Reviewed By: Kirk Hiner
Review Date: September 28, 2000
Game critics have it tough.
I know what some of you may be thinking..."What about the free games? What about the VIP treatment at expos? What about the parties with beer and drugs and hos?" Well, there are no parties with beer and drugs and hos, or at least none to which I'm invited. I only mention them to point out that "hos" is correctly spelled without an apostrophe, which so many people get wrong these days (yes, even slang must obey the laws of the MLA). The same goes for CDs, '70s and how-tos. The apostrophe would indicate either a contraction, as in, "That ho is fine," or possession, as in, "Who's that ho's pimp?"
But I digress. The reason game critics have it tough is because—especially these days—we quite often don't get to sit down and enjoy a game as much as we would like. I get so many priority mail packages these days that the US Postal Service is considering building an expansion office next to my apartment complex just to save on gasoline! I farm many of these games out, denying myself the pleasure of The Sims or Diablo II because I have too many other titles to check out before their sequel is released.
Such is the case here. After storming through "Baldur's Gate," angering myself all the while for not taking the time to smell the sirines, as it were, the last thing I needed was to get into another deeply involved game that would keep me up later than those parties I mentioned earlier. But then I installed Deus Ex, "Just to see what the opening movie looks like," I tried to tell myself.
Yeah. I'm now about two weeks into that opening movie.
Before I get to the review, lets all take a look back up at the system requirements and have a good laugh. 64 MB RAM? Good one. Now tell me the one about the string that goes into a bar to buy a beer. I have 256 MB RAM on my G4, and the first time I launched Deus Ex, I got an insufficient memory error! After I picked myself up from the floor, I checked the info box of the game icon; the memory requirement suggested size was 157.7 MB! "I'm just playing a game here," I cried, "not remaking Star Wars again!" But then I collected myself and switched over to the CD Games Set in Conflict Catcher and rebooted. I then upped the Deus Ex RAM allotment to 175 MB, just to let it know I could, and started playing the game.
My first thought once the game started running was, "I've heard better music than this on my Sega Genesis." You'd think with a game of this caliber that a powerful, driving score would've been used to set the scene, wouldn't you?
All similarities between Deus Ex and the Genesis ended right there. Deus Ex is...well, if William Gibson and Tom Clancy got married and had a son, and that son went on to college and roomed with John Carmack, this is the game he would've made. Now I know that a daughter to Bill and Tom could have made this game too, but she wouldn't have been able to room with John, so the whole premise would've fallen apart.
To say that Deus Ex is based on the Unreal engine is to say that the Matrix is based on Steamboat Willie. Just drive on down to the local computer store (unless it's Circuit City, in which case you'll be better off driving to a big, rusty trash can) and look at the pictures on the back of the box. You know how those pictures always look so much better than the actual game? Provided you have a high end 3D acceleration card, Deus Ex comes closer than any to bridging that gap.
Tons of RAM is not all you'll need to play this game with a modicum of success. If you think your new Apple Pro Mouse is just all jiggy with the rage, as the children say, then you'd be better off installing yet another version of solitaire. Although Deus Ex's interface and inventory system are easy to manage, you'll need at least two mouse buttons to do so.
But lets get quickly to the story because from this stems nearly every element that makes this game great. And don't worry, I'm not going to give away any plot twists here. To be honest, I haven't completely finished the game (take another look at paragraph three, please, before passing judgment), so there's still a little twisting to do. And sure, everything could end so horribly that I'd wonder if I hadn't instead just played the computer version of The Ninth Gate. But this game has been such a wild trip so far that even if it ends with Johnny Depp and the devil doing...well, the devil's business, it'd still be all right with me.
You play a character by the code name of J.C. Denton, a nano-augmented covert operative for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition (UNATCO, because Heaven-forbid a computer game should have an organization without a high-tech sounding acronym). You're joined by an amazing number of non-player characters (NPCs), each with his or her own skin, personality and dialogue. Individuality is nothing new to computer games, the volume of individuals is. There are easily over forty characters in this game with whom you not only interact, but who directly affect the outcome of the game depending upon how that interaction goes. Add to this the number of extras who are only there to get killed, and you've got an epic of Ben Hur proportions.
Dues Ex consists of numerous missions, all of which lead you—albeit usually indirectly—to your ultimate goal; to find out who or what really is behind the "Gray Death," a deadly virus that's ravaging an already chaotic, terrorism-ridden Earth. From the very start, everyone seems to be fighting the good fight, but few of them seem to be trustworthy. Getting to the heart of the matter is tricky, but you won't have to do it on brains alone. After all, you're a UNATCO agent, and you can be augmented.
You'll find various augmentation and upgrade canisters throughout the game. Augmentations must be conducted by a medical robot, while upgrades can be applied without assistance. Along with the skills you select at the beginning of the game (upgrading throughout) and weapons you choose, these augmentations directly impact your character's ability to perform certain tasks. But not to fear; nearly every puzzle and mission can be completed in any number of ways. Figure out what you do well, then do it. Just don't count on storming straight ahead with guns a-blazing. That deathmatch mentality doesn't cut it here. If you want to live, you'll have to learn how to hide.
And finally, I'd be wrong to not give special mention to the voice actors in this game. Far too often it seems the acting job is given to high school kids fresh from yet another performance of Harvey or Oklahoma. But the acting in Deus Ex, copious use of exotic accents aside, is easily on par with most animated films coming out of Hollywood these days. If only Gilbert Gottfried were in here somewhere...
The thing is, I was a couple years behind Marathon, Myst had already sold something like fifty billion copies before I bought mine, and I got Myth so late that it was actually included for free along with another product bought from a catalog retailer. But I didn't miss Deus Ex. The title that will no doubt set the standard for three or four genres of computer gaming is currently on my system. Of course, that's only because I have the machine to handle it. The developers of Deus Ex are pretty much creating an exclusive club with this game, leaving the modest gamer behind. But if you've got the power, it sure feels good to abuse it. I mean, something has to justify the money I've sunk into my G4, and BBEdit just isn't cutting it.
And yet although I have the power, I'm writing this review instead of taking advantage of it. See what I mean about life being tough for a game critic?
A string walks into a bar and orders a beer. The bartender says, "Hey, we don't serve string here," and asks him to leave. The next week, the string, thinking perhaps the bartender was just having a bad day, once again enters the bar and asks for a beer. The bartender says, "You're a string, right? We don't serve strings here," and has a bouncer escort him to the door. Disgruntled now, the string comes up with an idea. He unravels the top end of himself and ties his body up tightly, then walks back into the bar and orders a beer. The bartender eyes him suspiciously and asks, "Aren't you that string that keeps coming in here?""
To which the string replies, "Nope, I'm a frayed knot."