Deus Ex

It’s not paranoia when they’re really out to get you.

Snap94_1Those who believe role-playing is synonymous with high fantasy need look no further than Deus Ex, a wonderfully open-ended first-person RPG set in the near future. To be more specific it’s set in 2052, and the world is a bleak place. Disease, pollution, terrorism and economic collapse have pushed societies into anarchy, and an age-old secret society is making moves to take control. Unfortunately the only person who even believes in the existence of this Illuminati-like group is your character, and only your vigilance stands between the hope of a bright future and a darker world of grim oppression.

The story will send players traveling all over the world, searching for clues that will reveal the mysteries of the secret cabal’s plans in realistic locations— many of which have been recreated from actual blueprints, maps, or photographs. Character interaction play a large role in the game. Many of them will have their own agendas, and will engage in activities beyond making small talk, even when the player is not present. Conversation remains an important element as well, and some dialog options will have a noticeable outcome on how missions play out.

Freedom To Choose

Deus Ex has a wonderful sense of open-endedness. You can accomplish the tasks of your mission, of which there are usually several, in almost any order you choose. Talk to the right people, and you’ll pick up side-quests. Want to get into a building? There are usually several ways, each of which puts an emphasis on something different (fighting, hacking, stealth, etc.). It all feels a lot like System Shock 2, which isn’t surprising considering the Warren Spector influence on both games

Because of the game’s ability to present multiple solutions for every problem, you’ll want to really scrutinize the game world. There are usable objects all over the place—water fountains, ATM machines, newspapers, books, computer terminals, you name it. Being nosey helps, and fortunately the game often rewards exploration with bonus skill points and handy items. You can then invest those points in a number of base skills – weapon handling, computer hacking, security bypassing, swimming – and build the sort of character you want. On top of that you’ll find augmentation canisters and bioenhancements to bestow your character with special abilities.

Just about every situation you encounter in Deus Ex has several solutions. Exhibit A: a couple of soldiers guard a locked door with an electronic keypad, and you need to get into that room to complete a mission objective. There’s a security camera and automated turret nearby, and a big security bot eager to ventilate any intruders. A simple shooter would have you run in, guns blazing, taking everything out, and you can certainly do that if you choose to. But why limit yourself to the obvious solution?

You can pick the lock on the door to the security terminal nearby, use a stolen code or hack into the security system, and turn off the security camera while you turn the automated turret against the guards, killing them remotely. You could toss a scrambler grenade at the security bot as it passes, making it fight for you for awhile and let it take out the guards. You could throw an object off to the side to distract the guards while you sneak by. Oh, and if you find your way into the ventilation system, you could crawl in through the floor and avoid the hassle completely.

Different And Edgy

Snap161_1Other games have striven to offer multiple solutions to every situation, often with limited success. This time it’s been done right: what you do and how you do it are almost always entirely up to you, and the game responds accordingly. Even what you say to NPCs makes a difference. Tell someone what he wants to hear, and you may get that security code or computer password you were looking for. Say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and you’ll have to find another way to get what you’re after. You might even tick off some people enough to make them fight you.

The list of possible solutions to problems expands even further when you consider the number of usable objects in the world. Every map is loaded with “stuff,” most of which can be picked up, pushed, destroyed, or manipulated. Don’t want to waste explosives to take out that robot? Activate your strength augmentation and carry a 50-gallon drum of fuel into its patrol route, then sit far away with a sniper rifle to blow it to bits when it walks by. Automated turret giving you trouble? Shove a large metal crate in front of it to block the bullets.

Since multiple solutions require different skill sets, Deus Ex offers a greater variety than those in many other games. There are 11 skills, each of which can be upgraded to a maximum level of four with skill points earned by accomplishing mission objectives. If you want to shoot everything on sight, improve your weapon skills. If you want to avoid enemies, you’ll need lock picking and electronics skills. Want to be a computer hacker and steal all your info? Not a problem.

A Genuine Classic

The net result of the amazing freedom you have is a greater sense of accomplishment. Break out of the holding facility in some other game, and you feel good that you beat an arbitrary obstacle — linear traps with predetermined solutions set up by a designer. Figuring out and solving obstacles in Deus Ex is a lot more nuanced, which, coupled with an engrossing story and interesting characters, make for one classic science fiction role-playing game.

System Requirements: Pentium 266 Mhz, 64 MB RAM, 150 MB HDD, Win98

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