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Deus Ex

Developer: Ion Storm Publisher: Eidos Interactive
17 June 2000
Deus Ex - cover art
Glitchwave rating
4.32 / 5.0
0.5
5.0
 
 
1,174 Ratings / 8 Reviews
#21 All-time
#2 for 2000
In the year 2052, the outbreak of a plague known as the Gray Death threw society into chaos. A rookie agent of the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO) named JC Denton is assigned to investigate terrorist groups capitalizing on the disorder, but his investigation quickly turns into a life-or-death mission to unravel a hodgepodge of conspiracies perpetrated by government agencies.
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2000 Ion Storm Eidos  
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2000 Ion Storm Eidos  
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Deus Ex Game of the Year Edition
2001 Ion Storm Eidos  
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2002 Ion Storm Eidos  
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2002 Ion Storm Eidos  
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Deus Ex Game of the Year Edition
2007 Ion Storm Square Enix  
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Something about my gaming life struck me recently, something that felt very odd once it sunk in properly.

It came about after the revelation that Heavy Rain [HEAVY RAIN 心の軋むとき], the ludicrously immersive interactive drama from 2010 by Quantic Dream, was now my favourite video game of all time; it not only had me rushing home from work to get further into the story, it completely blew apart just about every conception I had about what a game could do and how it could make me feel. If nothing else, it destroyed my previously carved-in-stone Rule #1 of Gaming - that games should not try to be like films (a rule that had recently been hardened by L.A. Noire, an otherwise brilliant game that suffered just a little by trying too hard to be something it's not). This is no slight on gaming, in fact it's the very opposite - games are capable of being brilliant at things that films are, as a general rule, absolutely terrible at, and I don't feel that they should hold themselves back in a misguided attempt to cater to an audience that frequently looks down their noses at games. Heavy Rain broke that rule by being more film than game, by co-opting all the great things about games into another form without diluting the artistry of either, and by being, quite frankly, the best film I've ever seen, let alone the best game. (Even though the inevitable straight-up film adaption will be terrible, of course.)

This in itself is not really that important - the salient point is that the game it displaced as my all-time favourite was Deus Ex, a game that, when I finished Heavy Rain, was almost exactly 12 years old. And that, to me, was a very, very weird thing to realize.

Here's the thing - video games are unlike any other art form, for two simple reasons. Firstly, the whole form is very young - it hit its own 'caveman banging on rocks' phase in the mid-'40s, 70 years after films did and several millennia after cavemen starting carving drawings into walls and, well, banging on rocks. The comparison to film is a good one here because of its own relative youth - so if we consider they first started to even resemble something modern around 1900 (think of A Trip to the Moon [Le voyage dans la Lune]) and that the first widely-accepted masterpiece was made in 1915 (The Birth of a Nation, depressingly), that would mean that games would have followed the same progression by having their equivalents around 1975 and around 1990 - hold that thought for now. The second reason is that games are inherently driven by technology, much moreso than music (which has typically been very slow to adopt new tech - how long did it take to get from Karlheinz Stockhausen to Kraftwerk?) or the visual arts, and moreso than even films, where technology has been vitally important but hasn't moved as quickly, or shown off the tech as visibly (until very recently). When combined, these two things mean that, in comparison to any other creative medium, the world of gaming moves ridiculously quickly. Think about that 1975/1990 point above - Pong was released in 1972 and by 1990 the NES had already been on the market for 5 years, so games accelerated way beyond films from the off, and then continued to do so. A film released in 1970 looks roughly the same as one released in 1980, but in the jump from 1990 to 2000, gaming went from the SNES and the Mega Drive to the PlayStation 2 and the Dreamcast, from Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage to Deus Ex, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn and Final Fantasy IX [ファイナルファンタジーIX].

These constant technical leaps mean that, by almost all objective measures, games just keep on getting better. The graphics, the smoothness of the gameplay, the freedom to tell a complex story (or more specifically the length of the game and the amount of data a game can hold); they all keep on growing and growing, and that's before you consider technology like online console gaming and motion control, which are still reasonably new in the grand scheme of things, even if they don't feel like it. Subjectivity will always come into play, of course it will, but consider this - if somebody told you that a game released in 2008 was their favourite of all time, and then somebody told you that a film or an album released in 2008 was their all-time favourite, you'd be a lot more shocked at the latter, wouldn't you? Games have a canon just as everything else does, but it's a lot more flexible and a lot more open to new entries; games like The Last of Us (which has since displaced Heavy Rain as my #1), The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Portal 2, and the Mass Effect series are already canonical, where it will take years for any but the most gigantic albums and films of recent times to get there. And even then, I'm sure any suggestion that, say, Adele's 21 is canon would spark massive debate.

And yet, even with this in mind, even though as a gamer that upgraded to a PS3 very late into its lifecycle I'm consistently amazed by the visuals and feel of every game I touch, even though gaming has been a seriously exciting world to be part as a consumer for about 20 years now, a game I played in 2002 held down that top spot in my all-time list for an entire decade. That, to me, feels like a ridiculous achievement. So Deus Ex may not be my favourite game of all time any more, but the fact that it held that title for so long says a hell of a lot, not just about just how brilliant this game is, but about how at the time (and even now to an extent). Deus Ex made me feel like it had been made just for me.

People say this kind of thing all the time about music ('this song is all about me!'), and it's normally a reflection of a kind of vagueness in the song or album in question - music allows us to fill in the gaps, to flesh out a three-minute story with as much detail as we like. Hell, in the world of pop and rock especially, the extent to which a song allows and encourages you to fill in those details is often as accurate a mark of greatness as any. Gaming's not like that, though; with very few exceptions a story-driven game is bigger, is more detailed, and leaves a lot less room for the kind of ambiguity and space you'd need to be able to put parts of your own life into it. So when one comes along that is so perfectly tailored to what you want out of a game, it's a much rarer and, as far as I'm concerned, special event - and for the teenage me, Deus Ex was literally perfect.

You can blame The X-Files, I guess, but right from the age of about 7 I was obsessed with conspiracy theories and unexplained mysteries. Ancient Aliens has made this whole kind of thing a bit blasé and silly now, but back when ironic television stardom was but a faint pipedream in the back of Giorgios Tsoukalos' mind, this was very much a niche concern, and one that you didn't really have much opportunity to discuss with other people if you didn't have an internet connection. So I had to turn to books and special order magazines, of which I had literally dozens. Rendlesham Forest, Roswell, Majestic 12, the Illuminati, false flags, reptilians, the Apollo landings, GM foods, Stonehenge, Heaven's Gate - I could quite happily have held a lengthy conversation about any of them, and you probably would have walked away thinking 'fuck me, that is one weird 12 year old'.

And it was weird, let's be honest. Beyond The X-Files, this kind of stuff didn't permeate much popular culture at the time. To top it off, I started getting heavily into dystopian fiction at the time - I guess after spending so long reading about alleged shadowy and evil real-world meta-narratives like the Bilderburg Group, the jump to 1984 and Brave New World was an obvious one to make (as well as post-apocalyptic films like 12 Monkeys, which was a particular favourite of mine at the time).

If you've played it (and if you haven't, fucking hell, sort your life out), you can see why Deus Ex was such an immediately thrilling experience for me. The nearest thing I'd seen to any of this in a game, either visually or spiritually, was Final Fantasy VII [ファイナルファンタジーVII]'s Midgar - and sure enough, it was FFVII that Deus Ex replaced as my favourite ever game - but that only accounted for a fraction of the game, whereas Deus Ex launched you headfirst into pure scorched Earth dystopia and kept you there. The sheer scale of the web of conspiracies it presents remains impressive even now - Majestic 12, the Knights Templar, the Illimunati, and the Trilateral Commission are all major plot points, as are Area 51, Men in Black, UFOs, and unexplained animal mutilation. And that's just the obvious ones, before you start thinking about how The Grey Death, the virus that has wiped out millions of people in the game, might relate to conspiracy theories surrounding AIDs. And somehow, all these fit in alongside one another in a plot that is shockingly easy to follow given the scale of the concepts it touches upon. It's memorable, too - to this day I still catch myself watching shows like Unsolved Mysteries or Fact or Faked and thinking 'hey, that looks like Deus Ex'.

I knew a fair bit about the vast majority of these things before I played it, but I often wonder how Deus Ex would have played out to me if I hadn't, whether it still would have registered with me that this such a special piece of work. True, there's a lot of stuff in here I didn't get - there's reference to things like Marcy Playground and Tommy Tutone that sailed as far over my head at that age as the My Bloody Valentine / Loveless poster in FFVII that I didn't discover until 2011, as well as weapons that seem to hark back to earlier games and nods to Star Wars, Shakespeare, and probably dozens more films and books I still haven't recognized to this day. Yet all of this is perhaps the exact reason why I would still have loved it. It's clear with Deus Ex, perhaps as clear it has been with any computer game ever made, that this is a true labour of love, crafted to the tiniest detail by a design team that didn't just build a world but inhabited it, filling every nook and cranny with detail that reflected not just the world they'd invented but their own personalities and passions. The sheer breadth and extent of the references is such that it's hard to imagine anybody not spotting at least a handful.

Perhaps that matters to you, but what ultimately matters to me is that this was my game, the game that I feel like I would have ended up making if I had the resources and the skill, or a developer would have made if I'd been sat in the room telling them what to do. And it's only really now, writing this out, that I realize that I've never heard anybody - fan, professional critic, blogger, whatever - talk about a game in those terms. There are clearly things about Deus Ex that haven't aged well - the graphics were pretty good for the time but technology has left them behind, and much more pertinently, a few of the minor characters and bystanders are nothing more than jarringly crude and fairly offensive national stereotypes - but every time I've played through it since, it's never lost that appeal, that spark that makes it feel so special. That probably explains why I've completed this more than any comparable game. It certainly explains why it's just about the most nailed-on 5/5 rating I'll ever give anything on this site.
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Iai 2016-04-04T18:52:58Z
2016-04-04T18:52:58Z
4.6
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Definitely my least favorite of the canonical "immersive sims" along with Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines, pretty much because of the creeping-in of CRPG-ish qualities than tend to dilute rather than enhance what I like about the earlier Looking Glass Studios games.

Looking Glass games are often praised for their innovative storytelling, but personally it was never their stories per se I cared about so much as the moment-by-moment engagement of the games themselves. It just turns out that "story" is sort of a necessary pretext for the relatively complex objectives of games like System Shock or Thief: The Dark Project in a way it isn't with straightforward shooters (which usually have them anyway, for some reason). Deus Ex goes above and beyond to add numerous characters with even more numerous dialogues, dialogue options, tons of (thankfully optional) documents with worldbuilding/flavor text, as well as plots and subplots whose outcomes change according to the player's choices. This kind of interactive storytelling is something I generally have no interest in anymore, and there's nothing in this specific case to make it an exception. What we have is a mishmash of sci-fi and conspiracy theory tropes that gestures at ethical and political topics in a highly superficial manner. Frankly it all strikes me as more than a bit silly, but it insists on itself far too much for me to simply ignore.

Deus Ex gives the player a lot of different options and upgrade paths, more than its closest ancestor System Shock 2. This is another thing people praise, but to me it seems to result in a lack of focus, a jack-of-all-trades scenario. There's a stealth mechanic, but it's not as robust as Thief's even if it can be upgraded in different ways. There's an assortment of weapon types, each with the obvious strengths and weaknesses, and a skill associated with each. Choosing which of these skills to focus on is an important part of player expression, but personally I think it would be expressive enough simply to choose which weapons to fill my limited inventory space with. The effect of the skill system is to enforce a degree of specialization over the course of the entire campaign, which is perfectly fine, but its actual implementation results in strange and clearly unintentional issues like the fact that the sniper rifle is a far better early-game weapon at short range than the shotgun.

There's also a fair bit of redundancy to these systems: weapon handling improves with skill point investments, but there are plenty consumable items that apply the same bonuses to individual weapons. The skill and augmentation systems also overlap in some ways. There are a lot of options, some of which can change the game drastically, others not so much. Part of me feels like the stealth and weapon systems (and more) could be improved by scrapping the relevant skills entirely in favor of more robust upgrades and augmentations. The tweaking and complexity is part of the appeal for many people, but I think it could easily be radically simplified without affecting player expression.

Besides weapons and stealth, there are other skills associated with bypassing various kinds of obstacles (hacking, lockpicking, etc.) Your choices among all these sets of tools can drastically alter how you approach certain obstacles and even your route through a level—at least at first. Deus Ex's level design is rightfully praised for the variety of approaches it accommodates, but this is just one of two conflicting principles by which it's governed. For it's also a game that encourages you to comb each level as thoroughly as possible for extra experience as well as tools, weapons, ammo, upgrades, etc—which are not always logically placed. So if on the one hand you're meant to choose a route based on your selected playstyle and toolset, on the other you should end up seeing pretty much the whole level anyway in the the search for goodies, minus a few closets here and there. This kind of combing and looting makes diegetic sense in a System Shock or Thief game, but not here. Granted, early levels are cleared of enemies (if not security systems) at the very end, giving you freedom to explore them more safely, but by then it's rather tedious—I just want to move on.

Deus Ex is certainly an ambitious game, but the very qualities that make it ambitious are what make it frustrating to me. There's so much going on in it that seems very impressive but I'm not convinced any of it actually results in a better game than the (relatively speaking) simpler games it draws influence from. Its fans aren't wrong to tout the unprecedented freedom (for the genre) the game affords the player, but when there are so many choices to be made each individual choice has little weight. (Some have more weight than others, but does it really matter if there are a bajillion ways of opening a door when the door's just going to end up being opened anyway?) Of course this is just me—plenty of people have play this game over and over and keep having a blast with it, and they're probably laughing at this review. And more power to them. All I can do is explain why multiple playthroughs have made Deus Ex less compelling to me, not more.

I'll add one more thing, which is that when I last played Deus Ex, I got the impression that a pacifist route, to the extent that it's possible, is perhaps the most authentic way to play. At least the dialogue's constant and somewhat cartoonishly moralizing tone points in that direction. It would certainly be the most difficult way to play, and perhaps the most fun. Of course the thing is I don't have the ambition to find out.
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This game felt utterly remarkable when it came out, but for some reason I never played it past the first couple of levels when it was new. Revisiting it a few decades later, the openness of its levels still impresses, but time has not been kind. It's visually dated enough to ruin immersion, the gameplay feels rough and janky, the narrative is rather dry and unengaging despite a compelling premise. So I don't enjoy this game very much, but I do respect its innovations, and wish more modern games would pick up its torch.
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blargh4 2022-01-26T05:29:42Z
2022-01-26T05:29:42Z
4.0
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deus ex adds a new dimension of agency to interactions, and as my first immersive sim, i really haven't seen much like it. it never flaunts how much agency it grants you, or even really tells you. it builds these areas with numerous ways to get by, with no wrong way to go about anything whatsoever.

even an encounter with one door in an area with 10+ doors you have to bypass, the possibilities for improv become insane. in some cases, you can: enter the code, blow it up, hack it, lockpick it, lockpick a vent system to get inside, use crates to go through a unreachable window, hack a security system to unlock it, or find the key to unlock it. just a single door, nothing even important to the story. the entire 20 hours is like this, and it turns every little segment into a sandbox dream, where any amount of experimentation will probably get you *somewhere* in some way or another.

storywise, it gets away with being a little on the nose at times, so absurdly bleak that its tone floats between terrifying, campy, and hilarious. its scary and incredibly bleak while also not really taking itself seriously enough to care. the stakes get higher and higher as you become stronger and stronger, paying off for one of my favorite climaxes / endings ever.

cityscapes in this are really special too, there's almost 0 population density in places like Hong Kong and Paris (the engine this game runs on is ancient), so you have to use your imagination a bit - but the nightclubs and small parts of the cities are really something to behold. i did not want to leave Hong Kong or Paris at all, suprisingly cozy and charismatic for being in a dystopia. i am patient enough to get over the jank, and once i did i had the most enjoyable experience i've had with an RPG in a long time. infinite replayability and way too much to see. dark & cozy : ^ )
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cryo 2021-07-22T07:13:30Z
2021-07-22T07:13:30Z
4.5
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noah accidentally scary
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Sadly I came to the Deus Ex party a bit late and wasn't impressed with what I saw.
The graphics are dated and the gameplay is frustrating, sure there are tons of options but there's such little guidance that you have no way of knowing if what you're doing is good or bad until it's too late. The AI run around like chickens and the sneak mechanics aren't good.

The voice acting and soundtrack still hold up though, and I can understand why it was so groundbreaking at the time.
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Teeba 2021-08-30T16:27:36Z
2021-08-30T16:27:36Z
3.0
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One of the best games ever made
Brilliant in every way and still very good to play to this day. The atmosphere, story and gameplay are amazing. You can play missions in so many different ways. Love it.
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spank36 2019-06-22T00:39:58Z
2019-06-22T00:39:58Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
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Catalog

WHATISLOSTINTHEMINES Deus Ex 2022-05-23T13:36:09Z
2022-05-23T13:36:09Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Acidpanther Deus Ex 2022-05-22T10:42:16Z
2022-05-22T10:42:16Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
gfx Deus Ex 2022-05-22T02:54:45Z
2022-05-22T02:54:45Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
pensiero97 Deus Ex 2022-05-21T15:47:37Z
Windows
2022-05-21T15:47:37Z
9
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
KrayZWT Deus Ex 2022-05-21T05:41:58Z
Windows • XNA
2022-05-21T05:41:58Z
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
TheRealJimMorrison Deus Ex 2022-05-21T04:08:30Z
2022-05-21T04:08:30Z
S
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Xavon Deus Ex 2022-05-20T16:57:36Z
2022-05-20T16:57:36Z
3.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
908HOY Deus Ex 2022-05-20T05:54:51Z
2022-05-20T05:54:51Z
5.0
1
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Desert05Mr Deus Ex 2022-05-20T04:21:53Z
Windows
2022-05-20T04:21:53Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Hudson_Hawk Deus Ex 2022-05-19T22:52:11Z
2022-05-19T22:52:11Z
4.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
TsarFox64 Deus Ex 2022-05-19T22:09:39Z
2022-05-19T22:09:39Z
5.0
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
MR1500 Deus Ex 2022-05-19T20:19:39Z
2022-05-19T20:19:39Z
0.5
In collection Want to buy Used to own  
Content rating
ESRB: M
Player modes
Single-player
Media
1x CD-ROM
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  • Previous comments (62) Loading...
  • twist 2022-04-11 06:35:52.535148+00
    reply
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  • thesearefallcolors 2022-04-19 21:44:53.338661+00
    It's incredibly funny the extent to which the plot is essentially driven forward by NSF/MJ12 members being terrible at hiding their passwords.
    reply
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  • Maxwellvv 2022-04-20 07:56:54.814387+00
    I plan on playing this at some point, but man late 90s and early 2000s CRPGs are really hard to get through
    reply
    • khaledo 2022-04-28 10:54:42.385949+00
      once you get into them though its 100% worth it
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  • Zexion 2022-04-21 08:18:59.861413+00
    Very paintful to play now, even with mods.
    reply
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  • alliterativeAlpinist 2022-04-23 19:00:17.116749+00
    I'm curious, did anyone play the multiplayer mode? From what I understand it was weirdly technical
    reply
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  • thesearefallcolors 2022-04-25 16:10:19.306224+00
    I’m dogshit at gaming, but come on the dragon sword is way too overpowered. Even if you don’t have any points in physical weaponry it lets you steamroll through the rest of the game’s combat sections
    reply
    • Xantha_Page 2022-04-28 03:55:25.458733+00
      One of many absurdly funny balance issues with this game along with the sniper rifle being a way better weapon at close range than the shotgun if you haven't upgraded your rifle skill just because its default accuracy is so much higher.
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  • deadass 2022-05-10 05:36:18.041262+00
    every time I think about this game I get giddy, really need to replay soon
    reply
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  • pensiero97 2022-05-21 15:03:08.819619+00
    that feeling when you get to HK the first time...
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