I play old games (Deus Ex)

Posted by ArbitraryWater (11418 posts) -

 

Not even the internet going down at my house could stop me from giving you this blog.
That's right, I actually finished this game after threatening to do so in my previous blog (under: Yo, don't use dice rolls to determine where gunshots land). And thus, here we are now, me clearly not writing about how to make a bad RPG story because, really, that's such a tricky topic to address. Do I talk about game stories in general or do I talk about story and character aspects that help define what RPGs are? It's a dangerous path to tread and you perhaps might forgive me if I take a while to think about it or not do it at all
 

Instead, let's talk about Deus Ex. Developed by the bitchmakers at Ion Storm in 2000 and headed by Epic Mickey's own Warren Spector (he also made some other games that weren't mediocre 3D platformers that would have felt right at home on the N64. You know, ones that I think are pretty good), Deus Ex is a game that can only be described as “Ambitious”. And, unlike plenty of other games that are ambitious, this one actually pulls off most of what it sets to accomplish without sucking in the process (coughAlphaProtocolcough). Certain aspects have aged worse than others, but it's less the individual aspects and more how those aspects interact that matters. To use a token cliché phrase, Deus Ex is more than the sum of its parts.

That's mostly because most of those parts aren't great, nor were they great in 2000 if some of the reviews are any indication. You've already heard me bitch about what I think of the shooting. Let me both re-emphasize and rephrase those statements: The combat part of Deus Ex is the worst part, especially in the beginning. We've already had this discussion about dice rolls. I think they suck. Thankfully, by the end of the game this problem is somewhat negated, as anyone with a brain has mastered rifles by then, and if you've been modding your assault rifle for accuracy and such, it will always hit. Sniper Rifles are a similar case, in that you can hit someone from halfway across the map in the head for a one hit kill. Melee combat is similarly aided by the introduction of the Dragon Tooth Sword, which is pretty much the single best weapon in the game. Because you get it only about halfway through and it kills most enemies in one hit. The rest, it kills in two or three hits. At that point, you just need to remember to activate your augmentation that makes you take significantly less damage from bullets. Because you maxed that out too, right?

 Meet the best weapon in the game

Not to be flippant or anything, but there is clearly a right way to spec your JC Denton in Deus Ex. The RPG elements of this game are in a weird limbo of being too overbearing in some aspects yet underwhelming in others. I have to give them credit though; experience points are only issued when you go places, including hidden or alternate paths. Pistol Ammo is clearly the most prevalent type of ammo in the game, but there are exactly 4 weapons that use the pistol skill, none of which will help you outside of the early game: A pistol, a silenced pistol, a mini-crossbow that shoots tranquilizer darts and a plasma pistol that has one shot before being discarded. Any of these sound appealing? I thought so. Inversely, heavy weapons are crazy powerful, but they take up so much space in your inventory and ammo isn't exactly common. Melee weapons are the Dragon Tooth Sword and grenades are effective enough anyways without putting any points   Thus, Rifles.

Thankfully, there is motivation enough to put points into non-combat skills, though once again there are clearly correct choices and incorrect choices. Why would you ever put points into environmental training or swimming? With the almost retarded amount of locks, keypads, and hackable computers in this game, those skills take precedence. Hacking and lockpicking aren't especially exciting in and of themselves like modern games have gone out of their way to do. You just equip the lockpick/multitool and click, but since so many good items that are behind locks, you do so. Hacking might be even more important. You can shut down turrets and cameras, and open doors and such without having to search the level for a login and password. What's not to understand? And then there are the augmentations. Put points into bullet resistance. Now put points into regeneration. Now put points in the power that makes all the other powers drain less power. There are some other ones that are vaguely useful, like being able to run super fast/silently, but when it gets down to it most of the augs are super circumstantial (yet practically required unless you want to die).

Sometimes, Deus Ex even wants to be a stealth game. It's not a very good one (see Spector's previous game Thief for evidence of what a good stealth game from that era is) but stealth is, once again, practically necessary in some circumstances and desirable in others. You could theoretically play the entire game stealthily, but it's the same way you could also theoretically play Baldur's Gate without any magic users, more trouble than it's worth. The reason is because there is no real indication of how hidden or stealthed you are, unlike the vision cones in Metal Gear Solid or the light gem in Thief (or the part where it says HIDDEN in either of the bethesda Fallouts). Thus, before you get to a point where enemies are easily vanquished, being discovered is a bad thing. Trial and error, frustration, etc. so on and so forth.

 JC Denton. Purveyor of awesome monotone

The story of Deus Ex is kind of dumb. Enjoyably dumb, but dumb nonetheless. Maybe The Da Vinci Code wasn't proof enough, but the overuse of conspiracy theories and secret societies to drive the plot is one that occasionally just reeks of laziness or unoriginality. Eh. At least the game gets the mood and atmosphere of a fairly grim future distopia in order. None of the characters are especially interesting either, being exactly what is shown to the player on the surface and without much explanation for their motivations. I feel like here is where I should talk about the voice acting, which ranges from competent to hilariously bad. JC Denton's unfeeling monotone is definitely the latter, as is the entire Hong Kong portion of the game. Borderline racist, I tell ya.

 Clearly, this is the obvious next step

Then why, if the game has a fairly dumb story, bad combat, middling RPG elements, and not amazing stealth do I still like it? Well, if that cliché phrase wasn't enough to cement it in your heads, it's the way all these elements interact, within the context of the levels themselves. The true ambition in Deus Ex lies with the way there are multiple solutions for every single scenario and the way that most of them are equally viable. Don't want to go hunting for a key? Unlock the door with a lockpick or multitool. Want to avoid these guys? Sure. There's probably a vent or something you can crawl through. It's hard to express this in written form very well, but this is why Deus Ex works and isn't a shitty aged Action RPG that weird people on the internet like. It's like what Alpha Protocol was trying to do, but it actually does it. It's also apparently why Invisible War is the spawn of satan itself (which reminds me: now I have to play that game. You know, because I hate myself). Needless to say, people who've played the game know what I'm talking about. And that's really all that matters. You plebians out there who haven't played Deus Ex should do so. And then we can we can all be super disappointed by Human Revolution (Which is now on my radar). Huzzah! And now I can play Planescape. Or something. The end.

#1 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11418 posts) -

 

Not even the internet going down at my house could stop me from giving you this blog.
That's right, I actually finished this game after threatening to do so in my previous blog (under: Yo, don't use dice rolls to determine where gunshots land). And thus, here we are now, me clearly not writing about how to make a bad RPG story because, really, that's such a tricky topic to address. Do I talk about game stories in general or do I talk about story and character aspects that help define what RPGs are? It's a dangerous path to tread and you perhaps might forgive me if I take a while to think about it or not do it at all
 

Instead, let's talk about Deus Ex. Developed by the bitchmakers at Ion Storm in 2000 and headed by Epic Mickey's own Warren Spector (he also made some other games that weren't mediocre 3D platformers that would have felt right at home on the N64. You know, ones that I think are pretty good), Deus Ex is a game that can only be described as “Ambitious”. And, unlike plenty of other games that are ambitious, this one actually pulls off most of what it sets to accomplish without sucking in the process (coughAlphaProtocolcough). Certain aspects have aged worse than others, but it's less the individual aspects and more how those aspects interact that matters. To use a token cliché phrase, Deus Ex is more than the sum of its parts.

That's mostly because most of those parts aren't great, nor were they great in 2000 if some of the reviews are any indication. You've already heard me bitch about what I think of the shooting. Let me both re-emphasize and rephrase those statements: The combat part of Deus Ex is the worst part, especially in the beginning. We've already had this discussion about dice rolls. I think they suck. Thankfully, by the end of the game this problem is somewhat negated, as anyone with a brain has mastered rifles by then, and if you've been modding your assault rifle for accuracy and such, it will always hit. Sniper Rifles are a similar case, in that you can hit someone from halfway across the map in the head for a one hit kill. Melee combat is similarly aided by the introduction of the Dragon Tooth Sword, which is pretty much the single best weapon in the game. Because you get it only about halfway through and it kills most enemies in one hit. The rest, it kills in two or three hits. At that point, you just need to remember to activate your augmentation that makes you take significantly less damage from bullets. Because you maxed that out too, right?

 Meet the best weapon in the game

Not to be flippant or anything, but there is clearly a right way to spec your JC Denton in Deus Ex. The RPG elements of this game are in a weird limbo of being too overbearing in some aspects yet underwhelming in others. I have to give them credit though; experience points are only issued when you go places, including hidden or alternate paths. Pistol Ammo is clearly the most prevalent type of ammo in the game, but there are exactly 4 weapons that use the pistol skill, none of which will help you outside of the early game: A pistol, a silenced pistol, a mini-crossbow that shoots tranquilizer darts and a plasma pistol that has one shot before being discarded. Any of these sound appealing? I thought so. Inversely, heavy weapons are crazy powerful, but they take up so much space in your inventory and ammo isn't exactly common. Melee weapons are the Dragon Tooth Sword and grenades are effective enough anyways without putting any points   Thus, Rifles.

Thankfully, there is motivation enough to put points into non-combat skills, though once again there are clearly correct choices and incorrect choices. Why would you ever put points into environmental training or swimming? With the almost retarded amount of locks, keypads, and hackable computers in this game, those skills take precedence. Hacking and lockpicking aren't especially exciting in and of themselves like modern games have gone out of their way to do. You just equip the lockpick/multitool and click, but since so many good items that are behind locks, you do so. Hacking might be even more important. You can shut down turrets and cameras, and open doors and such without having to search the level for a login and password. What's not to understand? And then there are the augmentations. Put points into bullet resistance. Now put points into regeneration. Now put points in the power that makes all the other powers drain less power. There are some other ones that are vaguely useful, like being able to run super fast/silently, but when it gets down to it most of the augs are super circumstantial (yet practically required unless you want to die).

Sometimes, Deus Ex even wants to be a stealth game. It's not a very good one (see Spector's previous game Thief for evidence of what a good stealth game from that era is) but stealth is, once again, practically necessary in some circumstances and desirable in others. You could theoretically play the entire game stealthily, but it's the same way you could also theoretically play Baldur's Gate without any magic users, more trouble than it's worth. The reason is because there is no real indication of how hidden or stealthed you are, unlike the vision cones in Metal Gear Solid or the light gem in Thief (or the part where it says HIDDEN in either of the bethesda Fallouts). Thus, before you get to a point where enemies are easily vanquished, being discovered is a bad thing. Trial and error, frustration, etc. so on and so forth.

 JC Denton. Purveyor of awesome monotone

The story of Deus Ex is kind of dumb. Enjoyably dumb, but dumb nonetheless. Maybe The Da Vinci Code wasn't proof enough, but the overuse of conspiracy theories and secret societies to drive the plot is one that occasionally just reeks of laziness or unoriginality. Eh. At least the game gets the mood and atmosphere of a fairly grim future distopia in order. None of the characters are especially interesting either, being exactly what is shown to the player on the surface and without much explanation for their motivations. I feel like here is where I should talk about the voice acting, which ranges from competent to hilariously bad. JC Denton's unfeeling monotone is definitely the latter, as is the entire Hong Kong portion of the game. Borderline racist, I tell ya.

 Clearly, this is the obvious next step

Then why, if the game has a fairly dumb story, bad combat, middling RPG elements, and not amazing stealth do I still like it? Well, if that cliché phrase wasn't enough to cement it in your heads, it's the way all these elements interact, within the context of the levels themselves. The true ambition in Deus Ex lies with the way there are multiple solutions for every single scenario and the way that most of them are equally viable. Don't want to go hunting for a key? Unlock the door with a lockpick or multitool. Want to avoid these guys? Sure. There's probably a vent or something you can crawl through. It's hard to express this in written form very well, but this is why Deus Ex works and isn't a shitty aged Action RPG that weird people on the internet like. It's like what Alpha Protocol was trying to do, but it actually does it. It's also apparently why Invisible War is the spawn of satan itself (which reminds me: now I have to play that game. You know, because I hate myself). Needless to say, people who've played the game know what I'm talking about. And that's really all that matters. You plebians out there who haven't played Deus Ex should do so. And then we can we can all be super disappointed by Human Revolution (Which is now on my radar). Huzzah! And now I can play Planescape. Or something. The end.

#2 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -

Even though you enjoyed Deus Ex, it seems you were just happy to have finally played it. I'm not going to lie. I bought Deus Ex in 2002, started it about 4 or 5 times and the farthest I ever made it was around the 3/4 mark. I still own it and who knows, maybe I'll try it again one day. I'm still a fan.

#3 Posted by TheDudeOfGaming (6078 posts) -

Fuck...here we go, let me get my ranting cap on...

The game is hailed as one of the best games to be released in a decade, its regarded as a classic, you know what, thats all I'm gonna say.

Oh, and I'm telling you, for the love of everything that exists, DON'T PLAY INVISIBLE WAR. Just don't, you'll save yourself 20-25 hours.

#4 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11418 posts) -
@Claude: Yeah, I guess you could say that. The game has been on my steam account for like a year now, and the introductory sequence scared me off from any serious play. But then I reinstalled it on a whim while writing those bad RPG blogs. I was surprised how much I actually liked it. 

@TheDudeOfGaming: Eh, I was thinking of waiting for it to go on sale. I'm not paying $10 for a game that the internet seems to hate with a burning passion. However, it's stuff like this that always fascinates me, as collective hate of this degree is pretty rare. But 20-25 hours? If it's anywhere as long as the first game, it will take me less than that. I finished this game in a little less than 15 hours. 
#5 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: I'm guessing you played the PC version of Deus Ex. The actual first version I played was on the PS2. I have it for the PC now as well.

I liked the PS2 version. I wasn't back into PC gaming when I played it, so it served its purpose well. I get a little further every time I play it. Lost my last save, so I'll have to start over again.
#6 Posted by Soapy86 (2619 posts) -

I enjoyed Deus Ex when it came out, but it's aged terribly and it's incredibly hard to go back to. 

#7 Posted by mfpantst (2574 posts) -

I actually liked the story when I played it all the way through.  Many a night were spent up late on the internet reading through information on all the conspiracies weaved together in this game while I played.

#8 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11418 posts) -
@Claude: There is a PS2 version? I guess it came out in the right timeframe for there to be one. I don't imagine Deus Ex translating super well to a gamepad, though I doubt it would be the worst PC to console port out there.

@Soapy86: You're probably not wrong. I make my blogging career out of playing old, somewhat poorly aged software. It is because of this that I have a fairly high tolerance for some of the crap that old games throw at the player. I don't expect actual human beings to do what I do.

@mfpantst: Well, I already have HitmanAgent47 to fill me in on how the Illuminati control everything, so I'm good on that front.
#9 Posted by Claude (16254 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater: Oh yeah, it wasn't bad, but I was in a transition period. I was just starting to rediscover PC gaming. I had been out of it for about 10 years. When I played the PS2 version of Deus Ex, I thought, man, this might play on my PC. I found the game of the year version and still have it.
#10 Posted by Sparky_Buzzsaw (6037 posts) -

I really didn't much care for the original, but Invisible War was right up my alley.  I know, it's ass-backwards from everyone and their mother's thoughts.  Why?  Well... Invisible War feels like it implements the multiple choices more cohesively.  Deus Ex felt like the developers wanted to give you options but really only had time to develop one single set path that they really wanted you to take.  Invisible War gives you a handful of viable options and rewards you handsomely for exploration and thinking outside the box.  Neither one exactly set me on fire, but Invisible War was definitely enjoyable. 

Moderator
#11 Posted by Tordah (2469 posts) -

I have both Deus Ex games sitting in my Steam library. I've played about an hour of the first one, and that's it. I can't really say much about the game, except that it's really ugly. It seems interesting, but when I died the second time and lost 20 mins of progress I kinda put it on hold. Though I promise myself I will get back to it one day...


Did you play it with any graphical mods or tweaks? I saw a thread in the Steam forums with instructions on how to get it to look a bit fresher but I never got it to work properly.
#12 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4238 posts) -

I only played the demo. I maybe got hints of what people like about it, but I guess I felt a bit too distant from it.  Maybe it was the stealth thing which, as you say, didn't feel as sensible as in Thief. I mean, I'm OK with getting spotted by a tenacious guard, but at least give me a hint as to whether or not I'm stealthing properly.

The new game coming out looks slick as all hell, but I wonder if those Proper Paths are going to be too out in the open, with nice fences up all around them to show us how they don't intermix.

I was about to suggest that each mission just lets you take the path you want without worrying about character development, RPG elements be damned, just so you can follow the flow of the mission and your own curiosity like in Thief, but that would just start making me think of Thief again.  Oops. 

#13 Posted by mfpantst (2574 posts) -
@ArbitraryWater said:
@Claude: There is a PS2 version? I guess it came out in the right timeframe for there to be one. I don't imagine Deus Ex translating super well to a gamepad, though I doubt it would be the worst PC to console port out there.

@Soapy86: You're probably not wrong. I make my blogging career out of playing old, somewhat poorly aged software. It is because of this that I have a fairly high tolerance for some of the crap that old games throw at the player. I don't expect actual human beings to do what I do.

@mfpantst: Well, I already have HitmanAgent47 to fill me in on how the Illuminati control everything, so I'm good on that front.
LMAO
#14 Posted by EuanDewar (4684 posts) -

I came to Deus Ex late and as a result it just felt old and dated and mostly unplayable to me. I know a lot of people see it as an important classic but that never came across in my time with. Although I do perhaps see how certain parts of the game have gone on to become important in modern games of the like.

#15 Posted by ShaneDev (1696 posts) -

The game as problems, for one I think it is way too long. Its a fun game to play but eventually I got a bit bored of doing long missions which had very little impact on the story progression. I have no idea why you would play this game with combat as the focus though. The combat is bad and Deus Ex is a stealth game in my opinion I played the game every time using only the silenced pistol and stealth. Once the dragon tooth comes into play the game gets seriously easy though. One hit kill on lesser enemies means you can if you want just run though sections batting everyone in your way and its only two hits on the Nano Agent guys although they explode. The story has its moments its actually quite good for the most part but it feels like they keep tacking things on as you play through. All the augmentation stuff is also well done in my opinion even if activating it quickly is kind of a chore. Swimming is a joke though, no one picks swimming. Still I think as a game it still holds up very well.

#16 Posted by TheDudeOfGaming (6078 posts) -
@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

I really didn't much care for the original, but Invisible War was right up my alley.  I know, it's ass-backwards from everyone and their mother's thoughts.  Why?  Well... Invisible War feels like it implements the multiple choices more cohesively.  Deus Ex felt like the developers wanted to give you options but really only had time to develop one single set path that they really wanted you to take.  Invisible War gives you a handful of viable options and rewards you handsomely for exploration and thinking outside the box.  Neither one exactly set me on fire, but Invisible War was definitely enjoyable. 

Ah fuck me, what happened to this world? 
#17 Posted by SeriouslyNow (8534 posts) -
@TheDudeOfGaming said:
@Sparky_Buzzsaw said:

I really didn't much care for the original, but Invisible War was right up my alley.  I know, it's ass-backwards from everyone and their mother's thoughts.  Why?  Well... Invisible War feels like it implements the multiple choices more cohesively.  Deus Ex felt like the developers wanted to give you options but really only had time to develop one single set path that they really wanted you to take.  Invisible War gives you a handful of viable options and rewards you handsomely for exploration and thinking outside the box.  Neither one exactly set me on fire, but Invisible War was definitely enjoyable. 

Ah fuck me, what happened to this world? 
Consolification.
#18 Posted by mylifeforAiur (3481 posts) -

I will admit that I only used the sword after I obtained it (except against machines).

#19 Posted by ArbitraryWater (11418 posts) -

 @Sparky_Buzzsaw: I recall you saying that once. The complaints against IW mostly pertain to how it does a lot of watering down for no good reason (the removal of skills, everything has one ammo type, is actually just the antichrist), but I've never heard about the options being an issue, though that might just be because whenever invisible war is mentioned people on the internet explode. I'd like to see you do a comparison blog nearer to when Human Revolution comes out, if only to get a lot of people on the internet very angry with you.

@Tordah: The solution I found to the game occasionally being cheap or frustrating was liberal use of quicksaves (Default key: Numpad +). Quicksaves have saved my bacon on multiple occasions in regards to PC games in general, especially games that are dumb and don't have autosaves. I'm not going to wholeheartedly encourage you to give it another try like I would do for some of the other games, but I do think this is a game worth checking out.

@ahoodedfigure: I'm now interested in Human Revolution, if only because now I know what it is trying to compare itself to. I have exactly zero idea if it's going to succeed at that, or even if it will succeed as a well made game released in 2011. Since Warren Spector did work on Thief, the comparisons are apt, and I've decided that Thief is probably still the better game because the actual gameplay elements still hold up pretty well (assuming that you like unforgiving stealth games to start with). I'm not sure if the removal of the RPG elements would make the experience better or worse though. It's not like Mass Effect 2 where the clear removal of most of the RPG elements led to it being a better game (but a worse RPG, for what that's worth. It's not like Mass Effect 1 is a sterling example of a Role Playing Game anyways).

#20 Posted by Mento (2413 posts) -

Same boat as some of these guys; I've played it but not extensively, and not to to its conclusion. I had a similar time trying to get into System Shock 2, which wasn't terribly dissimilar. I have an unfortunate habit of becoming distracted with the larger PC games, possibly because I use the PC for so many other things and if I'm not playing games in long spurts my attention wanders. Probably not a good sign.

Talking of pseudo RPGs for PC I never beat, I should really get around to Anachronox again. But then I just know I'll lose interest again when Democratus and Stiletto join and there's too many people to switch around for item-hunting. That game deserves way better than my ADD-addled ass.

Moderator
#21 Posted by august (3824 posts) -

People make a lot about the universal ammo and the removal of skills in IW when in reality the problem was that everything, from level design (chopped up into tiny boxes because of the XBox's RAM) to character and plot presentation were several steps below the original.

You should still play it. So you can commiserate. And also it continues the plot in some interesting ways. That are very poorly presented. But interesting!

Also oh my god JC   

#22 Posted by ahoodedfigure (4238 posts) -

I guess when I think of removing RPG elements, it's just to get past that bottleneck where improving something that seems obvious cuts you out of other parts of the game arbitrarily, rather than through player skill. I'm actually fine with to-hit rolls in games as long as they're not unrealistically bad for a supposedly seasoned warrior of whatever stripe, but if you make the game a certain level of action-oriented, it's best just to stick with player skill. Thief was rewarding because you aimed an arrow right, but BG isn't bad because of the occasional critical misses.

I like Thief's gameplay, definitely, but I would have forgotten it had I not loved the work they did on the world.

Speaking of worldbuilding, for all the problems I've seen people have with ME1, at least ME1 did feel like a worldbuilding exercise. I found it captivating in that respect, although the bad AI and the tedious, samey nature of the main and side missions sort of demanded strong improvements. I don't think the improvements that wound up happening were necessarily a good idea, but it's hard to argue against what they did for the combat. Even as a backseater, it was actually compelling to watch the combat, instead of tragic.

#23 Edited by Raven10 (1696 posts) -

@ArbitraryWater - I played the game when it first came out. Got to like the third level if I recall but I just couldn't wrap my head around it. Bought it and Invisible Wars on a Steam sale a year back or so and played up to halfway through the second level. I got incredibly frustrated after forgetting to save. I'm just not used to it anymore, so when I died and found myself back at the very beginning of the game, well, I gave up around then.

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