Deus Ex holds a special place in the minds of gamers. Doom and Quake can be considered the grandfathers of the first-person shooter genre. And Deus Ex can really be considered one of the grandfathers of the stealth shooter genre. So there really isn’t much to be said about the game which hasn’t been said already. So let’s review one of the greatest first-person stealth cyberpunk RPGs of all time.
I don’t really remember the first time I played Deus Ex, but I think it was somewhere around 2001-2002. And I don’t really remember much of the experience. Other than the fact I thought Jaime Reyes looked and sounded an awful lot like my dad. It kinda gave me a weird fondness for him. But beyond that, it was never a game I completely understood.
I mostly messed around with cheat codes. Mostly to give me god mode, all augmentations, and a crapload of skills and just going through it like an overpowered dick. Of course later on I discovered that wasn’t really that fun and not really the point of the game, even though I originally completed the game that way. The game is way more fun if you actually roleplay.
A Groundbreaking Experience
The game was primarily designed and conceptualized by Warren Spector. Up until the development of Deus Ex he had worked with Looking Glass Studios who famously developed System Shock, System Shock 2 as well as the Thief games. And it’s easy to see Deus Ex being a bit of a logical evolution of those games.
Although it feels a lot more balanced in terms of gameplay. It focuses more on giving players a set of options on how to complete a level, which is what was really groundbreaking about it. Meaning there was never a wrong way to play the game, and how the player approached each mission could vary depending on their playstyle and chosen skillset.
It’s a game more about roleplaying and choosing your own approach, rather than going along with whatever approach the developer might intend. It is what truly sets it apart from other stealth games of its day such as Metal Gear Solid, where there was a bigger emphasis on a certain playstyle. Contrary, Deus Ex is more open to a variety of playstyles.
No Action Without Consequences
There is nothing stopping you from killing every single enemy in a level, though the game will change depending on your actions. So everything you do invariably has consequences, which was the most groundbreaking thing about the game.
For instance, it is possible to go through the entire game without killing a single NPC by hand (the bosses are required to be taken out but you can do so without touching them). Of course, doing so is very difficult and will require some ingenuity, but just the fact it is possible speaks volumes about how focused Deus Ex is on player freedom.
This doesn’t mean the game won’t punish you for doing pretty stupid things, but it does so in a very believable way. The game seems very focused on making its world believable and everyone around you will act in a very realistic and believable manner. So whenever you do something stupid and have to take the consequences for it, it feels more like the world reacting to you and less like the game trying to punish you.
The Story Of Deus Ex
The story in Deus Ex starts off simple enough. You’re a fresh recruit off the academy. And a part of a new breed of soldiers who are augmented with nanobots in their bloodstream that allow them access to superhuman abilities. Abilities such as regenerating health, lights from their eyes, increased jump height, and so on.
Due to the reliance on nanomachines to do all the work, these new prototypes are considered the evolution of mankind. And a generation above the “mechs”, the more typical mechanically augmented human commonly associated with cyberpunk.
Your name is J.C. Denton, and your first assignment is on Liberty Island, where a group of terrorists (the NSF) has taken over the island. Your task is to sneak into the Statue of Liberty and interrogate the NSF leader about the shipment of Ambrosia. It is a vaccine that is the only known cure for a plague that has struck the nation, the Grey Death.
Acquiring the location, which happens to be an underground bunker below Castle Clinton in Battery Park, you head there with your assigned partner, Anna Navarre. In what can only be described as a buddy cop set up if I ever saw one, seeing as Anna Navarre is one of the older mechs who have a lot of resentment for the newer nano augmented agents. But she is still willing to give you the benefit of the doubt if you can manage to impress her.
Conspiracies And Cyberpunk
Once you have located the ambrosia, you are sent to Hell’s Kitchen to locate a warehouse to blow up the NSF’ power generator. When you get back from the mission, your brother has disappeared. And you are tasked with going to an airfield to eliminate one of the terrorist leaders, Juan Lebedev as well as securing the remaining shipment of Ambrosia.
However, when you get there, things take a big change. Your brother Paul reveals he’s working with the NSF to uncover a conspiracy within the government, convinced that the Grey Death is a man-made virus. And if you allow Juan Lebedev to live long enough to talk, he will inform you that you and your brother are part of this conspiracy. As you were bio-engineered from birth to accept nanomachines into your body.
Regardless of whether he lives or dies, before you can travel to Hong Kong to assassinate a triad leader, your helicopter pilot brings you back to Hell’s Kitchen where your brother reveals he is dying. A kill switch has been enabled and he will be dead within 24 hours.
An Epic Story
And that’s all I wanna spoil for you. While the story does get a little convoluted, especially, later on, it is incredibly engaging. And despite the at times cringe-worthy voice acting, it is an incredibly big story. With its epic scope involving conspiracies, AI’s, aliens, and pretty much anything you can think of that wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of the X-Files.
While Deus Ex is pretty much a product of the late ’90s with its Matrix-influenced protagonist and gritty realistic portrayal of the near future, it still feels pretty relevant today. And I honestly find it a more believable portrayal of the future than a lot of cyberpunk games, if only cause it feels so rooted in reality.
A Spiritual System Shock Sequel
When Deus Ex came out there wasn’t really anything that could compare to its gameplay. The closest comparison would obviously be System Shock 2 which featured a similar gameplay system.
But where System Shock 2 was more of a cult hit and a critical darling that never really found a mainstream audience, Deus Ex immediately became a best seller. And it is fairly easy to see why. It ditches some of the more cumbersome features from the System Shock games. And streamlines a lot of them without dumbing it down.
The augmentation system is fairly easy to grasp. You have basically slots for different parts of your body that can be augmented. And using these augmentations is accessible via the F3-F12 keys on your keyboard.
You can find augmentations in the form of canisters (most of them hidden in hard to reach places). Each containing 2 augmentations, forcing you to choose between the two. Because once installed, an augmentation is permanently embedded in your system and irreplaceable.
The RPG elements come into play via skill points that can be spent upgrading various abilities. Everything from how good you are with weapon groups, to hacking computers and using lockpicks.
Skill points are rewarded fairly sparsely. And coupled with the permanent nature of augmentations, it’s generally a good idea to pick a playstyle you wanna go for and sticking to it. You know, actually roleplaying. It is a bit of an old school mentality. And this strict enforcement was either more relaxed or removed entirely in future installments.
Combat feels a little janky. It’s hard to describe, but movement can feel a little clunky at times. And it’s clear the game wasn’t really designed to be a shooter first and foremost. What I would often end up doing was sneaking up to enemies and taking them out. Then moving their bodies to a hidden spot. Or sniping them from a distance with a rifle.
Weapons can also be upgraded with weapon mods that add laser sights, silencers and increase range, accuracy, and reload speed. Some mods might not be compatible with certain weapons. Such as the fact you can’t add a silencer to a rocket launcher.
Graphically the game hasn’t really held up that well. Models, in particular, have a fairly low texture resolution and the animations can come off as a bit janky. But on the plus side, it runs on the early Unreal engine which features those classic detailed textures. Meaning that certain wall textures will look really detailed up close.
Using modern mods can offer texture replacements with high-resolution graphics and new models for the characters. Though I much prefer the original graphics. And the animations are generally fairly decent for the time.
The game takes place pretty much entirely at night time, giving it a very unique atmosphere where you never see sunlight in the entire game Which is ironic considering J.C. wears his sunglasses the entire time.
A Great Soundtrack
The soundtrack is legendary of course. Alexander Brandon who also worked on Jazz Jackrabbit 2 did a fair bit of it and it’s all really well done. Though the soundtrack also had contributions by Michiel van den Bos and Dan Gardopee. It’s largely a mix of ambient synth, jazz, and techno.
It uses the tracker format that was also used in games like Unreal Tournament, and it gives it a very unique feel. Pretty much all of the tracks are really memorable and add to the game’s atmosphere. It’s impossible to imagine the game without them.
And as mentioned the voice acting can be hit or miss. It ranges from badass, to almost so bad it’s good territory. Interestingly, a fair amount of the voice actors in Deus Ex also voiced characters in Daikatana. So they have worked on both one of the most critically acclaimed, and one of the worst received games of all time.
That being said, Deus Ex is an amazing experience and has held up remarkably well. There is a saying that every time someone mentions Deus Ex, someone reinstalls it. And I’ve been guilty of that on more than one occasion.
The world is incredibly dense and rich with interesting characters that all act realistically to your actions. And everything you do affects the game in some way. There’s immense replay value to the game. And to this day I still keep finding new stuff in the game whenever I play it.
It’s by no means a perfect game, but it is a true classic. And one everyone should play at least once. Because it is impossible to imagine modern gaming without Deus Ex. Its unique blend of gameplay styles created a genre all of its own.
And its dark cyberpunk atmosphere draws you in again and again. Deus Ex is a must-play if you enjoy this genre of games, with or without mods. Though you should check out the Revision mod if you want to change it up a bit.
A cyberpunk classic that has aged like a fine wine, the social commentary in Deus Ex is still as sharp now as it was back then. The game might be a bit dated graphically, and the voice acting isn't always that great. And the combat can be a bit clunky. But for a first-person stealth RPG, Deus Ex is still great.
- Amazing atmosphere
- Clever writing
- Immersive gameplay that encourages roleplaying
- One of the best soundtracks ever
- At times laughably bad voice acting
- Dated graphics
- Might not run well on modern systems without patches
- Clunky combat
Sound & Music