Mad Mack: Deus Ex Retrospective
(NB. FMV does not necessarily share Dave’s views, and accepts absolutely no responsibility for any offence his diatribes may cause.)
Greetings, and welcome to the fourth instalment of Mad Mack – the semi-coherent ramblings of the type of man who thinks that whisky is a perfect accompaniment to elevenses.
If any of you want to hear more of my ramblings than what you get here on a once-weekly basis, please feel free to go outside and adopt the neighbourhood hobo, bring him in to your home and feed him Thunderbird until he starts screaming at the cat.
This week I would like to review Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I would like to, but I can’t, on account of this ‘magazine’ demonstrating less professionalism than an angry, drunken mob of football fans and thus not providing me a review copy. So instead I am going to look back in time at the predecessors to DE:HR and recall exactly why we all love computer games so much (social ineptitude and body odour aside).
Deus Ex was a first-person RPG set in the not too distant future where governments and corporations vie for control over dwindling resources and an increasingly out of control public. It was your usual dystopian affair:
Global pandemic? Check.
Conspiracy involving the government? Check.
Shady dealings and evil corporations? Check.
Technology running amok, threatening our very humanity? Check.
Plucky band of rebels armed with nothing more than out-of-date starfighters against a space station the size of a small moon? Double fucking check.
So in that regard, it was a pretty boilerplate Dickension setting (that’s Philip K. Dick motherfuckers).
What set DE apart from others of its time (and every game to date, no less) was the sheer scope of the storyline, the well-developed characters and, above all, the many and varied approaches to completing each area. I will come back to DE later.
The sequel to Deus Ex was Deus Ex 2: Invisible War, and is a classic example of why PC gamers consider console gamers as being somewhere between paedophiles and shit under the fingernails after an overly vigorous wiping with sub-standard toilet roll. Whereas in the old game you had very large maps to explore between load points, in Invisible War anything larger than a warehouse would be artificially divided in half, leaving the player to spend as much time playing as they did being given tips on how to properly floss or how to tell the difference between a Twenty of China White and a Twenty of Flea Powder.
This was never clearer than when you revisited Liberty Island from the first game. In the first level of DE, you were given the room to explore the whole of Liberty Island without a single loading break. Only when you entered the UNATCO base did you need to pause for loading. In IW however, the outdoor sections of the island were artificially separated by huge ice walls with doors set into them (I don’t fucking know where the ice came from – something to do with nanites and cold and shit – look, don’t ask ok. You have played the game this far so this is not the most absurd piece of bullshit you will be willing to let slide). This was blamed on the developers wanting to release the game on the Xbox (the original), and them being limited by the processing power of the console.
However, it should also be noted that where DE had great characters, an interesting but recognisable setting and interesting and varied gameplay mechanics, IW actually didn’t really have any of these. I have heard people argue that IW was actually a good game when considered on its own merits, but when playing it all I could think was: ‘the fuck is this? Seriously guys?’.
So, in honour of the upcoming release and review of DE:HR, I am going to carry out a retrospective side-by-side review of Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. This time the games are going to be given scores out of 10 conspiracies for their categories.
Right off the bat I was asked if I wanted to hit people with sticks, shoot them from a mile away or ruin their shit the only way explosive warheads travelling at high velocity can do. And so in the very first level you could either sneak up on people and hit them, take out the enemy from a distance (while at the same time hiding in fear every time you heard a sentry bot chirping up about how it was getting too old for this shit) or light a cigar, put on an eye patch and watch the world burn.
This was not a showpiece level either – if anything it was one of the more linear open levels as you were generally too weak and ineffectual to take the enemy head on, and so were channelled into certain paths. Couple this with a dual upgrade system: innate upgrades where you earned XP through doing various actions that you use to purchase better aiming for pistols, the ability to hack computers, the ability to survive longer in toxic environments etc. and nano-augments where you first had to find the upgrade module, plug it in and then could only upgrade it with upgrade modules which were incidentally like rocking horse shit in the Deus Ex world.
Include a weapon upgrade mechanic and it was literally impossible to be fully upgraded in every aspect by the end of th….you know what, just go play the fucking game. Seriously.
If I have to say one bad thing it’s that…….erm……the……….combat was a bit weird or something. Christ, I don’t know. Play the fucking game.
Score: 9 conspiracies
Imagine you have two hands. Most of you will not have to imagine this, but some might. Now imagine someone cuts one off. Imagine life with only one hand having known what it was like to have two. Sure you might, given enough time, forget what it was like to have two hands, but that is a long time. And a long time has not passed. So fuck you Invisible War, you cut my hand off (that analogy might have been stretched a little too far there). Let’s put it this way – levels not as good, give a shit about the plot, and, most telling of all – I was fully upgraded by the middle of the game. My weapons and abilities were shit hot. What incentive was there for me to explore beyond the confines of the storyline? Oh, never mind. After a point IV stopped giving a shit and no longer let you do that.
Score: 4 Conspiracies
Good for their time I guess (their time being when every person looked like they were made out of papier-mâché with the features drawn on). The environments made an effort at being varied, even though many of them were a variation of military base, city at night and ruin. The humans looked a bit blocky, ran like their batteries are running low but at least had the saving grace that the detail on them was poor enough that there was no danger of probing the uncanny valley, no matter how long they stared at you, expressionless, motionless, with their eyes, their fixed expressions, judging, knowing….no, I don’t want to do it, please…….
Score: 6 Conspiracies
Alright, I will throw you a bone here. They were pretty damn good, even for their time. But graphics do not stand the test of time, so screw you anyway.
Score: 8 Conspiracies
It had sound. It told you what was going on. What more do you want? Voice acting was well above average for the time, and could rival some of Bioware’s current offerings. There was one bit where you were walking around in a dark sewer which I happened to be playing late at night when a voice that sounded like a cross between The Borg and Papa Lazarou shouted ‘I am in control’, and I swear I almost shit myself. So hell yeah, it had it going on.
Score: 9 Conspiracies
It had sound. It told you what was going on. However, the voice acting, while good, was just not that great. It lacked any sort of impact and just did not emote any empathy with the characters. So that’s that really. Average without going anywhere. The weapon sounds were not particularly impressive either.
Score: 6 Conspiracies
This game is the reason you play games. Seriously. If you are reading this and you are wondering what I am talking about, then it’s past your bedtime junior. For everyone else, I am sure you agree that Deus Ex is one of the most sublime gaming experiences you are ever likely to have. I am sure there are equally good games out there that I have yet to play, but I would sincerely struggle to name a better one.
Overall Score: 9 Conspiracies
And so we come to this. From the yin that is the perfection of DE, must come the yang that is the sheer forgettability of IV. It is Danny DeVito to Arnold Schwarzenegger, anal leakage to a satisfying shit, missing a period to lots of sex. It is just bad. Maybe not on its own. Maybe on its own it’s pretty good, but while Deus Ex stood proudly on the shoulders of giants, Invisible War just crapped down their back.
Overall Score: 3 Conspiracies
That wraps it up for this week. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is out in two days. Will it be a naked weekend of passion with a swimsuit model, or skid marks on the sofa and an angry jerk-off over a swimsuit catalogue? Check back next week to find out.