Deus Ex is often claimed to be the best game in computer game history. Personally I agree but it's not without it's problems. Join me while I take a look at this critically praised title.
Deus Ex begins in the docks of the island where the statue of liberty is located at. The island is under lockdown because of a terrorist attack by an organization called "NSF" that has managed to overtake the entire island. You are "JC" Denton, a nano augmented super agent working for the security agency UNATCO (United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition) and your task is to infiltrate the statue of liberty and capture the leader of the terrorist attack alive. You meet up with your brother: Paul Denton which gives you a weapon and the location of a contact that can help JC into the statue. JC is later tasked with working under the supervision of his machine augmented collegue Anna Navarre in several tasks related to attacks against the NSF.
The story has no problem introducing new characters to you. All the major characters you meets are colorful and memorable but most of all they feel real.
When you exit the docks you come across patrolling terrorists pretty much instantly. How you prefer to go up to the tower of liberty is entirely up to you as there are a number of ways to do so. The level design in this very first level is optimized to be as open as possible with plenty of secrets so it makes newcomers confused as to where to start and how to approach the problem. If you search around you will find to be able to get the Sniper rifle and the Crossbow on the very first level of the game.
The other levels in the game varies with open areas and enclosed areas but they're never entirely linear. They are more often than not full of branching paths but of course there are a few linear levels which JC has to venture though but even those can be progressed through in different ways, making for a truly varied experience. Almost all levels in the game allows for a subtle approach (or even several) but a direct assault approach is never out of the question either. However, the game rewards subtle approaches more than lethal ones which is apparent even in the first few levels of the game.
There is however one level that I want to bring up, directly before you arrive in Hong Kong - where you need to rescue your helicopter from a hangar of some sort: While not being a bad level in it's own right - this level did not add anything to the game and felt entirely unnecessary to me.
JC Denton starts out with a couple of skill points which he invests in different skills. These are in several different areas ranging from very useful to merely a convenience. The developers are aware of the convenience skills and they cost a lot less than the more essential skills that you can invest in. So if you want to be able to be a great swimmer it will not cost as much as being a good hacker or a good shooter but it will still cost something. Even if you don't have any skills in the different areas you will still be able to do these tasks - albeit at a higher cost of the resources to carry out the tasks. For example you might come across a locked door. If you are untrained in lockpicking you will only be able to unlock 10 points (of a universal maximum of 100) from the lock per lockpick. As the tools of these trades are relatively difficult to acquire large numbers of and locked doors being plentiful this skill easily turns out to be one of the most useful ones. So if you're untrained you will merely have to be more selective in the doors you want to try and unlock. If you run out you can also sometimes just blow up the door with explosives but the explosives in this game is even more rare than lockpicks. Unlike lockpicks though - explosives mostly only need 1 charge to succeed.
Deus Ex also features an "augmentation" system where you get to choose between different buffs and abilities JC will permanently be outfitted with during the game. JC can choose between being better at smashing peoples skulls in with melee weapons or lifting heavy boxes and crates. One allows JC to take people down in one hit and the other allows him to bring cover or trap people. You also get other kinds of abilities like being able to either be invisible to people or to cameras or being able to see details of your target (like health and weapons) or have night & heat vision. You always have to choose between two augmentations that works in similar ways but they also need to be upgraded and upgrading is something I think the game could have done without; because without the need to upgrade, augmentations could have been playing a larger role (especially in the early parts of the game) instead of being a bonus on top of JC's more useful Skills system.
Combat and Stealth
Because this is an RPG - Deus Ex's combat changes according to the skills JC acquires during the game. The game favors silent takedowns as the game isn't afraid of pitting you against several enemies at once, but in a way it is possible to try and engage the enemy with lethal weapons as well but perhaps not as rewarding. Eventually though JC pretty much needs to equip himself with some form of lethal weapons due to the increase of armored enemies during the later stages of the game. This oddly enough gives a sense of progression and a strange dynamic to the fights where you have to use the less lethal weapons against human grunts and the lethal ones against the tougher ones.
There is one strange thing with Deus Ex's aiming system where you have to crouch in order to get maximum accuracy. It's mainly a way to allow players who doesn't have good fighting skills to still be able to defeat someone with a gun. The games has some other, more desirable options open for such players such as throwing grenades and using pepper spray.
Of course sneaking is the greatest asset to JC and you don't have to skill up in order to be a great ninja in this game. In fact: JC starts as a pretty good ninja right from the start. As long as the player sticks to the shadows or behind the enemy he's not going to be able to see JC coming and be entirely in the mercy of the players whims.
Deus Ex does have it's problems, just like every single other game but somehow what Deus Ex tries really works. The story, despite it's weaknesses is ultimately very good. The pacing is brisk and you're never without any goals. The level design ranks as one of the best in games up to this point. And unlike so many other games from 2000 this game actually looks really good. Much of what isn't done very good or great is at least solid and the game has very few apparent weaknesses.
Most games I play have quirks that makes the experience playing them somewhat worse by being central mechanics. Deus Ex's problems are very minor in comparison of it's qualities. The augmentation system that I mentioned earlier is after all "a bonus" since JC's power really comes from his skills system. That's why I believe Deus Ex is as great as gaming has ever gotten and deserve a 6 out of 6.