So, Cyberpunk 2077’s release has been…Less than stellar. Unfortunate, I admit, but I have faith CDPR will make things right, given Witcher 3’s track record. That said, I felt like looking at one of the pioneers of the Cyberpunk FPSRPG hybrid subgenre that CP2077 was born from. What’s that? That’s too specific to be a genre or subgenre? Too bad, we’re talking about Deus Ex anyway.
GENRE: Cyberpunk FPSRPG. What? I said so already!
GET IT HERE: Deus Ex Game of the Year Edition (Steam)
Deus Ex comes from the turn of the millennium, the year 2000, back when Warren Specter was still relevant. Developed by Ion Storm, this would be the only game that they made which would have any life beyond its first title, the other notable game under their belt being Daikatana, which, well? It was Daikatana. We’re not here to talk about Daikatana, we’re here to talk about Deus Ex.
So, let’s get one thing out of the way first: This game is old. Over 20 years old now, running on the original Unreal Engine. As such, the textures and models are definitely going to look dated, though there’s various mods to help with that. Just understand you’re getting into a very old looking game by today’s standards. Thankfully, the overall art direction still holds up quite nicely.
Deus Ex is set in, go figure, a dystopian world currently beset by a pandemic that seems to primarily target the common people, leaving the elite mysteriously untouched. What little vaccine exists for this plague goes to the upper class. And it seems like this all ties into the work of a mysterious shadow organization using this plague and other sinister means to control the world! Definitely doesn’t hit too close to home anywhere, right?
Enter your character, JC Denton. Member of UNATCO, a counter-terrorism force formed after the bombing of the Statue of Liberty. Your job however, will be far from simple counter-terrorism as you end up within a massive web of conspiracy upon conspiracy, travelling the globe to unravel the web. What made Deus Ex stand out, and still stand out to this day however: This is not just a run of the mill FPS. Deus Ex uses a combination of action, stealth, and light role playing elements like character upgrades and progression to create one of the first truly successful hybrids of the FPSRPG genre alongside one of the other greats, System Shock 2.
That said, I will admit Deus Ex 1 gets off to a rough start. For a game that’s about player choice, its first mission really, REALLY wants to play a subtle, stealth based approach. Trying to be an aggressive run and gun type in the first mission is almost guaranteed to end in failure, due to your character’s low skill levels and how they severely impact your ability to aim and move at the same time. While there’s plenty of ways to tackle the first of the game’s many missions on Liberty Island, the limited resources and ability of your character will force you to play a more subtle approach if you want to stay alive. It’s not until you get some skill points from the first few missions you can actually start to play a more aggressive type of agent. This was something later games thankfully addressed with better balance and design, but it’s still something Deus Ex 1 has a major flaw in.
Thankfully, once you reach the first of the game’s major hubs, things tend to feel better. You’ll have more freedom to explore, side jobs to do for extra money and skill points, and enough upgrades that you can actually take on some straight up fights if you don’t want to be the subtle type. It’s here the game really starts to feel like what it was meant to be: A game about player choice being more than just simple dialogue choices. In this, player choice is deciding how to tackle your objectives, as there’s usually multiple ways to handle a situation. Find a weakpoint in an area’s security that lets you sneak on by? Rush the front gate? Hack some turrets to be on your side when the going gets rough? Subtly pick a door lock or just blow it up with a high power explosive? It really is up to you how you handle the job, with most areas having multiple paths or options to reach and complete an objective.
The story also remains quite relevant in today’s climate, with class warfare, the whole plague thing, and the question of government systems and who they truly serve. All that on top of conspiracy upon conspiracy. So if you enjoy that kind of thing, you’ll find plenty of it here.
It should be noted however despite the RPG type structure, this isn’t an open world game, so don’t go in expecting that. Each mission you undertake does have a large map to explore, with plenty of secrets and optional things to look for if you’re the exploring type. You’ll also occasionally come across what are referred to as hub areas, which serve as a sort of staging ground for various missions you undertake in that general area, leaving the hub to go to other locations and do your thing there before returning. Eventually when you reach certain points of the story in these hubs, you’ll move onto a completely new area, leaving that hub behind. This means you do need to be thorough, as you can’t just come back to an old area to find things you might have missed. If you prefer your world to be a fully open, interconnected one, you won’t find that here. But you will find a well designed level structure nonetheless.
Now let’s get into the how, the actual gameplay and what you’ll be doing. As I mentioned, this is a first person RPG of sorts. You’ll be doing a lot of shooting, swinging melee weapons, and using various tools like grenades and cybernetic enhancements as you explore these large mission areas, completing objectives, finding gear, and earning a combination of skill points and cyber augments to upgrade your character. How you actually upgrade your character will greatly define how you can approach future objectives as well. Augments can give you a wide range of abilities, like deploying a recon drone to scout ahead for you, rapidly heal you, provide additional protection against various types of damage, or even become straight up invisible to the naked eye. On top of this, your weapon types range from subtle to less so: A mini crossbow can be used to knock enemies out with a tranquilizer dart, while bigger security mechs can be blown to bits with a rocket launcher, or simply disabled with a well placed EMP Grenade. And again, multiple paths in every objective mean you might find a better way to tackle something than you initially planned. That said, this is not a game you can treat as a run and gun shooter, even when you have better skill levels. It’s as much about thinking and planning your next move as it is executing said move. You definitely can afford to be more aggressive in the late game though, so if sweeping a room with a full auto shotgun is something you want to do? Just build up your augments and skills towards that, and you’re good to go.
So, on the sound side of things, the game is definitely passable, though at times the voice acting can come off as a bit campy or silly by today’s standards. That said, it’s still a well acted script for the most part. The soundtrack still holds up quite nicely, shifting between various genres based on your location, with the music changing up during combat to keep the mood appropriate. And I would definitely say there are certain sounds that stick with you throughout the experience, like the beeping of a turret or camera detecting you, an alarm going off, the classic enemy scream. This game definitely had good sound design that fit the mood and overall theme, so I can’t really find much if anything to fault about it besides some questionable or silly voice acting at times.
And at the end of the day, it’s this game’s form of player choice, how you do things, that really makes Deus Ex so darned good. It’s a game you can definitely replay over and over, finding new things you missed before, or trying a completely new build to tackle the game with. When games advertise player choice, it’s usually just ‘pick dialogue, something happens.’ In Deus Ex, player choice is so much more than that, it’s why I love the series as a whole. It gives you a surprising amount of freedom in a game that’s not an open world, but instead open-ish at points. It’s not a perfect game, as I said before. The opening act can be quite frustrating to new players due to its insistence on subtlety, but if you can work past that first hurdle, there’s an amazing game experience to be had beyond it.
The only unfortunate thing about this game beyond what I’ve mentioned is that it is a pain to get running on modern systems. Fan patches and a modern Direct X capable EXE are things you’ll need to grab in order to get this thing working on a Windows 7 or 10 machine, but I can assure you it’s worth your time to do so if you want to see how a series got its start. At 7 bucks USD on steam, it’s hard to say no to one of gaming’s greatest classics. So, let’s go into how to play it as a way to wrap this up, shall we?
Starting off, make sure your Deus Ex install is NOT in program files or you’re gonna have problems later. Assuming you’re using Steam? Make a new SteamLibrary install for it somewhere that’s not Program Files.
First, head to http://www.kentie.net/article/dxguide/ and go download DeusEx.exe. If you’re not installing from Steam (IE, using a Retail CD), make sure to also install the GOTY patch from the same page. DeusEx.exe and its accompanying file should go into your DeusEx\System folder.
Second, grab the Unreal Direct X 10 Renderer, also from Kentie: http://www.kentie.net/article/d3d10drv/index.htm and put the content of the DeusEx folder in the renderer’s download into your DeusEx\System folder.
Third, install the Map Patch from http://www.dxm.be/navigator.php5?lang=en&content=202 to fix some lingering map bugs that weren’t patched in GOTY.
Run DeusEx.exe, set your Renderer to Direct3D DX10, tweak settings as desired, and then start the game up.