Deus Ex: The future is not set.
Warning this article contains spoilers!
Free will is an illusion. Never more so than in a videogame where every action, response and subsequent outcome was designed, programmed and then tested by some faceless drone slaving away in an office cubical somewhere. Not that any of this will cross your mind while playing Deus Ex; it’s just that if you delve into the philosophical aspect of the plot concepts of free will, independence, big government and corporate control might get you thinking. Alternatively, you might just play through the whole game concentrating on the stealth/action aspect and leave all the deep thinking to second year philosophy students and their worn copies of Aquinas.
‘a quick pep talk with your brother Paul’
Deus Ex is set in the year 2052 and has what has a strong cyberpunk background where the internet and technology have become prevalent enough to affect everybody’s day-to-day life. So not very different from today really but I’ve yet to see anybody sporting cyber augmentations or watching a holographic TV. The biggest threat to the world is the ‘Grey Death’ virus that’s slowly spreading across the planet. It has no known cure with only a vaccine called ‘Ambrosia’ that can halt the spread for a short time but is so expensive to produce that only a handful can afford it and is in such high demand that the government has to control the rationing of it for a select few (ie those in the government and such).
So when a terrorist group called, the NSF (National Sedition Front) takes hostages on Liberty Island and then uses the subsequent confusion to steal the latest shipment of Ambrosia a rookie UNATCO agent J.C. Denton is assigned to rescue the hostages from the now fortified Statue of Liberty and track down the stolen shipment before it’s too late. The plot from here quickly becomes a spider’s web of lies, intrigue and conspiracy that will in a very short time lead to you becoming humanities salvation, possible benign dictator or even digital demigod.
You take the role of J.C. the second of a new generation of nano augmented agents working for the UN sanctioned organisation with a worldwide mandate. You start the game with a quick pep talk with your brother Paul, first of the new nano augmented agents. He gives you a brief rundown of the mission parameters and possible tactics. This serves as your first introduction to the wider world of Deus Ex and the first of many choices that will shape the game.
‘do they deserve a bullet’
Paul offers you a choice of three weapons: a standard issue pistol, sniper rifle or mini-crossbow. Simplicity, range or non-lethal takedowns are yours to choose from but it doesn’t end there. How will you get to the hostages? You could storm in through the front using the pistol to kill any NSF you see. Alternatively, you can sneak in using a lock pick or multitool then hack the NSF’s own security system and turn it against them. The choice was yours, even down to how harsh you were in enforcing the law. Do they deserve a bullet or do you equip the mini-crossbows with its tranquilliser tipped darts so they can be captured?
These choices affect multiple outcomes in the game and even possible sub-plots that might come around. When your boss orders you to execute a prisoner, do you do it to stay in her good graces or do you disobey an order and risk the consequences. In the games twenty or so hours playtime, you have to make such choices all the time even down to the weapons you specialise in and modify, what nano augmentations you install or skills you learn.
‘benefits like being able to wear sunglasses at night’
As mentioned before J.C. is nano augmented so along with miscellaneous benefits like being able to wear sunglasses at night he can install modules that can be powered up to give abilities far greater than a normal man can Super strength, speed, regeneration, eyesight, toxic immunities or the creation of spy drones or even missile distracting chaff. These along with the different weapons and tools all give you… that is right choice. Ok so I have given you the broad strokes lets get into some details about why this is such a stone cold classic.
Every character you meet and talk to has been written to be an individual, not just in how they speak and what they do but little quirks and inflections of speech that make you care even more about their fate. Even when you are not interacting with them directly they are talking to other characters and having interesting and funny dialogues, my favourite being Gunter complaining about to Anna about the vending machine giving him the wrong drink. Some will live or die by your actions and in the case of Jock your pilot if you fail to spot a bomb midway through the game he will not make it to the finally at Area 51.
The world of Deus Ex, even though it is a mix of traditional William Gibson style cyberpunk and a few movie clichÃ©s (not The Matrix though as its development started some time before the movie became known) is richly detailed. Newspapers and books can be read for clues or just for fun, each computer terminal has emails to read and all conversations have multiple lines of questioning even if it is seaming irreverent.
‘J.C. has to infiltrate a cathedral in Paris’
The truly memorable thing about Deus Ex is for me the little moments that grab your attention and make you stop in your tracks. About three quarters of the way through the game J.C. has to infiltrate a cathedral in Paris to download important information for the resistance. The cathedral is surrounded by enemy troops and security bots and the only way in is across the adjacent rooftops, through a skylight and down into an upper chamber. As you are ascending the cathedral roof, your communication window opens and Gunter appears…
“I see you, a thief on the roof. My new satellite link has both infra-red and the x-ray spectrum. I see your heart beating. I see you are afraid”.
If reading this has piqued your interest then seek out a copy as soon as you can although I would recommend the PS2 conversion as opposed to the PC original as the PS2 version has had the bugs chased out and the useless weapon mods like the laser sight removed and some new FMV and orchestral soundtrack. The inventory screen has also been changed for the better even though the PC version let you carry more albeit in a tedious grid based system like the one found in Resident Evil 4 but more clunky.
The sequel is also worth a look but compared to this original it is a bit short on both playtime and options, with it being possible to max out your augmentations and weapons half way through the game.