The first Deus Ex is my favourite game ever made. This is probably a phrase I will go on to repeat ad-nauseum regarding many other games over the course of running this site, but let it be said that this was the first and most truthful time right here. Ignore Future-Diggler and his claims of others being The One, as he knows nothing. Deus Ex is it. The grand daddy. The big cheese.
There'll be minor spoilers contained from here on in, so be warned, although if you haven't bought and completed both Deus Ex and its sequel hundreds of times by now...well you don't deserve oxygen.
Wait a minute, even the sequel? That shoddy, bastardised console shat-fest? Yes, you jaded prick - in fact, that's why I'm here today. DX2 may be flawed, true, but it's still a wonderous game, and now that it's been out a good ten months and the dust has settled somewhat, perhaps it's a good time to give it that second chance. Read on and you'll find out why.
|Deus Ex created an entire living universe, full of interesting characters|
But initially let's talk about the first game - the one that completely rocked my world like no other back in the year 2000. The brilliance of that game wasn't what you'd expect. It was never flashy graphics, which at the time ran all of 10 frames per second on my ATI Rage Pro. It wasn't a professional quality soundtrack either, which came with all the hi-fidelity and integrity of the Amiga mod scene. It wasn't even the gameplay and controls, which actually felt somewhat jerky and stilted compared to its ID Software powered cousins at the time.
No, the area where Deus Ex truly shined was in something much harder to pin down and nail...its pure unadulterated atmosphere and storyline. Never before and never since has one game completely and utterly drawn me into its world so effortlessly. The dark, dingy streets, the huge open playing areas, the freedom to travel wherever I want and talk to anyone I please - it was the first fully successful interpretation of a genuine 3D real life world, and yet groundbreakingly played out from a first person perspective. For the many weeks on end that it took to see the game through, I truly felt like I lived in this universe.
And yes, while the graphics and sound were somewhat basic in technical specs, they did have one thing going for them; style. The tunes in particular, subdued and ambient here, fast paced and energetic there, belayed their amateur origins and increased the vibe tenfold. There's that genuine feeling of the artists and programmers being one step ahead of the technology and tools they had at their disposal.
There Be An Ion Storm Brewin'
|The original's greatest character, the basketball, makes a welcome return|
The opposite can be said of DX2 - Invisible War, its recent and much slandered sequel. There's a very
advanced graphic engine at work in this one, really rather unlike anything we'd ever seen before it, and one gets the impression the developers had a hard time taming it. In fact it wasn't until the soon to follow Thief III that Ion Storm seemed to truly harness this engine and get it performing at a more acceptable level.
Of all the big next-gen titles of this era, those featuring swishy state of the art engines such as Doom III, Half-Life 2, and the almighty underdog Far Cry, DX2 was the first out of the bag. As something of a guinea pig, its primary problem was that our computers just weren't up to the task yet.
|Fuck Doom III, DX2 had the whole real-time lighting thing down almost a year earlier|
As a result, poor old Ion Storm had to field the mightiest of backlashes from the mobbing hordes on release day, all clammering to find out why the fuck they couldn't run this long awaited sequel at any sort of playable framerate.
If you can get past this fact though, and accept that DX2 is a game well worth upgrading for, you'll see this thing fly at more than a playable level. And in its element, it's truly beautiful.
Per pixel lighting effects bathe the world in a gorgeous twilight mood, and when mixed with the mysterious new (and subsequently ripped off) "bloom" feature, it gives the universe this wonderful florescent glow quite unlike anything else out there. Mixing these glorious graphical effects with a top of the range physics engine that affects all
objects in the game world, whether they be people, dustbins, signs, or dead bodies, subsequently results in not just a static beauty, but one that's truly alive
, reacting to your every touch. Just walking through a kitchen you'll be bumping into tables and knocking over cups like the clutz that you are.
|Much like in the first game, characters pop up with info and requests throughout|
So despite its shaky launch, I feel that after a hefty computer upgrade, not to mention some of the recent patches Ion Storm put out, DX2 can now be placed more on the same level as its predecessor. Sure, the interface and skill system has been heavily streamlined (or simplified...delete as appropriate), but I feel this is neither here nor there, as I don't play these games to get bogged down in numbers and experience points. I don't know about you, but I'm more interested in the game world, and my interaction with that. Actually this is one area where DX2 arguably improves over its prequel.
The faction premise of the original is greatly expanded here, with the many in-game groups and individuals all attempting to solicit your skills at some point, often with contradicting results. The ability to then choose who you work for and thus how you tackle each objective, provides the most open ended game architecture you could possibly imagine.
Friends, allies and arch enemies are completely and utterly different for every single person who plays DX2 - just stop and think about that for a second. This is the first time I've ever seen such a system in place, and yet it all happens so effortlessly you might not even notice it.
Through my actions and relationships, my arch enemies of the game became the Templars, and as the central story unravelled, I strove to make their lives a freaking nightmare. But you might just as easily work side by side them to take down one of the competing organizations, and the beauty of it is that none of this is random - it's all perfectly reactionary behaviour based on your play style. Heck, you can even complete the game without killing a single person if you want - that's how open ended it is.
Only in one instance did I notice a slip up in continuity. After exposing one major character as something of a cruel bastard, I turned all Anakin Skywalker on his arse and decided to slice his head off...only to hear a few hours later that thanks to me "he's been arrested". With so much back stabbing, espionage and intrigue, one slip up like this is more than understandable.
Back to the Future
|A blast from the past links the two games together|
JC and Paul Denton were interesting characters in the first game, and one might claim Alex D. in the second one to be a mere shadow of the Denton brothers (...and they wouldn't be far off...). Towards the end of the game DX2 does tie neatly back up with the events of the first game though, paying proper dues to the Dentons and their earlier experiences.
I enjoyed this eloquent use of continuity to expand the story, it felt somewhat like seeing a sequel to one of your favourite movies - especially when I found myself roaming around the old UNATCO building and other sites from the first game.
Indeed, DX2 ends right where the first one began - a hastily tacked on sequel, this isn't.
|It's like you never left|
Most importantly of all, DX2 has that same luminous Deus Ex atmosphere in abundance. Sure, the levels lack the wide open feel of the first one, a side effect of that stupidly taxing engine, but the gloriously moody vision of the future is still alive and present - just sharpened and chiselled 20 more years down the line. A place where religion and corporation are one and the same. Where pop stars use their power and celebrity to spy on people. Where humans are so heavily modified they become more machine than man.
All of this is brought to life even more by the most glorious of ambient soundtracks - both moody and intelligent - which you can grab for free at the Official DX2 Web Site
I'll admit that the unified ammo system is a weak point, as is some of the voice acting here and there, but how the jaded fucks of this world can proclaim DX2 a flop of intergalactic proportions is beyond me. It's times like that I start to wonder if the haters even like video games at all.
Battle of the Titans
While it nails plot, atmosphere, and just all out brilliant game design, why does DX2 still fail to improve over its first outing then? Does the term "rose tinted specs" come into play? No, it's simply a matter of length; Deus Ex was an epic journey that seemed to last forever, and sadly DX2 is just over all too quickly in comparison. It even repeats a few locations over and over, an unfortunate aspect.
Never the less, Invisible War is a truly underrated and misunderstood gem of a game, and while it's not as good as the original, what is?
(Pictures courtesy of Eidos