games / Columns

Retronomicon 08.29.12: Deus Ex

August 29, 2012 | Posted by Lee Price

Hello one and all and welcome to the Retronomicon. As ever I am your host Lee Price and I am here to wax lyrical about gaming classics that every discerning game needs to play. I’ve had a fairly game-filled week this week, as I finally got my hands on Red Dead Redemption! I know I’m about two years late to the party but that’s what I tend to do with games anyway so it shouldn’t really be a shock to anybody. After a dismal time playing Mortal Kombat Trilogy, a game I had forgotten is utterly unfair and frankly no fun to play any more, it is a welcome change to play something as good as Red Dead. I’ve been making decent progress and I can see myself ploughing many more hours into it before moving onto my next game. Other than that, I spent my weekend dressed as the devil drinking far more than I ever should. I don’t think I have ever been as drunk as I was on Saturday…which is probably a bad thing for the people that had to look after me! Enough about all of that though because it’s about time that we got to the…


Final Fantasy V, rather aptly, gained five comments last week. Let’s crack on with APrince66;

It sure was a pisser more FF games didn’t get sent stateside. It sucked reading about them in EGM, GamePro and other mags, knowing I wouldn’t get a chance to play them.

Hey spare a thought for us in the UK. I’m fairly certain that Square didn’t even know we existed until Final Fantasy VII found its way over here. At least they finally got their act together and started releasing all of the titles in varying forms over the last ten years or so, as Guest#7200 pointed out;

Haven’t they all made it over by now, I’m pretty sure I own all of them except 11 but that’s just because online only games suck.

I do believe that, once FF III found its way onto the DS that all Final Fantasy titles, at least in the main series, are indeed available in the West in some form or another. It’s just a shame that it took so long to finally get them all over here.

IWC Member #23495867 follows up with a compliment;

A tip of the hat to you, good sir. Jolly good show and column!

Why thank you very much. Hopefully you will enjoy this week’s column just as much.

Retronomicon regular 80’s Kid keeps it short and simple;

FF series – very OVERrated.

Boo to you my good sir! As ever, to each their own and all that and I could probably agree with some of the games in the series. Final Fantasy V is very much underrated in my view though.

Dr Doctor gives me the news;

I remember finding FFV on an old SNES emulator disc I had on my original XBOX. It was complex enough and so well-made that I sort of forgot about legit XBOX titles for a while.

Nice column.

Ah that would probably have been the fan-translated version of the title that was making the rounds for a few years before Square pulled their finger out and did it themselves. This assumes you aren’t fluent in Japanese and it wasn’t that version though.

Right then, I think that about covers all of the talking from last week so how about we crack on? Strap on those rose-tinted specs because this week the Retronomicon takes a look at Deus Ex.


Music to Read Your Retro to

Deus Ex had some bloody brilliant music, but I always had a thing for the main theme tune;

Fun Facts

  • One of many books that you can read in the world of Deus Ex is entitled The Eye of Argon. The book is actual a real book and was written by a guy called Jim Theis. It is also considered to be one of the worst books to ever be released in the fantasy genre.
  • The twin towers are missing from the New York skyline in the game because they were blown up by terrorists before the events of the game take place. This was pre-9/11 and is a rather chilling case of accidental foresight.
  • It is possible to finish the game only killing three people thanks to the wide array of solutions available for each task presented.
  • The majority of the voices in the game were actually done by people working for Ion Storm at the time.

The Background

It all started with the germ of an idea in Warren Spector’s head back in 1994. The concept would continue to grow in the back of his mind, even as he began to gather worldwide acclaim for his part in the development of PC classics like System Shock whilst working with Origin Systems and Looking Glass Systems.

The initial title for the game was to be Troubleshooter and Spector, slowly but surely, began piecing together the ideas that would be used in the development of the game. Principally the Latin concept of deus ex machina (loosely translated as ‘god out of the machine’) fascinated the developer.

The concept of an unexplainable force appearing to aid the main characters of a story in a frankly unbelievable way was often the domain of poor storytellers and was ripe for deconstruction. Spector knew this and got to work with a new studio named Ion Storm to create a game that would not only play around with the whole concept of the deus ex machine but would also feature one of the best narratives and most inventive gameplay systems that had yet been seen by gamers. The title would undergo a name change before release to reflect its theme, with gamers finally getting their hands on Deus Ex in 2000.


The Game

Deus Ex is, simply put, one of the greatest achievements in game design ever. This game was so far ahead of its time that only now are developers starting to catch up to the ideas, both gameplay and narrative-based, that are presented in this marvelous title.

The story revolves around JC Denton. Denton is an agent for UNATCO, the military arm of the United Nations, who has undergone specialized augmentation to enhance both physical and mental characteristics. This makes him the perfect tool in UNATCO’s battle with the terrorist National Secessionist Force (NSA) and the player begins the game undertaking a number of different missions in an effort to undermine the NSA’s efforts to highjack crates of Ambrosia, which is the cure for a deadly plague that is spreading around the dystopian world of Deus Ex.

JC is added along his way by a varied assortment of characters, ranging from agents with older, physically scarring augmentations who make no bones about disliking JC right through to Paul Denton, who is JC’s brother. All seems fairly simple from here. Take out the NSA and help further UNATCO’s goals. That is your mission and it is what you are trained to do.

But things aren’t quite that simple. Deus Ex draws on a number of conspiracy theories to create the backbone of its main story, essentially providing the player with a world where the likes of the Illuminati, the Men in Black and Area 51 all exist and are exactly what theorists claim them to be.

The game then proceeds to take the player on an absolute thrill ride, never quite revealing everything put providing so much tantalizing information about what is really happening in the world provided to the player to ensure that they are always eager to push on and find out more. Deus Ex makes you constantly question your actions and it is this that allows it to provide such a thought-provoking narrative. Add in a lot of complex decisions about your own alignment and travel to a range of locations, including New York, China and France, and you have one of the greatest gaming stories ever told.

I failed utterly to do Deus Ex justice with that brief synopsis. The game is extremely important simply because it was one of the first titles to really explore the idea of each of your actions having a differing affect on the main story. Different decisions as different moments would lead to characters reacting to you differently later on, going so far as to affect a number of plot-related developments in the process. It’s the sort of thing that games like Heavy Rain would finally manage to expand upon a decade later and is a concept that many developers still struggle to get right in their titles, often trivializing decisions by linking them with some variation of a morality meter.

It wasn’t only the plot that offered choice to the player though. Deus Ex provides absolutely tons of ways to play, with the traditional FPS mechanics providing the front for a level of customization in playing style that was hitherto unseen. Thanks to the RPG elements that Spector and Ion Storm introduced into the game, the player is able to upgrade themselves using various augmentations as the game progresses, with a ton of options being available dependent on the playing style that they choose to use. Those who like to go in all guns-toting could elect to train up in heavy arms and explosives, whereas those who liked the stealthier option could get their lock-picking up to snuff.


That all makes it sound so much simpler than it actually is though. At virtually no point in Deus Ex are you provided with a problem that has only a single solution. It is only required that you kill three people during the course of the entire title, with some dedicated souls spending hours discovering ways to get around even that! How you proceed with the rest of the game is entirely up to you and much of the joy of playing Deus Ex comes thinking of a creative solution to a problem only to have it work perfectly when you try to execute it. In a gaming landscape that was still trying to come to grips with the idea of non-linear gameplay, Deus Ex showed the world how it could be done inside the confines of an over-arching story.

No two playthroughs of Deus Ex will be the same, simply due to the differing methods that can be used to complete tasks and the array of secrets that are just waiting to be discovered. Make no mistake about it, Deus Ex is bloody hard at the beginning. If you try to kill everything that moves right off the bat you will most likely get killed. Often. That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but as Denton grows and you customize him to your own playing style, you will begin to see options that would otherwise have not been available to you, which is one of the many things that makes Deus Ex special.

The game also provides a ton of different tools to aid you on your way, in addition to the augmentations that can be used at any time to help provide a boost to Denton. Along the way you will pick up an arsenal of weaponry, from batons through to pistols and explosives, which can all be used to conquer the many objectives that are laid out in front of you. Of course, you could just get your hands on a ton of lock picks and hacking tools or try to talk your way into solutions.

Graphically the game was fairly impressive as well, though it was hampered somewhat by the limitations of the Unreal Engine. It wasn’t the best looking thing to ever find its way onto the PC at the time, but the variety of different locations made up for that. Each had its own specific flavor and there was plenty to explore thanks to some wide-reaching and rather complex level design. Plenty of thought has been put into every area that you enter, solely to provide as many options as possible at all times.

The soundtrack is also of the highest caliber For me, on a personal level, the main theme of Deus Ex is one of the best songs in gaming and, while the rest of the music never quite matches it, there is still plenty here for music lovers. The dialogue isn’t too awful either, though it can come across as a mite robotic in places. It does the job though.

Deus Ex is a unique gaming experience that is quite unlike anything that came before or since. The sheer joy of discovering this game’s secrets for the first time is something that few titles have managed to match and the litany of different paths to success also make it one of the most re-playable titles around.


The Aftermath

Deus Ex was released to an absolute bevy of critical acclaim and adulation. Critics were falling all over themselves to proclaim it to be the future of gaming, praising damned near every aspect of the title, with its genre blending coming in for the most praise.

This led to the game claiming tons of accolades, with the title garnering awards from damned near every major gaming publication going for something or another. The title even managed to impress the mainstream, at least in the UK where it was the recipient of a BAFTA.

Of course, demand for a sequel was massive and expectation was at a high when Deus Ex: Invisible War was released for the PC and Xbox. Naturally, the game didn’t live up to the expectation and is generally considered a massive step down. The complexity that made the original title such a joy to play is mostly gotten rid of and this stuck in the craw of many a gamer. As a standalone title it is a lot of fun to play. As the follow-up to one of the greatest games of a generation it falls just a little bit flat.

The series would stagnate for a while after the underwhelming reaction to Invisible War. In fact it would be eight years before we would see anymore signs of life from the series. However, when it did make its way back to gamers, the Deus Ex series was certainly back with a bang! Deus Ex: Human Revolution was released back in 2011 and managed to strike a perfect balance between gameplay and complexity to provide an experience that was met with further acclaim.

Thanks to this, the future of the Deus Ex series looks particularly rosy. As games development becomes increasingly complex, the ideas Deus Ex ran with back in 2000 are only now beginning to become more widespread. While there is no word on a fourth game in the series, you have to believe that, with the right people attached, a new title could deliver something extremely special.

Conversion Corner

Deus Ex did actually get a couple of conversions, including a version on the Mac. This actually ran with all of the same capabilities as the PC version of the game, which would have been great if the publishers had decided to keep the game updated with patches for newer Mac systems. They didn’t so it only runs on machines with Mac OS 9 or in the classic environment in Mac OS X.

Outside of that there was also the PS2 version. This one had both good and bad points. The graphics were improved a tad, the interface was simplified and mo-capped character models were used. However, on the downside, the game’s areas had to be chopped and changed a little bit to account for the console’s comparative lack of memory, so you will have to spend a fair amount of time dealing with a whole lot of loading.

The Guy Who Can do it Better Than You

I’m not sure if I find this funny or not;

Enjoy and see you next week.


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Lee Price
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