Great games: Deus Ex (2000)

Every time there's polls about what are the best games ever made, there's always a handful of games, on the scale of the history of games, very old games that find their way in the top 10. Those games are at times seen as games, which no new game has managed to surpass in design, gameplay or quality and more often than not, they are some of these: Planescape Torment, Baldur's Gate, Thief 1 and 2, System Shock 1 and 2, either one of the Ultima Underworld games and of course Deus Ex, a game series that is still going strong, but of some fans still claim no later game in the series has managed to surpass. So, is it really so? I thought it could be a good time to take a glance on the original now, that it has been made a bit more modern day friendly via Revision mod, which adds some new models and higher resolution textures as well as plays with the effects and lights a bit.

So, if Deus Ex is not familiar to you, it's one of the cornerstones of cyberpunk games. You take a role of J.C. Denton, a UNATCO operative, who has been biomechanically enhanced to be stronger, faster, more agile and stealthy. You star out at the base of the statue of Liberty, that has been years ago been partially destroyed by terrorists. This time a group of NSF terrorists has taken it under control in order to steal a shipment of Ambrosia, medicine meant to treat people suffering from the symptoms grey death. But soon, after you've run all around the place, not just the first missions, but the world overall, you'll notice that not everything is as black and white. There are many sides to the things going on the world. You'll find out centuries-old secret plans for world domination and secret sects behind them as well as people who oppose them. It's up to you to find your way through the maze of lies and corruption and either take someone's side or just do what you feel is right.

While Deus Ex still is that bulky, edgy 90's 3D, Revision does make it look a bit nicer.
The most impressive thing about Deus Ex is the attention to detail. Not graphically, but how the story is built and how the different sides of the narratives are told. You find people all around, who knows something about something. There are newspapers and books, e-mails and clippings you can read if you want in order to get deeper into the mysteries the game hold. And then there are the missions, which you can tackle in multiple ways, be it with by stealth or guns blazing. All the maps are filled with optional stuff you can either do or ignore, like in the first mission where you can free a fellow UNATCO agent from a jail cell or just go straight to the goal. This triggers different kinds of cutscenes and conversations, giving you a narrative that more or less fits in the way you do things.

The ideas behind the level design are also grand and all about giving you, the player, as much freedom you need in order to try and tackle the missions the way you see fit. There are no specially marked spots where you can shoot a climbing wire for an example, but if you see an interesting way to approach a high ledge for an example, nothing stops you from trying to build a tower from crates in order to climb up and enter a building that way.

When given freedom to do what you want, you'll just as
well might kill everyone.

You also have the freedom on how to dispose of, or not, the enemies you encounter. You can try to sneak past them or render them unconscious. Or you can sneak behind them and try to kill them silently or take them head-on with a nice collection of firearms or more silent crossbow. Or if you feel like it, you can always snipe them from the distance.

Freedom and choice are the names of the game in Deus Ex. And that's something a lot of people remember so fondly of. Unlike many other games, Deus Ex doesn't try to force you to take a certain path or doesn't try to make you play a certain way. The path of stealth and the path of destruction aren't necessarily two different corridors cut through the levels, but they are possibilities built for the player to choose freely what to do with the paths one can take. There's no "rope that works only on right kind of beams" style of solutions in making your way like there was in the Thief 4 (or just Thief as it was kind of a reboot). It's just you and the level and your own scrutiny of the surroundings.
In order to get here, I ducked cameras and swam in tubes.

There are a lot of modern games that have done some things better. Like stealth for an example. It's not an easy thing to do in Deus Ex. It takes time and effort and even then it often feels clumsy. Killing often is the easiest and simplest solution. Deus Ex Human Revolution made stealth more enjoyable with all the silent, nonlethal takedown skills, whereas in original Deus Ex it's very difficult to take the route of not killing.

Deus Ex is by no means a perfect game, but it does have a lot of interesting stuff going for it. It has such grand ideas in its design, especially how it handles the player freedom. Technically DX often feels like a prisoner of its own age. There are things in it that could use a lot of fine-tuning, as at times the game's challenge comes from technical shortcomings and the clumsiness of the engine rather than real difficulty. Deus Ex: Human Revolution took some of these ideas and while it didn't fully get where DX so valiantly tried to go, it also got a step closer some of them thanks to a better engine. DX:HR just forgot that people might prefer not to kill anyone and more or less forced players to make choices not fitting on their own play style. In it, stealth also was more linear, as it often was more clear what is a way to stealthy approach and what is for brute force. 

It's actually pretty easy to see why Deus Ex had the impact it did on so many people when it originally came out. While it is at places a bit clumsy, it does win you over with the style it has. A bit same fashion as old UItima games that had much more real interactivity with the world than say Skyrim, Deus Ex has a bit more thought on its world and how the player can effect on it. Some of the stuff it has is still pretty smart and a lot of it was groundbreaking when it originally came out. It's a tall order to beat something like that.

You want it, you can get it from GOG or Steam. And then there's the Revision mod, which is, at this time, easiest to install on the Steam version, but it should work on other versions as well. that can be installed on both, Steam and GOG version of the game directly from the store. In any case, you'll need the original game for it to work. But in any case, with, or without, Deus Ex is an interesting game. Unlike many other games from its era DX is also more than just a historical curiosity: it's still a kind of a benchmark you can measure modern games against.