During the recording of our debut podcast episode I mentioned that my favourite game of all time was the original Deus Ex. Alex misheard me and thought I was talking about a game called Day of Sex. It might exist, it might not. One thing is for sure, I’m not going to Google it. I’ve received a fair number of questions regarding Deus Ex (and Day of Sex) and what it’s about, so read on and I’ll bloody tell you.
Back in the year 2000 we were just starting to believe that our computers weren’t going to murder us due to the Y2K problem. It was a simpler time filled with MSN messenger and Mario Cart 64 tournaments. It wouldn’t be unusual to find me and three of my friends huddled round a miniscule television accusing each other of glancing at each other’s corner of the TV whilst playing Perfect Dark on the N64. The year 2000 was also a good year for PC gaming with classics like Diablo 2, The Sims, Thief 2 and Icewind Dale all being released. I probably seen even less sunlight then, than I do now. Which is a terrifying thought.
One of the most exciting things was the monthly ritual of begging one of my parents to by me a copy of PC Zone. This magazine was the best gaming publication ever written, it’s alumni include Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror) and Rhianna Pratchett (Mirrors Edge, Tomb Raider), and its demo CD was invaluable as it had updates for games and demos that would otherwise have taken hours to download on a 56k modem. That’s if Nana didn’t phone half way through the download and fuck the whole thing up. I successfully persuaded my Mum to get me the September issue in which the cover game was Deus Ex and on the CD, a demo of the game. I played the demo for hours and loved it, I asked for the game for Christmas that year.
Deus Ex is a first-person action RPG set in year 2052. You play as JC Denton, an agent in the anti-terrorist organisation UNATCO who has been enhanced with nanotechnology. The world of Deus Ex is a bleak place with plagues, terrorists and wide spread poverty. JC (we’re on first name terms) uses his almost superhuman abilities to fight everything from the Triads to evil soldiers working for the Illuminati. The story is conspiracy filled, cyberpunk and very blade runner. It is absolutely brilliant. Adding to this games prestige is the fact it was made by Warren Spector, the absolute bearded legend who was behind classics like System Shock and Crusader: No Remorse.
What makes Deus Ex special is the freedom it gives you to play as you like. You can be a sneaky bastard, working your way through levels, using silenced weapons. You can be a Rambo like head case and kill everything in sight. The story will adapt to the way you play. A superb example of this can be found in the first mission, you need to infiltrate the destroyed Statue of Liberty and rescue your colleague. Once you’ve done so you come across the leader of the terrorist cell who carried out the attack. He surrenders to you immediately, allowing you to question him, once you’ve done so you can either walk away, leaving him to be arrested by your back up or you can kill him. Your actions here dictate how your UNATCO colleagues interact with you, with the ground troops praising you if you decide to kill him and the top brass being slightly miffed. This game was truly a pioneer in open ended gameplay and the levels of player freedom that it presented were almost unheard of.
Exploring the world allowed you to learn more about what was going on by reading discarded newspapers, books and even computer terminals containing emails. It was the most immersed I had ever been in a video game world, I loved having to hack in to computers to get door codes and disabling security systems. The world that Ion Storm created was incredible and very detailed, even more impressive looking back at it now considering it was all done on the original Unreal Engine. From the first level on New York’s Liberty Island you find yourself travelling to Hong Kong, Paris and even Area 51. The levels were enormous. In addition to masterful level design and superb writing the game also boasted an amazing, atmospheric music soundtrack.
A stand out level for me is set in Hells Kitchen, New York. In this massive hub level, you find a bar, numerous apartments to explore, gangsters to help or murder and your brother Paul’s apartment. Whilst visiting the apartment and through various twists in the story you discover your brother may have been helping the terrorists. While you confront your brother, UNATCO arrive at his front door and try to arrest him. The game constantly presented you with scenarios like this were what you did was vital to story, if you stay and help Paul he survives the encounter and will work with you through the rest of the game. If you run as Paul insists, he is killed during the arrest. Moments like this intermingled with numerous side objects and unrelated places to just explore is really what made Deus Ex special. An added level of narrative is provided by the built-in communications link back to HQ, with a character called Alex Jacobson who is your coordinator, acting as a sort of moral compass. He sees and hears everything that JC does, commenting and offering advice as you progress.
It’s not just me who fanboys hard for this game. It has over the years received massive critical acclaim and repeatedly been named the best PC Game of all time. The success encouraged the developers to push on and develop a sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, which was less well received and frankly utter pants. There is a common theory that the game was simplified to allow it to run on Microsoft’s new baby the Xbox, however it’s more likely a combination issues.
In terms of game design this game has gone on to inspire recent classics like Dishonored and Dishonored 2. Harvey Smith who directed both games was a designer on the original two Deus Ex games. If you haven’t played either of these I really do suggest you play them, the world design, story and gameplay is amazing.
In 2011 Eidos Montreal released Deus Ex: Human Revolution, a prequel to the original which was met with critical acclaim and by all accounts is an amazing game. A second prequel was released in 2016 and whilst it was a solid game with a good story, it release was somewhat tarnished by the inclusion of microtransactions.
Deus Ex deserves all the critical acclaim it received and even to this day is still very playable and enjoyable. The graphics are dated and the voice acting sounds atrocious by today’s big studio standards. I think the fact that people still play and talk about the game 18 years after it’s initial release speaks for itself.
So, there you have it, Deus Ex. Not Day of Sex, you weirdos.