Platform: PS3/360/PC/Wii U
Originally Reviewed: 2011
Having finished Deus Ex’s lengthy campaign, visiting its many locations, defeating its questionable bosses and viewing its several different endings it’s still rather unclear exactly what to make of it. The game is without question a very good title but is certainly not without its flaws.
Deus Ex is a prequel to the first game in the series and is set in 2027. It follows Adam Jensen who is Chief of Security at Sarif Industries, a powerful company that specifies in mechanical human augmentation. The game starts as the company is under attack – an attack that sees Jensen seriously and brutally wounded to such an extent that the only way for him to survive is to undergo augmentation himself. He then sets out, under advisement from the owner of the company David Sarif, to find those responsible for the attack.
The game’s story is a pleasingly well thought out conspiracy tale and the on-going in-game debate over the issue of human augmentation helps to provide a classic sci-fi template. What makes science fiction great is the questioning of man’s place in the universe and its evolution as a species. Deus Ex does a great job of trying to address what it is to be a human and assessing the wonders and subsequent dangers of technology.
Not only does the game feel the part, it also looks the part in respect of the world’s design and visual filter. The Chinese areas especially look the perfect fit for the futuristic, technology laden 2027 that Adam Jensen dwells in. The game is heavily filtered with a gorgeous golden hue washing over everything that gives it a very unique look that really helps immerse the gamer into feeling like they’re in a sci-fi movie akin to something like Blade Runner or Akira.
Unfortunately the graphics, dialogue and animations don’t hold the same sway as the setting and will hinder immersion more often than not. Luckily Adam Jensen himself is reasonably well designed and voice acted, but a lot of NPCs look pretty terrible and it’s here that Deus Ex suffers the most graphically. Some of the character designs are just plain lazy and identikit generic face models appear all too frequently.
Voice acting is patchy at best, not to mention the horrifically bad ‘attempts’ at lip-synching. It’s a real shame that a well realised game world with an interesting and philosophical story can be let down by poor presentation issues. These issues even spill over to pre-rendered cut-scenes that are so abysmal they’re actually on a par with PS2 graphics.
The different settings, too, don’t quite feel as alive or bustling as they should. There’s no traffic and nowhere near as many people on the streets as you’d expect in a busy futuristic metropolis. Detroit features a train station that, instead of allowing you to travel to different parts of the city, seemingly serves as a fancy loading screen as Jensen travels from one small side of the city to the other. There’s also a surprisingly small amount random encounters as Jensen walks the streets; at times everything can feel very contrived and signposted.
Gameplay is where Deus Ex thrives and the core mechanic of sneaking, knocking out guards and hiding them is fantastic fun. The game does a decent job of balancing Jensen’s skill trees so that gamers can choose how they want to tackle the game. The player can upgrade his hacking and stealth augmentations or give him super strength and athleticism in order to smash and shoot is way through the masses of guards.
Stealth and sneaking is actually the method that the game recommends and, certainly, trying to play the game like a shooter is asking for trouble. Jensen, ironically, feels a lot more human and a lot less superman when engaged in a gunfight. He can’t take as much of a beating once the guns go off as your typical one-man army seen in many a modern day shooter.
Timing, skill and tactics are the order of the day when using weapons and the game does a great job of providing a decent challenge by punishing foolhardiness and impatience. It feels really satisfying when clearing an area, be it by sneaking through undetected or picking off the guards one by one.
There’s always multiple routes to take and there’s always a good balance between being violent or being a ghost. The AI is pretty dumb and easily messed with, but the game would be near impossible otherwise. Confusing the guards and making them pay for their stupidity is more fun than annoying as Jensen should be able to easily mess with them, being a machine and all.
Deus Ex isn’t a shooter, it’s an RPG, and it’s an RPG that is extremely well designed to reward a player for careful upgrading of a very in-depth skill tree. There are tons of cool features of Jensen’s augmented technology that can be updated. Levelling up and buying praxis points to slowly turn Jensen into an extremely powerful technical marvel is tremendous fun and a real incentive to keep playing. It’s features like this that make good RPGs great.
The game also features an initially quite daunting conversation wheel feature and in it’s daunting nature it arguably worked better. At the beginning of the game Jensen is faced with a hostage situation and the player has to choose their dialogue responses carefully to talk down the terrorist and save the hostage’s life. Somewhat unfortunately, there is an option to upgrade Jensen’s conversational skill that takes some of the challenge and, daresay even the fun, out of an initially interesting system.
The conversation upgrade allows Jensen to use powerful pheromones that allow him to persuade people to agree with his opinions and help him get his way. It sounds awesome, like Jensen has his own Jedi mind trick, but the implementation of it is quite poor. When an NPC is speaking, Jensen can detect what kind of personality they have as lights flash on a meter that indicates whether they are alpha, beta or omega.
This not only makes persuading people a bit too easy, it also makes it quite difficult for the player to do much more than just stare at the meter throughout the conversation to see which personality flashes the most times. This can lead to plenty of conversations ending without the player even knowing what they were about. There also rarely seems to be much of a contrast when selecting a persuasion; the correct choice never seems to conflict with any of the other options, making it quite easy to continually get right.
With only one upgrade needed to quite easily sway every conversation, the difficulty drastically decreases too early on in the game, when it is arguably more fun to try to persuade people with choice words other than a simple counting mini game. It’s is a shame as all the conversations in the game do have a decent impact on the game’s story, both in the short and long term, which is a very commendable feat.
The beginning of the game feels immensely intriguing as players get to grips with the sneaking around and the open-ended nature of which routes to take, which quests to complete and which tactics to employ both on the battlefield and in conversation. Unfortunately, as the game goes on there are a few elements that, without ruining the game, slightly spoil its early promise.
The first problem is the repetition factor. Admittedly, many RPGs can develop into a grind by the end, but it’s a pitfall Deus Ex didn’t need to fall into. After a while, the same sneaking through countless facilities can become quite samey. Arguably, the player can choose to play each area differently, but the majority of situations are made easier in stealth mode and the guns, unless relentlessly upgraded, can feel quite weak on the end of the game’s more powerful enemies.
There are only two ‘open world’ areas in the game – Detroit and Hengsha. These are both revisited at a later time and, while this helps drive the story, doesn’t really offer anything different second time around. Initially it feels as if the Detroit revisit could be interesting when a riot breaks out, but the streets actually appear relatively riot free and Jensen can walk about completely without confrontation.
There are areas other than Detroit and Hengsha that sound promising, but Jensen spends all his time cooped up in facilities and offices without seeing any more of the outside world. So much more could have been done with a very interesting setting and it’s a shame that the developers’ imaginations seemed to run out by the game’s conclusion.
The second and definitively more frustrating problem is the inexplicably poor boss fights. Boss fights find their place in games as a test of the amalgamation of everything you’ve learned so far in the game. Deus Ex teaches you how to be stealthy, lets you upgrade weapons with silencers and Jensen with quiet footsteps, invisibility and stealth upgrades and then the boss fights simply and lazily put you in a straight firefight.
The bosses are all unremarkable and appear to be nothing more than slightly more powerful versions of normal enemies. They all suffer from glitches and clipping that make them, not only frustratingly hard, but quite poorly coded. Although this is admittedly a personal account, all the boss fights in the play-through for this review ended because of glitches and bugs and with little to no element of player skill. They simply have no place in the game.
Deus Ex is a long stretch from being a perfect game and is riddled with poor animation, sub-par graphics and horrible boss fights. It is, however, a thoroughly well thought out, smart and provocative piece of science fiction with excellent core gameplay and rewarding RPG elements. Some gamers may well be disappointed with the game’s end, but there are plenty of really great moments throughout that ensure that Deus Ex needs to be experienced.