Monday, September 19, 2011

Video Game Review - Deus Ex

So my video card is broken. Overheats when I play anything even slightly visually intensive after about 15 minutes, scales that all the way up to like an hour when I play something not visually intensive. Interestingly, I can get two hours or so if I'm playing a game released 11 years ago. Which brings me to Deus Ex! Called by some the greatest game of all time, Deus Ex is a distopian future action game centering around conspiracy theories. This is also a game where the developers forgot to paint the WTC into the skybox of New York, (in the year 2000, mind) and then handwaved it away by saying terrorists blew it up. That's not a joke, that actually happened. So basically what I'm getting at is that the developers of this game are psychic, and we should pay attention to this since it's actually our future.

I picked Deus Ex up during the steam sale this summer for $2.50 figuring I'd get to it eventually, since I had heard very good things about it. I've been busy, what with school starting, so over the past month I've put in an hour here and there into Deus Ex, since my video card can't play anything made within the last five years without crashing. So around a month ago I downloaded it, I installed it, I loaded it up, I hit new game, and then I closed the game and downloaded a texture pack.

Deus Ex puts you in the shoes of [Insert name here], but that doesn't matter, because the game will call you J.C. Denton no matter what you put in as your name. It's kind of amusing if you, like I did, put in "J.C. Denton" as your real name, assuming it would come up at some point, only to have such golden messages pop up as "Wow, it's going to take a lot of getting used to calling you by your code name J.C..." J.C. Denton, as the game will inform you is your name now, is a spy working for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition, or UNATCO, in the far flung future of 2052. A plague is sweeping the U.S., Paris is under martial law, Hong Kong seems to be run by various gangs and shut down completely, and your first day on the job, you've got to go save innocent people from terrorists inside the (now decapitated) statue of liberty.

The story is probably where this game shines the best today. The world it creates is filled with detail. The story is gripping, feels as high quality as a good spy film, and is filled with twists and turns that are unexpected. Even in today's day and age where game stories have come quite far, it still holds up to the story of a lot of modern games, with only a few personal favorites surpassing it, in my opinion.

Another plus for the game, is that it's the oldest game I know of that is fully voice acted, which is a plus. Pretty high quality audio too. As for the voice acting itself, it ranges from passable, to... Well it was 2000. It's forgivable. The only voice actor I found to be exceptional was the voice actor of the character Bob Page, who I honestly thought was voiced by John De Lancie until going to look it up just now. Seriously. He sounds like Q.

Another place the story shines is in the conversation system, which feels like a precursor to games like KOTOR, or Mass Effect. Plus, the big choice at the end of the game, which leads to which ending you get, is actually one of the best choices I've seen in a game. Without getting too spoilery, you're given three options, each of with has serious downsides.

In fact, Deus Ex feels like the precursor to a lot of modern games. Deus Ex stealth system feels like it probably helped inspire games like Assassin's Creed and Batman: Arkham Asylum, in that the stealth actually involves watching guard patterns and walking quietly behind people, instead of leveling up a skill, ala Fallout 3.

If stealth isn't your thing though, there's always another option. You can either go head on and take people down, or go via stealth, or take a long way around where you might not run into many people. There's usually three or four given answers to every scenario, making most builds viable within the game for every situation.

Speaking of builds, I like the game's skill system. As you complete goals, you gain points, which can be spent to upgrade various skills. These range from things like weapon classes, to lockpicking, to computer skill, to swimming. How you build your character will greatly effect how you play this game.

Since Denton is a prototype for a new type of machine augmentation in Deus Ex, there are various upgrades which you can gather throughout the game, granting you special abilities, all tied to a power meter. While some of these are very useful, at times I wished there were alternative passive augmentations, since the active augmentations weren't all that appealing. Again though, this was made in 2000, so a lot of forgiveness can be granted.

It's also a pretty good length game. I clocked in on my playthrough at 23 hours, which is still considered a fairly decent length for an RPG today.

Unfortunately, at times, the gameplay in Deus Ex does show it's age to a point where it becomes difficult to forgive it. For one thing, balance is pretty awful. The tranquilizer dart, for example is supposed to let you do a stealth, non-lethal takedowns. While it does this, it also only does it after several moments of the guard running in circles like a madman alerting all nearby guards that something is wrong with him, and that you are nearby. But the most ridiculous thing is the dragon sword. About halfway through the game you get a weapon called the Dragon Sword (read: lightsaber) which is so ridiculously overpowered that you may as well simply throw all your other weapons away, because this thing kills people in one to two hits. Except robots. You need grenades to take those down.

By far though, the worst THING in this game, is INVENTORY TETRIS. For those not in the know, inventory tetris is a terrible, TERRIBLE inventory managment system, where you have a certain number of slots, and different items take up a larger number of slots, in a specific arrangement, which makes you spend time that SHOULD BE SPENT shooting terrorists/shadowy government agents, arranging your inventory. It's not fun. It's not a good system. It was a bad system then, it's a bad system now. If you think that there is any reason inventory tetris should exist, you are wrong. If you want to make me only carry so many weapons, fine make me equip or drop weapons. If you want me to only carry so much, fine, give me slots ala WoW, or weight ala the Elder Scrolls. ...I'm getting ahead of myself though, I still plan on playing the new Deus Ex game, and from what I hear THAT has inventory tetris, which is, as far as I'm concerned, a SIN in 2011. But I'll get to that, at some point.

So, bottom line, is Deus Ex still a fun game 11 years later? Absolutely. I had fun with it, and I'm glad I played through it, even though it's not required playing for Human Revolution, since that's a prequel. Deus Ex might show it's age here and there, but it's still a very good game, and considering that you can get it for $10 on Steam, and it won't take any fiddling with to get working, I would give it a recommendation in a heartbeat.

Buy this game if:
You want to check out where a lot of the systems used in modern RPGs got their start, or you just want to play through a darn good distopian espionage story.

Don't buy this game if:
A game that does show it's age somewhat too often is enough to turn you off. Also: INVENTORY TETRIS UGH.

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