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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (412)

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The Bard's Tale Trilogy 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale III: Th... 1.5/5
The Bard's Tale II: The... 0.5/5
The Bard's Tale: Tales ... 0.5/5
The Technomancer 2.5/5
Tyranny 3.5/5
Pine 2/5
Victor Vran 3/5
Front Mission Evolved 2/5
Greedfall 4.5/5
The Deep Paths: Labyrin... 3/5
The Vagrant 4/5
Avadon: The Black Fortr... 2/5
Mass Effect 3 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2 3.5/5
Mass Effect 2.5/5
Knightin'+ 3.5/5
Indivisible 3/5
Final Fantasy XIV Onlin... 2/5
A Total War Saga: Troy 3/5
Stardew Valley 3/5
Soulcalibur VI 4.5/5
Owlboy 3/5
Battletech 3/5
Bloodstained: Ritual of... 3/5

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Deus Ex   PC (Steam) 

Ungodly    3/5 stars

When Square Enix, my former favorite publisher, bought out Eidos and gained access to their stable of IPs, the company began reviving older PC titles on consoles. One of these IPs, ‘Deus Ex’ never entered my sphere of awareness when it was new and relevant in the year 2000. I was busy enjoying my PlayStation (and a year later my GameCube) to worry too much about the horrible things PC gamers were excited about that weren’t based on Dungeons & Dragons. With the release of “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” in 2011 and the realization that FPSes were going to be the dominant genre for quite some time and that I’d better find a way to get used to them, I decided to take a step back and start the franchise from the beginning (much like I did with ‘Fallout’). Thanks to Steam and GOG, it’s easy to find the original “Deus Ex” and the first sequel, “Deus Ex: Invisible War” bundled together for cheap. Unfortunately, I don’t really see why this series has generated so much fan hype.

Presentation
For a game that was released in 2000, and was later ported to the PlayStation 2 in 2002, it really doesn’t look particularly good. The polygon models for characters are rather simplistic and lacking in detail, with obnoxious mitten hands. Animation is stiff in places, and lip synch is handled by an algorithm that tried to ‘match the flap,’ much like anime dubbers, because the development team didn’t want to waste budget on hand-animating lip synch for all of the different language translations. Environments are large and well-designed from a gameplay standpoint, but look and feel rather simplistic and boring from an artistic standpoint. The textures used in “Deus Ex” are hideous and blurry, but thankfully modders have put together a texture update called, “New Vision,” which allowed me to play through the game without going blind or insane. In general, “Deus Ex” does not look like a game from 2000… it looks older, and the visuals give the impression that the development team was trying too hard with limited technologies. One thing that does stand out about “Deus Ex’s” visuals is that it is one of the few first-person games that allows the player to see their character’s reflection in mirrors, which I thought was a nice touch.

The audio is likewise a mixed bag. The soundtrack, which seems to be MIDI, based solely on my long time experience with listening to MIDI, is surprisingly good, with significant effort put into catchy themes. Unfortunately, the main title theme is fairly grating. Also unfortunately, “Deus Ex” features turn-of-the-millennium voiceacting, which means a bunch of no-name actors (that’s good, because it saves the budget for more important things) who deliver mixed performances. Some sound great – even the intentionally-bland, gravel-voiced main character, J.C. Denton is endearing in a kind of Geralt of Rivia type of way – while others just sound like complete amateur hour. In general, though, the good voiceacting outweighs the bad… but it makes the bad performances stand-out even more. The quality of the audio itself isn’t great, though, as it is noticeably compressed and includes a significant amount of crackling.

Technically, “Deus Ex” is surprisingly solid for a game from 17 years ago. It runs in Windows 10 without problems, and is easily modded in a variety of ways (I only modded the textures to preserve the overall experience, since this was my first playthrough). It doesn’t like the Steam overlay, however, and alt-tabbing out of it causes it to crash and mess with the Windows desktop composition, so it’s not 100% perfect. Perhaps the worst issue I had with “Deus Ex” was the aiming cursor randomly losing a significant amount of sensitivity, while simultaneously leaving the mouse cursor sensitivity in menus unaffected. The only solution to this sensitivity issue is to quit and restart the game a few times until it decides to behave correctly. It also crashed on me once near the end, but, in general, that is amazing performance for a game made in the PC Gaming Leaden Age.

Story
“Deus Ex” gets a lot of contemporary praise for its ‘revolutionary’ story, but ultimately this is false praise. “Deus Ex” is, at its core, ‘babby’s furst tinfoil hat,’ in that it covers a lot of technoconspiracy, new world order, Illuminati, surveillance, and other concepts that have since become commonplace. Even when “Deus Ex” was released in 2000, though, those ideas weren’t exactly new, but instead lifted from extant science fiction novels. So, yes, “Deus Ex” was one of the first videogames to bring this flavor of paranoia-laden sci-fi to the medium, but it wasn’t completely new, because, as we know, there is nothing new under the sun.

“Deus Ex” puts the player in the trench coat and sunglasses of one J.C. Denton, the newest augmented recruit at UNATCO – the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition – which was formed in response to rising incidents of domestic terrorist acts such as the bombing of the Statue of Liberty. J.C.’s augments are the latest pieces of nano-technology that allow him to blend-in with the common people far more easily than the previous generations of military augmentation hardware that essentially turned its recipients into mech-like cyborgs.

J.C. and his brother, Paul (also a UNATCO agent) begin investigating a number of cases of civil unrest, performing admirably in every way, taking down terrorists whose so-called propaganda doesn’t seem particularly unreasonable. Before long, Paul defects to the other side, leaving J.C. in the difficult position of choosing to side with the government or his family. The rest of the game sees J.C. getting yanked around all over the world thanks to a worldwide conspiracy underpinning the United Nations that decides he can no longer be trusted thanks to his brother’s defection.

“Deus Ex” goes a long way in giving the player the illusion that their choices matter, despite the fact that they ultimately don’t. The resolutions of a handful of side-objectives can go one of two ways, but they ultimately don’t change the course of the game’s narrative, which leads J.C. into direct conflict with the conspiracy that is manufacturing a nano-tech plague in order to control and oppress the world’s populace. The game also features three possible endings, all of which are determined solely by J.C.’s actions in the final mission (making it very easy to see all of them without replaying the game). “Deus Ex” fanboys love to overemphasize how it is possible to play the game non-lethally, never killing a single enemy, yet there is no karma involved, and whether J.C. is a homicidal maniac or a complete pansy has no effect on the ending(s).

I was quite disappointed in these endings, and the game’s overall lack of world-building. While the narrative writing in general is good in “Deus Ex,” the endings are incredibly short and fail to provide a real sense of closure to the game’s events, while the world-building uses a ‘tell, don’t show’ methodology that fails to give a grand picture of the fictional events leading up to the state of the world in “Deus Ex,” and generally only shows the player one side of the ‘Ultra-Rich vs. Gutter Poor’ dichotomy that seems to be the central point of conflict in the game’s lore. It’s also fairly clear that one of the three endings is the ‘correct’ one, as it is significantly longer and less disappointing than the other two, yet still ends the game’s story on an unimpressive note. After roughly 40 hours of decent writing and hidden snippets of game lore revealed in newspapers, books, and hacked e-mail accounts, I was definitely expecting more.

Gameplay
Let’s get straight to it: Over the years, many fanboys have tried to label “Deus Ex” as an RPG. They’ve had more ammunition lately with the idiocy over the ‘W’RPG sub-genre, but ultimately, “Deus Ex” fits neatly into the FPS, Action/Adventure, and Stealth subgenres if it fits anywhere.

The closest thing to RPG elements in “Deus Ex” is the fact that J.C. can invest skill points in a handful of perks. These perks cover things like skill with several types of weaponry, hacking, electronics, lockpicking, swimming, etc. J.C. can do all of these things without training, but he does so less efficiently (for non-combat perks) or wildly inaccurately (for combat perks). Picking J.C.’s perks at the beginning of the game is far more important than any form of ‘leveling up,’ as J.C. does not earn skill points in a reasonable way, but instead receives a handful for making progress in missions or finding hidden areas in the mission maps. The total skill points awarded throughout the game only allow for a few skill upgrades, making them nearly meaningless when compared to the points allocated during the initial character building stage.

Because the combat in “Deus Ex” is affected by J.C.’s skill in a given weapon type, the shooting is generally horrible. It isn’t until the player has maxed out a given weapon perk that the targeting reticle doesn’t sway around like a drunken sailor or balloon up to the size of a barn door if J.C. so much as moves while attempting to shoot someone. Because the combat is usually terrible, and because ammunition can be quite scarce, “Deus Ex” also relies heavily on a stealth mechanic that allows J.C. to avoid detection by crouching and instantly knock-out enemies by hitting them in the small of the back with a melee weapon (melee, conveniently, being the only weapon type whose accuracy is unaffected by perks).

J.C. has a limited inventory (which requires classic Inventory Tetris to manage), so carrying a lot of weapons is not just impractical, but impossible, as they’re just too big. The player can find weapon mods throughout the game and apply them to J.C.’s weapons in a rather unintuitive way that makes it difficult to determine how much benefit the mod provided. The fact that mods are rare means that the player will want to cling to any modded weapons like grim death instead of dumping them when they run out of ammo in order to pick up a different weapon.

J.C.’s nano-augments can also be upgraded. First, the player can find a large number of augment canisters throughout the game that add special abilities to J.C.’s arsenal. Each augment canister allows a choice of two augments, which is permanently installed. Installed augments can be improved by finding dedicated upgrade canisters, which are fairly rare. Unfortunately, augments are handled in a very unintuitive, clunky, old-school way. Instead of adding passive features to J.C., each augment needs to be turned on and off, and consumes J.C.’s limited pool of Bionetic Energy while active. It’s great that J.C. can regenerate health! Oh, it burns energy too… It’s great that J.C. can lift really heavy objects! Oh, it burns energy too… It’s great that J.C. can jump really high and leap off of high structures without being injured! Oh, it burns energy too… It’s great that J.C. can turn into a nearly bullet-proof war machine! Oh, it burns energy too… and so on and so forth. Since “Deus Ex” doesn’t support Xinput, or even Dinput controllers natively, the interface for the inventory and augments is super clunky and obnoxious, with a lot of drag-and-drop nonsense as well as assigning every one of J.C.’s mods to a different F# key on the keyboard.

The missions, however, are incredibly well designed, which almost makes up for the problems with the game’s character mechanics, combat, and interface. Each mission places J.C. in a rather spacious (by 2000 standards) area with an objective and a large number of ways to achieve it. Each mission area features plenty of angles of approach and entry for buildings, opportunities to use nearly every perk to the player’s advantage, and hidden caches of gear. In general, the mission designs in “Deus Ex” remind me a lot of the excellent 6th Generation ‘James Bond’ games, only with many more options… and much worse combat.

“Deus Ex” is also considered revolutionary for keeping track of bits of information on the player’s behalf, without requiring a meatspace spiral notebook to act as an aid. This type of player concession is frequently described as ‘dumbing-down’ by the type of gamers that make-up “Deus Ex’s” fanbase. The game’s journal keeps track of keycodes, but the player still needs to punch them in manually. There is no map system other than a few occasions that a non-player character sends a .jpg of a map directly to J.C.’s brain; but these maps are non-interactive. The thing about “Deus Ex’s” approach to doing things for the player is that the environments are small and un-cluttered enough that an interactive map and omnipresent waymarkers aren’t necessary. The only major things the player needs to keep track of in “Deus Ex” are keycodes and usernames/passwords for computer terminals, and the game records them automatically. I don’t consider this kind of design, nor the more recent iterations of it, to be ‘dumbed-down,’ but merely user-friendly.

Overall
“Deus Ex” is one of those games that would typically be said to have ‘aged poorly,’ yet all of its problems were problematic even when it was new – it’s just that players were willing to ignore them. While “Deus Ex’s” story is decent, I’m also going to place the blame on it for the enormous uptick in tinfoil hat paranoia among the gaming community in the last decade. I can’t say I disliked “Deus Ex,” as it became more enjoyable as I stuck it out, but the horrible UI and incredibly janky shooting make it a hard sell for players used to the more polished and refined mechanics of modern shooters.

Presentation: 2.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 3/5
Overall (not an average): 3/5

 

 


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