s great (and still unsurpassed about it) enough. You might respond that “We all know Deus Ex is great, I just want to highlight that some of it might be because of rose tinted nostalgia!” But I don’t think thats obstensibly the point of the your piece. I’d like to highlight just three things of (many) that come to mind.

    The way the game in its core gameplay mechanics encourages you balance pros and cons of even the most basic choices.

    Heres a very basic one to show what I mean. Ok you’ve come accross a door, theres a keypad nearby, you can lockpick it, blow it off it’s hinges with an explosive, stack up some boxes to go over a nearby fence, or crawl through a vent which has some hazerdous gas nearby.

    All these choices are trading off some resources in order to achieve the desired result (to bypass the environmental obstacle) be it a multitool, a lockpick, a LAM or GEP rocket, some health, time, Bioenergy etc etc. Furthermore each one of these choices (maybe except for the explosives one) is not only influenced by your current resources, (i.e if I have 20 multitools and 2 lockpicks I’ll probably use the multitool) but whose plausibility and implementation are also affected by your character choices. If you have the bioaug that lets you breathe gas then the vent is the way to go. Maybe the lockpicking skill makes using the multitool the most efficient way here.

    Ok this is a somewhat idealised situation that can’t be applied to EVERY approach in the game, but it’s incredible how many of these ostensibly simple decisions were actually complex and dynamicly approached. Compare this to it’s own sequal (where hacking everything was the “best” choice because it cost nothing and actually GAVE you XP) or the majority of RPGs (locked door? Get your theif character to lockpick it).

    Second is just how epic and real the globetrotting experience felt. This is a minor point but one I felt needed saying. The game just feels EPIC with the whole globetrotting vibe, moreover it always justifies why you are somewhere incredibly well. In so many other again supposedly great games (lets take Half Life 2 for an example) I’ve been busy murdering away baddies and suddenly thought? “Wait why am I here again? What maguffin do I need to find? What’s my final goal and who sent me?” Same has happened in a whole host of other titles, but not Deus Ex. The pacing is near perfect.

    • kament says:

      Compare this to it’s own sequal (where hacking everything was the “best” choice because it cost nothing and actually GAVE you XP)
      Wrong and wrong. First, DX sequel is called Invisible War (yeah I know we’ve all been trying to forget it even exists, but come on) and I’m pretty sure it does not award XP for hacking. Secondly, the prequel to DX, called Human Revolution, does reward you for hacking, but! only after you’ve invested rather heavily in the respective skill. And every skillpoint you invest in hacking is worth literally dozens of locks and computers you have to hack if you don’t want to fall behind the curve, so it’s definitely not the best choice, you just haven’t thought it through.

      • simontifik says:

        I’ve never understood the criticism of Human Revolution that it rewards stealth/non-lethal play too much. I’m currently playing through on the hardest difficulty not hacking a thing and shooting everything that moves. I’m still swimming in XP and Praxis points.

        • kament says:

          Well, I guess some see stealth/nonlethal bonus as an encouragement to play that way, and it is, in a sense. People are just wired like that. Until you do the math, discover that one Praxis kit equals 5,000 XP equals a hundred nonlethal takedowns, and realize that you might as well have fun with the game instead of trying to maximize XP gain as if it’s your bank account.

  23. EBass says:

    hird with regard to choices. I would just like to comment on how well the game handles, not the choices itself but imputting into the mind of the player that EVERYTHING is reactive (when it clearly isn’t), by predicting what players might do and then making THOSE THINGS reactive. It’s impossible to make everything in a world reactive as (as many have pointed out) the branches from this are essentially infinite. So what developers need to do is pick what things TO be reactive in order to fool the player into thinking more things are reactive than they are, I’ve never seen a game do this as well as Deus Ex.

    One example, Deus Ex being an RPG, knows every player will explore every last nook and cranny of the universe in order to find loot (such as the womens toilets) so makes the game comment on your enterance. Another example, remembering murdering Half Life’s guards for their ammo when they could no longer go further? The Unatco trooper who comes to assist you after you get to the top of the statue of liberty has the first assault rifle you’ve seen. The game knows that many players having (at this time) grown up on Half Life or Unreal, will simply just murder him for this weapon, the game reacts to that.

    Now a lot of this content is front loaded (I.e the early levels have more choice reactive elements), but it remains in force throughout the game at key moments to fool the player into believing in the reactivity which is key. If you compare this again to it’s sequal in which the reactivity was superfrontloaded. The first level had a crapton of reactivity to player ACTIONS and then it almost totally dropped off. You can turn most places into a morgue with no one batting an eyelid.

    Moreover I don’t think it’s entirely fair to criticise the way in which choices are handled. There is an interesting discussion to be had on how choices are telegraphed to the player (if they are made to obvious it feels contrived, if they are too opaque the player doesn’t know the choices are being made). But I think theres something to be said for not telling players at all they are even making a choice. For a number of reasons. Firstly I think the games which essentially have action and then one big gate with a flashing sign that says “THIS IS THE PART YOU ARE MAKING A CHOICE IN. DO YOU WANT TO SAVE THE VILLAGE BUT LET YOUR FRIEND DIE OR SAVE YOUR FRIEND AND LET THE BADDIES KILL THE VILLAGE” are a little bit contrived. But also, when you highlight choices this way, you also make it clear when you are NOT making a choice (i.e when it’s not being highlighted), this makes the game seem far less reactive than when you believe any action you can make is potentially making a choice.

    Urgh I could keep on with this but I’m tired. Discuss

    • NooklearToaster says:

      I came into the comments to say exactly this, that even today so few games let your actions speak for themselves. Just like real life, there are options you’ll never even consider that you could simply work through by paying attention and thinking differently, games just aren’t made this way and it’s appalling.

    • Premium User Badge

      burn_heal says:

      Great response, I particularly agree with your last point: playing Deus Ex I found myself always second guessing whether what was happening was a result of my actions or not. As a result everything I did and said felt meaningful even if it didn’t actually affect anything. Not many other games I can think of emulate this feeling, however one may be The Walking Dead.

  24. Jenuall says:

    Deus Ex not the best game ever?

    What a shame.

  25. Frank says:

    You’re right — I do disagree. If anything goes before it, it’s certainly none of those you mention… probably Zelda 3 or Metroid Prime or a strategy game.

  26. bill says:

    Well that was predictable. And depressing.

    I told you in the first post that this was a bad idea. It doesn’t really matter what your best game ever was, replaying it 10 years later was bound to lead to a “death by a thousand cuts” effect as you noticed all the flaws and didn’t get the same immersion and rush that you got at the time (due to aging graphics, familiarity, etc..)

    I don’t recommend replaying Thief or your other favorite games either, as the result is quite likely to be the same.
    I think this has decided me that I’m not going to replay any of my old favorites either.

    Deus Ex was never my best game of all time, but as Thief/SystemShock 2.5 it’s pretty close. It had all those flaws at the time and, you know what, it didn’t and doesn’t matter.
    I’m kinda sad that a true Thief/SystemShock 3.0 never arrived though… for me Deus Ex was partly about the potential it screamed for the future of games, a potential that surprised me by not appearing.

    IMHO it’s not always the details of the game (or book or movie) that count, but what stays with you later. (Even if that happens to have been made up by your brain).
    I’ve watched quite a few technically very proficient, well written, well paced movies over the last few years, and thought they were awesome at the time… but if you asked me one year later about them I’d have a hard time remembering anything or teling you why.
    But a handful of movies have stuck with me, I’ve found myself thinking about them at a later date for no obvious reason. Those are the great movies, and the games that stick with you are the great games.

  27. Orazio Zorzotto says:

    Racist voice acting was a problem in games for far too long, wasn’t it? I was playing the Longest Journey: Dreamfall recently and my goodness, the voice acting for many (human) characters are just racist stereotypes. Considering how smart and intelligent the game tries to be it really stuck out. It’s worst in the Venice section when you get the Chinese store owner, the new voice actor for Charlie (who has gone from the pleasent Rasta inflection of the first game to a sort of gritty “in da hood” direction) and the Australian hotel owner. Charlie isn’t so bad but in context with the others it all gets a bit icky. Truly shameful. I haven’t seen anything as bad from the last few years, which I suppose shows that raising the professional standards of an industry can very much be a good thing, as much as we miss the days gone by.

  28. SirBryghtside says:

    As someone who played Deus Ex in 2011, long after I’d decided that Morrowind was the best game ever, I found this series fascinating :) when I played it, I wasn’t quite sure why people even considered the story good at all – it seemed to me like a whole lot of nonsense about conspiracy theories wrapped up in some of the worst voice acting and presentation I’d ever seen, and you seem to echo those initial reactions in this article. However, I now appreciate how people looked past that to the underlying themes of the game, which I never really gave a second look because I was too busy giggling at the accents in China. However, I definitely agree with the points about the stellar gameplay choices – I thought they were wonderfully done, and the best example of that kind of gameplay that I’ve ever played through.

    So yeah, while I don’t think I’m ever going to stop rolling my eyes at people who bang on about the philosophical undertones of the story, I think I ‘get’ Deus Ex now, far more than I did when I played through it 4 years ago :)

  29. Arvell says:

    I’d say that Dishonored continues and mixes the fine traditions of both Thief an Deus E with some aesthetic similarities to Half-Life 2 on top of that. It surely deserves more praise than it already gets.

  30. Ejia says:

    I always thought the best game ever was System Shock 2, or at least this is what I’ve heard. I never got to play it because I lost my CD. An unopened CD at that!

  31. Muzman says:

    Sadly Deus Ex has something Thief hasn’t managed in years since: developers who do seem to genuinely care about recreating the variable experiences of the game like the original.
    You can debate whether they succeeded I suppose. They were simplifying and hamstrung by recent tech demands to some extent.
    But people only seem to want to fix Thief rather than truly recapture it.

  32. gbrading says:

    Deus Ex has never been “the best game ever” (I reserve that for Half-Life 2 or Tetris), but it is certainly one of the finest video games ever made. This series has been very critical of the various flaws of DX and I’m not disputing a single one of them. The shooting is appalling, the AI atrocious, the scripting occasionally downright broken. But the things it does right, it does right so well that I can overlook all these problems easily. This blog series failed to mention my favourite character, the AI Morpheus who is hidden in Morgan Everett’s apartment. Morpheus has some of the most quotable lines of any character, and he really goes into the various philosophical aspects in greater detail. Whilst John says the game isn’t as deep as he remembered, can you think of many games which get much deeper than the universe Deus Ex manages to establish? And of course, the multifaceted level design remains second to none.

    The very fact that we’re still talking about Deus Ex fifteen years after release is evidence of it’s historical significance. It’s never played well, but even today I still view it in the highest regard.

  33. fitzroy_doll says:

    Genuine question: would Planescape Torment stand up to a first-time play through now? I have never played it.

    • someoneelse84 says:

      I played through planescape for the first time a few years ago and it was daunting yet fantastic once I got into it. As long as you are geared up for long gameplay sessions and enjoy reading. I personally think Fallout 2 has aged best of the golden age of pc RPGs.

    • Monggerel says:

      You will be lost and angry within the Mortuary for 3 hours then ragequit.

      At this point, you have two alternatives:

      1. Turn your gaze and never think about Planescape again.

      2. Reinstall in half a year, get out of the Mortuary in 10 minutes (not forgetting to say hi to Deionarra), and play one of the most unique RPGs ever. Is it the best? Fuck no. The Best RPG Ever is obviously Morrowind you dim twit. Is it worth playing? Yeah it is. Planescape (like Morrowind, heh) is literally unlike any other piece of fiction. It isn’t the writing or any single thing that matters, it’s that the whole is utterly, violently, brilliantly unique. And that’s good. That’s good for you. Yeah, right.

      • kud13 says:

        I strongly disagree. Mortuary was unique and interesting. The Hive was garbage, esp the Hive thugs you couldn’t always run away from.

    • kud13 says:

      First time I played it to completion was 2 years ago. I had a hard time playing through the Hive with its generic fetch quests after the epic opening of Mortuary, and the combat sections while you search for Pharyd were extremely tedious.

      Once you get through the catacombs, however, the game is just great, imho.

  34. Pizzacheeks McFroogleburgher says:

    Here’s some thought without much forethought… i loved deus ex, i like to blame it for me nearly failing my degree. Yup, loved it, made me resent HR the more i played it.. But… i liked super metroid more… oh yeah.. maybe it was the best game ever.. hold on… yup, i like portal 2 more, or the same… yup, best.. hold on.. mario64… best game.. hold on, snes zelda, now there’s a game, i.. hold on, dayZ.. yup, but it’s… a pile of crap while being the best game ever so that won’t stick… lemme see.. TLL on speccy… hold on.. i’m not going to come to a conclusion here, but i have one on Deus Ex… i enjoyed it thoroughly, hence fond memories.. When i was a lad, corned beef on bread with beans was my best meal ever..but neither have stood the test of time for me, and so i have no desire to return.

  35. Darko Drako says:

    I never thought it made thematic sense to stick to being a pacifist in any of the Deus Ex games.

    In Human revoution this is especially true, his body was blown to pieces,, he can now shoot blades out of his arms and be a human bomb; of course he is going to hurt people!

  36. Ultra Superior says:

    I think you played it too fast.

    I have finished Deus Ex 11 times, and the experience varies. When you immerse yourself, and take your time to play precisely and thoroughly, it is still the best game ever.

    Like Morrowind, though I wouldn’t want to play whole Morrowind again.

    Well, what I find most tragic about DX, is the fact that it had no worthy successors. I remember how I thought that after DX, there surely will be a new game like that every other year. There was none – though I did enjoy DXHR more than other DX fans.

    I’d blame the technology. Everyone can create “a game” these days, with limited scope. Thats why theres so many interesting indie games. But to create a Magnum Opus like DX in reasonable quality, just to create all the assets in today’s standards…. a large studio would have to do that and it just wouldn’t be profitable.

    Everybody gets a 3D printer, but no one builds a new statue of liberty.

  37. Sunjammer says:

    It’s funny how often you’ll hear people echo the idea that DX was unfathomably great. It’s probably the most rosily viewed game I can think of. There are people out there who will staunchly maintain that Human Revolution had far worse stealth and combat than DX, which really makes me wonder about them.

    I’ve tremendous love for this game, but even at the time I thought it was a pretty boxy and rough compared to the comparatively organic feeling System Shock 2, just from the basic perspective of interaction.

    Best game ever though? Ghost Master. Wholly objective.

    • Distec says:

      It’s hard to say HR was worse in those regards, as they really did clean up a lot of the clunky roughness from DX. But things were lost. Stealth was entirely based on line of sight with no shadow work. Third-person sticky cover feels entirely different from having to lean and peer out with your own two eyes. The takedowns were ostentatious cutscenes that replaced the “manual” elements of prodding somebody or hitting them over the head with a baton. And of course there’s no skill system to feed into any of your capabilities.

      I know people will argue that some of those lost elements were unrealistic or finicky, but they didn’t really bother me. It’s just more variables in the game space, and strikes me as largely preferential. HR might have streamlined a number of things to achieve the same end result, but the experience of moment-to-moment control was something I liked in Deus Ex. You can’t jettison those features without sacrificing some of the feeling.

      • kament says:

        DX gameplay certainly is more… granular, for want of a better word – I don’t think it’s more complex, but it does have more things. Melee weapons, for one thing (by the way, headshots don’t work with a baton in DX and only alert the target, which always amused me). Then again, takedowns did enable the tactic I love in DXHR and impossible in DX – peek around the corner to lure a guard and knock him out as he approaches. So beats moving a crate to hide behind while advancing towards a patrolling enemy.

        • Distec says:

          Granular! That’s the word I was looking for when writing that post, but I couldn’t remember it. Cheers! I know that kind of approach amounts to tedium for some players (ala Time Units from XCom), but I find myself being okay with it in some games.

          I could have sworn the baton was more effective when aiming at an NPC’s head, as the prod seemed to work that way as well. But that might have been a mod’s doing or my imagination. I do remember asking myself why anybody would use it on my first playthrough, but I found its appeal with the strength aug on subsequent ones. :)

          • kament says:

            Wasn’t sure that word even made sense in the context, what with me being non-native speaker and all that. As for the melee weapons in DX – yeah, it’s pretty counterintuitive, maybe that’s why I, too, keep forgetting that in DX you spank ’em to knock ’em out and not hit ’em in the head. It’s just that I’m currently replaying the game and rediscovering those little quirks my memory can’t seem to hold.

        • Pathetic One says:

          Baton headshots certainly do knock out (unaware) enemies in DX. It’s just that there’s (apparently) no bonus for aiming at the head.

      • Continuity says:

        HR was worse in 2 or 3 key ways: 1) terrible, terrible boss fights. 2) much smaller game 3) too much emphasis on combat. Other than that it was grand.
        Remake the original the the HR engine and i’ll be happy. Why can’t that happen :(

  38. Continuity says:

    Deus Ex is in my top 10… just don’t ever ask me to put that top ten in order… or specify exactly what’s in the top 10.

  39. ww says:

    I enjoyed reading these, but I’m afraid I have to disagree with almost every single paragraph of every article. For starters, it seems like you missed a whole lot, plus roughly half the backstory found on pads and hidden in secret areas (and if Thief is your favourite LG/IS game, then you should be ashamed of that). That “conspiratorial lunacy” which is obviously not meant to be taken literally and yet manages to say so much of value about the world we inhabit is actually a large part of why anyone who plays DX will approach things the way they do and make certain choices which affect the game script and most of all headcanon, which is to say the player’s experience. I guess it’s fine when film and TV does it, say, in The Ghost Writer, or in countless other “political thrillers”. But of course games are in the unique position where certain people crave after acknowledgment so badly that we’re expected to look down on everything that wouldn’t be worthy of a Nobel Prize in literature, thereby dismissing the very essence and unique quality of the medium itself, along with the challenges it poses for development.

    A bigger issue I have is that this article reads like someone purposely trying to break their experience of playing the game, not so much to see how it holds up, but really to write an article on it. It reads like someone looking for anecdotes to confirm (test?) a preconceived notion, rather than someone trying to enjoy a game wholly and fully, which contrary to what most gamers are aware of, takes effort on the part of the player. Playing a game requires the player to speak, or learn to speak, the language of its design, its gameplay, its worldbuilding, whatever you want to call it, and this game more than others requires the player to immerse themselves in it as best they can, not to blind themselves to flaws, but simply to understand both the limitations and possibilities of its design, and to understand perfectly the extent of player agency.

    Obviously the game has flaws aplenty. It has bugs, scripting errors, wholesale omission and so so forth. But by focusing on these exclusively, you’re no longer playing the game the way players play a game, but in fact you’ve done something much closer to playtesting, in my opinion. It’s great that you’ve done this for the benefit of readers, but it’s very jarring if you’ve replayed this game recently and found it to be every bit as excellent as I once did, and saddened to find that no game has surpassed its intricate design in 15 years, even though everything from VTMB to Mass Effect to nu-Fallout and Dishonored was built on top of it.

    I think in many ways, Deus Ex is set to become the Blade Runner of games (or the Citizen Kane as RPS writers would have it). Some people ‘get it’, some people don’t, and as time passes and more and more of DX’s DNA gets copypasted into more and more games in ever smaller increments, new gamers just lose the ability to see what makes it special.

    I hope DX will be surpassed one day. But I know that in the current industry, that won’t happen for years to come, because outside of backstory/game plots people crave vapid experiences which require no thought, that are wholly disjointed from the gameplay, rather than integrated, and it likely won’t happen with DXMD, though I’d love to be proven wrong. I certainly agree that it’s the best of its kind so far, I just hope come the next decade, it won’t be the only one of its kind.

    • Walkerz says:

      Don’t have much to say after that.

      For my part, I won’t say that Deus Ex is the “best” game ever, because this has no meaning to me. It’s my favorite ever, sure, but partly because I enjoy its flaws as much as I love its qualities.

      This is pretty much like the sentiment you might have with a human being, relatively speaking: you don’t expect them to be “perfect”, but you learn to appreciate their silliness and their extravagances.

      Interesting writing though, it’s a nice experience, if maybe a little too positioned.

    • kament says:

      It’s not John’s fault the game performs as it does. What he described is nothing like playtesting, it’s the actual moment-to-moment experience of someone playing Deus Ex. How do I know? I’m currently replaying it.

      You know what’s been the milestone of my experience with it the last time I played it – that is, several hours ago? Because I’ll tell you. “Your hands are full” and “you can’t drop it here”, that’s what. And the thing is, the problem goes far deeper than simply not very well thought out mechanic of picking something up and putting it down again (and God forbid you have a weapon ready) or jumping, for that matter; it’s hardly a coincidence that in otherwise much loathed Invisible War there’s a lovely thing – mantling control.

      It’s the level design combined with insanely slow and restricted character progression that gets in the way, constantly, and forces you to “learn the language of the game” or to make do, if we’re being honest about DX for a change. I’d much prefer the ability to jump over that fucking fence in the warehouse district instead of stacking crates on trashcans because there’s just no other way back to that goddamn elevator to the rest of Hell’s Kitchen, not to mention the alley route.

      They say that in DXHR you can plainly see the paths designers thought up for you. And it’s true. You can see that it’s thought out and tested and tweaked and tested and tweaked for the player’s maximum satisfaction. What does Deus Ex tell that fella going: “I want SATISFACTION!” Exactly. Back then, they didn’t care that much. No one did at the time. It was all so hardcore, much nerdiness and shit. So a loose bunch of systems thrown together was good enough, even if it was, frankly, a mess.

      And I think that’s what gives the game character, actually. And the reason why HR just doesn’t have the same “feel” and it’s highly unlikely that any game ever will. It’s like DX is a painting of… something, no one knows what, and HR is a photograph of that thing – cold and precise and lacking much of the guesswork and messiness of “the real thing”.

      Because when all is said and done it’s the guesswork that holds the whole thing together. There’s not much to look at, for instance, but a couple of billboards – Drink more! – is enough to spark your imagination. And you can never beat that – not without neural interface anyway.

      • ww says:

        It’s not John’s fault the game performs as it does.

        Of course not, yet reading these gives off the impression this is a very broken game, which it simply isn’t. DX was, or is, at the frontier of player agency, and it has a few rough edges, definitely, but nothing is gained focusing almost exclusively on those times the game can break. For example going for the dragontooth before being given a reason to and finding that the script hasn’t accounted for it, is a similar omission to those you will find in virtually every complex game, it even happens when every corner of it is entirely self-contained script-wise. It’s not that such flaws should be overlooked, simply that nothing is gained focusing on them to the near exclusion of everything that works, which is how these articles read.

        “Your hands are full” and “you can’t drop it here”

        You can’t be serious. Are you even using the quickbar? This is a non-issue. You want to be able to lift heavy objects with an equipped weapon or item in one hand? I’m not following.

        It’s the level design combined with insanely slow and restricted character progression that gets in the way, constantly, and forces you to “learn the language of the game” or to make do, if we’re being honest about DX for a change.

        As opposed to giving the player access to all augs in the first few areas? I don’t understand how this poses a problem for you, and I fail to see how this gets in the way of anything.

        I’d much prefer the ability to jump over that fucking fence in the warehouse district instead

        So I guess it’s a good thing you can get the speed/jump aug at the warehouse. ;)

        You can see that it’s thought out and tested and tweaked and tested and tweaked for the player’s maximum satisfaction. What does Deus Ex tell that fella going: “I want SATISFACTION!” Exactly. Back then, they didn’t care that much.

        If you think DX wasn’t playtested then you know shit about games. It just didn’t have the nasty habit of continuously hand-holding the player, telling them exactly where and when to go to do exactly what, presenting everything on a silver platter, which obviously defeats the entire purpose and philosophy of an immersive sim. Call me an idiot if you want but I don’t think games are made in the same way as Mars makes candy bars. I’m not one for nostalgia, at all, but I can tell you that Looking Glass and Ion Storm knew more and cared more about game design than all of contemporary AAA developers put together, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole. You’re absolutely grasping at straws in lieu of an argument.

        So a loose bunch of systems thrown together was good enough, even if it was, frankly, a mess.

        Can you name one single example of a “loose” system in DX which isn’t connected to another game system? Adds nothing to the game? You’re entitled to your opinion that it’s a mess, but communicating that opinion requires an actual argument.

        And I think that’s what gives the game character, actually.

        This is an increasingly popular view, especially among players who don’t give thought to how something was designed, but if we’re honest the game works really well and we wouldn’t be discussing it 15 years on if those “character flaws” are all there is to this game, would we? I think it’s adorable that someone could actually think DX was some kind of happy accident. No one who’s played this game extensively could seriously think this. No one who’s played UU, or System Shock, or Thief could seriously think this.

        Because when all is said and done it’s the guesswork that holds the whole thing together. There’s not much to look at, for instance, but a couple of billboards – Drink more! – is enough to spark your imagination. And you can never beat that – not without neural interface anyway.

        When all is said and done DX has more content than DXHR. Not in sheer texture sizes and polygon counts, or even cute billboards and signs, but there’s more going on in both foreground and background, more is expected of the player, exploring and experimenting, there’s more significant backstory and vignettes in readables and dialogue. And not in a “they did more with less” kind of way, either. Arguing that my or your imagination was what makes this game great is a terrible way of complimenting Ion Storm on knowing exactly what to design and what to leave open. It actually almost sounds like you’re describing a text adventure here, not DX.

        • kament says:

          Wow, someone actually responded to my gibber for once. Thanks.

          First off, I’m afraid I’ve given you the wrong idea (and I fear that what I’m about to say is only going to reinforce that impression). I like the game a lot, love it (even if the myth of it is somewhat removed from the thing itself). That’s why I cared for your argument in the first place. And my point was – John or anyone for that matter didn’t have to try and break the game, it breaks all by itself when you play it. If you’re careful and know things, you can avoid that, mostly. But if you forget, like John did in Castle Clinton or I did with that bottleneck in the warehouse district, then, well.

          It’s not about poorly implemented system of moving interactive objects around. It’s not about the fact that default jump height is set just so – just so you couldn’t jump on anything higher than the smallest boxes (try jumping on a road block in the game and you’ll know what I’m talking about). It’s not about the fact that you can’t install that aug, should you choose speed over silence, right there in the warehouse, even thought it would’ve saved the trouble to anyone who wished to return to ‘Ton hotel for an unfinished business (although then it would’ve been easier to reach via the rooftops – there’s a ladder there you can’t climb because JC can’t jump worth shit). It’s not about almost complete inability to influence when your character gets an upgrade – nevermind that, you don’t even know what augs will be available first time around (so much for agency). It’s not about the fact that DX is a crappy shooter. It’s not about the fact that it’s no better at stealth (cf. Thief; AI’s zero awareness of unconscious buddies lying around is more than enough)*. It’s not about the fact that different systems not so much interact as they conflict with each other – try tossing a gas grenade to incapacitate the enemy and then shoot them with supposedly tranq darts. Right – they will attempt to shoot back, briefly, as in – one system will override another. And don’t even get me started about non-lethal weapons in the game. It was always a pet peeve of mine, moreso after DXHR came out. Can you disable a camera or a bot with your stun gun – sorry, riot prod – in DX? That’s systemic approach, right there.

          As for the narrative density, John’s said all there is to say in his remark on Mole people. And I’m replaying the game now, so don’t tell me how much there’s going on, because I know it first-hand. The game is almost empty by modern standards. Even excerpts from Shakespear can’t help that.

          But it’s not about all that. It’s the sum of those parts. (deep breath) Of course I don’t think DX hadn’t been tested. I didn’t say that. I said no one care that much back then. And I’m not talking about handholding here. I’m talking about refinement and polishing. When you can’t climb an obstacle mere inches higher than your maximum jump height and the respective augmentation propels you twice as high as needed, makes a lot of racket, but still can’t get you on top of a cargo container a few millimetres too high – and they all are – well, someone just didn’t think twice about all that. Remember that minor scene with a doctor and a patient I mentioned?

          “Can you jump?”
          “Yes.”
          “Can you stack things on things to help boost the jump?”
          “Yes.”
          “Well what do you want, then?”
          “I want SATISFACTION.”
          “I’m sorry, but we did all we could, you better go now.”

          And I know they did. DX was first and for the longest time the only game to offer so much in one package – no matter the quality of the ingredients as long as they’re all there. Sort of. And for that it will always be the one, at least for me. The reference point, as Jason Moyer put it – one way or the other. Becaue we humans are wired like this. We, most of us, know of Mozart or the Wright brothers, but not so much of their contemporary epigoni, no matter how far aeronautics or formal music have advanced since. Except that when it comes to practical matters, we are not about to prefer Wrights’ craft to Boeing.

          *Hell, even HR. It took no small measure of flak for being strictly line-of-sight affair, but the thing is – so is DX. They actually did it by the book (as someone ruefully said on another occasion – following too slavishly in DX footsteps or smth like that): If you want to use a covert approach, remember the academy stealth course. Stay out of their field of view, walk slowly to stay quiet, and crouch behind cover. Yeah, there’s a couple of spots in the game where it seems that illumination matters, but all in all it’s just not reliable.

          • ww says:

            Heh, thanks for carrying on discussion.

            poorly implemented system of moving interactive objects

            ??

            It’s not about the fact that you can’t install that aug, should you choose speed over silence,

            The speed aug can also be used for stealth since you can use it to crouch run fast (silently). Never tried this?

            It’s not about almost complete inability to influence when your character gets an upgrade

            Again, did you expect to find every aug on Liberty Island?

            nevermind that, you don’t even know what augs will be available first time around (so much for agency)

            Datapads and e-mails that reveal all the augs LONG before you get them, there’s one in the medbay iirc. I fail to see how, even IF your point were valid, eliminates player agency.

            It’s not about the fact that DX is a crappy shooter. It’s not about the fact that it’s no better at stealth (cf. Thief; AI’s zero awareness of unconscious buddies

            It’s not a first-person shooter though. The RPG mechanics and how accuracy works functions very well. The player was never meant to go in guns blazing with low skills and basic equipment (but you can get most weapons to be dead accurate if you invest in this route, via weapon skill, modding weapon, the targeting aug).

            The stealth mechanics are extensive. The player has to consider cameras and other security measures, in addition to NPCs at all times, dead NPCs alert NPCs (for some reason unconscious do not, true) and the player can hide bodies, the whole of the game’s areas are designed to enable the player to sneak, circumvent and hide from enemies. NPCs will run to sound the alarm. I could go on but that one AI omission doesn’t make it crap at stealth. Of course it’s also not a pure stealth game such as Thief, but it has more than enough in the way of systems to make it very interesting.

            It’s not about the fact that different systems not so much interact as they conflict […] a gas grenade to incapacitate the enemy and then shoot them with supposedly tranq darts

            I’ve never tried this, but tranq darts are crap no matter if you combine them with gas grenades or not, perhaps because they would be OP otherwise. Congrats on finding an answer to my challenge, but this fails to convince that its a failure at being systems driven or that those systems don’t work.

            Can you disable a camera or a bot with your stun gun – sorry, riot prod – in DX? That’s systemic approach, right there.

            No it isn’t, because it doesn’t make sense. The prod works on living things. There’s no reason it would work on a camera encased in metal, or that it would magically short-circuit a 12 ft robot. I don’t own a taser but you’re welcome to try this out in real life on a CCTV camera or an ASIMO. Joking aside, it makes even less sense from a game design perspective.
            [charlimit]
            [continued]

          • ww says:

            [continued]
            The systems approach for cameras, bots and turrets:
            -scramble & EMP grenades
            -hacking (disabling, turning and even direct control)
            -multitools
            -cloak
            -avoiding their field of view
            -brute force (explosives, sniper rifle)
            Cameras can only be destroyed by explosives, but of course this alerts everyone and defeats the purpose of disabling the camera. If the player could just zap cameras with the prod and that would somehow magically not sound the alarms there would be no incentive to use any of these myriad specifically designed ways to disable or bypass them, nullifying the entire stealth system and removing rather than adding challenge.

            We, most of us, know of Mozart or the Wright brothers […] we are not about to prefer Wrights’ craft to Boeing.

            Game design isn’t simply a matter of advancing function or technology, that’s just a part of it. Since DX, there has been a dramatic regression in the complexity of these systems, save for perhaps a few exceptions such as Dishonored, Consortium, Minecraft I guess, in a way.

            It’s I think wrong to say that DX was not successful, design-wise, at being a narrative-driven systems-based game. What I read in these articles, and your comments, is akin to replaying UU and complaining it should’ve had even more systems, or replaying Thief and complaining that sound propagation wasn’t complex enough, or replaying SS2 and complaining some areas aren’t immediately accessible.

            No one who played DX would claim it’s perfect, but these articles focused exclusively on flaws, most of which would never be experienced by 98% of players across half a dozen playthroughs. I think I counted maybe three paragraphs on what works. That’s all I was getting at. Perhaps asking the question what the best of anything is; games, films, literature etc., is equally pointless and doomed to fail, especially when focusing exclusively on what’s wrong as opposed to what’s right. That’s at least one bit of the article I can agree with.

          • ww says:

            *Welp* excuse the formatting error. Will post editing ever return?

        • KenTWOu says:

          Looking Glass and Ion Storm knew more and cared more about game design than all of contemporary AAA developers put together, and it wouldn’t be hyperbole.

          We still have Arkane (former LGS/IS devs here) and Valve and other talented game developers who care about game design. So it’s pretty much hyperbole. And by the way, if you are interested in interconnections between different game systems, Dishonored was designed that way, so almost all its systems listen to one another. So it topped Deus Ex in this regard.

          • ww says:

            Arkane

            Arkane is not a AAA studio though. I love Arkane and Dishonored but that doesn’t change that they’re a small to medium-sized studio with sub-AAA budgets. AAA doesn’t signify quality of output but to studio size and budgets, obviously. Not to mention a good chunk of the very people I was referring to work there. And Irrational Games, same story.

            Valve

            I’m sure they care for gaming, and I guess it qualifies as a AAA developer, but isn’t Valve that one exception that basically proves the rule? They’re probably the only AAA studio in the entire industry that haven’t resigned themselves to pointless annual sequels, making “cinematic experiences”, and generally dumbing down complexity in order to appeal to “wider audiences” at every turn. Rockstar? I haven’t played anything more recent than San Andreas and Max Payne 3 so I can’t comment on them, but they’re mostly focusing on consoles. We’re probably forgetting other developers, Eidos Montreal is probably just about AAA-sized, I guess (mixed results imho, but it was clear they loved DX, not sure how much they actually learned from it or knew how to craft that into the final game despite what was probably overwhelming pressure from above to casualize the fuck out of it).

            I don’t think it was hyperbole. I’ve already given up on most of AAA gaming over the years, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be a good thing if more AAA developers actually started caring about game design again (emphasis on “game”). Not to be too harsh, but other than making great assets and having what is probably superhumanly productive pipelines, AAA gaming is a wasteland right now, and has been for years. If we’re talking PC (being on-topic) I don’t see reasons to be optimistic about AAA. Not to say that I can’t live without it, especially with plenty of small and medium-sized developers and all this new talent making great games, but it’s a loss nonetheless.

  40. April March says:

    “some of the worst voice acting I’ve ever heard (including some that’s basically racism)”

    I suppose there’s at least one thing DXHR did that followed the series’ tradition. OH WOW MEGA ZINGER

    But you nailed on the head the texts – DX is the only game I’ve played that really won me over with the worldbuilding it did with the scattered texts. That was the difference I sensed the most in DXHR – how every piece of text was somehow linked to the main story, which is the same thing as you, John, one day going to a gaming event in Hong Kong, getting to the hotel, sitting on the lobby, picking up a magazine, opening it to a page at random, and reading a profile of Cara Ellison. (Meanwhile, Skyrim went the other way and had just too much text, most of which was not related to the play experience. So pretty good for a world simulator, not so much for delivering a cohesive experience – which I’d accept as argument that wasn’t what Skyrim wanted to be, and that’s fine.) DX was one of very few games I’ve played to understand theme, and being able to follow it subtly (subtlety being something else that games rarely understand) so that you can have stuff in the game that reinforces what it’s about what being overtly about the main characters.

  41. Jason Moyer says:

    My argument for DX being the greatest game ever, or at least the greatest in its genre, is pretty simple. It’s the reference point. It’s what people immediately compared Alpha Protocol to. It’s what people immediately compared Dishonored to. It’s what people immediately compared Vampire Bloodlines to. It’s what some might compare New Vegas or Mass Effect to. It’s the standard. Rarely equalled, never surpassed, always the first title that comes up when discussing the quality of a similar game.

  42. jsantab5 says:

    Great series, I really enjoyed it. I actually replayed all of DX along with John to ask myself the same questions. Of course, my experience was different and I have my own answers.

    I similarly always held up DX as The Greatest Game Ever. And I still do, despite its many flaws.

    The story had a huge impact on me on my first few playthroughs, less this time. This playthrough, I went more a resource-management route. It became a procedural and technical challenge to get through the game using the least ammo, lockpicks, multitools and bioelectric cells possible. Sure, I could tranq that guard and hide. But if I’m clever, I could use a flare to make him turn away, sneak up and baton his melon. Flares are plenty, tranq ammo is not.

    So I found new challenges, and new pathways. And finished the game with full everything (other than prod ammo, damn MiBs). For that novelty, DX still holds up as the best game ever (for me anyway).