Is Deus Ex Still The Best Game Ever? Part Three: Wrongfully Accused
Deus Exclamation Mark
As my re-exploration of Deus Ex continues, I find my memories clashing with the reality of the game, as I try to establish if it's still the Best Game Ever™. You can read the whole saga here. It's accusing me of crimes I didn't commit, an in turn, I start committing some crimes.
It seems DX is convinced I did a bunch of shooting. I didn’t! I haven’t killed a single person! But grumpy old UNATCO ammo man gave me lectures about people’s rights, and JC was boasting to him about how exciting it was to kill so many people. Anna’s recommended to Manderley that I be tasked with becoming an assassin, as I left Battery Park “like a graveyard”.
I haven’t! None of that happened! I had a go with the pistol to remind myself of how clumsy the shooting is in the game, but then reloaded so they were all back alive again. Every body I’ve left behind has just been nicely sleeping.
It turns out, according to commenters on the previous article, that it was about how I handled the missions, not whether I killed. So if I’d only used secret tunnels and back entrances, I’d be credited with being a pacifist. But because I keep experimenting, trying every path and then picking the one I prefer, I’m triggering events that the game conflates with my killing people.
So huh. Clever old Deus Ex isn’t being very clever here. It’s using event triggers and approaches to measure my kill count – not whether I’m, you know, actually killing anyone. But of course a lump of the blame sits with me – I’m not convinced I’m playing it “right”.
I wonder whether what I should be doing, here and indeed in all games, is picking a direction and then going with it. My problem is that I have a much more meticulous approach to multi-path gaming. Because I’m always paralysed by the thought that I might be missing out on something better. So rather than spotting an open window, and thinking, “Oh yeah, that tramp mentioned this window, this’ll get me in,” instead I go through the window, monitor how far it will get me, then backtrack to see what other options I have.
It’s not an entirely illogical way to play. Were there time constraints, then yes, it would be daft. But there aren’t. So I’d rather see if a path through an underwater passage, or a way in via the roofs, might be preferable. And by doing so, I end up spoofing the game into thinking I’m doing all things from all angles. And indeed wasting an awful lot of non-lethal ammo in painstakingly exploring every route. It’s daft. I’m not quite sure how to stop myself from doing it.
But this is my lot, it seems. And I know I haven’t killed. I know the truth.
Except I just killed.
Anyone who’s played Deus Ex is likely to remember one moment above all others. Above the ending, above big decisions made in Hong Kong, above “what a shame”. It’s that point where, as you’d been beginning to suspect, your brother Paul is working with the NSF. And he wants you to join.
I’d somewhat misremembered this moment. I knew it happened in the aircraft hanger, and I knew it involved getting on the plane, but I’d rewritten it into a much more dramatic moment of apocalyptic revelation. In my memory it was Paul making this heartfelt speech about the horror of UNATCO, of the truth of the Grey Death, how the NSF were the unequivocal good guys. In fact, it’s just Paul mumbling something about how the UN are in the pocket of a corporation, and that I should get on the plane.
Because, of course, the true revelation had already been playing out in the conversations I’d heard, documents I’d seen, and concerns I’d witnessed. And indeed it was going to continue to play out as I returned to UNATCO with a new perspective, started to see some truth to Paul’s claims, and begun my transition. It was not a moment of The Sudden Switch, but a key event in the change.
(A quick aside: I also remember that alongside Kieron’s superb review of DX in PC Gamer, there was also that review in PC Zone, which saw fit to explain this entire sequence in a boxout, ensuring that anyone who read that magazine was robbed of the twist hours into the game. Bah. Never forget.)
Of course, it still has a rather significant dilemma. Anna Navarre. And Juan Lebedev. On the plane is Lebedev, who informs you of the truth of your parentless state, throws a few more big facts your way, and just as it’s getting juicy, in runs sexy Anna. “Kill him!” she enthuses, with little more elaboration. He’s surrendered, and UNATCO policy says he should be peacefully arrested. But if you don’t kill him, Anna does.
Which, again, I remembered as a much more nuanced and sophisticated moment in the game. I remembered this being a proper moral dilemma. If I kill him, then I’m the murderer. But if I stand by and let Anna kill him, am I not equally complicit in his death? Or am I an innocent bystander to a crime? Should I intervene? Is killing Anna in this moment somehow different from killing Juan? Is a murder to prevent a murder somehow less of a murder?
It turns out this was all work I’d put in after the moment, rather than a dilemma the game really gives you time to think about. And, in truth, I also remember its taking a rocket launcher to actually kill Anna when I first played it 15 years back.
This time I didn’t have a rocket launcher. And I thought, you know what? No. I’m not going to let Anna decide for me, after all the LIES she’d already been telling. She was going down. Call me a killer? Okay, I’ll be a killer.
So, with the wholly cheating gift of foresight, I lined the passageway of the plane with LAM mines. When she burst in, she, well, burst. Everywhere. “I guess you’ve picked a side,” says Juan, dryly.
So yeah, Anna, I’m a killer.