It is the 21st Century and there is only low-wattage light fixtures.
JC: Hey, Paul.
Paul: Hey, JC.
JC: What's up?
Paul: Terrorists.
JC: All I've got's a pistol.
Paul: I've been cleared to issue you an additional piece of equipment: you can take the GEP gu-
JC: I'll take the GEP gun.
Paul: Hang on, I haven't finished. We also have a sniper rif-
JC: GEP gun.
Paul: ...I've got this mini crossbo-
Paul: Fine. Take the damn game-breaking sonic screwdriver of death. Say goodbye to your inventory space.

Deus Ex has existed, in one form or another, within my gaming ecosystem since it was first released. I had a big box. Then a smaller box. Then another box sporting a budget label. Now Deus Ex's migratory patterns have taken it to Steam. It's been played for many hours, but never finished. Some said it was impossible, but it was all about finding the right key to unlock the box from which the credits would roll upwards. Turns out the right key was a rocket launcher in congress with a beeping grenade, and it not so much opens the box as disintegrates it.

Cute cat.

Locked cabinet.

Unintended LAM-cat interaction.

A guilty secret of mine is to keep a walkthrough handy when playing a game; not followed intently, but casually checked every so often to make sure nothing too interesting is being bypassed. Over the years this dirty habit has insidiously turned into a dependency, and Deus Ex was no different. What did differ was how bloody useless a walkthrough became.

Gunther exploded on me.Deus Ex's much-trumpeted ace is choice. Not Bioshock's cake-or-death duality, nor Mass Effect's flattery 'n' firepower bedfellows, but multiple approaches to most given situations that extend beyond just big moral choices and through to every minute of game play. Skill and augmentation upgrades reflect this and enforce your decisions and play-style to the point where after working my way past a third of the game I discarded my chosen walkthrough as useless. Look!

Walkthrough: "Activate your speed enhancement and jump across this ledge to gain entry."
JC: I don't have one of those. Bugger.
Walkthrough: "Use your spy-bot to disable ED-209's meaner cousin who's patrolling the way in."
JC: The what-what?
Walkthrough: "Swim."
JC: Ha ha.

It became fascinating to see how the game could be played - a parallel reality involving lengthy travels down dark ventilation shafts, sneaky crouch-walking and the unimaginable concept of running low on tranquilizer darts - stealing glances into this world in between firing guided missiles at bums and hurling LAMs like Pok├ęballs. Other guides offered different experiences: re-programmed sentry turrets and scrambled bots, and multiple combinations in between all of these points. The levels arc outwards from the starting point like bonsai trees, crookedly criss-crossing all manner of paths and entries to the objectives.

You may have copper wiring to reroute your fear of pain, but I've got WP rockets.
A recurring pitfall of RPGs is the concept of superior character builds, a combination of shrewd investments in the character's abilities that proves more potent than most others. Whether Deus Ex suffers from this is debatable, as deviation presents itself not in how players approach combat, but a step further down than that, so that builds determine whether players take part in combat at all, or even navigate the area where combat would take place. Some talents are glaringly superfluous: points invested in swimming are wasted when the level designers put breathing apparatus in the vicinity of an underwater pathway, and environmental protection's usefulness is seriously diminished in the face of the health-regenerating augmentation. Regardless, the game succeeds so well at muddying the waters of progression that entertaining any notion of 'superior' builds involves employing divination and a Magic 8-Ball.

Oh, sarge, you joker.
Being equally effective doesn't mean every aspect of the game is excellent, just equally underwhelming. The mechanics of the game are worlds away from being satisfying: the shooting evolves from impossible, to fiddly, to frustratingly efficient, all with hardly a pause in between mutations; the stealth is clunky, cruelly employing perfect-sighted enemies that force quickloads rather than observation to learn patrol patterns; the (increasingly important) palette of augmentations is hard-coded to the F-keys, which lamentably dismisses any possibility of deftly switching between them on the fly - my augmentation use firmly remained dependent on pre-planning, veering towards fumbled mis-activations in heated moments.

This shouldn't detract from Deus Ex's standing at all. We're over ten years on and the industry's only beginning to realise games that successfully meld an RPG with satisfying combat - and there is still nothing that manages player choice so effortlessly, although Alpha Protocol came within reach. Wrestling with the facets of game play was burdensome, but worth it for the joy of making my own way through every level without ever once feeling constricted or led by the hand.

Despite evidence to the contrary I am not behind schedule on the RPG front. Frankly, I'm quietly astonished I haven't got bored and given up entirely yet. Planescape: Torment is next in line to futilely contend my clumsy advances.

Deus Ex released: 23-06-2000
Deus Ex beaten: 23-03-2011

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