Available on Steam | Windows | Mac OS
Set in the year 2052, humanity is at the mercy of an authoritarian government and shady corporate overlords. Many of the world’s citizens suffer from a plague known as the Gray Death, which can only be avoided by immunizations, or a synthetic vaccine known as Ambrosia, yet both options are limited to the wealthy elite. Fighting for more access to Ambrosia is NSF, a terrorist group who uses violence to find and retrieve samples of the vaccine for the common people, such as attacking the Statue of Liberty.
Serving the privileged few is the gruff and methodical protagonist, JC Denton, a cybernetic-enhanced agent working for UNATCO, an anti-terrorist organization. Yet JC has much to learn about NSF, UNATCO, the government, and the world’s corporations, including a host of conspiracy theories about the ones orchestrating the state of humanity and the world.
Deus Ex popularized the concept of player choice in gaming. Playing through missions as JC, you often get to make dialogue choices that affect how NPCs respond to you later. How you approach each mission also changes certain outcomes down the line. Whether you choose a lethal or stealthy approach in taking out NSF terrorists, your superiors at UNATCO will take note of your decisions. You may even upset certain members of your team by taking either approach.
Though the gameplay is open-ended in terms of those choices, it’s easy to boil things down to what’s optimal and what’s not. You can assign skill points to the augmentations you’d like to upgrade, all of which can complement the playstyle you’re aiming for. Some of the augmentations are useless, like swimming, since you don’t get many chances to swim in the game, and proficiency with computers, as there are ways to get around hacking. You can’t reassign your points, either, so if you realize down the line that you’ve put skill points into pointless abilities, there’s nothing you can do except start over.
You’ll also find that running around with a melee weapon is usually the best approach. The gunplay is slow and clunky, stressing the importance of waiting to aim for headshots. Most of the non-lethal weapons are terrible to use, because there comes a certain point where enemies are outright immune to them, leaving you vulnerable without a way to fight back. Going into this game blind can be a huge disadvantage, as you wouldn’t know any of these things from the beginning.
Human augmentation is both a blessing and a curse in Deus Ex. While there have been great technological gains, and amazing jumps in what humanity is capable of with augmentations, the progress has also changed the world order. The most powerful groups in society use technology as a means of controlling the populace and hording all of the luxury and knowledge to themselves. It’s up to JC Denton and his allies to uncover this grand scheme and to put a stop to it.
Following JC on his journey of discovery is gripping, with the plot portraying several parallels to real life today. While the story doesn’t necessarily have branches as we understand them today, it’s simple enough to forgive the game for not having them. The choices you do make are memorable, even if they don’t change core outcomes and events.
Graphics and Visuals
Deus Ex first released at the turn of the century, and it shows. The graphics are simplistic for the most part. There’s a tangible, realistic atmosphere that’s hard to look away from, with the dark, gritty streets of New York City, and the more polished hideouts and buildings you explore. But there are times when the game is awful to look at, like the pasted-on character faces and the dreadful attempt at facial animations. Luckily, you can get around this on PC with a few mods that make surfaces and character models look much smoother.
Music and Sound
The ambient synth soundtrack fits right in with the game’s atmosphere. The computerized feel to the music gives it a certain edge, staying true to the game’s mature themes. However, it’s common for the voice acting to throw everything off, depending on who’s speaking. JC and most major characters have great voice work, but other NPCs, like those with regional or cultural accents, are another story. You can clearly tell that the voice actors are only imitating stereotypical slang or affects. But the accents can grow on you, and they can even sound charming in their own ways, despite how bad they are.
Deus Ex is a groundbreaking title that set the bar for games with open-ended gameplay and player-driven stories. Its plot is prescient and thought-provoking, as it offers a stunning commentary on how humanity can suffer at the hands of the greedy, overly-ambitious elite. If you can handle the unwieldy controls and the game only offering the illusion of choice, then this is definitely worth your time.