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Deus Ex (PC) artwork

Deus Ex (PC) review

" The tech-noir feel can be cheesy at times, and the visuals are dated, but the game is still great. Here's a game that's versatile enough to allow you to play how you want. Here's a title filled with cleverly designed levels, special skills and a variety of gadgets that help meld the game to your playing style. Maybe it's not as relevant today as it was in 2000, and maybe it's an eyesore, but it's definitely still an exciting title. "

Deus Ex asset

I'm amazed at how much my perception can change in a decade. In 2000, I wouldn't have said that Deus Ex was an ugly game. As blocky character models approached me in my recent playthrough , I changed my tune. Many of the NPCs run awkwardly when moving, and others intermittently move their lips when speaking. It's as if everyone in the game is eating sour candy with sticks up their butts. Most of the time you won't notice, because the game is so darkly set that it's hard to make out what's in front of you. Even after turning up the brightness, the game world appears to be inundated with tar.

When the visuals aren't ugly, they're accidentally hilarious. Bear in mind that this game came out a year after The Matrix. Remember when that movie was cool, and other movies and games jumped on the sunglasses-and-black-trench-coat bandwagon? Deus Ex leaped happily onto that wagon, and the result is a cast of characters that look like they've just ended a shopping spree at Hot Topic. While this look may have been badass at one time, it's laughable now.

Voice acting also indicates that the game drew inspiration from The Matrix. Many characters speak in the same wooden, emotionless voice I associate with Keanu Reeves. Many actors sound as though they're simply reading the lines, which sucks the heart out of emotional scenes. I suppose that's preferable to the legions of other actors who actually put emotion into their voices. Many of these actors sound fresh out of a high school drama club, filling scenes with obnoxious overacting. For instance, there's an exchange between a drugged out hooker and her abusive criminal boyfriend that shouldn't have been funny. Thanks to overacting, concepts as serious as poor life choices and poverty become accidental jokes.

It becomes worse later on when you arrive in Hong Kong or Paris and hear some of the worst fake accents imaginable. With gaming journalism such as it currently is, a title like this would be charged as racist and dragged through the mud by dozens of writers with an axe to grind.

When I played this game a couple months ago, I couldn't figure out what the allure was. I felt trapped in a straight-to-video tech-noir with stringent FPS gameplay. It wasn't in accomplishing the first stage that I fell in love with Deus Ex, but after the fact. I went back through the level, examined all of the alternate pathways and possible choices I could have made. I dissected the stage and saw that there was a beauty that shone through the muck-laden visuals, silly character models, and horrid voice acting. This was a tinkerer's playground. Here was a game with different paths to explore and experiment with. You could take different avenues or approaches to any situation, and your motives in doing so were your own. You could look for an easier path to take, or a more thrilling one, or a more violent one, or a stealthier one. It was your damn game.

Deus Ex screenshotDeus Ex screenshot

Like a pen and paper RPG, you have various skills you can hone as you gain more experience skill points. If you're the violent type, you could focus solely on weapon training. With that, you can charge into any area, gun down the opposition, destroy all security robots, and march to victory over the corpses of your opponents. If love sneaking up on people, you could keep some powerful melee weapons in tote. There's nothing better for an unsuspecting guard than a sword to the back. If you fancy a Batman-type character, you could knock characters unconscious with a stun gun, tranquilizer darts, or a night stick. Just be sure not to alert any other guards in the process, or you'll have a whole slew of them to deal with at once.

Let's say combat's not your bag. No biggie. Thanks to the aforementioned darkness, you can easily sneak around the premises and beef up some of your non-combat skills. Focus on lockpicking and you can gain access to any area without having to consume so many lockpicks. Increase your computer and hacking skills and you can hack any computer terminal or electronic device. If you're still the violent type but would rather be indirect about it, you can hack certain terminals and reprogram turrets to attack your foes. It's a great way to deal with some of the heavy nemeses if you aren't packing explosives or EMP grenades.

Which path you take may also dictate how you handle certain situations. When storming the Statue of Liberty, you could go through the front door. That will require some lockpicks and an ass-ton of ammo, not to mention capable weaponry and appropriate weapon training. If that's not your thing, you can slink into the shadows and find a ladder to the rear entrance. All you need is a night stick and a little patience. With some light stepping and heaving thumps to the back of terrorists' heads, you can head straight to your target at the top of the landmark unscathed and with minimal items consumed.

It's more than a front door/back door choice with most areas. You can run through any structure heedless of guards, or look for a ventilation shaft to crawl into. If swimming's your forte, some areas have drainage pipes, sewer systems or other water-filled locales that will lead you to your goal. For those who love hacking and tampering with machinery, you can break into a basement filled with security lasers, surveillance cameras, explosives and automated turrets.

The explorer will find himself handsomely rewarded. Straying off the beaten path can boost your item supply and ammunition generously, and even lead you to game-changing powers. Break into sealed rooms and uncover treasure troves of useful items like medkits and lockpicks. Hack your way into ammo dumps and you can sustain your killing addiction. Some passageways will lead you to hidden special power ups called augmentations, which bestow special abilities like night vision, a bulletproof forcefield, or an extended lung capacity.

Deus Ex screenshotDeus Ex screenshot

Whatever path you take, enemy forces are ever-present and incredibly stupid. Sometimes the easiest path, though not necessarily the most enjoyable one, is to simply end all of the guards' lives and prance your way to the end of the stage. When confronted by a contingent of soldiers, you can easily stand in a doorway and pick them off one by one. One effective way to deal with a group is to give them the slip for a short while. At one point in the game, I crawled out of a ventilation shaft and shot a man at point blank with a shotgun. His dying scream combined with the deafening boom summoned other guards. Rather than deal with them directly, I jumped back into the shaft and waited. One of them said, "He's miles away by now." I crawled out and shot him as well, then crawled back in as a few others arrived. Once again one of them said, "We lost him." I repeated the process until all of the guards lay on the ground with slugs in their faces.

This isn't to say that combat is always so easy. As you advance, you bump into more robotic baddies who can't be taken out with mere bullets. Some of them are veritable monsters that belch missiles and can kill you within seconds. It falls to you to find ways to deal with these menaces, either by stockpiling explosives or by hacking the right computer. Sometimes you can't find that computer and you're down on rockets. Time to look for an alternate means to survive. This is where Deus Ex's challenge factor can really peak, when you're at your cleverest and most resourceful.

Games will age. Visuals will not always look crisp in ten years and beyond, and contemporary ideas will look cheesy and laughable in the future. Think back to any time that you've channel surfed and caught an 80s movie, then found yourself laughing at the hairstyles. Back when that flick was relevant, there was nothing funny about the hair. You might also have picked on the older cinematography and dated special effect, but I'm betting you still watched the movie and probably even enjoyed it. I feel that way about Deus Ex nowadays. The tech-noir feel can be cheesy at times, and the visuals are dated, but the game is still great. Here's a game that's versatile enough to allow you to play how you want. Here's a title filled with cleverly designed levels, special skills and a variety of gadgets that help meld the game to your playing style. Maybe it's not as relevant today as it was in 2000, and maybe it's an eyesore, but it's definitely still an exciting title.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (June 02, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Deus Ex review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Masters posted June 02, 2012:

I seldom have time to read reviews these days. I'm glad I read this one!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 02, 2012:

Thanks, man!
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Masters posted June 02, 2012:

Have you played System Shock 2? Lots of the things that people said made Deus Ex so cool seem to me to have been done better in that game.

Anyway, I'm glad you took the game to task the way you did--too many reviewers revisit old classics either to practice some revisionist history (this was never good!) or to pretend they haven't noticed how poorly some aspects have aged.

And incidentally, your comical description of the ventilation shaft killings reminds me of Stolen.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 02, 2012:

Never played System Shock 2, though I've wanted to. If it's anything like Deus Ex, then I probably should get off my ass and give it a shot.

I try to make note of how poorly some games age. I think sometimes my sense of nostalgia gets the better of me, but that wasn't the case with Deus Ex. Mostly I was fed up with the overabundant darkness, though the visuals as a whole were actually pretty nauseating.

I keep forgetting Stolen exists. I think your review keeps reminding me. I've stumbled on it a couple times. The screens at GameFAQs kind of remind me of Rogue Ops.
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Nightfire posted July 14, 2017:

Your impression of this game is pretty interesting. You seem to praise the combat and RPG mechanics here, but I always felt these aspects were among its weaker points. The shooting was clunky, the melee combat was god-awful any time that you weren't sneaking around and backstabbing people, and the fact that you had to toggle your energy-guzzling augmentations on and off with the function keys every time you got into a fight was super annoying. Even the movement felt weird and bad; Denton's non-augmented run speed was laughably slow, like he had dwarfism or something.

And the RPG mechanics? Some of the skills you could slot points into were completely useless. Swimming was completely throwaway (as it often is in FPS games), and "environmental training" was just laughable. Slot points into a skill that lets you use disposable bullet-proof vests that somehow burn out and break (?) after 30 seconds of use. To top it all off, the weapon skills simply took the heavy-handed handicaps off of their aiming.

I didn't mind the voice acting as much as you did. I do recall a few painfully bad voice actors for insignificant parts, but I guess for me, the strength of the writing and the story overall compensated for that.

However, I certainly agree that the graphics were sub-par even for their day. It was based on the first Unreal engine, which was never the most attractive renderer, and the level designs also left something to be desired. Vast, wide, featureless grey hallways are never the best way to approach things even when trying to keep framerate in mind.

Good article, either way. I don't think I have enough to say that hasn't been written before to write a review of my own, but I just felt like sharing my impressions nonetheless.

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