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Everything but the Japanese Touch
By: Phillipe Richer
When unleashed on the PC market in 1999, Deus Ex was praised as a revolutionary and spectacular game, going as far as earning the title of "Best Game of 1999" by over 40 gaming sites and magazines. Eidos's creation then made its way to the PS2 in mid-2001, allowing an even wider audience to enjoy the masterpiece. Although I was a bit skeptical at first, a better look at the game made me realize that Deus Ex really was "all that".
Step into the mind of J.C. Denton, a nano-augmented agent working for the international peacekeeping unit called UNATCO. J.C. is sent on a mission to neutralize the NSF in New York, a brutal terrorist group rapidly expanding its ideologies across the world. A deadly plague identified as the "Gray Death" has been spreading rampantly across the masses, and stocks of the vaccine "Ambrosia", usually reserved for the richest of civilians, are becoming scarce. J.C. will fight to learn the truth behind the plague whilst discovering the dark agendas of many who he revered in the past. Through some unexpected alliance, J.C. will get to travel across the globe, always pushing harder to decipher the devious minds behind this conspiracy. Mixing gameplay elements from many genres into a complex and mature plot, Deus Ex unquestionably offers a unique and mystifying experience throughout, although some rough edges restrain the game from becoming an irrefutable work of art.
Deus Ex is in essence a first-person shooter, though one with multiple improvements. In fact, enumerating every aspect in detail would take me many paragraphs so I'll attempt to sum things up rapidly (like I could). You'll wander through the many areas of New York, Hong Kong, and Paris in a first-person perspective with your finger constantly on the trigger. The usual arsenal of weapons is available such as shotguns, rifles, pistols, and heavy artillery although J.C. can only carry four guns at a time. There are many more offensive weapons beside ranged artillery, including swords, riot prods, and pepper guns allowing J.C. to dispatch of enemies in a more subtle manner. The game thus strongly encourages stealthy actions in some instances, because the enemy can use alert terminals to alert the entire pack of foes at once. Going into a building guns blazing can be just as effective sometimes, which is why Deus Ex is just so much fun to play.
Being a walking nano-augmented crusader also means that J.C can use a wide array of augmentations (augs for short). By finding aug canisters scattered about, J.C. will acquire an expansive arsenal of skills for every part of the body. Each canister can let you choose between two different skills, so while there is a total of 19 unique augs, you'll only be able to use 10 of those on a single playthrough. Using augs drains your bio-energy meter, which acts like an MP gauge. There are many ways to restore both health and bio-energy reserves in the game. You'll find friendly bots from places to places, while many portable items can be carried by J.C. for emergencies. And of course, cash plays a big part in the game.
I'm not done my friends. Aside from deciding on how to kill an enemy, you'll have to choose what path to take in every situation. Blast through the front entrance or sneak in through the sewers? Unlock that door or explode it to pieces? Bypass the security system or find a way around it? The sheer amount of possibilities is what separates Deus Ex from the crowd. By performing certain actions and completing his objectives, J.C. will acquire skill points, and this is where it gets truly interesting. You can allocate those points between several specialties which help define J.C. character as an agent. Lockpicking, hacking skills, medicinal training, heavy weapon proficiency and a whole lot more. Shaping yourself the way you want to and taking full advantage of your skills is what Deus Ex is all about.
The move to the PS2 couldn't have been smoother where the interface is concerned. A helpful tutorial is available to get you acquainted with J.C.'s many moves. Every single button on the controller has been set for easy and intuitive control. It is somewhat difficult to carefully aim with the joystick while moving, but it could've been much worse. What is most astounding is the near total interactivity between J.C. and the environments. You can pick up/look at/speak to/blow up pretty much anything you want, which translates to unparalleled immersion. Every piece of information you uncover will also be stored in your note pad, while the option to save anywhere is always cool.
The title screen composition in Deus Ex is a tremendously good piece of music, but sadly that can't be said for the whole soundtrack. The background melodies in Wan Chai and Area 51 are very good, but most compositions are not quite powerful enough to overlap the sound effects. The cut-scenes could've been much more striking had the music been more present during the important sequences, which seems to be a problem with American games in general. When it comes to the cinematic part of the game, the music used in most cases is a generic ambient melody which doesn't accentuate the dramatic moments at all.
Sound effects are very competent. Everything from the weapons to the interactive objects is accompanied with suitable sounds. All of the crates sound the same, even though they're composed of various materials. Also noteworthy is the entirely voice-acted script. For the most part it's pretty good for the standards of 1999, but most characters, if not all of them, are somewhat lacking in emotion. There's also a problem concerning variety, because 20 cops with the same exact voice can get pretty creepy. A fairly decent job.
Being set in the present and relating to problems very close to those of our own world, Deus Ex's plot offers some rather deep questions about the consequences of humanity's arrogance and greed. Are governments taking too much space in our daily lives? Is one man's utopia worth risking the lives of millions? For the most part, Deus Ex does an excellent job at making you think about the outcome of centralization and undisputed domination in society with the story unfolding very progressively with a slew of plot twists and important decisions made by J.C… However, it is unfortunate that there are no truly diverging paths in the main storyline.
What is crucially faulty in Deus Ex is the presentation. The cut-scenes, depicted using the in-game engine, aren't powerful and stylish enough to really amaze the player. For example, at a certain point in the game J.C. keeps getting threatened via his info-link. Hearing that person torment him so genuinely scared me to death, as I feared meeting him after every step I took. The rage and delusion of the character were well felt by the script and the tone of the voice-acting. However, when it came to the real showdown, the cut-scene shown was limited to a minor feud between the two characters. The range of motion and the acting itself was not good enough to make this confrontation a standout moment in the game. In fact, no specific event really stands-out, because the atmosphere does not fluctuate appropriately, keeping every single moment on the same note. Putting Deus Ex in the hands of talented Japanese producers such as Hideo Kojima or Hironobu Sakaguchi would've resulted in a mind-boggling and dazzling storyline. This is my only gripe about the game; an excellent plot could have easily become a work of art had it been produced in Japan.
With so many ways to shape J.C. and that many options concerning your approach to every situations, subsequent playthroughs of Deus Ex are almost guaranteed to be unique. No matter how you do things, playing Deus Ex is simply tremendously enjoyable. Four difficulty settings are available as well as three completely different endings. Sadly, the three endings can all be viewed on a single playthrough since they are only influenced by your actions very late in the game. Sadly because I would've hoped for more cases of liberal cause-and-effect decisions in the storyline. Nonetheless, at 25-30 hours on a normal playthrough (I calculated that manually) the game seems to have the perfect length.
While it may have looked great in 1999, the graphics are just up to par with the PS2 standards of 2001. The environments look pretty good, though some rooms can be frighteningly empty. The levels are big enough to immerse you fully, but objects appear a little rough when looked at from close-up. The character models are also rather dated. The range of motion for foes isn't very impressive, which is even more apparent in the cut-scenes (I've discussed that long enough haven't I). The women are especially creepy to look at in Deus Ex, all looking like cocaine addicts. Still, the weapons are greatly detailed, the special effects are noteworthy, and the backgrounds look realistic enough.
Deus Ex definitely deserves all the praise it has received. The gameplay is topnotch and unbelievably open-ended, which is the most critical aspect of any shooter/RPG. The general aura of the game is just incredible, with a plot that keeps you riveted to the screen until the very end. Nonetheless, I can only dream about what could've been accomplished had the game been blessed with that magical touch of drama and presentation mastered only by the greatest of Japanese producers.
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