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REVIEW: Retrospective – Deus Ex: The Conspiracy (PS2)

Warren Spector’s Deus Ex originated on The PC in 2000. Unfortunately, I never played this version, despite the fanfare made about it at the time, probably due to the fact I was piled down by my GCSE’s at the time. It is something I now regret having played through the PS2 version and realising the game’s majesty. It was dubbed by many of the PC press as the ‘2nd best PC game of all time’, only beaten by the almighty Half-Life, and the PS2 version doesn’t make it hard to understand why.

What Ion Storm has achieved with Deus Ex is the successful realisation and implementation of a fusion of the genres of FPS, RPG and stealth a la Rainbow 6/Metal Gear Solid. The result is a game that has far more depth than your average FPS, is far more interesting plot wise than the majority of traditional RPGs, and has longevity matched only by a few other members of the PS2 elite.

The plot is something that draws you completely into the game. I don’t want to reveal too much, but luckily the plot’s complexity makes it hard for me to do so anyway. The game casts you as a trench coat laden nano-augmented secret agent known as JC Denton, an operative at his first day of work in New York for the United Nations Anti-Terrorist Coalition. Set in around 2050, the world is plagued by a deadly epidemic known as the ‘Grey Death’, and national and international terrorism are a major headache for world governments. You begin with your first mission, which involves you having to liberate the Statue of Liberty from occupation by terrorists who have also hijacked a convoy of ‘Ambrosia’, the only drug that can cure the ‘Grey Death’. Your following missions see you in pursuit of the stolen Ambrosia and eventually you uncover a massive global conspiracy that takes you further a field to Hong Kong, Paris, Vandenburg and even Area 51. In a similar way to MGS2, there are many plot twists and turns, and an increasing number of conspiracies are found as JC progresses. This makes the plot of the game very absorbing, particularly for those such as myself who are interested in politics in real-life

However good the plot is though, it’s the gameplay that really shines. The game offers you at least several methods usually to complete an objective, and you can therefore choose how you make JC tackle it. You can shoot your way through security if you wish, or you can use lock picks or multitools to quietly break in through the back way. Or maybe you wish to hack into the security network and turn off the surveillance cameras to allow you to infiltrate elusively. Hell, at times you can, providing you’ve got deep pockets, bribe a corrupt official, worker or guard or pay a non-aligned character to get the information/access you require to progress. Once you’ve found out what methods you prefer to deal with your tasks, you can then upgrade JC’ skills to suit these preferences by using the skill points you acquire for completing objectives and exploring new areas to increase your expertise in particular field skills. A gun nut player can choose to boost their talents with pistols, sniper rifles and explosives, while a more stealth savvy individual may wish to increase their proficiency with computer hacking and lock picking. As you will never gain enough points to become fully trained in all the certain skills, it gives the player critical decisions to make, and does provide a good incentive to replay the game simply to experiment with other skills that will affect how the game is played a second time.

The adaptable skills are complemented by JC’s nano-augmentations, which also play a large part in the game. Starting off with just one augmentation that gives you improved vision in the dark, you discover numerous augmentation canisters that are for a particular body part. Once acquired, the player is given a choice between one of two body modifications. For example, one canister offers you the ability to either be able to regenerate your health or be able to absorb projectile damage while in combat. JC’s bioelectricity levels power the augmentations, which means the augmentations should be used effectively and efficiently and not wasted. Augmentation efficiency can be enhanced by picking up and using aug upgrades. The choice and variation gives the player much freedom and incentive to replay and experiment, furthering the game’s appeal.

Interaction with NPCs is a further strong point of Deus Ex. You can talk to almost any character you encounter in the game, providing they don’t immediately turn their guns on you! While some will say little and offer little conversation or useful information, many potential conversations have good depth, are often useful for progressing, and are regularly multibranching, giving the player a choice of what they would like to say to or ask the particular NPC, which ultimately affects the NPC’s response. For example, in JC’s first mission, he will eventually find the terrorist commander. If you tell him you’ll go easy on him if he talks, he will gladly comply. Tell him your going to ‘send him back to the people in a body bag’, and he’ll get out his guns and try to make a break for it. Now this has been common in traditional RPGs for years, but it’s the first time it has been well implemented in a first-person shooter, and Ion Storm deserve much credit for this.

The gameplay’s components basically give the player choice. On a grand scale. And it this choice that makes the game so successful as it puts it above your average FPS. There are three possible endings of the game and countless numbers of ways of playing through the game. The game takes around 25-30 hours the first time around to complete, which give the game a good longevity compared to many peers even if it was linear. The adaptiveness of the game therefore increases it depth further and provides the game with more longevity than ten average generic FPS’. As you can probably guess then, Deus Ex is something special.

The exquisite gaming is further enhanced by a solid set of controls. Although they can never beat a PC mouse and keyboard set up, they have been done well for a console FPS. Inventory, skills, and augmentation menus are also easy to use, thus making this vast game very user friendly.

Sound has been implemented well, with decent sound effects and a moody soundtrack that adds greatly to the dark, bleak blade runner style futuristic setting. The best music comes on during combat scenes, when the usually minimalist backing music is replaced by some more active techno tracks. Sure it ain’t KMFDM, but hell it doesn’t need to be. It’s still quite good.

The only one disappointing aspect of Deus Ex is its graphics. They weren’t cutting edge when the game was released on PC, as they were powered by the Unreal engine, which had already been superseded by the Quake 3 engine, and the PS2 version isn’t particularly different. Compared to say Red Faction 2 and Timesplitters 2, Deus Ex’s graphics lack detail. And there can be slow down and frame rate reductions when big fire fights break out. The regular loading is a slight annoyance too, although not half as bad as it is in the original Red Faction. Considering what the PS2 is capable of, the graphics could have been better. Levels are very well designed though and put those in many of its peers to shame, and the menus and interface are presented well aesthetically.

Ultimately though, it is the gameplay that is more important and this is where Deus Ex stands above its peers. The only FPS I’ve ever played that is as good as this is the mighty Half-Life, and until the sequels to both games are released, I doubt either will be knocked off these top positions. Deus Ex on PS2 is an absolutely wonderful and rewarding piece of software, and comes highly recommended. What is even better is that it is now very cheap. Although the game has not become a platinum release (which is a great shame considering how several lesser FPS’ such as Red Faction and Agent Under Fire have), the game can be picked up for about £10 or less in Gamestation or Computer Exchange if you don’t mind buying it used, and if you want a new copy, I doubt you’ll have too much problem finding it around the £20-£25 mark. At such a price this immense game is a steal, and any FPS fan would be a fool to not have it.

Price: £5-10 second-hand.
Score: 5 out of 5.

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