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Best Games - Deus Ex

The first time I tried to play Deus Ex, I played it like a shooter. Running from place to place, trying to clear out all the enemies. I thought it was bland, clunky, overly difficult, and directionless. I put it down.
That first experience itched at me. Either there was something wrong with the game, or something was wrong with the way that I was playing it. I had to try it again. This time I took it slow. I was familiar with Thief, and that games first person stealth puzzle style. In Thief, avoiding combat is often the easiest way through a level. Pay close enough attention to the patterns of the guards or use your tools effectively and you can circumvent them entirely. I tried to play Deus Ex the same way, but everything felt so loose and sloppy. I couldn’t figure out the best pattern to avoid detection. Attempting to navigate the first few areas perfectly resulted in constant trial and error, saving and reloading. I was convinced that I did not like this game, and I put it back down.
It might have been a few months later and I started thinking about Deus Ex again. The reviews were out there, and people seemed to love this game. There had to be more too it. I reinstalled the game and everything clicked. I came at it this time thinking that maybe it played more like a japanese RPG, where the story mattered more than the action, and I would have to spend the first few hours flailing around before the meat of the game really started. I was wrong, but this was my entry point. Deus Ex wasn’t a shooter, it wasn’t a stealth puzzle, it wasn’t even a story based RPG. Deus Ex was something completely different.
It was fast and improvisational. You could attack any situation in a number of ways, and change your mind mid stream with no better or worse chance of success. It was also steadily paced and methodical. You could use stealth and long range tactics. You could set traps and plan multi part assaults. If it all went south, you could run and hide or lob some grenades and start laying down heavy fire. No single solution was given priority. There was no right way to play Deus Ex.
Gradually, as the game wore on, I started to find ways that I prefered to play and tailored my character to suit that style. It happened slowly and organically. I never selected a sniper or heavy weapons class from a menu. The game didn’t really seem to have an opinion one way or another. Whatever way I chose to play was good with Deus Ex.
Areas that at first glance appeared to be slightly larger, but otherwise familiar first person shooter levels, were actually much more intricate. If you could see a spot on the map, you could probably get there, but you might have to mess with the games systems to do it. Using the environment to achieve your aims became as enjoyable as straight ahead combat. The world was dynamic in a way that invited you to poke and prod at it.
Is Deus Ex a perfect game? Oh hell no. It is glitchy and unbalanced in all sorts of strange ways. It feels like a thing barely held together at the seams. One sharp tug and the whole game unravels completely. But what it does do is simulate a world. It is a world that is limited. The boundaries are visible, but still it is simulated not prescribed. If you want to influence the outcome of a given situation, you probably can. You can almost certainly do it in a way that the game designers didn’t think of or didn’t intend. All of the intermeshed mechanics of the Deus Ex world had been spun up and the designers had let go of the wheel. What the player did with them from that point was up to them.
Deus Ex was a unique and fresh take on game design. The games story was linear, to be sure, but nothing else about the game felt like you were playing against the designers. They had come up with a sequence of events, and gave you a whole box full of tools to deal with those events. The important part of this, the thing that makes Deus Ex work, is that the game makes no judgements about what you do with those tools. There is no good or bad way to play. There is no good or evil path through the story. It simply is what you make it.  It is how you play it.

This post is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 by the author.
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