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Deus Ex: The Conspiracy (PlayStation 2) artwork

Deus Ex: The Conspiracy (PlayStation 2) review

"In my opinion, the whole history of the human race has been one long succession of conspiracies. To deceive ourselves , we call the successful conspiracies “governments.” "

In my opinion, the whole history of the human race has been one long succession of conspiracies. To deceive ourselves , we call the successful conspiracies “governments.”
- Stanton Dowd, Deus Ex: The Conspiracy

Wow, man. That’s deep.

I think we were all a little trepidatious in 1999. By 2000, that trepidation had turned to disappointment. The millennium had come, but it had left behind the flying cars, the self-cloaking devices, and the cyborgs. Life was as boring and mundane as ever. It’s easy, in retrospect, to see why a dark world would have appealed. A world struck by a mysterious plague only the rich could survive; a world where terrorism was a label used to frighten the populace into giving more control to the government; a world lacking in heroes but majoring in selling out.

If nothing else, at least it was interesting.

It’s also remained eerily relevant even to this day. So I’m not surprised that Eidos remade Deus Ex. I am a little surprised that they chose the Playstation 2 as the platform for the remake. While the console offered the opportunity to update the graphics with smoother textures and motion captured animations, the complexities of the game had to be dumbed down to accommodate the system’s lack of memory.

Gone is the body chart that shows damage-specific areas and effects. No longer can JC Denton be reduced to a crawl by the loss of his legs or lose accuracy and melee damage by having an arm blown out in the heat of combat. Gone, too, is the Diablo-style inventory screen. Rather than having to manage weapons and items based on their size, the player can now carry four guns of any size plus an infinite amount of melee weapons, grenades, lockpicks, and healing items. To top it all off, an auto-aim system has been implemented to deal with the pitfalls of analog shooters and the maps have had some of their more irrelevant corners removed.

In fact, the game in general has had most of its irrelevant corners removed, becoming a much more streamlined product. Unfortunately, it was in these corners that Deus Ex really shined.

I’m not sure that Eidos was ever certain what exactly it was that made Deus Ex good. The main focus of the port seems to be keeping non-linearity intact. All the vents and back alleys are still there, with all the tactical options they imply. After all, the major boast of Deus Ex has always been that you can choose how to approach a mission and that your actions will have a deep effect on the difficulty and progression of the game.

News for Eidos: The cake is a lie.

There were never choices in Deus Ex, just the illusion of choice. Levels were large, but ultimately linear in their progression. Mission goals and plot twists were the same regardless of your actions and had to be completed no matter your thoughts on the matter. Oh, sure, getting to the objective provided some different options. There was "sneak through the vents and take six hours crawling around trying not to get spotted" or "shoot everyone and be done with the level in three minutes." If the objective involved attacking an NPC, you could kill him outright or take the peaceful approach and stun him... and watch him go down in the exact same animation only with unconscious written above his head.

Maybe one of the few areas where there was real choice in Deus Ex was in the inventory. No one in their right mind can claim that the weapons in Deus Ex are balanced. There’s little point to carrying around a Stealth Pistol when you can put a silencer on an Assault Rifle and do twice the damage in half the time. The one benefit to the Stealth Pistol is its size. You can carry it around and still have plenty of room left over for a wide array of grenades, healing items, lockpicks, and melee weapons. Start getting into the bigger guns like the GEP Rocket Launcher and you have to give up versatility in favour of firepower.

Or, at least, you did before Deus Ex: The Conspiracy.

When Deus Ex is reduced to a basic shooter, it doesn’t make sense to sneak around or be passive. Enemies just weren’t smart enough back in 2000 to provide tactical challenges to players. They didn’t understand how to use cover. They could call for help, but only if that help was already in the area. The height of their cleverness was to occasionally duck while firing at you. The one thing that made them dangerous was their ability to get lucky and take out an arm or leg or pop you one in the skull and pull off an instant kill. It was the fear of this kind of luck that kept players from rushing into combative situations like a boar during the mating season and instead gave them reason to consider taking the longer path through the vents. Having that picture of the health of your various body parts in the corner of the screen was a constant reminder of how vulnerable you were. It was just a little picture, but it added a lot.

Lackings in the plot are similarly fixed. Aside from a fairly cosmetic decision as to whether to save your brother, the player is forced to go where the writers want them to go. What keeps players from revolting against this is that these are engaging places. And it is the little details that make them so. While the labyrinthine conspiracy that players track down over the course of the game is hardly forgettable, it was the metaphorical references to this plot made by a book called Jacob’s Shadow that I recall most. This fictional book provided ironical commentary on the player’s actions and kept reminding them that they were living the kind of conspiracy story that authors can only dream of. That the book was placed alongside non-fictional entries, such as The Man Who Was Thursday kept them thinking “this could be happening in my world.”

Another little detail that always fascinated me was the love relationship between two NPCs. Gordon Quick, head of The Luminous Path in China, is in love with the rival triad’s daughter. He doesn’t tell you this in a moment of melodramatic inspiration. Instead you learn about it by finding his journal inside the triad compound. In any other game, this would be the start of a massive side quest to bring these two lovers together. Not in Deus Ex. Gordon Quick never mentions the relationship and you never meet the daughter. That the situation isn’t resolved doesn’t feel incomplete. It feels like character development. The NPCs have lives outside of the confines of the main plot. That’s real life.

While Jacob’s Shadow and the unresolved love story still exist in the port, when you play Deus Ex: The Conspiracy there is a constant sense that something is missing. Maybe its the removal of some of the underwater tunnels in Hong Kong or the now-silent corner of a bar where a group of Russians used to sit, merrily calling out “I spill my drink!” Perhaps it’s the missing line of inventory at the bottom of the screen and the health indicator at the top. With all the extras gone, we begin to see that what really made the game unique were all these little considerations.

The most impressive and inspiring innovation of Deus Ex was not the non-linear gaming. It was that the game took itself seriously. It wasn’t content being just another shooter. Ultimately, whether you took the right or left path to Grandma’s bunker wasn’t the point. What made the game exciting was that nothing like either of those paths were available in other games. That you could get a leg blown off by stepping on a land mine, that you had to take into consideration the size of your weapons, that you could get drunk with a bunch of Russians... these were the things that made the game great.

And Deus Ex: The Conspiracy doesn’t have them.


zippdementia's avatar
Community review by zippdementia (July 07, 2010)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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