Deus Ex: Revisiting a Cyberpunk Masterpiece
Three years before Deus Ex was released in 2000, its design document established Ion Storm’s philosophy regarding its potentially ground breaking RPG. “The key to role-playing is giving players the freedom to act as they see fit and a deep world simulation that allows them to solve problems in a variety of ways is the best method to do this”. This statement explains exactly why Deus Ex is rightly remembered as PC classic. The breadth and complexity of its level design is perhaps still unmatched and Warren Spector’s original vision of a deep rewarding RPG set in a rich simulated world remained intact through its development.
The zeitgeist of popular culture was firmly entrenched in the fourth season of the X-Files and Chris Carter’s cult show is an obvious influence on the narrative of the game. Overarching government conspiracies, shadowy secret organisations, men in black and even aliens were present in it’s storyline. The tone of the game was influenced by every conspiracy theory that has ever been conceived and bled a paranoiac world where secret societies pulled the strings of every world government.
When the player begins the game, they take on the mantle of J.C. Denton, a government agent enhanced with bio-mechanical augmentations which grant him superpowers. Employed by a branch of the United Nations which was created by the threat of growing international terrorism. Eventually he learns that his bosses have ties to a sinister Illuminati plot, he joins his brother Paul in the fight against them. Deus Ex capitalised on the popularity of conspiracy theories as well as the desire for gamers to play with high-tech espionage toys.
Interestingly it is these toys that makes each playthrough a wildly different experience. The first level, Liberty Island, showcases everything that is great about the game’s open ended design and how it rewards creative thinking. Liberty Island is smaller than the other levels and even 18 years on I am still finding new ways to infiltrate the terrorist base. Seeing the statue of liberty is a great real world focusing point but her missing head blown up by terrorists is an evocative piece of world building. A visual clue that not everything is going well in this dystopian future.
The Terrorists have taken over the island and you have to deal with them. Like a truly sandbox title, how you complete this level is entirely up to you. There are dozens of entry points into the statue, some more dangerous than others. If you want to blast in through the main door, you can but you will have to find a key, hack a series of cameras and deal with a security bot armed to the teeth. Alternatively you can stack crates to climb into the statue and avoid the security systems altogether but you will have to deal with a series of terrorists upon entry. Its a wonderfully satisfying experience when the game designers give you a complex problem and leaves you to solve it yourself.
It’s not all action and infiltration however and the game truly builds momentum with its exploration and interaction with non player characters. Further immersion happens as the player is encouraged to read the various newspapers and data pads in the game environment. The depth of the interaction with the other characters brings a further sense of reality and the little touches of humour injected into the dialogue brings a knowing sense to proceedings.
Deus Ex was and is one of the greatest games ever created, with his high octane action and thoughtful plot mechanics. This is a game which should be re-experienced regularly and remembered fondly.
You can pick up Deus Ex at the official GOG Website