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What I learned from Deus Ex

Posted on 2nd Mar 2009 at 14:16 by Joe Martin with 37 comments

Joe Martin
What did I learn from Deus Ex?someone asked me on the forums the other week. My answer? Tonnes.

The things that Warren Spector’s seminal FPS/RPG taught me can be broadly divided into three things; things it taught me about games, the world and myself. The very fact that I can definitely point to Deus Ex as something educational says an awful lot about the depth of the game itself and about how much I love it, by the way. When it comes to Deus Ex I’m fully willing to admit to being a totally biased fanboy.

Deus Ex taught me more about computer games than almost any game I’ve ever played and a huge amount of that is owed to the structured non-linearity of the game. If you’ve not played it (and I’ll accept no excuses) then you should know that although Deus Ex is a very linear game, it’s also very freeform. The storyline is best described as elastic as, although you’ll always go through the same levels in the same order, their content can differ hugely.

My favourite part of the game is the New York hotel your brother stays in, The ‘Ton. It’s an area that you only have to visit once or twice if you stick to the plot, but which has critical side missions based around it. The first time you get a chance to pay it a visit there’s a hostage situation, the next time there’s a problem with one of the guests, followed by a family feud. By the end of the game it can be abandoned, run by a skeleton crew, or the same as always.

What I learned from Deus Ex

Depending on what you say to the characters involved (and who survives) you can alter huge portions of the game. Will Sandra still be at home, ready to introduce you to her friend Vinny, who works at the Navy base? Will she be homeless and destitute at the gas station in Nevada? Or is she dead in a ditch? It’s up to you.

What this actually taught me about games though ties into another one of my passions in life; stories. I love stories. Telling them, hearing them, collecting them; they are great things and I’m constantly passing them on. Did you know I once knew a guy who…?

Before Deus Ex I’d loved games because of the stories they told – something mainly due to Monkey Island, which introduced me to the idea that games don’t always have to be brown, samey shooters. They can be colourful, semi-serious things with jokes and insults. Monkey Island showed me that not all games were about mad scientists and burly soldiers – they could be about scrawny, well-intentioned wannabes; people like me!

In many ways the most important thing that Deus Ex taught me was that games could do more than tell stories, they could actually let me create my own adventures that I could go on to discuss with my friends. I could mould the actions of characters to fit whatever epic plot I wanted and, thanks to the superbly layered writing of the game, I could play around with characters motives too.

What I learned from Deus Ex

Is Paul Denton going to survive the raid on The ‘Ton this time I play the game? Can Anna Navarre justify the slaughter of Lebedev, or is she left as a cold-hearted villain? What about me – am I following my destiny blindly by merging with Helios, or am I an anarchist trying to topple society? Again, it’s up to me, but when I’m done I can chat with my pals and tell them this story.

Deus Ex was why I used to love the bus ride to school, because I could turn to my friends and explain how JC Denton was a stealthy assassin who relied on his super-speed enhancements to get onto The Wallcloud undetected. I could tell them JC didn’t trust the Illuminati, which is why he didn’t grab the vaccine for Stanton Dowd when I had a chance.

When I’d said my piece, they’d share their own experiences. To them JC Denton was a goliath who wiped out swathes with his plasma cannon. He didn’t outrun Walton Simons – he outgunned him! He shot the pimp who was bothering Sandra Renton – he didn’t scare him off! And as for how he got inside Area 51 and tackled Bob Page…

That’s one of the most important lessons I learned from Deus Ex; that games are a more powerful medium than cinema, that they can become a social device even in singleplayer, that they can become a truly beautiful form of expression. I learned what games can be if they want to be – and what a shame it is that only a handful of titles since have been as educational in that regard.

Oh, and this is all disregarding the massively insightful hidden conversations you can have with Morpheus as well.

Joe, Out.

37 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Tyrmot 2nd March 2009, 15:36 Quote
What a stupidly good game it was, and remains of course, the only one I bring myself to consistently replay on a regular basis.
delriogw 2nd March 2009, 16:03 Quote
thanks for the answer joe, and i have to say i think i gained similar experiences.

though my friends weren't really into gaming so i didn't have the discussion element, i thoroughly enjoyed how many times one could go through the game without really playing the same game.

yes as you say, the levels were played in the same order, but every time i play i have a different experience, i try different things just to see how it affects the story later on. i must have played through the game half a dozen times, and i still know there's so much more to do.

like the previous poster, it is a game i will continue to return to.. so long as i have my ps2, or a computer that supports the pc version (and yes i own it on both formats lol)
Xir 2nd March 2009, 16:48 Quote
Always a shame: deus ex 2 is dirt cheap in the shops but deus ex one is either not available or four times the price....grrr
Skiddywinks 2nd March 2009, 17:16 Quote
I will never forget how amazing all of my experiences were with Deus Ex. It is the only game that I can not remember how many times I have completed it (Baldur's Gate 2 is in second place on 3 playthroughs). It was that many

And each and everytime I have learnt, experienced, and played something different. It is amazing how much thought, care and attention to detail went in to crafting it. It was almost literally heart breaking when I played DE2. Sure, it wasn't a bad game, but it was a horrific sequel.

And after reading up on some released details on the new DE, I am not exactly holding my breath for a game that surpasses, or even equals, the original.

They sure don't make them like they used to.
phuzz 2nd March 2009, 18:17 Quote
Deus Ex is only £5.99 on Steam.
hmm, so is Invisible War, should I?
Skiddywinks 2nd March 2009, 18:21 Quote
So long as you expect to be let down, it is worth playing. But don't expect anything near to the quality of the original.
naokaji 2nd March 2009, 19:44 Quote
The original Deus Ex is still one of the best games, even though many years have gone by and thousands of games have been released since then.
Angleus 2nd March 2009, 20:00 Quote
My favourite game ever, at the time I didn't really know anyone else who had played it so was kinda sad when I realised it wasn't an obscure title!
Elton 3rd March 2009, 13:51 Quote
Deus Ex needs to be remade..

Of all the games it deserves one.
yakyb 3rd March 2009, 14:06 Quote
yeah a remake in source would be great
Bauul 3rd March 2009, 17:09 Quote
First time I played Deus Ex I steadfastly refused to turn against the organisation you work for (Unatco? My memory fails me). Even given all the coroption and evilness, and the game literally begging me to throw off the shackles of 'the man' and go my own way, I stayed on the straight and narrow for AGES. It also meant Anna Navara stayed alive for most of the game as I refused to kill her (she was my boss!). Made for a rather fascinating play through as the game's story was really pushed to the limit, it was amazing at even though I was going way off centre, it still all worked and made perfect sense.
Xir 3rd March 2009, 18:57 Quote
Hadn't considered Steam...you're right...10euros
CardJoe 3rd March 2009, 22:08 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bauul
First time I played Deus Ex I steadfastly refused to turn against the organisation you work for (Unatco? My memory fails me). Even given all the coroption and evilness, and the game literally begging me to throw off the shackles of 'the man' and go my own way, I stayed on the straight and narrow for AGES. It also meant Anna Navara stayed alive for most of the game as I refused to kill her (she was my boss!). Made for a rather fascinating play through as the game's story was really pushed to the limit, it was amazing at even though I was going way off centre, it still all worked and made perfect sense.

And I remember you actually telling me about that on the bus and me telling you that you were stupid - I killed Anna as soon as possible, then hid the fact. I also killed the private at the top of the statue of liberty at the start of the first level, which changes a lot of the start of the game.
Zurechial 3rd March 2009, 22:36 Quote
More than one of the finest games ever made, it's one of the best pieces of fiction ever produced in any medium.

It's one of those games I can return to time and time again and ALWAYS find something new in the game that I never saw before, from a hidden room to a new a dialogue path or even something as simple as another newspaper on the ground.

On top of all that, with its stiff animations and relatively low-poly models, it's a triumph of content and gameplay over graphics and yet at the same time has its own gritty, immersive visual style that it pulls off beautifully.

"You know you've played Deus Ex too much when... You realise you can never play Deus Ex too much."

My experience of Deus Ex seems to be almost identical to Joe's, and basically taught me the same things - It's just that good.
I'm really enjoying these blogs, they're a great addition to the site.
TomH 4th March 2009, 00:51 Quote
Oh my life. Joe, I hate you. I've played through Deus Ex so many times; I've even managed to complete it on 'realistic', without the healing aug or any of the rifle/heavy weapon skills on top of knocking everyone out. Yep, I didn't kill anyone aside from the key characters.

But I'm still going to have to go back and kill the guy at the top of Liberty statue: I've always interrogated him! I never knew you could kill him! What have I missed!? And NOT saving Stanton Dowd? Oh my life... Me, and my dissertation, hate you. What a totally epic tribute, to a totally epic game.
CardJoe 4th March 2009, 07:47 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TomH
Oh my life. Joe, I hate you. I've played through Deus Ex so many times; I've even managed to complete it on 'realistic', without the healing aug or any of the rifle/heavy weapon skills on top of knocking everyone out. Yep, I didn't kill anyone aside from the key characters.

But I'm still going to have to go back and kill the guy at the top of Liberty statue: I've always interrogated him! I never knew you could kill him! What have I missed!? And NOT saving Stanton Dowd? Oh my life... Me, and my dissertation, hate you. What a totally epic tribute, to a totally epic game.

Heh - you can kill the NSF leader instead of interrogating him, yep. That's not actually what I was referring to though. I was talking about the UNATCO guard that comes to collect the terrorist and who asks you to report back to base - you can kill HIM too. That lets you get more convo out of the terrorist, as well as making Manderley suspicious of you early on as he launches an inquiry into that soldiers death.
TomH 4th March 2009, 12:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Heh - you can kill the NSF leader instead of interrogating him, yep. That's not actually what I was referring to though. I was talking about the UNATCO guard that comes to collect the terrorist and who asks you to report back to base - you can kill HIM too. That lets you get more convo out of the terrorist, as well as making Manderley suspicious of you early on as he launches an inquiry into that soldiers death.
I would never have thought about doing that!

So re-installing it on my old PC! :D
CardJoe 4th March 2009, 13:15 Quote
There's loads of hidden stuff. The first time you get to explore the UNATCO base you can barge in on Shannon in the womens toilet for example, which will provoke a response from Manderley later on.
Shadowed_fury 4th March 2009, 14:55 Quote
I have never played this.
But now, I am getting it on steam...
CardJoe 4th March 2009, 15:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shadowed_fury
I have never played this.
But now, I am getting it on steam...

Just promise that you'll get to the end of the third level or so before you form an opinion. When I first played the game I found it really, really hard and ugly and obscure and I hated it. Only because I was told it would get better did I carry on trying with the first level until I found tactics I was comfy with, at which point I was smitten.

And remember:

http://motivateurself.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/deus-ex.jpeg
steveo_mcg 4th March 2009, 15:22 Quote
Bah this blog of yours is costing me time and money. I've just bough No one lives for ever now i'm going to have to buy this, Damit i just don't have time for all these games.
CardJoe 4th March 2009, 17:40 Quote
Do you like No One Lives Forever?
Kris 4th March 2009, 18:26 Quote
Mmmm, Deus Ex was great - I kind of never completed it for some reason... If i remember correctly, it was a time when I didn't have a PC myself so just could play at my friend's place...

But, No one lives forever rocked :D I remember playing it a lot, and all my friends were like "what do you find in this game?"
I didn't even bother to explain, it's a game that you should instantly adore or not at all, no point in going into details what's so great about it :)
WildThing 4th March 2009, 19:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
There's loads of hidden stuff. The first time you get to explore the UNATCO base you can barge in on Shannon in the womens toilet for example, which will provoke a response from Manderley later on.

Yeah I did that on my first playthrough, I thought it was so cool that I could do that in the first place, but the fact that I got a good telling off from Manderley made me even more impressed by the game.
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe

And remember:

http://motivateurself.files.wordpress.com/2008/05/deus-ex.jpeg

That's so true it's unreal. I would comply with that but I've just lent it to a mate! :( Is it wrong to run out right now and buy a copy just because of that poster??!!:o
steveo_mcg 4th March 2009, 19:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Do you like No One Lives Forever?

Not tried it yet, it only arrived on Monday will probably have to wait till the weekend
TomH 5th March 2009, 01:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
There's loads of hidden stuff. The first time you get to explore the UNATCO base you can barge in on Shannon in the womens toilet for example, which will provoke a response from Manderley later on.
Ahh yeah, that was one of the first things I discovered. That was what really clued me in to how awesome the storyline branching was - I'd never seen something like that in a game before. That's a bit easy to come across mind, particularly if you're one for exploring every room you come across. :)
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Just promise that you'll get to the end of the third level or so before you form an opinion. When I first played the game I found it really, really hard and ugly and obscure and I hated it. Only because I was told it would get better did I carry on trying with the first level until I found tactics I was comfy with, at which point I was smitten.
That's exactly what I had to tell everyone else. I think I even got fed-up/frustrated with it the first time I played, due to the fact that I was so pants at it. It does really drop you 'in it' to begin with.

Just gives more satisfaction when you can get through the whole level like a pro though. :D
CardJoe 5th March 2009, 07:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TomH
That's a bit easy to come across mind, particularly if you're one for exploring every room you come across. :)

If you want something hard to find, did you ever have the hidden phone call with Helios when you first go to France?

Super hard to find: What about the hidden safe behind Manderley's bookcase?
TomH 5th March 2009, 10:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
If you want something hard to find, did you ever have the hidden phone call with Helios when you first go to France?

Super hard to find: What about the hidden safe behind Manderley's bookcase?
That's it, I'm reinstalling it. I don't think I've ever had that phone call though.

Did you ever find the funky, odd piece of equipment at the Mausoleum? IIRC, it explodes well. No idea what it's meant to be though.
CardJoe 5th March 2009, 11:13 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TomH

Did you ever find the funky, odd piece of equipment at the Mausoleum? IIRC, it explodes well. No idea what it's meant to be though.

You'll have to be a bit more specific than that I'm afraid, unless you mean the jammer that's in the gatemasters house. If you want to find out what it is then don't go anywhere near the gravekeeper until you've spoken to Dowd. Alternately, if you want Dowd to think differently about you then you can kill the gatekeeper on sight, which provokes a different outcome.
TomH 5th March 2009, 15:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
You'll have to be a bit more specific than that I'm afraid, unless you mean the jammer that's in the gatemasters house. If you want to find out what it is then don't go anywhere near the gravekeeper until you've spoken to Dowd. Alternately, if you want Dowd to think differently about you then you can kill the gatekeeper on sight, which provokes a different outcome.
Ahhh yes, I remember now. I'm sure I've pre-empted the Gatekeeper's betrayal before, too.

It's quite worrying: I didn't realise anyone could have played this game more than me. :p
Paradigm Shifter 5th March 2009, 15:48 Quote
I must have completed Deus Ex a dozen times, and yet I've never thought to shoot that Private after you secure the NSF leader...

I remember the day I bought Deus Ex... I'd bought a PC Gamer with the demo on the day before, installed and played that at least five times, so went and bought it on release day. (This was before the age of easily downloadable demos - the demo was something like 200MB and my dial-up was dodgy for any file larger than about 30MB so even trying to download it was foolish...) installed the game (didn't have room for a full install) and then my Phillips CD-ROM drive decided to break - in the process it sliced the bottom layer of the CD right off, then launched the remains of the disc into the top of the drive.

Took the drive (and the skinned game) back to the shop and got both replaced. At least that was easy - held up the dead drive, held up the skinned CD (which I'd managed to get out of the drive after some careful work with a pair of tweezers) and the guy replaced both without even trying to argue.

Even so, Deus Ex is one of four games to have sucked at least 200 hours out of my life; the other three being TIE Fighter Collectors CD, Civilisation II and Final Fantasy VIII.
CardJoe 5th March 2009, 16:10 Quote
I heartily encourage everyone to go back and replay that game in the exact opposite way that they think it should be played. If you normally play stealthily and nicely, then specialise in explosives and assault rifles and kill EVERYONE you see. If you usually hack everything then try not hacking at all. Try and explore everything and get to every point on the may.

I promise you'll still be amazed at what you find and how you find it. There's so much to find in Deus Ex it's unreal.
thehippoz 5th March 2009, 17:27 Quote
I recently looked at the original halflife.. it brought back some good memories- dues ex was pretty good- have the cd around somewhere

tie fighter was alot of fun too- remember that paradigm =]
ryall 8th March 2009, 09:49 Quote
no one's even MENTIONED Daikatana. Came out about the same time as Deus Ex, what a game.....
CardJoe 8th March 2009, 13:43 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ryall
no one's even MENTIONED Daikatana. Came out about the same time as Deus Ex, what a game.....

Because it was an awful game? I always find it odd that Ion Storm had three teams and made three games of real note; Deus Ex and Anachronox which were good...and Daikatana.
TomH 8th March 2009, 13:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ryall
no one's even MENTIONED Daikatana. Came out about the same time as Deus Ex, what a game.....
Obvious troll is obvious. :)

For the record: I did re-install it last night. :o
ryall 9th March 2009, 01:07 Quote
haha sorry, just being facetious. Deus Ex and Diakatana, like night and day. I didn't realise Ion Storm released both of those.

Loved this article and the comments, really captures what gaming is all about.
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