Released in space year 2000, the original Deus Ex is still revered by rheumy-eyed PC gamers as one of the greatest titles of all time. Arriving amidst a slew of generic first person shooters, it was a game-changing release that offered a vast array of customisation and choice, effectively creating do-it-yourself gameplay.
Put simply, if you wanted to go through a door, you could either blow it up, hack the lock or sneak round the back. Or do something else entirely: more a philosophical treatise than a videogame. The sequel, Deus Ex: Invisible War, failed to capitalise on this open-ended approach, and was dismissed by purists as a dumbed-down console-friendly affair. Seven long years have passed without a flicker in the Deus Ex universe, until now, with this much-vaunted prequel/re-imagining from Eidos Montreal.
Taking place in 2027, it charts the rise of the so-called human augmentation that forms the crux of the series. You play Adam Jensen - all Bono shades, gravelly voice and trench coat - head of security at a firm that modifies human beings, either due to injury or disability, or as is becoming increasingly common, as a life choice. These alterations make them faster, stronger, and arguably better. And yes, it is essentially a glorified version of the concept behind classic '70s TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man.
Seriously injured in a brutal attack on the company’s Detroit headquarters, Jensen becomes an unwitting recipient of augmentations himself and returning to work charged with the task of uncovering the conspiracy behind the attack. It’s a quest that takes you on a global tour, with the labyrinthine plot unravelling en route. Sticking to the franchise’s key concept of offering choice, you are drip-fed a great swathe of vastly different augmentations that come to define your character and the way you approach the game. While some upgrades are simply of the "better armour" type, most offer tangible skills that enable you to tackle areas of the game that would otherwise be out of reach.
In essence, it's a role playing game, but instead of choosing a character at the outset, you instead evolve organically into your preferred type. So if you want to approach it as a shooter, you’ll end up carrying a lot of guns in your space-intensive interface. Or if you fancy yourself as a top hacker, you’ll upgrade your skills to enable you to tackle the hardest levels of security, with all the hacking taking place via an often heart-stopping mini-game.
Despite the multi-solution structure, there does tend to be an emphasis on stealth, with a paucity of ammo of near Resident Evil proportions making every bullet valuable. And while you can with some effort - and stealth-based augmentations - ghost through the levels unseen, once detected it becomes a frantic cover-based shooter, albeit in a largely bloodless fashion that often resembles digital Top Trumps: my gun beats your armour. Unlike the old adage however, the toothpaste can be put back into the tube, and if you hide long enough the alarm level will decrease.
By no means easy, the game can be infuriating if you attempt to blunder through in gung-ho fashion, and you have to effectively train yourself to approach each situation with the tools at your disposal. Remaining true to the original, there are almost always different ways of solving problems. For instance, you’re trying to break into a flat but you don’t have the requisite hacking level. Simply hack next-door’s easier lock, jump across the balcony and go in through the window. Need to get into a nightclub? Either pay the bouncer or crawl through a vent. It’s these manifold solutions that give the game an individual edge, as well as offering indefinite replay value.
That said, progress is bottlenecked by somewhat archaic - and occasionally joypad-smashing - boss levels that do require a nifty trigger finger. And the game isn’t too po-faced to hide a handy rocket launcher behind a pile of crates.
Graphically, it’s a schizophrenic affair, with some rich cityscapes that offer a distinct nod towards Blade Runner (i.e., a foggy night in Middlesbrough). These are countered by odd glitches, as well as identikit sewers, air vents, lift shafts, and spartan interiors that seem to be a tribute to the original game, as indeed does the lip-synching, which looks rudimentary since LA Noire moved the goalposts.
There is a fair bit of chat throughout the game, and in fact one of the available augmentations is a Social Enhancer that enables you to guide the direction of a conversation. Snippets of conversation also provide a near constant background, and switching on the subtitles is a must if you want to catch every word. The devil really is in the detail, and for those who want to immerse themselves in the full experience, there are countless emails to sift through, ebooks to read, and even context sensitive (electronic) newspapers. For example, if you take out a local gang in a killing spree, you can pick up a paper minutes later and read all about it.
Deus Ex can occasionally be a difficult game to love, particularly when you’re attempting the same section for the tenth time, but the sheer depth of the experience drives you on, and you do genuinely become involved in the characters and intrigued by the plot. Plus the diversity and usefulness of the augmentations is a huge incentive to acquire more (thus neatly capturing the problems faced by society in the game). Human Revolution is a worthy tribute to the original, and a game that will live long in the mind.
The near-mythical Deus Ex receives a modern reboot that remains true to the original concept, providing rich varied gameplay and an experience in which you can lose yourself.