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Deus Ex
Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Ion Storm
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
When I used to think of FPS games, I usually thought of non-stop action, passable graphics and good party fun. Soon, the reality of new game engines and high-end graphics cards upped the ante for visuals. More dedication to story and enhanced single-player modes meant that FPS games were as much fun to play alone as they were in LAN parties. The last gauntlet was whether FPS could transcend the Action genre and become something other than an exercise in twitch reflexes. Deus Ex was a game I actually looked at after it made the transition from PC to Mac, but I decided not to buy it because the graphics looked...well, somewhat dated? And, this is not a new game. But, with no prospect of video card issues, RAM or processor limitations, I eagerly went after the PS2 version of Deus Ex. Reason being, a good friend of mine who almost exclusively played FPS games on PC told me I'd love Deus Ex. And, the more I read about the game, the more excited I got. Well, the reality of this being an older game is that the graphics are probably just average, compared with other FPS games for PS2. But, if you struggled to find the magic in Half-Life (shame on you), Red Faction, or Soldier of Fortune, this might just have what you're missing, even if it's not breaking ground graphically.

The visual presentation and interface is amazing, though. Maybe we focus too much on counting pixels and forget that no amount of processing power or resolution or fancy effects can create a good user interface. Deus Ex makes navigating a rather complicated group of options feel exceedingly simple. A right-left orientation for selecting items, weapons and power-ups (or 'augs') keeps things simple, and even very different tools in the game share enough similar control to make everything easy to use. The amount of reading material in the game could constitute a small novella, and browsing through papers and books is a big part of your immersion in the game. Sound contributes much to this also. Where some games are content to give you good dialog and some nice weapon sounds, Deus Ex offers truly excellent voice acting, and an audio aspect that adds much to the way you'll play. For instance, certain objects can't be seen easily with the eye, but have a special sound. In one of the early stages, I kept walking by a crate and hearing this weird sound, and finally on investigating I found a hidden panel that housed a medical power-up. Special audio and visual cues really help lead you through the game, not to mention a great system of briefing that never lets you get lost but doesn't feel too controlling.

This area of Deus Ex is where the game stands head and shoulders above its competition. The story is a future that seems all too possible these days, with World Police and militia rule as well as 'terrorists' with agendas that sometimes seem more in line with logic and humanitarian concerns than the greed exhibited on the corporate/government end. Playing as J.C. Denton, you assume the character of an 'augmented' human, a new model that looks perfectly human but includes some amazing abilities that can be enabled through Augmentation Canisters and various upgrades. At the beginning of the game, J.C. is given a modest amount of credit to upgrade himself. What to choose? Wait, is my advice. Going through the excellent Training, you'll find that there is a lot to learn. J.C. not only has all the standard skills with weapons (he's really a blank slate, and most weapons can be used to some degree), but he can learn to use lockpicks, manipulate electronic devices and wear special armor and environmental gear. Each of these areas, including base physical ability like speed, strength and stamina, can be upgraded through augs. Starting to sound like an RPG? Oh yeah. So, you can imagine that the replay value of this game is almost infinite through different combinations of aug values. Augs are earned through different accomplishments and mission completions in the game. Playing for what he thinks is the 'good' side, J.C. increasingly has the choice to switch to one of several sides. Not only does this affect his progress during the game, but it changes the ending. And, at any point in the game, completing primary and secondary objectives is open-ended and can lead to very divergent reward items.

What the 'aug' system really boils down to is a means for customizing how the game is played. Stealthy players can upgrade skills like lockpicking and hacking to turn off security systems while hardcore run-n-gun types can enhance their skill with heavy weapons and armor to become virtually a walking tank. Combination and variation is certainly possible as well. Without some level of branching paths, all this customization to the character wouldn't be that interesting, so you'll find most areas can be cleared using a variety of methods and paths, and the game rarely plays out the same way. But, the progression of the story is consistent enough, even if the role you play changes slightly over time. I really liked all the little detail, and the ability to create a custom character gives anyone a chance to enjoy Deus Ex. You'll have choices to make during the story and groups to align yourself with, and the secondary objectives make for especially interesting gameplay. Special challenges and rewards for completing more difficult paths or objectives opens the game up to more advanced or experienced players without forcing the experience on a novice. The variety of tools at your disposal is another neat aspect of the game, and the weapons run from small, up-close-and-personal issue like pepper spray or a baton to long-range weapons like a sighted plasma rifle or sniper rifle. Upgrading weapons is also possible through a system of add-ons for everything from recoil to clip size. And if all this wasn't enough, the NPC interaction is so awesome that you'll often find ways to use the characters in the game to progress without firing a shot.

The worst thing we could say about Deus Ex is that it doesn't lend itself to instant gratification for FPS gamers who expect to learn everything they'll need about the game in the first 5 minutes. Hours into Deus Ex, you'll discover new abilities, or choose weapon combinations that are particularly effective against enemies. As your skill increases, you'll find you're able to do things you wouldn't have believed possible early in the game, like bypass security systems and turn them against your enemies. But, in the early stages of the game, browsing all the augs and the special add-ons to weapons with some confusion is understandable. Upgrade credit will come as you progress, but the development team might have done better by gradually introducing the aug system instead of dropping it on us right away. Before you've really had time to experience the gameplay and decide how you want to progress through the game, it's tough to decide where to spend your aug credits, and hard not to have regrets. Some system of exchangeable credit would have been nice also, since once you've developed a skill or aug you can't move it to any other area later. Control was sometimes a problem, but only in the parts of the game that demanded pinpoint control, such as defusing mines. Luckily, a 'save anywhere' system helps keep frustration to a minimum, no matter what the source.

Game Mechanics:
Deus Ex isn't the most beautiful of games, although its successor (which we saw at E3) does appear to be full of slick textures and fly graphics. Really, given all the depth in story and gameplay, the engine under Deus Ex is more than sufficient to give what we need. Navigating some of the aug and item menus is well-placed, but by the end of the game there were often more items than could be moved through easily in a time of emergency. I liked that there was an option to 'flag' items you wanted to come up as part of a quick-select command, and keeping your quick-select well organized and applicable to the environment you are exploring is key. The presentation and feel of each weapon is authentic, right down to reload time. Many of the skills or augs create a unique interface, such as the Spy Drone which launches from your head to scout the territory ahead. As you gain skill, this Drone moves from a passive observer to an attacker with a bioelectric charge. So, control and perspective changes, not to mention the amount of time the Drone can stay on the job. Other similar skills are affected over time as you increase in skill, and Deus Ex does a great job of representing these small changes.

The control can sometimes feel a bit floaty, and swimming was especially frustrating. Whether because of age or translation to the PS2, Deus Ex lacks a certain polish in the smoothness of control that can lead to some frustrating moments. These aside, you'll make up for any weirdness by gaining skill and by some workarounds. Nothing was bad enough to detract seriously from our enjoyment of the game, and again the next version looks to be well ahead of the pack in every aspect. Controlling the skills and special augs was not even as intuitive as choosing items, so hopefully this will also be a point for improvement in the next game. A series of skills could be selected for quick activation, but rarely was the drain on energy worth it unless you were programming yourself to be some instant killing machine. Sure you were...

Deus Ex has a few rough patches, but it didn't win its accolades for being just a 'good' game. Anything you find in this game that gives you problems will inevitably be glossed over by the sheer volume of story and excellent, creative gameplay. The character is damn cool, the situation he's been thrust into has a great deal of internal coherence and not a little bit of current relevance, and this game just manages to combine most of what motivates anyone to play FPS games with elements we haven't seen before in the genre. Even if you never play another FPS or don't think of yourself as being in that 'camp.' Deus Ex may make a believer out of you. The thinking gamer versus the twitchy gamer is probably more of the target for this joint, but anyone with a pulse should be able to enjoy Deus Ex.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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