Deus Ex

The year 2000 is where my Stack peaks, with fully 40 titles, every single one of which is having its 10th anniversary. It’s the year of The Sims, Sacrifice, Hitman, and the remaining episodes of Heroes Chronicles, to name just a few that I really want to get to at some point. It’s also the year that Ion Storm rather amazingly released both Daikatana, the Edsel of videogames and a butt of jokes to this day, and Deus Ex, a critic’s darling and still lauded as influential in broadening the scope of what really couldn’t just be called the “first-person shooter” any more.

We’re well into the age of 3D now: this is a game that really needed a beefier graphics card than I had at the time of its initial release. When I finally upgraded, I recall playing the first couple of levels, then deciding I was going about it all wrong and should start over, possibly after reading the feelies (which I didn’t actually get around to until now). Partly I felt I was letting inappropriate FPS habits dictate my actions. I wanted to explore everything, and if you do that back at your own HQ, you wind up earning multiple reprimands for violating security protocols, as well as for peeping into the ladies’ restroom. As in Strife, the RPG aspect is strong enough that pursuing every single option isn’t a realistic strategy, and is in fact somewhat detrimental. But also, this is a game set up to let you choose how you want to play it. That’s its thing. I think I mainly want to play it like it’s Thief 2.5, and that’s a viable option, but one that’s trickier than playing it like a shooter.

The other main thing I remember about previous sessions is that, at the end of the first mission, apprehending the head of a militia group that’s occupying the Statue of Liberty, you’re told by your fellow peacekeepers that you shouldn’t talk to him — and then are given an opportunity to talk to him. Well, remember that I was still in do-everything mode at that point. Naturally I wanted to talk to him if I could, and I was aware that I was rebelling against orders a little by doing so, which I wanted to do anyway: the opening cutscene was not at all subtle in establishing the player character’s ultimate superiors as bad guys with some sort of world-domination plot involving a deliberately engineered plague. (I suppose it’s common for games to use this kind of dramatic irony, where the player knows what’s coming long before the player character does — to pick an example from recent posts to this blog, the heroine of Dino Crisis doesn’t know at first there are dinosaurs on the island, while the player knows it from the very title — but it seems unusually explicit here.) What I didn’t remember is that your initial orders are not just to apprehend, but to interrogate the prisoner. So the organization you work for isn’t completely consistent in what it wants of you, which is unusual in games. The only other games I can think of where the people who send you on missions are at cross-purposes are those in the GTA series, which, like Deus Ex, places an emphasis on player freedom.

1 Comment so far

  1. malkav11 on 1 Aug 2010

    GTA places increasingly less emphasis on player freedom as the series progresses, though. By GTA IV, most solutions to a particular task that aren’t exactly what they wanted simply don’t work for whatever reason. If you’re meant to chase someone in a car but not actually catch up to him, you won’t be able to explode his car with repeated machine gun fire. It will simply be invulnerable. Want to sabotage a race so that you don’t have to be good at driving to win it? Sorry, cars put in the raceway will vanish when it starts, and the other racers will be able to take RPG fire without blinking.

    It’s a tad annoying. I’m not one of those people who wants the scripted missions entirely out of the game (Crackdown did that. The result was a game I only found enjoyable because of the superpowers.), but if you’re going to give a player freedom in general gameplay, it should be applicable to the scripted missions even if it might trivialize them occasionally with the right kind of lateral thinking. Either that, or there should be explicit conditions setting this or that thing as a failure condition – not preventing it, you understand, but shutting you down when you do it.

    Deus Ex is of course far less open than GTA, and much more linear than many people credit it with being, but it -is- better about the lateral thinking end of things. I think that’s the biggest difference in approach between a game like Alpha Protocol that many people have compared to Deus Ex, and Deus Ex itself. Deus Ex’s environment is simply looser. There are emergent gameplay options, as demonstrated memorably by the guy at it-he.org. Alpha Protocol tracks every choice you make and shapes the game in various ways based on those choices, but it’s much more prescriptivist in what choices it offers to begin with.

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