Monday, December 3, 2007

Gaming Masterpieces: Deus Ex

This is the first in a long series of re-reviews dedicated to some games who deserve the title of "masterpiece". Games that occupied our childhood spare time, made us think about them at school, made us waste countless hours of our lives with good, quality enternainment. These games serve as examples of what the simple human mind is truly capable of, and in my opinion, are as worthy of being called "works of art" as any Rembrandt or Van Gogh painting.
The idea came to me after i saw the recent teaser trailer for Deus Ex 3, and somehow ended up listening to the old Wan Chai theme of the first game. It's funny how much nostalgia came to me while i listened.
Deus Ex (literally translated "God From") is the first game in a series of two, with the third coming up somewhere in 2009, and unlike its sequel, it features impressive bits of philosophy about life, ideas and society, while maintaining a "corporate" atmosphere which is felt about everywhere. I've finished this game nine times (the last try was on the hardest difficulty), not counting the times when i just started it without finishing, and to this day, i still want to pop my CD in and reinstall it to play it some more, at times. Because it's not about the graphics, the gameplay or even the soundtracks: it's about the FEELING. That little tingle you get when you really feel like you're there, like the world transcends into the game and you take the role of the main character, "living" the game as nothing you've ever felt before. Deus Ex can do that.
The game is all about conspiracies: the intro presents 2 obscure characters talking about a new world order, and their role in it. The game takes place somewhere in the future, where the internet (most likely wireless internet) has covered the globe and everything is now much more dependant on it. It is a more technological era, but not much different from what it is now: an unbalanced urban-centered society slowly becoming a dystopia, while anti-terrorist forces struggle continuously to maintain law and order. You arrive in this landscape as the new special agent of the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO), and know yourself as having had several bionic implants and "upgrades" to your internal structure to support the use of what the game calls "augmentations", special upgrades which can be used to increase your effectiveness in the field. You have 3 at the start (though 2 of them are passive and always turned on), and will aquire more as the game progresses. The storyline focuses at first on you and the other operatives trying to put a stop to a terrorist movement called the NCR (New California Republic) but the game's many plot twists eventually put you through world-wide conspiracies, secret governments and world domination schemes, through places such as NYC, Hong Kong, and evenntually arriving at Area 51 where you will have a choice of 3 endings, neither of which is good or bad: they only depend on how you view them.
The depth of the storyline is amazing, there are several characters which you can choose to help or not, this will have no overall effect on how the game ends (i.e. the story is linear), but they are your choices, and will eventually leave a mark as you finish the game. The game's storyline vaguely reminds me of the general idea behind V for Vendetta (in it: "ideas are bulletproof"; in Deus Ex: "you can't fight ideas with bullets"), which in spite of having a different storyline entirely, focuses on the same general aspects: government, society, and one man making a difference.
Onward to the game mechanics: the game is a crossover between FPS and RPG, with a lot of elements previously found in System Shock 2: the brackets around objects which you can interact with, move around, or blow up, the general idea of having special "powers" which you can use with your special "energy", which once depleted needs to be recharged through special powerups that you can hold in your inventory. About the inventory, it also looks like system shock, meaning you can hold almost everything in it (even cigars and drinks), the size of an object requiring more or less space. There's also a skill point system which you can spend on general abilities (hacking proficiency, lockpicking, and increasing effectiveness with light weapons, to name a few). Once you have enough skill points, you can spend them immediately and without any requirements. Skill points come from exploring new areas, completing main and secondary objectives, or obtaining information. Speaking of information, the game is also heavily centered on dialogues between the main character and others, some of which require you to make choices in what to say (which affects the immediate future). The main character is JC Denton (the game lets you customise your nickname, with which you will be adressed in several e-mails and documents, and also lets you choose between a small variety of male skin and hair colors) the second of a new line of special "nano-augmented" agents (the first being your brother, Paul). The augmentations are special powers which you can aquire as the game progresses (they are also optional, the game never forces you to take one, and some are even hidden) and consume your bioelectrical energy when activated, letting you do things such as swim longer, become more resistant, regenerate, see enemies through walls or become invisible for a short time. For each augmentation canister you aquire, you are forced to choose between 2 augs (you may find them at more than one point in the game, but they're useless if you already made your choice) when you install it at a medical bot. You can upgrade the augs up to level 4 once you've installed them using special upgrade canisters, but they're rare so keep an eye out.
The game has a ton of secret areas, some being easy to spot, others not - i was surprised to find something new even on the 8th time i finished the game. I can very well say that i found them all, but... who knows.
Deus Ex holds a special place for me, being the first serious game i completed entirely without using cheat codes: after trying to finish it twice by using cheats, i found that i couldn't do it. The third time, i tried without cheats... it was much more fun, challenging and also, by the time i got to the area where i couldn't pass before, i was so used to searching dark corners and finding exits that i immediately knew where to go. As ironic as it sounds, this game is harder to beat by cheating than by normal means. Since then, i never used cheats in a game again.
I won't say anything about the graphics, those aren't the point of this article. The soundtrack is awesome however, and helps maintain that elitist "corporate" feel of the game.
So if you don't mind old graphics and haven't played this yet, go ahead and honor it by giving it some hours of your life. It certainly deserves it.