With Deus Ex: Human Revolution looking to scoop up gaming awards left right and centre this year, it seems appropriate to start these retro reviews with the original Deus Ex.

Jumping back into the world of nanotechnology, conspiracies and deception, the first thing that comes across when playing is that Deus Ex is looking its age: Liberty Island is abound with blocky textures, stiff animations and drab colours. However, while Deus Ex’s wrinkles and liver spots are clearer than ever in the light of 2011, its heart is still that of an ambitious twenty something looking to change the world. And change it, it did: even today, after a sequel and a prequel, Deus Ex feels fresher and more unique then its successors.

…the most memorable and awe-inspiring levels…

Fishy looking friends or enemies?

The opening level, walking from the harbour to see the Statue of Liberty, is still one of the most memorable and awe-inspiring levels of not just the Deus Ex games, but of any game made to this date. As you continue playing, you remember how much love and attention has been put into each level: walking into the ladies toilets gets you in trouble with the boss, entering places such as a smuggler’s hideout before you are meant to is encouraged and your approaches to different situations are talked about by other characters. Aside from its sequels, touches like these have rarely been seen elsewhere since Deus Ex.

However, as great as these touches are, Deus Ex’s combat and stealth mechanics cannot compete with today’s standards. Gunplay is stilted and unsatisfying, feeling more like you’re taking part in a ballet where every dancer has severe cramp.

…game constantly puts you in panicked and tense situations…

The battles were scary and mostly your fault

Some guns feel dull while others are pointless, such as the crossbow, which can take over ten seconds to put down a target. Stealth approaches are laughably easy with guards not being able to see over two metres in front of them. Yet somehow, even with these outdated mechanics, the beauty of Deus Ex still shines through: the game constantly puts you in panicked and tense situations that you have created yourself. For example, when trying to silently beat a guard with my baton, I accidentally launched a mine at his face, rendering him into a hundred bloody pieces. I then had to fight the alerted base with just my baton and some pepper spray.

There are no scripted battles; all the drama is created from your lack of planning. Moments like these are the reason the game has become such a success: the designers provided a channelled sandbox with multiple routes that lets you decide how to tackle it.

…figuring out a way past an obstacle is solely your idea…

The channelled sandbox theory, pioneered by Deus Ex, has just simply not been re-created as well since. No game has come close to how clever Deus Ex makes you feel: figuring out a way past an obstacle is solely your idea, with the game gently providing methods and tips. When a player looks back at their time, they don’t think of the set pieces or grand battles, they remember the clever ways in which they deceived their foes, or (more likely) their hilariously fumbled attempts. If the gunplay and graphics were updated, Deus Ex would be the archetype of what a video game should be. As it is, the game is a magical relic of the past: while it looks rusted and worn on the surface, underneath lies something that changed the gaming world.

Images courtesy of Deus Ex



About The Author

I am a student at the University of Creative Arts, studying Computer Game Design. I (obviously) enjoy video games and video game design, but I also love photography, 3D modelling and writing. I am passionate about the independent game development scene and what it offers to not just gamers but the artistic world.

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