Developer: Ion Storm
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: M (Graphic violence, language, suggestive themes)
While we were all making fun of John Romero for having promised to make us “his bitches” in full-page trade ads, and then delivering a flaming bag of poo instead of the next DooM, Ion Storm’s other big-shot game designer, Warren Spector, snuck Deus Ex around to the side door. Mixing first-person shooter elements with a dose of role-playing, and taking some story cues from classic console games like Metal Gear Solid, Deus Ex presented a great blend of shooting, stealth, and skill development. This gave the game more depth than Quake, more action than a typical RPG, and better replayability than most games. It was lauded fairly widely, and now it has been released for the Playstation 2.
[ad#longpost]You take on the role of JC Denton, a new breed of nanotech enhanced “super agent” under the employ of a secretive UN-sanctioned anti-terrorist unit. In Denton’s dystopian future, the current US president is allowing the UN (and specifically UNATCO) increasing in-roads into American politics, going so far as to turn over Liberty Island for UNATCO HQ. A plague is also sweeping through the world, killing thousands, while the rich and powerful get their monthly dose of vaccines and medication without fail. When a rogue group of terrorists steal a shipment of the valuable vaccine (“Ambrosia”), it falls to Denton and UNATCO to recover it, and put a stop to the terrorists once and for all.
Gameplay will be instantly familiar to anybody that has logged a few choice hours playing FPS games. The only real tweaks to gameplay come with the addition of the nanotech augmentations and your skills. As you accomplish the various mission objectives, you receive points to spend on JC’s skills, making him better at sneaking, shooting, stealing, swimming, what have you. This flexibility enables you to customize the character to your style of play. Want to blast things? Dump all those points into weapons skills. Like to sneak past the guards, picking locks and disabling security? Lockpick and multitool skills are for you. You can even jack up your computer skills and hack ATM terminals for extra green, just in case you have to haggle with the street dealer for his spare box of 10mm clips.
The non-combat facets, however, don’t possess the kind of depth that would make them really shine. Lockpicking is as simple as pushing a button, as is hacking, or bypassing electronic security. No attempt was made to put a gameplay mechanism in place that would be interactive or challenging. You either have enough “units” of each tool to get the job done, or you don’t. No player involvement. And while the dialogue interactions with various characters are surprisingly deep (you can gain new info from some characters on a sixth or seventh consecutive Interact command), the voice-acting is really hit or miss, and a great deal of the information you can pick up is simply “flavor text,” with no immediate bearing on the main plot of the game. It is interesting and well-written, though, and while some have said that Denton’s monotone voice got old, I found his delivery pretty amusing in places.
The graphics are good, but not great, originally based on the Unreal Tournament engine (now looking a bit dated), and the consistently oppressive and dark backgrounds and textures make many parts of the game look exactly the same. A few levels stand out from the pack, though, including missions in Paris and Hong Kong, so it’s not a complete wash. The sound is generally forgettable, but not obtrusive, and the effects (weapons fire, shouts of alarm and pain, etc) are good stuff. As mentioned above, some of the voice-acting is great, and much of it is mediocre, so there’s nothing stand-out in that category, either.
The story is immense, far-reaching, and shows influence of rabid militia conspiracy theorists, Robert Anton Wilson, Bill Burroughs, and a host of other weirdness. The plot continually turns and twists, leaving the player wondering which side of this conflict is right, which one is wrong, and what team he should be playing for at the end of the day. And the interactions with other characters will reveal that your choices have lasting impact in how others react to you. Go in guns blazing all the time? The battle-weary supply officer will restrict your ammunition allotments to “settle you down,” but the old guard cyborg commandos will laud you as a “born and bred killer.” It’s pretty unsettling when a random person in a Brooklyn tavern knows that you were the one responsible for the deaths of hostages because you got trigger-happy.
Even once you’ve beaten the game, there are multiple endings available depending on your choices and actions throughout the game, so it’s worthwhile to go back and try again (though the game clocks in near 30 hours to complete). Considering all the different options you have for customizing your character’s skills and nanotech abilities, a few different selections here and there lead to a remarkably different gameplay experience.